December, 2013 – This article from Forbes discusses that despite the idea that direct mail is supposedly dying, direct mail catalogs are highly effective. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/loisgeller/2013/12/04/if-direct-mail-is-dying-its-sure-taking-its-time-about-it/)
By Lois Geller
This is a record year for catalogs jamming my mailbox. It’s great.
It’s great that I get them, at least 100 so far this season, and it’s even greater that so many companies continue to produce them.
Why do they do it in this era of ecommerce?
Lots of reasons, but the short version is that direct mail, catalogs in particular, work. They’re profitable and they bring in revenue the companies can’t touch with electronic marketing alone.
The enduring power of direct mail is connected to two often overlooked societal phenomena:
1. The mail is often the only reliable way to reach reasonably affluent males.
2. The over-50 crowd, already large and growing, has a lot more money than younger folks and they’re just as happy to deal with you in print as they are in the cyber world.
Most catalogers still offer every possible response method: by mail, phone, fax, in person at a store. But, as often as not, most people who order from print catalogs do it online. The word synergy is overused but it fits here.
Our creative director, who gets a lot of print catalogs, orders by phone and calls around 10 at night.
Which companies are sending out catalogs these days? All the traditional ones you’d expect like Harry & David the fruit people, Hammacher Schlemmer, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Tiffany’s, Art Institute of Chicago, The Met, and so on.
And there are always newcomers, some of which are showing staying power, especially in the fields of clothing, jewelry, food, flowers, nesting merchandise and gadgets.
Catalogs have always struck me as direct-mail-written-large. They’re expensive to produce and mail so they have to be carefully targeted.
The catalogers adhere to the basic rules of direct mail, one of the most important of which is ALWAYS HAVE A UNIQUE OFFER and make it clear.
I saw several potential gifts in the Smithsonian print catalog but no offer, and yet when I went online to look around, I found Free Standard Shipping (a $7.95 value) and that’s always compelling.
Basically, everything in a marketing communication but especially in direct mail has to answer one question right away: What’s In It For Me? If the answer is clear, the prospect starts to get interested and look around.
It’s quite a different process from, say, a customer at a retail store like Best Buy who walks in with a specific purchase in mind.
The great catalogers test all the time: different covers, different offers, different lists, different prices, different product placement on page, and on and on. They test and track the results and use the information to get more profitable every time out.
- Price offers can include discounts, specific dollars off, Buy-One-Get-One and variations on that theme. A 15% discount might very well bring in more bottom line revenue than a 10% discount but you’ll never know until you test.
- Flex-Pay. When QVC offers easy payment terms, they feature the monthly payment. Very popular.
- Samples are a terrific way to get people trying your product. Cosmetic companies have been doing this for years. Get the first one free, then once you like it: you’ll buy it again.
- Early Bird Offers often work for our hospitality clients. If you reserve during their quieter times, you get a discount on spa services, or complimentary breakfast. Airlines do this, too.
- Deluxe version of whatever you usually sell. We’re offering one at Kickstarter.com for our dog book. Sometimes the deluxe version can also be a free upgrade gift.
Online marketing is a terrific force and it will grow, even as states and cities force marketers to charge sales tax.
But direct mail is not going away. I get a couple of thousand offers by mail every year. They arrive all year long, trending heavier in the last few months and in January and the number is growing. The industry is still selling billions of dollars’ worth of products and services. It’s not hip and happening, not “now” but it is highly effective and very profitable.