Catalogs and Web sites make good dance partners

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In 1995, Netscape went public and the internet, as we know it, was born.

Today, just 12 short years later, more than 40 percent of all orders attributable to direct mail catalogs are consummated online.

Catalogs are pivotal in the multichannel marketing arena because they effectively "push" offers to the consumer.

People love to receive catalogs: they tell stories, they can be romantic or all business, they are easy to shop. They promote brand and drive transactions (they are brandactional). Catalogs provide information necessary to make an informed purchase decision in a flexible go-anywhere, read-anytime format. Oprah even devotes a show to catalogs. What would we do without Neiman Marcus' Christmas Book, Victoria's Secret, Williams-Sonoma and your favorite catalog?

At the height of the Internet bubble, just before the new millennium dawned, sage Webeneurs pronounced the catalog dead:The Internet would change the waypeople shop forever, and catalogs would effectively go away. Balderdash.

We're actually printing more catalogs with higher page counts today than we were five years ago, and more than before the Internet for that matter.

However, the catalog and Web site are now required by the ever-more-savvy and empowered remote shopper. No successful direct merchant can operate one without the other.

While there have been many discussions of integration of print and e-marketing, few merchants focus on the customer experience and what these two vastly different - but uniquely tied - channels are most effective at delivering to the customer.

Online marketing alone is hard. Spam, phishing, identity threat, viruses, pop-ups and a host of other noise and nastiness online have resulted in declining e-mail open rates and low click-through rates.

The smart marketers' best intentions are undermined online.

Watch as pure-play online businesses deploy traditional offline direct mail catalogs designed to drive transactions online: eBay, Amazon.com and Art.com, to name a few.

EBay is a stellar example. EBay produces a catalog of seasonally appropriate new and used merchandise targeted to its top buyers. And it works. Buyers are surprised and delighted by ideas and uses for eBay beyond their customary shopping patterns. It is this latter area, where offline DM can out-perform Internet marketing.

Catalog and Web sites are hugely interactive in today's world. The catalog continues as the workhorse of demand creation, while the Web site is the engine for channeling and consummating that demand.

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