Using customer data to drive creative

While most catalog marketers use house file data to develop offers, find new customers, and build a brand, not many use customer data effectively in the creative presentation.

But if you want to deliver the goods, you’ve got to show your customers that you understand who they are and what they want. Your merchandise selection, marketing approach, and creative look and voice should indicate that you’ve done your homework and that you know your audience.

Demographic information that you probably have on file will tell you a lot about your customers and enable you to start building a creative platform. Certain demographic characteristics indicate commonalities in lifestyle, needs, and aspirations. Such information as age, income, education, marriage, children, and home ownership can help you market more effectively and make strategic creative choices, such as model selection and styling; background settings, props, and location preferences; selling and editorial copy style and balance; and typography, including selection of type, presentation of price, and use of icons.

For instance, your customer’s age will help you select and style models and indicate what’s relevant: single life, marriage, children, extended family, or retirement. Knowing your customer’s income and education level can also help you determine how you “speak” to her, or what kind of headlines, editorial and copy you should use to communicate most effectively.

Upscale cooking accessories cataloger Williams-Sonoma, for example, targets an affluent, educated audience that’s interested in gourmet cooking and entertaining. With this in mind, the company devotes a significant amount of catalog space to recipes, and to selling various high-end accessories for entertaining.

You probably have some customer demographic information in your database. A zip code analysis can determine a customer’s income level, for example. You can also add such information by conducting survey research on your customers, or using data overlays or catalog co-op databases to create profiles of your buyers.

Make an impression Customers usually relax when they read a catalog, so in addition to targeting your market appropriately, you must create a pleasurable experience and make it easy to shop. Catalogs should be organized and easy to comprehend-even if you’re trying to pack a lot of product into your pages. Density is often less of a problem than poor design.

The first thing your customer or prospect sees is the catalog cover-one of the best tools for executing drama and excitement, since you’re not bogged down with selling an item. Drama, relevance, and emotion are three key strategies often used to create a strong catalog cover; you also want to make sure your logo is easily recognizable. Lingerie marketer Victoria’s Secret knows that sex sells; its bold, in-your-face catalog covers also tell you exactly what’s inside the book.

Although the McFeely’s catalog of square drive screws targets the “serious” woodworker, the company likes to have a little fun on its cover with a caricature of its president involved in some project. Humor is one of the most difficult emotions to convey, but it works in McFeely’s, which uses caricatures of the president throughout the catalog to illustrate products and features such as “pin drive expansion anchors,” and “no-cor-rode square drive screws.”

Pay special attention to your front and back covers for a first impression, then make sure your opening spread has a natural follow-through. You might want to rethink the rule that a cover must always show what’s inside the catalog, however. Territory Ahead, Coldwater Creek and Frontgate have created intrigue on their covers by not displaying product. Once inside the book, creating a strong pacing or design interest will also increase a customer’s time with your book. You can do this through feature shots, hero spreads, cropping, and selection of type.

Create a connection Customers respond to images they can relate to and aspire to. When you show your audience images that are relevant to their lives and dreams, customers believe that you understand them and they will be more receptive to your messages.

For instance, with clothing, you can show lifestyle by accessories and hairstyle, as well as with props and backgrounds. In the home decor and hard goods markets, catalogers use room settings and environments to indicate the target customer’s lifestyle and interests. The props you use, what’s hanging on the walls and covering the floors, all make a difference for your customer.

Home decor catalogers Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs do a good job creating home environments and room settings that appeal to their target audience, primarily upscale women. A reader might dwell on a catalog spread just because she is drawn to the room setting, much the same as she might pause on a magazine spread that gives her decorating ideas.

You can use what you know about your customers’ income and education level to find the price/quality equation to determine value. In other words, what are your customers willing to pay for quality, or what would they give up for a lower price? For instance, customers with a higher education level are more likely to spend more for quality items.

Many creative elements signal the price/quality equation to customers, such as the page density, how you display price, how aggressively you use special offers, and how often you employ techniques such as callouts, bullets, diagrams, and magnifying glass treatments. Lower-income customers may respond to bursts and dot-whacks calling out low prices and specials, while more upscale buyers may be put off by such offers.

In most cases, selling copy should be relatively short and sweet. Use bullet points for products requiring a lot of copy to manage information and make shopping easier. Copy should take into account the audience demographics and the product line, while editorial copy should be used to create a voice that exemplifies and supports the brand.

You also have to devote significant catalog space to service information, because customers are more sensitive to service than ever. Friendly and knowledgeable operators, 24-hour service, 800-number lines, overnight shipping and unconditional guarantees have all become fairly standard. But you still need to present your services in a way that speaks to your target customer.

For instance, home and auto electronics cataloger Crutchfield promotes its services on the inside spread; it also devotes several pages to answering frequently asked questions, promoting technical support, and listing product specifications. Crutchfield’s high-tech audience, who may be installing a car stereo or about to spend ñ5,000 on home theater speakers, want long detailed copy blocks, product specifications, and service information.

As you put together your catalog, remember that your best customers are probably getting the most catalogs in the mail-most likely from your competition. So your catalog has to be recognized or stand out in the crowd and speak to your target every time. And the more you know about your customers, the more effectively you can market to them.

Your order-takers and customer service reps are a terrific source of information about your customers and what they want. After all, the reps are talking to your customers, taking orders, answering questions, handling complaints, and receiving compliments. You have to gather and harness this information and use it to better serve your customers. You can do this by asking reps to complete a form anytime they get complaints, comments or other feedback from customers, or more informally, you can take reps to lunch or hold a coffee break roundtable to find out what they’re hearing.

Focus groups are also a great way to get direction information and emotional feedback from customers. Some catalogers-usually those with a large customer base-form customer panels and then ask these buyers to answer questions on a regular basis, sometimes four times a year.

You should also survey your customers on a regular basis. Put a survey in outgoing packages to elicit information from your best or most recent customers, and mail questionnaires to dormant customers to find out why they haven’t ordered in a while. Below, some of the questions you might ask customers:

What information do they need about fit? Do your charts answer their questions?

n Is the type too small or hard to read because it’s reversed or on artwork?

n Do you provide all the information needed to make a purchase decision?

n Can readers understand your merchandise from the picture?

n Do they like the models you use? Are they drawn to them?

n Do they use your catalog for ideas about their home or fashion?

n What services do they want and need to see?

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