BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS: A TRICKY ARENA

Jun 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

It’s tough to pick great business-to-business concepts. Many business catalogs may look more like a phone directory than a catalog, but they know and dominate their market. Other catalogs, like New Pig, are fun to read and look at, but are perhaps more memorable for their creative than for their balance sheets.

Here we’ve selected several notables that inspired or influenced other b-to-b books. All are what we think of as marketing winners.

INMAC: First b-to-b computer catalog to strive for a user-friendly tone and approach. Borrowing from the best consumer catalogs, Inmac employed snappy headlines, benefit-laden copy, fun graphics, call-outs, and testimonials to add punch to rug pads and keyboard drawers. If you find yourself wanting to thumb through any business catalog today, thank Inmac.

“It was really the first conceptually to take a commodity product and make it interesting to buy.”-Bill Nicolai, senior vice president of Good Catalog Co.

QUILL: First catalog to carve a rock-solid foundation in mail order office supplies. With an emphasis on customer-first service and selection, Quill has created a long-lived, profitable and much-emulated catalog business. Its creative and marketing techniques have been picked up by catalogs such as Viking, and it has succeeded in turning hundreds of thousands of customers away from the superstores.

“Quill is solid and consistent, and has strong, strong pricing. It’s a national trendsetter.”-catalog consultant Jack Schmid

PAPER DIRECT: First catalog to cross a business commodity over to the consumer side. Capitalizing on the home-office trend, Paper Direct founder Warren Struhl marketed paper stock right to end users, filling his catalogs with color, variety, and get-ahead tips. Moreover, by putting the catalogs in laser-printer packages, he got his product right to the target prospects when they were ready to buy.

“If you put a catalog in the box of something that needs a high-value, low-cost supply, such as a Hewlett-Packard printer, you can sell paper like crazy. Paper Direct is probably the most spectacular recent execution of that package-insert concept.”

FOSTER & GALLAGHER: A horticultural megamarketer and a turnaround specialist. Moribund catalogs such as Michigan Bulb and Spring Hill were rejuvenated under president Bob Ostertag, and the mailer is one of the few to successfully mix seasonal horticulture books with counterseasonal gifts and kids’ catalogs such as Childcraft.

DELIA’S: For being the first catalog to open up the huge new category of teenage apparel buyers.

PLEASANT CO.: For turning a narrow, well-conceived product line-American Girl Dolls-into a marketing phenomenon.

FINGERHUT: For scoring big with less-affluent consumers by extending credit.

AMAZON.COM: For giving a wakeup call to catalogers that hadn’t been aware of the power of Web marketing.