Understanding Catalog Circulation Post Mortems

Catalog circulation post mortems allow top management to examine what went right and what went wrong with catalog campaigns so that you can improve future campaigns. Circulation drives your catalog, and preparing the post mortem is the responsibility of the circulation manager.

Here are the critical pieces of a circulation post mortem:

  1. Budget vs. actual results to answer the question, “Did the catalog perform according to plan?”
    • Number of list segments that beat plan and segments that fell below plan. This metric explains how well the list segments were chosen.
    • Number of segments that fell below breakeven. Aggressive circulation planners want to mail some prospect lists below breakeven. It is a policy decision on how many house file segments should be mailed below breakeven.
    • How many segments above breakeven? Most catalogers don’t want to leave a profitable house file unmailed.
    • Season stronger or weaker compared with previous season. Compare the same list segments to see how the seasons compare.

  2. Actual results vs. last year’s results to answer the question, “Is the business growing in terms of sales and profitability?”
    • The mix of buyer vs. prospect mailings compared with last year’s results. Changing the percentage of buyers vs. prospects will change the bottom line. Increasing the percentage of buyers or lowering the prospect circulation improves profitability.

  3. Comparison of house buyers and prospects to budget and to last year’s performance. Comparison metrics should be sales, circulation, and sales per book.

    • How did the house file perform compared with last year?
    • Comparison of the 12-month buyer file to last year’s. If the 12-month buyers increased in number and in sales per book, your business is getting healthier.
    • Prospects compared to last year. Prospect circulation and sales per book compared with last year. More-profitable circulation means a growing buyer file. Stable sales per book means your prospecting universe isn’t suffering list fatigue.
    • Reasons for the success of the circulation. Better list selection, better merchandise, stronger promotions, different mix of prospects and buyers, stronger season, or other reasons for success.
    • House file and prospects’ performance in relation to budget. If you did not meet budget, you need to outline and quantify the reasons. If budgets were met, outline the opportunities to increase sales and profits in the next business cycle.
  4. Determine how the mix of contact center to Web orders changed from last year. This is critical in terms of setting budgets per channel.
    • Mix of spending on Web vs. catalog marketing. Money should be shifted to more profitable or emerging channel marketing opportunities.
    • Ratio of catalog-generated Web orders vs. contact center and mail orders. Metric needed to plan contact center staffing and to ensure that you do not underspend on catalog marketing.

And here are three key presentation tips to keep top management interested:

  1. Summarize the results from each catalog in a single sentence. Define how you want management to think about each catalog campaign.
  2. Show a picture of your catalog cover on your PowerPoint slide. A picture is worth 1,000 words in connecting campaign results with a specific catalog.
  3. Keep all the information to a single page and you’ll keep everyone’s attention.

Catalog campaigns overlap, and managers are always planning a future catalog, responding to live campaigns, and trying to make sense of past results. Establishing and maintaining the discipline of formal catalog campaign post mortems forces catalogers to present a scorecard, which can be a critical step in optimizing future performance.

Jim Coogan is president of Santa Fe, NM-based catalog consultancy Catalog Marketing Economics.