The Novelty Of Print: Is Email Being Replaced By Catalogs?

Hey, old timer, you’ve got these Millennials figured out, don’t you? For example, you probably believe that they’re so tied to their smartphones that they can’t even see where they’re walking, let alone read a paper advertisement. 

But this stereotype is wrong: Studies show that they’re in love with a venerable medium: catalogs.

Yes, we’re talking about catalogs, the channel pioneered by Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears in the 1800s, which sold everything from stoves to long underwear 

These 200-page dinosaurs are long gone--today’s catalogs are targeted on niches. And, if you believe the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), they still have a role to play—especially with the younger set. 

A recent WNBC report,"Millennials are more interested in catalogs than your grandmother is,"cites research from the U.S. Postal Service that “after  periodicals and bills, catalogs attract the next most eyeballs, getting as much attention as personal correspondence..” This seems to include the entire population, though.



"Millennials stand out a bit higher than other generations in terms of engaging with mail," says Neil O'Keefe, senior vice president of marketing and content for the DMA, according to WNBC. "It's unique to the generation that hasn't experienced the amount of mail of past generations."

Fair enough—observers say that the old “junk mail” epithet is fading as mail volume declines.  But O’Keefe soon gets himself in trouble. 

"Email engagement is cheap, but very inefficient," he states without citing a source. 


We love catalogs, and have many friends among the people who send them.  But email drives a consistently high ROI as the DMA itself has proclaimed in reports, webinar invites and other vehicles. 

Case in point: The DMA website states that “email marketing allows you to reach valuable customers rapidly, frequently, and economically while delivering among the highest returns of all direct marketing channels." 

What are you trying to do, Neil, start a turf war? Both channels are vital—especially when used together in an omnichannel campaign.

In an interview last year, Jack Rosenfeld, CEO of the Potpourri catalog group, told MediaPost that his firm, which largely serves an older audience, mails 200 million paper catalogs per annum.

But it also sends “tens of millions of emails a year,” he added. “A lot of Internet sales are driven by email. We say, ‘Look for our new catalog,’ or ‘We have a sale today.’ We have promotions; we show our clearance stuff. We don’t go out and rent email lists, but people purchase online, and sometimes they visit the site and sign up for a $100 sweepstakes, and we collect their email addresses.”

This brings up the thorny issue of attribution. Assuming you have the technology, you can drill down to the lowest percentiles when allocating a sale.

On the most basic level, this requires source codes, separate ones for each channel. Or, you can decide it with last-click attribution, which is frowned on by pundits.

However, none of this may be effective when measuring how younger people shop. Also, you may have to tailor your book for their reading patterns.

For example, don’t overload your catalog page with products—keep it clean. In a recent comparative study by RSR, almost half of the firms in the sample were awarded no points at all because it would take consumers ‘five years or more to get through he entirety of their catalog.”

Maybe Millennials who are in charge of marketing at their firms need to learn this lesson, too. Meanwhile, Happy New Year. 

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