Drivers and Catchers; As different as Apples and Oranges!

Drivers (Catalog, Email, Search) and Catchers (Store, Web, Phone) – the distinction between drivers and catchers and why understanding the difference is important

The key to running any marketing-driven endeavor is to deploy marketing dollars to the best advantage of the business.  While this statement is simple, the task has become increasingly complex as more levers have been added to the potential marketing mix.  For many organizations, this level of complexity has become overwhelming and cries out for the development of rules to help guide strategy development.  I would like to share with you the rules I developed over the years for simplifying strategic thinking in this area.

It is important to understand how each lever works, and the primary purpose it serves within the mix.  Most levers serve more than one purpose, but from a strategic standpoint, focusing on the primary purpose allows the organization to think about levers with more clarity and simplicity.

Marketing levers, as defined by their PRIMARY value to the business, fall into one of two categories: Drivers or Catchers.  The nature of the Driver is to push or pull quality traffic to the Catchers; the nature of the Catcher is to convert the traffic at maximum order value.  Examples of Drivers are; Catalogs, Email, and Search.  Examples of Catchers are; Phone, Website and Stores.

Drivers can either push customers to the brand by creating a desire for products through imagery and storytelling, or they can pull customers to the brand where the desire or need for the product is already present. Remember, the Driver’s PRIMARY job is to drive quality traffic to the Catchers.

  • Catalog

    In the old days, the products shown in the catalog defined the products included on incoming orders because the only order method available to the customer was through mail or phone. The customer, by definition, was not offered an additional selection of products by either order channel, so the merchandise mix was entirely defined by the merchandise contents of the catalog.  This is no longer the case.  Now the majority of catalog-driven traffic arrives at the website or retail store where customers are able to consider a wider collection of products before placing an order.

    The catalog’s PRIMARY job has changed to become that of traffic driver to all modern order catchers.  This shift changes the nature of the merchandise selection strategy for our modern catalogs. The catalog no longer needs to include the entire line of merchandise offered, but instead can be pared down to include those items designed to inspire the greatest quantity of high quality traffic during a specific time period.  In this way, the catalog remains an essential tool for inspiring the desire for our products, but since it no longer needs to include the entire product line, more space can be used for inspiration and the mix of products can be focused on those most likely to drive quality traffic.

    Catalog is a push driver.  When we mail a catalog, sales spike across all order catchers.

  • Email

    When email first emerged in the marketing mix, it was recognized as an excellent driver of online traffic.  As email matured, it was accepted as driving traffic to all order catchers; phone, store and website. This remains Email’s PRIMARY job. Email is a push driver, creating demand through promotion and imagery. Like with the modern catalog, email content and merchandise should be chosen for their effectiveness at driving high quality traffic rather than a desire to sell the specific merchandise.  Indeed less than half of orders driven through email contain the products promoted within the email.  Instead, email acts as a quick conduit to the brand.  Because customers receive email on a regular basis, clicking through an email can be a quicker and easier way to get to the website rather than typing into a browser or asking Siri.

    Because it is low cost and very effective at driving traffic, email can be over-used.  For this reason, it is important to understand that when you email, you are spending customer trust rather than marketing dollars.

  • Search

    For the purposes of this discussion, I am including SEO, PPC, PLA, CSE,  and Affiliates under the Search umbrella.  Like catalog and email, search marketing’s PRIMARY job is to drive traffic. Search is a pull driver, meaning that the desire for the product has already been established, and the job of Search is to open the net used to pull that demand to the catching order channels.  Because the desire for the product has been established through other means, the use of Search is often a defensive measure to ensure your company gets the order rather than competitors. Like email, search was originally recognized as an excellent driver of online traffic, but over time it has also been proven to drive traffic to the phone and store channels.  Price comparison, showrooming, and co-shopping are all examples of where search is interacting and driving traffic to offline catchers.

  • Search

    Although I often think about Social media as being included under the “Search” umbrella, it is distinct enough that it deserves separate mention and explanation.

    Social media has many uses which can make it confusing to classify.  It turns disappointed customers into raving fans by demonstrating superior customer service through transparency.  Imagery and video replicated through Social media support brand positioning while also providing key technical information about complex products. Running contests and surveys through Social allows us to conduct marketing research and collect engagement data while energizing the social audience, particularly when directed towards social influencers. And it’s a great way to understand the heart and soul of your customers, particularly if you are a good listener.

    But just because Social is a great window into the head of your customer does not make it a Catcher.  Sure, it catches conversations and inspires engagement, but the ultimate goal of Social is to convey the customers to a venue in which they can transact, which makes Social’s PRIMARY strategic job to drive traffic.

    When strategic emphasis for Social is identified as driving traffic, the tactics fall into place.  Audience development should be focused on quality rather than quantity because highly engaged audiences drive better-converting traffic to the website, stores and phone.  These high quality audiences also provide a solid foundation for look-alike audience development, whether used for email lead capture, prospecting or reactivation.  The role of the social contest or sweepstakes changes to focus on data collection which can then be used for digital, email or postal remarketing.   These are just a few examples of social tactics whose jobs become clearer when considered as traffic drivers.

This is not an exhaustive list of Drivers, but it should serve to help you think about the Drivers in your own business – those areas whose primary job is to drive quality traffic.

The primary job of the Catcher is to convert traffic at maximum order value.  Catchers are where the transaction actually happens; on the website, over the phone, or in the store.

  • The Website  

    The website is the most complicated and therefore the most easily confused of the Catchers. Web analytics measure site traffic as well as conversion rate and AOV, so it is sometimes tempting to view the website as a traffic driver.  Customers use the website to research products before calling in an order, or before going to a store.  Some customers use the website during their shopping experience within a store.  All of this activity makes the website appear as though it is driving traffic, when the majority of that traffic originated with a Driver.  Remember, strategically, we are looking to define the website’s PRIMARY job, and above all else that is to convert traffic into online orders, and to support the conversion of traffic to orders in other catching channels.

    This is not to say that all of the other support functions of the website are unimportant.  Indeed ensuring the site is well set up to support SEO and making sure the tagging is set up to run and measure other digital programs is extremely important.  These are simply not the PRIMARY jobs of the site, so when we are looking at our strategies through the lens of simplicity and clarity, focus should remain on the website’s effectiveness at turning traffic into revenue.

    Particularly if the website is the only place the full line of product is merchandised, site navigation, site search, and merchandising are key to supporting a healthy average order value. In addition to finding the right products, the focus of website development should also include the elimination of speed bumps through the checkout process, in order to inspire higher rates of conversion.

  • The Stores

    Retail stores live or die by the traffic they receive and great pains are taken to ensure they are located in areas that naturally receive the right type of foot traffic for the brand.  While stores are able to generate their own repeat traffic through great customer service and superior merchandise availability, a store’s PRIMARY role is to convert the traffic that comes in the door.

    Because many stores carry only a portion of the full line of products, store staff is often trained to “sell what’s on the floor” before seeking out support from other catching channels.  When the goals of converting the traffic at maximum order size exists, it becomes easier to leverage the support of the website within the store, for size availability, expanded technical information, or additional products when the store inventory is inadequate to make the sale.

  • The Phone

    As the original recipient of direct marketing orders, the inbound call center is the most straight-forward order catcher to visualize. In the old days, catalogs dropped in the mail, and orders would come back through the call center.  In modern times, however, the nature of the inbound call center has shifted towards customer service and technical support.  The harder a product is to understand, the more support the call center needs to provide to the other catchers to help convert orders.  There are still some customers who call to place straight-forward orders driven by catalogs, email or search, but the vast majority of shoppers now prefer to place transactions online or in stores, leaving the call center to deal with the more difficult questions and technical support.

    Like the inbound call center, the outbound call center thrives on traffic, or highly qualified leads.  Like stores, the account management team is capable of creating repeat traffic through superior service and building relationships, but it also relies heavily on marketing drivers to create reasons to follow-up.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list of Catchers, but it should serve to help you think about the Catchers in your own business – those areas whose primary job is to convert traffic into revenue.

Although I went on to use these concepts as the basis of my attribution model, they can also simply help to clarify your marketing strategies, and make them easier to articulate in both the boardroom and at the water cooler.  Plus, the next time someone asks you to compare catalog sales to website sales, you can now explain to them the difference between Drivers and Catchers, and resist that temptation to compare apples to oranges.

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