Live from the Annual Catalog Conference: Workshop Day Gets Mailers Revved

Boston–Delegates at the 18th Annual Catalog Conference hit the ground running yesterday, with a full day of workshop sessions. With tracks ranging from creative to circulation, business-to-business to back-end, Workshop Day covered all the relevant issues in the catalog industry. Below, a brief synopsis of what was seen and heard at some of yesterday’s sessions:

In a session titled “Seven Habits of Highly Successful Merchants,” featuring panelists Andrea Lawson Gray, Adrienne Cote, and George Mollo, attendees learned some of the tricks of the merchandising trade. For one, smart merchants should practive indexing-using different methods to measure merchandise success, including average item demand, to view an item against its competition, and pennies-per-book analysis, which is good for season to season comparisons. “You should ground each spread with one of your most profitable items in a hot spot,” said Gray.

On the Internet front, “you need to determine what is the number-one entry page on your Website,” advised Amy Africa, president of consultancy Creative Results and the speaker at the “Applying Direct Marketing to the Web” session, part of the e-commerce workshop. “You should know where customers are coming into your Website, which will allow you to develop your site to give them the best customer experience.”

Africa touched upon a wide scope of e-marketing issues, including navigation dos and don’ts and techniques to combat shopping-cart abandonment. “Always show customers how many items are in their shopping cart at all times. And always include in the cart the total cost of their items, as well as your company’s guarantee.”

To increase conversion rates among visitors, Africa suggested that catalogers “always give customers the price of items up front and allow customers to place the order immediately, as soon as they see the item.”

In terms of e-mail copy, Africa advised using subheads, creating a sense of urgency, and having the missive signed by a real person at the company. She also recommended writing a PS at the end of the e-mail.

Speaking of copy, industry legend Herschell Gordon Lewis once again offered his popular Catalog Copywriting workshop. Among the tips he dispensed: Don’t use the word “if”; use “when” instead. Use the active voice rather than the passive, and favor adverbs over adjectives.

Above all, when writing catalog copy, keep in mind what Lewis dubbed the Five Great Motivators: fear, exclusivity (hence the effectiveness of phrases such as “only from us” and “only for you”), greed, guilt, and the need for approval.

By addressing Lewis’s Five Great Motivators in catalog copy, mailers have a better change of boosting sales and response. And response definitely needs boosting, according to Jack Schmid, of Shawnee Mission, KS-based consultancy J. Schmid & Associates. In his workshop geared toward cataloging newcomers, Schmid noted that average catalog response rates have fallen from 2% five years ago to 0.75%-1%. Ingenuity, he said, was key to combatting declining response. For instance, he suggested delivering package inserts in egg-carton-like boxes to command attention.

Sensible, integrated circulation strategies are also vital in boosting response. That was one of the themes of the Circulation Strategies workshop led by consultant Michael Grant, of Scarsdale, NY-based Michael I. Grant & Associates.

“Keep everything! Capture and maintain data on all customers and prospects, identifying the channel and source of customers,” urged Grant, who also recommended that the data be combined into one multichannel database. “Don’t build separate silos. With a multichannel database, if you have a customer who asked for a catalog, then made the first order via a catalog, you can see that. There’s a risk of keeping data in separate silos. You may not realize the Internet sale was generated by a catalog request and then may falsely underrate the catalog’s performance.”

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