UK Catalog "Desert" Inviting Prospect for US DMers

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WHITE PLAINS, NY - Compared to the US Great Britain is a catalog desert with average households receiving only one catalog a month, Mike McKenna of Catalogue Marketing UK Ltd. told a group of btb executives here.

The session on cataloging in the UK and Europe was part of Acxiom/Direct Media's 23rd Business Mailer's Co-op conference held this week. McKenna spent 10 years as Seton Nameplate's UK marketing director before starting his own catalog consultancy.

A survey of 500 British BTB catalogers revealed that only one out of ten btb mailings in the UK was a catalog and that btb targets received only one catalog a week, McKenna said.

In a scathing critique of British catalog practices, McKenna said that in general off-the-page ads in national newspapers were used to solicit catalog requesters, rather than mailing catalogs.

Conventional DM wisdom in the UK holds that mailing catalogs to prospects is "a license to lose money" because of high mailing costs in Great Britain.

Not so, McKenna argued. Response rates are much higher than in the US because Great Britain has far fewer malls, and because "people in the UK don't travel," meaning more are inclined to shop by catalog.

True, postal charges were high but catalogers could negotiate lower rates with Royal Mail. "When I was at Seton I negotiated a $500,000 rate cut. They know they get a larger return from mailing more catalogs."

What's more, he said, overnight parcel delivery costs are low -- $4.50 up to 88 pounds with delivery guaranteed by 10 a.m. the next morning everywhere in Great Britain except in Northern Ireland.

"UK catalogs lack panache," he said, citing small size, poor paper quality and bad design. "Don't tone down American bravado," McKenna advised US executives. "Catalogs that shout the loudest do the best."

Some 90 percent of what works in the US will work in the UK but the 10 percent that doesn't is important and should be given serious consideration.

"When Lands' End came to the UK it assumed that it was a known brand but it wasn't. Nobody knew them and they had to spend a fortune to become known as a brand. Fame in the US doesn't carry to the UK," McKenna said. He also made these points:

*Don't use dollar-denominated catalogs, people don't want to be bothered converting currencies.

*Enter joint ventures with companies experienced in the ways of direct marketing in the UK rather than on the basis of product similarity.

*When renting lists ask users for references. Ask for usage. "As an American you have to be a lot pushier in the UK. Americans tend to be too timid in Britain."

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