How to stand out from the crowd: ACCM

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BOSTON - Getting noticed in today's multichannel landscape is becoming increasingly difficult because of the sheer number of pitches from e-mails, catalogs and mobile phones and the fact that the pitches selling merchandise are looking more and more alike.

There are strategies, however, for differentiating a business that can help drive sales, according to the panelists here at yesterday's "Power Forum: Differentiate and Conquer," one of the opening-day events at the Annual Conference for Catalog and Multichannel Merchants.

"You can make money selling what Wal-Mart sells if you find that group of consumers who consider the product part of their lifestyle," said Love Goel, chairman/CEO of Growth Venture Group. Wrangler jeans, for example, can be sold at a discount by a big box retailer and at full price by a merchant who specializes in delivering a fully realized Western-lifestyle experience.

By offering a variety of content related to a community, Mr. Goel said, you can absolutely compete.

What to do with merchandise that has become a commodity has always been a challenge for retailers, he said.

"Globalization and big box retail is the cause of commoditization; the Web just makes the problem more visible by making the long tail of merchandise easily accessible," he added.

In fact, the Internet's ability to provide consumer-generated content only exacerbates the problem, said Bart Sichel, a principal at McKinsey & Co.

"Marketers can't get away with something that they might have been able to get away with in the past by having a great marketing campaign," Mr. Sichel said. Customer reviews and blogs increase the transparency of what marketers do and, as a result, the "onus is pushed back onto you to deliver something unique, targeted and special," he said.

This does not mean, however, that merchants should consider eliminating consumer-generated content from their Web sites.

"You have to have the customer voice there," Mr. Goel said, even though it is a double-edged sword.

One way catalogers can differentiate themselves is to segment their customers by lifetime value and target communications accordingly. "About 50 percent of catalogers still aren't doing this," he said.

The reason is that looking at customer activity across books and channels runs contrary to what many marketers are used to doing.

"We're not just in the business of being productive in any one book, but longitudinally," Mr. Sichel added.

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