Diamond E-Tailer Blue Nile Thinks Catalogs Won't Cut It

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Blue Nile Inc., Seattle, wants men to think of the online diamond and fine jewelry retailer when they're ready to pop the question. But the company decided that mailing a catalog showcasing loose diamonds won't accomplish its goal.

"Men traditionally don't buy from catalogs," said Cathy Halligan, vice president of direct marketing at Blue Nile, who spearheaded the launch of catalog giant Williams-Sonoma's e-commerce initiative.

This spring, the 13-month-old company produced a direct mail piece -- a 40-page, digest-sized booklet that doesn't sell any products, instead offering recipients how-to advice on everything from buying a diamond to making love with a woman to mixing a gimlet. For example, in response to "How to Recover from a Low Blow," Blue Nile offers the advice: "Time, my friend. Slow agonizing time."

"Merchandising 7,000 loose stones on paper isn't very compelling," said Halligan.

There are several decision points, from cut, clarity, color and carat size to price range.

"How do you do that in two-dimensional, noninteractive paper?" asked Halligan.

The e-tailer's target is college-educated, online-savvy males ages 29 to 35 with household incomes of at least $65,000. Blue Nile hopes that men would keep the piece and use it as a future resource.

Selling diamonds is an information-intensive business, said Halligan.

"If you print out the buyers guides on our site and try to mock them up in a catalog format, you'd have pages and pages of information that the consumer needs to know and wants to know [before] making this purchase," she said.

The company's objectives in conjunction with mailing the booklet are to brand itself as the dominant diamond and fine jewelry retailer and to drive consumers to its Web site.

Many men ask their mothers or other women for help when buying engagement rings, and they don't easily identify themselves to marketers.

"If I could find a list of men about to get engaged, I'd buy it," said Halligan, who added that the diamond and fine jewelry market is a $54 billion industry. "But unfortunately, nobody's put that list on the market yet."

Blue Nile mailed the second drop of its first direct mail piece earlier this month. The piece initially dropped in early April. Halligan said the number of pieces Blue Nile mailed was more than 30,000 but declined to be more specific about circulation.

Meanwhile, the company's Web site address, www.bluenile.com, is not on the book's front cover. The site's address is featured throughout the booklet's copy and at the bottom of every page. Halligan said the company exceeded its marketing and revenue goals for the mailing but would not say what those goals were.

The book was mailed to traditional catalog and publication lists. SpeciaLists Ltd., Weehawken, NJ, handled brokerage for Blue Nile. The booklet was designed and copy-written inhouse in partnership with ad agency Leagas-Delaney, San Francisco. Printing was handled by Berlin Industries, Chicago.

Some women buy from Blue Nile, too, said Halligan. The company was careful not to alienate women with the tone of the book.

Future distributions of the mail piece are planned. Blue Nile also has promoted its site via television commercials.

The company deems its competitors to be mostly bricks-and-mortar independent jewelers and not online counterparts such as Mondera.com.

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