Make Your Business Time-Efficient

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The Internet has led to many profound changes in consumer expectations.


Goods and services can be received seemingly instantaneously, with selection customized to your individual, pre-defined preferences. There's no need to plan ahead for the fall season, since a media-rich e-mail from your favorite retailer will remind you, providing shopping choices as well as links to its site.


The transformation of the remote shopping experience for consumers is requiring everyone, from traditional retailers to multichannel marketers, to rethink their basic business processes. It means that catalogers are challenged with an unprecedented need to reduce the time to market, and that means adopting newer, more efficient methods to remain ahead in the highly competitive market for remote shoppers.


In response to this need for change, the following are ideas that catalogers already have started to implement in order to shorten planning and production schedules and increase relevance in the marketplace.


• Start projects later. Not only have catalogers started to mail later in the season, but many also have started the production process later. Less time means more time to know what's needed, from pricing to merchandise, and also less time to waste prior to mailing. It is counterintuitive, but less time can lead to crisper execution and also facilitates better utilization of your staff.


• Streamline the approval process. Democracy is nice, but it doesn't have to be slow. From merchandise selection to photographic styling direction to copy approval, ensure that the right people in your organization are available. Publish schedules well in advance and demand that people work their schedules around approval dates. Don't think twice about sending copy to your buyer traveling in the Far East for his sign-off. Shorter schedules require increased compliance with deadlines.


Some companies have adopted "agency day," where one day a week is designated for a meeting with their creative agencies to make all the decisions for that week. This can work for inhouse creative departments as well. Also, consider reducing the rounds of copy and art corrections to consolidate and focus the approval process.


• Reduce duplication of effort. The departmental structure of many companies has led to the emergence of information "silos" where data is often re-keyed into unconnected systems, leading to slower, labor-intensive and error-prone processes. Database technology has advanced to the point where merchandise, price and creative information can be efficiently accessed, even if they originate from separate systems. Doing so also may give you a better vision of how your business operates as a whole.


• Capitalize on efforts across media. Multichannel marketers can build in efficiencies in the planning of activities across all communication types. Not only will this coordination strengthen your brand message, but it also can save time and money. Whether it is the reuse of photography between your Web site and your catalog, or the development of a creative campaign for all media, there are significant opportunities to leverage your digital, personnel and financial assets.


• Consider digital photography. In addition to the use of relational databases, there are several other ways technology can speed up your production process. Digital photography demands important consideration by catalogers. Now that the quality of digital images rivals conventional photography, the prospect of going from image capture to completed layouts in hours instead of days is compelling in reducing cycle time.


• Use the power of the Internet. The Internet also has proved to facilitate accelerated communications. It can be as simple as using e-mail to share information or to obtain needed approval. The ability to make decisions, extract information and request support on your own schedule can not only feel liberating, but also can allow the process to move forward all day long instead of only during normal working hours.


• Andy Russell is president/CEO of AGA Catalog Marketing & Design, New York, a catalog and Web design agency.
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