Eye on B-to-B: Mailing More Than Catalogs

A cataloging truism is that the more accurately you target a message to a customer, the more likely that customer is to respond. That’s why many b-to-b catalogers turn to noncatalog direct mail promotions — supplementary materials such as postcards or fliers, sent separately from their catalog mailings — to highlight specific products that meet individual customers’ needs. Even if the recipients don’t respond directly to the promotion, the mailing helps to solidify the cataloger-customer relationship.

Mount Kisco, NY-based Guidance Associates, which sells educational videos and films on topics such as drug education and diversity training, mails noncatalog promotions every six weeks to complement the 35,000-40,000 catalogs it mails twice a year. Although its core market is educators, Guidance Associates uses the noncatalog mailings to prospect to businesses in related fields that may have use for the company’s materials.

“We received orders for diversity-training and race-relations videos from corporations and then government agencies, so we started targeting those markets with noncatalog promotions,” says Guidance Associates president Will Goodman. “These are targeted ‘one shot’ direct mail promotions. For example, we might mail noncatalog fliers or 4″ × 6″ postcards to promote a specific item, such as a $200 diversity-training video, to a police department’s human-resources director.”

Similarly, Burlington, NC-based Carolina Biological Supply Co., which sells science supplies for educators, mails two- to eight-page fliers, focused on specific products and programs, two to four times a month. The cataloger also mails “Carolina Tips” newsletters, offering practical advice for teachers, four times a year, as well as packages containing both the promotional fliers and the newsletters, says vice president Dan James. These mailings supplement the company’s 60- to 80-page catalogs, which mail 10 times a year, and its annual 1,300-page master catalog.

Whereas Carolina Biological Supply’s catalogs are mailed to several hundred thousand science teachers and schools, the fliers are mailed to as few as 25,000 customers. James says the noncatalog promotions work best when used to increase sales of proprietary products, which typically have a higher profit margin than name-brand items: “In a big catalog with 25,000 items, products can get lost. This mailing brings out individual items so that they don’t get lost.”

Lyndhurst, NY-based Awards.com, which sells executive gifts, plaques, and trophies, sends about a dozen promos a year, evenly divided between catalog and noncatalog. “Postcards, fliers, or e-mail can focus on key products or services, such as expedited delivery during holiday,” says president Alan Kipust.

Expensive — but worth it?

Guidance Associates spends $10,000-$15,000 on noncatalog promotions annually and $50,000 annually on its catalogs. The company spends about $0.20 to produce each flier and about $0.10 each for postage. “We get as high as a 4% or 5% response rate,” Goodman says, “although 2% would be considered the minimum to be successful.”

Awards.com’s noncatalog mailings account for 10%-20% of the company’s annual expenditures. A recent promotion, in which the cataloger sent customers a sample box of candy that they might consider giving their clients, cost Awards.com several dollars apiece. While Kipust will not give specifics, he says that so far response has been positive and that the company expects to at least break even on the promotion.

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