Clarity Is Crucial for Catalogers

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Herschell Gordon Lewis delivered what he described as "The Clarity Commandment" during an opening session yesterday at The Annual Catalog Conference at the Moscone Center here.


"When you choose words and phrases for force communication, clarity is paramount," said the Fort Lauderdale, FL-based direct response consultant/copywriter. "Don't let any other facet of the communications mix interfere with it. If it isn't clear, no message has been transmitted, and we are not professional."


The pronouncement was only one piece of advice provided in the Catalog Copywriting Masterclass.


He then discussed a mechanical trick that he said usually improves response. The trick involved informing catalog recipients that "We're sorry, but unless you order something, this may be the last catalog we can send you."


"We'll put that as a wrap on the first catalog we sent to people as a test and, invariably, those who get that test will order in greater ratio than those who don't get that test," he said.


The point was then applied to an online catalog.


"You can't keep people out of an online catalog," Lewis said. "What you can do is to say to people, 'If you want to qualify for specials such as this, we have to hear from you, because our specials will come to you through a private e-mail.'"


Industry professionals also were advised not to let technicians take over their business, because communication is more important than technology.


"Technology is a tool, not our master," he said.


Lewis also said that, in his opinion, selling on the cover was a good practice. He asked the audience why computer-related catalogs sell on the cover.


"The typical computer catalog is loaded with product on the cover," he said. "Why do they do that? Because they want to grab you and shake you. It's all price-driven."


In addition to improving response with coupons, Lewis advised using selective telemarketing twice per year.


"You call only the tip of the pyramid, only your best customers," he said. He defined best customers as those who made a purchase in the past six to 12 months.


"You do not use telemarketing for prospecting," he said. "They will hate you. You call your best customers to say, 'I'm calling you because you're one of our best customers and you should know about this.' That gives you a rationale where they're not going to hang up on you and they're not going to call the FTC or say, 'Put my name on your do-not-call list.' Furthermore, calling people other than your best customers is not economical."


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