Don’t Get Caught in the Catalog Crossfire

Oct 14


Joy Gendusa

Joy Gendusa

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How to Avoid Postage Rate Missiles for Catalogers


Many major catalogers have taken a direct hit in the last month due to the increase of postage costs and regulations. Not surprisingly,Don’t Get Caught in the Catalog Crossfire Articles this subject was the key discussion topic at the Annual Conference for Catalog and Multichannel Merchants, which took place in Boston a few weeks ago.

While it has been speculated that the increase will be as grand as forty percent for some catalogers, the actuality of the increase came as a bit of a shock to many who depend on their catalogs for their business’ livelihoods. In order to nurse as many postage war wounds before they happen as I can, I’m going to let the cataloging success secret out of the bag.

Actually, it’s not really a secret, just a bit of an unknown—postcards. Booming catalog companies, including J.C. Penney, Spiegel and Brighton, have been taking advantage of this direct mail tool for quite some time. It’s not been widely broadcasted, but it works.

So how does one go about using postcards to bring about catalog victory? Simple. Send postcards to get prospects to request your catalogs; don’t spend the money to send off catalogs to people who may or may not open them, that’s too expensive. True, people may or may not fully read the postcard either, but a) it’s more economical for a business to send thousands of postcards (which cost less than $0.35 to design, print, address, etc.) than thousands of catalogs (which can cost up to $2), b) because there is more limited space on the front of a postcard, people glance at it and get most of the message, whereas with a catalog they at least have to open it first, and lastly, c) postcards have been shown statistically to have a higher read rate than any other mail media, including catalogs, flyers and magazines.

To drive this point home, according to a study done by the USPS—who is responsible for sending out all this mail—ninety-eight percent of consumers bring in their mail the day it’s delivered and spend an average of thirty minutes reading it on any occasion. Also, research has revealed that consumers are fired upon with over three thousand advertising messages daily. Therefore, you have to break through enemy lines and get your point across quickly and effectively. And I’m going to tell you how to do that.

Postcard Marketing—The Basics

There are four things you need to remember when marketing with postcards.

1) You must commit to a campaign.

cam·paign    (k m-p n ) n.

  1. A series of military operations undertaken to achieve a large-scale objective during a war: Grant's Vicksburg campaign secured the entire Mississippi for the Union.
  1. An operation or series of operations energetically pursued to accomplish a purpose: an advertising campaign for a new product; a candidate's political campaign.

intr.v. cam·paigned, cam·paign·ing, cam·paigns

To engage in an operation planned to achieve a certain goal: campaigned through the jungles of Vietnam; campaigned for human rights.

Campaigns for marketing are, in a nutshell, a series of advertising steps including repeat mailings that are strategically planned so that there is maximum benefit (more new customers) for your business. 

To gain maximum benefit you need to follow these 4 tips:

1) Do repeat mailings.

Why? Credibility. Sometimes after receiving a postcard or catalog a prospect will hold on to it for a while but throw it out when tidying up, because they’ll think, “I might need that someday, I’ll think about it then.” Then, if your image isn’t thrown into their line of vision every so often, they forget all about you and your catalog, let alone your products.

When you repeat your postcard mailings to those same people, they see your image, logo, slogan and message over and over, and you become credible to them. Your chances of them responding just got greater. When I get a postcard over and over, I feel more compelled to call and order a catalog—they will too.

So they’ll order your catalog, and once they’ve ordered your catalog, then you repeat your catalog mailings to them. When I receive multiple catalogs from a business I have requested a catalog from or have ordered from before, I feel more compelled to look through it and take a look each time I receive one. Again, they will too. Repeat mailings show persistence, they show credibility.  You are building credibility with a campaign. That is the point.

TIP: Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get results right away after one postcard mailing. If you put out a blast of communication you will get inflow – prospects ordering your catalog. You want that blast repeated over and over and over to get the inflow that it will generate consistently. 

2) BE your target market.

Carrie from Sex and the City is sitting at your desk, going on and on about last night’s bad date and you can’t get her attention. You keep saying her name, but she ignores you and doesn’t stop talking. Your only solution to get her to shut up is to get into her head. You have to get into her head and think like her to find out how to get her to be quiet and leave your office so you can get some work done. You have to "BE" Carrie Bradshaw to figure this out.

So how do you do that? You open a desk drawer, whip out a pair of Manolos and shout, “CARRIE, THESE ARE FOR YOU!” And now you’ve got Carrie’s attention!

What does an overly talkative shop-a-holic have to do with marketing design? Keep reading.

Every potential customer is like Carrie. They are going to do whatever they want unless you can persuade them to listen to you. You have to get into their head, think like them, "BE" them.

Be your own audience. Do a little research. Which colors communicate to you the best if you’re the shop-a-holic? (Aka which colors are in season, what are the hottest new trends, etc?) Look at your piece from the eyes of your prospects. Is what they see going to make them call and request a catalog from you?

TIP: A VERY successful way to put together a campaign has to do with creating a series of cards that look similar. Your logo should be in the same place each time; your color scheme should be the same, etc. Your postcard should make prospects think of your catalog; make your postcard look somewhat like a mini-catalog. For example, Victoria’s Secret could promote their new camouflage line with a camouflage model on the front of their catalog-promoting postcard.

3) Use The 2-Step Method

It is much easier to create interest (a lead) than it is to get a person through an entire buying process (a sale). Therefore, I recommend the 2-Step method.

Step 1. Generate a lead – Get a prospect to call your 800 number or visit your website.

Step 2. Provide the requested information – Provide, via phone, one of your sales representatives who is able to answer any questions and make a prospect feel confident that your product or service would be as good or better than what they have already.

The purpose of your postcard's message is to generate a sufficient level of interest in the mind of your prospect to get him/her to contact you to ask you about your catalog or offer.

You are generating interest, not collecting their money (not just yet anyway). That is what the 2-step marketing process is about—generating interested prospects and customers who contact you for more information.

You can use postcards to inexpensively promote to your target prospects and customers and generate leads (inquiries about your catalog, products and services) to then be followed up on and converted to sales.

TIP: Be sure when you send catalog to a new prospect who responded to your postcard offering, you then take them off the ‘postcard-prospect list’ and place them on a new list in order to start sending catalogs from then on.  Repetitive follow-ups with the people who contacted you will result in increased sales. Make it a company policy to follow up with those people in this way.  They are considered a hotter prospect than someone that never responded at all.

4) Keep it Simple

To make sure you understand the power of postcards, your message needs 3 parts to be most effective:

  1. A clear statement of the biggest benefit of your product or service (e.g. an image of your most popular, best-selling item in your catalog).
  1. A good reason for them to contact you NOW (i.e. a free catalog).
  1. A simple, easy way for them to respond (an 800 number for example) to order your catalog or even order the product you advertised on your postcard.

Case Study: Lady Venus Catalog – John Sauer, Colorado

Length of time mailing postcards: John started in 2004 with PostcardMania, and has been mailing PostcardMania-printed postcards 4-6 times a year.  He also mails an additional 30,000 black-and-white postcards of his own create in between his PostcardMania mailings throughout the year.

Problem trying to solve: John wanted to get a high number of qualified leads for the most cost effective price, as well as sales from those leads. According to John, he uses the postcards he sends to “screen for prospects,” so that those who call to order his catalog are bona fide leads for his business.

What worked and what didn’t: “It’s a perpetual testing philosophy we have.” Taking the advice of his mentor, John tried postcards and saw the boost in leads and business. While trying new marketing techniques constantly, John said he’s stuck with postcards because they work well for him.

Return on Investment: “My ROI is very good, very good.” Besides the large amount of qualified leads John has gotten with postcards, he immediately saw higher sales in his small ticket items ($50-$100) due to people seeing his postcard and calling to order the item advertised directly on the postcard. Those sales have stayed steady in the last three years, along with the higher volume of catalog traffic.

Advice to other catalogers: “They should use postcards. People will catch what’s thrown at them, and you get [the benefit of] the impulse response and the impulse sales as well as qualified leads.”

With every new change in an industry that impacts the way business is done it is important to be innovative.  It is not enough to complain about the higher postal rates.  With every door that gets shut, a new one will open – you just have to look for it.  Higher postage rates may seem like a door is being closed – try opening the postcard door.  You may even generate more business than you did with just sending out your catalogue!