What it takes to REALLY move the needle

As direct marketers, we all spend much time “fine tuning”, working under the premise that success will come from the cumulative effect of applying “best practices” in everything we do. This is especially true for us “data geeks” who are continually tweaking this or that model or contact strategy. This search is even more intense in the world of ecommerce, with its plethora of vendors and changing opportunities for marginal improvements.  While I do not discount the need for these tactics, or their contribution, rarely have I seen them really “move the needle” in achieving success.

As I look back at my clients’ successes, “home runs” have usually come from entrepreneurial innovations, unique merchandise and dramatic creative. However, I have also seen dramatic increases in response rates result from actions that simply make your catalog stand out from the crowd in the mailbox, or engage your customers.

Many years ago, we were retained to improve the circulation management of a catalog selling tea. While we certainly delivered “state-of-the-art” circulation management, it was our recommendation that the client insert a tea bag into each catalog that literally doubled their response rates. Customers were thrilled to receive a new tea sample with every catalog. Catalog requests skyrocketed, as did profits.

Another client made a programming error resulting in fifty percent of their catalogs being mailed with the customer’s name swapped out and the name “Joe Schmo” plugged in. While the call center’s phones lit up when the “Joe Schmo catalogs” went in-home, the Joe Schmo catalogs had 30% higher response rates than the catalogs with the customer’s actual name. Obviously, the mistaken “test” was never rolled out, but it gave testament that anything that grabs the customer’s attention drives higher response rates.

As I reviewed the catalogs that were in my mailbox last week, I was again disappointed that most were just plain boring!  Each cataloger applied the same old formula that they have used for years. I felt that robots, rather than merchants and marketers with imagination and creative juices flowing through their veins, produced these catalogs.

I suggest that we all start asking ourselves “what can I do that would really move the needle?”  What can we do to “shake it up”? Get beyond the merchant and creative director sitting down and having the same old meeting to decide “what product should we put on the cover this month?” Ask the bigger questions: “What will result in getting our catalog opened by 80% of those receiving it? How can we increase response rates by 30%? Kick some a**!!

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