Commentary

Don't Toss Your Catalog Yet

Marketing is a race. Brands are pushing to be the first in your mind when you’re hungry, thirsty, have a cold, are in need of insurance, or whatever that “need” is. And, as in all races, the fastest brand wins. 

Digital marketing, in this case, would be the hare with all the fast-twitch muscles. It’s scalable, fast, more easily optimized to its target and, in some instances, able to follow the consumer through the digital surf. In a matter of seconds, digital marketing can drive straight to purchase, acquire new subscribers and return real-time data. And it can be tweeted, liked and shared! 

But, like the fabled hare, it also has its downsides; people don’t like to be followed around, don’t often click, and some of those ad buys, as reported widely, are getting “gamed” by fake consumers in India. And in the new attention economy that all brands find themselves competing in, digital is a game of micro-seconds where messages are quick and, by nature, not often compelling.

I was thinking about this contrast while en route to a friend’s house the other day. When my wife and I arrived, she was sitting on her porch thumbing through a stack of catalogs she had saved up over the last month. Over small talk about the kids, we found ourselves all with a catalog in hand, joking about the models, remarking on the newest styles and generally using them as means for relaxing.  

The irony was not lost on me. I had spent the morning running from ads — deleting emails from companies I didn't subscribe to, ignoring banner ads, wishing my map search wasn't dependent on who advertised on Google — and yet, there I was, consuming an ad booklet and enjoying it. In the rush of digital information transfer, what still manages to sneak over my privacy walls? Good old-fashioned direct mail – and actual catalogs, that invention from the late 1800s.

Now, I’m not going to start advocating clients ditch digital efforts because I had a fun time on the porch reading a bunch of catalogs. The point is simply this; relevance is still goal number one. Which is why, despite the droves of marketers investing (rightly) in digital, they shouldn't be so quick to write off tried-and-true methods for creating relevant (and dare I say enjoyable?) brand experiences the “old fashioned” way. In other words, don’t kill the tortoise just yet!

This all, of course, leads to deeper questions about how brands bring harmony to the new and old worlds of communications, and craft relevant experiences and compelling offers across all channels. 

In a world where consumers are now armed with more levers for controlling how and when a brand speaks to them, the winning brands are the ones that understand how to serve consumers where they choose to be spoken to.  

It’s true; emails triggered by consumers provided in-store will help lift sales online. It’s also true that data collected online can help direct the script of a sales center call and that offer redemption patterns can help dictate what gets sent to the home. But if companies are oriented to favor one channel, one method over the other, none of that works, except by accident.

Go back to the front porch, where the high gloss environment had us diving deep into a bank of product offers with ease. My wife went home and looked up a website from one of the catalogs and those very same products were shown, without the goofy models, against a white backdrop where product information popped up when scrolled over. 

She pinned a few items to Pinterest, emailed a link to one and clicked through to purchase another. And throughout the process, the brand met her where she was, gave her what she needed and the experience was optimized. But before toasting this brand, we’ll be watching to see if banner ads follow her wherever she goes online, if unwanted emails start to litter her inbox and, of course, if we get a catalog.

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1 comment about "Don't Toss Your Catalog Yet".
  1. John Conley from Xerox , May 12, 2014 at 3:41 p.m.
    In a world where the consumer is constantly looking at digital material, it’s nice to hear that the catalog is not forgotten. The catalog brings an entirely different experience compared to digital approaches. I enjoy flipping through the glossy pages of a catalog and being able to physically see different products in front of me. And I’m not alone. In fact during the 2012 Christmas season next to on line reviews printed catalog was more influential in purchase decisions then social media or web advertising. http://printinthemix.com/Fastfacts/Show/665 I believe it’s important to remember that print has brought us to where we are today and it plays a role in where we are going. It should not be a question of one or the other, an online site or a catalog. The old and new world of communication can work together to bring new experience to consumers across all platforms. – John Conley, Vice President, Commercial Print and Publishing, Xerox