Live from the ACC: Workshop Day Provides a Mental Workout

Chicago–Attendees of the Annual Catalog Conference, cosponsored by CATALOG AGE and the Direct Marketing Association, kicked off the show with a full day of intensive sessions covering copywriting, small and start-up catalogs, creative, circulation strategies, business-to-business, online marketing, and merchandising. Many pearls of wisdom were bestowed on the attendees; below, we’ve highlighted just a few.

In the creative intensive workshops, marketers were advised to let the design experts do their job in coming up with an effective catalog. For instance, Lois Boyle, president/chief creative officer of catalog consultancy J. Schmid & Associates, advised, “When you let the creative team go with a really attention-getting cover, that’s when you might find the most lift among prospects.”

Panelist Linda Spellman, vice president, direct marketing for gifts cataloger Chiasso, had similar advice: When working with a creative team, talk results, not methods–they’re the pros. If you try to dictate, she says, “you lose their experience.”

Boyle described several types of creative redesigns: brand makeovers/enhancements, organizational redos, and “best practices” creative overhauls. But she warned attendees to look before they leap into a redesign. “If your catalog has strong brand recognition, then a makeover should be gradual and always include research.”

In the small and start-up catalog track, catalog consultant Jack Schmid, chairman of J. Schmid & Associates, stressed to attendees that catalog success boils down to product. Catalogers deal in “items,” he noted, wherein retailers concentrate on “lines.” You can have the best marketing plans in the world, but if you don’t have the right goods, it won’t matter.

What makes winning catalog merchandise:.

* The product is not readily available in stores.

* The item can be easily shipped.

* The product visual can be easily understood through photography and illustration.

* The merchandise is available in simple sizing with limited choices.

* The product is exclusive in color, size, features, or number of pieces.

* The product has broad appeal on a national level, along with perceived value.

* The item adds to margin–the real driver in the catalog business.

And over at the merchandising intensive track, Lauren Freedman, president of consulting firm The E-tailing Group, asked panelists how much of a catalog or Web marketer’s success is due to the product. Not surprisingly, the concensus was that merchandise is key, but panelists stressed the importance of other factors.

For instance, catalog packaging is also important, said panelist Warren Sukernek, president of furniture and accessories cataloger Oriac.

Oriac relies on a quality presentation to differentitate it from the rest of the pack. The perfect-bound catalog boasts a 300-gram cover stock (roughly 110 lb.), which Sukernac admitted isn’t cheap to mail. But it pays off in that “people come back to it months later.” In fact, he said, three months, six months–even 12 months after the catalog mailed, “customers will order from the book for the first time.”

For discount apparel marketer Bluefly.com, which sells high-end brands, the low price points and high service levels help clinch the order, said company CEO and panelist Ken Sieff. More specifically, Sieff noted, it’s the service–namely, the convenience–the selection (style), and the value (discount) that is all packaged together that drive sales.

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