Stop mailing to your imaginary friend

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I am constantly entertained and amused by catalogers that are 
unwilling to explore new methods of contacting their own customers 
because it does not meet with their "customer's expectations of the 
Whether it's appending e-mail addresses to their existing customer 
file, becoming more aggressive with their catalog's promotional 
efforts, or simply deciding what product should be on the front cover 
of the catalog, many decisions that affect response rates are made on 
a gut feeling about the customer's expectation, rather than any hard 
Senior management at many catalogs think their customers are unique, 
that their customers are wholly unaware of any of that catalog's 
competitors, and that there will be a revolt among those customers if 
the catalog tries anything new to elicit a stronger response. They 
have no facts to substantiate any of these claims, but still they 
insist they "know what their customer wants."
Catalog circulation and marketing professionals - and most list 
brokers - want to believe that a detailed circulation plan will 
determine the success of their catalog's mailings. Would that it was 
so. Instead, it is the catalog's merchandise - and how well that 
merchandise matches the catalog's customer's needs - that determines 
more than 60 percent of that catalog's success.
The problem is that very few catalog professionals truly know their 
customers, and thus do a lousy job of matching the catalog's 
merchandise mix to what the customer truly wants. They talk in great 
detail about how their customers want this or that, where they live, 
how they dress, even what they name their children.
But most catalogers' perception of their customer is no different 
than having an imaginary friend. The meager response rates those 
catalogs receive are evidence that little effort is made to determine 
what the customer truly wants.
Knowing as much as you can about your customers aids everyone 
involved with your effort to acquire new customers. Merchants can 
pick product aimed at benefits the customer seeks, circulation staff 
can identify new sources of customers based on customer demographics, 
and the creative team can alter the look of the book to meet the 
customer's expectations of that customer's profile.
But you have to talk with your customers to get that information; it 
does not come through osmosis. Contract with a research company that 
can either survey your customers on the telephone, on the Web, or 
better yet, conduct focus groups with your customers to learn what 
products they want.
Ask them what they like and don't like about your Web site and your 
catalog. Then make the appropriate changes to truly meet your 
customer's "expectation about the brand."


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