9 Reasons to Reconsider the Classic Mail Piece

The following is an excerpt from “166 Proven Marketing Strategies for Retail Success,” the Retail Competitive Intelligence Report, Vol. II from Direct Marketing IQ. Visit the Direct Marketing IQ bookstore to learn more.

Many catalogers who had backed away from print — or stopped printing entirely — are now refocusing on their print catalog core. In my consulting business, I’m hearing clients (who would prefer not to be identified) say, “Our catalogs are profitable again,” “Catalogs are our main sales driver,” and “Catalogs are our first-line prospecting vehicle.”

What’s driving the reinvestment in print catalogs? Here are nine emerging techniques and technologies that are largely responsible, and how you can apply them to your marketing.

1. Better Co-Mailing
Most catalog printers now offer co-mailing programs, so your catalogs ride along with other companies’ catalogs and earn significantly higher volume-based postal discounts. Co-mailing has improved so that varying sizes and weights of mail can be combined.

Even small catalog mailings can earn big-company discounts. Before deciding who to print with, send the printers you’re considering an old mail file so they can estimate postage for you. A great co-mailing program can save enough to offset higher printing costs.

2. Affordable Virtual Catalog
Online catalogs (looks like a print catalog, turns pages like a catalog, customers can order from it like a catalog, but it’s viewed on the Web) were nifty from the start, but only the big guys could afford them. Today, costs for virtual catalogs have plunged.

Now anyone can afford to put a page-turnable, clickable catalog on a website just by having the printer convert and tag the printable PDF. Virtual catalogs are great for customers who don’t like normal decision-tree navigation, for new prospects who want a quick overview of the product line and brand, and for those who enjoy the beauty of a designed catalog spread.

In fact, some online retailers who plan to never mail a print catalog are designing catalogs just to have them on their websites. If you don’t have your own virtual catalog yet, ask your printer what it offers.

3. Google Analytics
Think you can’t use Google Analytics (GA) to get catalog sales data? Today, the majority of catalog sales come via the Web, and those sales are visible in GA. Sure, GA cannot give you a total sales picture, but it’s great as an early warning system without having to wait for completed order curves, full matchbacks, or reports from your backed-up IT department. You can preview sales, make quick decisions about inventory and about the creative direction on your next catalog.

4. Better Matchbacks
Matchbacks (the process of matching orders back to mail tapes to assign source codes) have been necessary, but frustrating, since customers started ordering online. Catalogers have long known that standard matchback methodologies often assign sales by order date to the wrong catalogs, but didn’t have a fix. Today, matchbacks have improved, delivering better tracking and allowing better budget allocation.

One big improvement is the ability to plot actual order curves of mail and phone orders (that is, orders for which you already have a positive keycode ID). Then your matchback vendor can program an algorithm to apply those curves to all the other orders to deliver, not perfect, but improved results data. Ask your vendor if it can do that for you (not all can).

5. QR Codes
When a product was too complex to explain in print, or required too much page real estate, catalogers used to say, “Nope, that’s a retail product — can’t work in a catalog.”

Now QR Codes can take customers to an installation video, usage options, Q&A -whatever works to best explain that product. QR Codes are also good for special offers, branding stories and more. But I think expanded product information is the best use of QR Codes: You gain sales while saving on paper and postage (no need to explain all the details in the catalog).

Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or susan@mcintyredirect.com.