Profitable Catalog Marketing on the InternetTo be a successful catalog marketer on the Internet you must have a taste for adventure. It's a combination of 75 percent traditional direct marketing, 20 percent experimentation and 5 percent serendipity.
We've all grown up with the rigors of traditional direct marketing and understand how we must measure and calibrate everything we do. It's the basis that lets us expand and grow. The experimentation I refer to is different from the testing we have all done in the offline world. Experimentation means the willingness to think outside the box when you market on the Internet. Serendipity affords you that bit of luck that allows you to stumble onto the right thing, recognize it is the right thing and embrace it.
My hero of Internet direct marketing is Omaha Steaks. Every time I hear of a new partnership opportunity, a new marketing idea or a new technology announced, I invariably read that Omaha Steaks is one of the first companies to sign on to test. I'm sure that along the way they have learned some painful lessons. But that sense of adventure and willingness to experiment has opened e-commerce doors that have been shut to other marketers.
<B>Shopping Portals.<B> There are a host of opportunities for you to explore from the major sites like Yahoo and Excite to catalog request domains to online shopping malls.
Each of the major search engines has realized that shopping draws customers. You can arrange to be one of their featured suppliers. You can place banner advertising based on the large number of eyeballs attracted. And you can experiment with key word buys. Don't worry that every good word or search term is already taken -- test, test, test. This is likely to be one of the most fruitful strategies you can employ. However, negotiate in advance. Tell the search engine how much money you plan to spend and use that as a bargaining chip to arrange for the ability to change the distribution of your marketing dollars depending on which words draw the most qualified traffic.
There are a variety of lead generation sites designed specifically for catalogers such as CatalogLink, CatalogSite, CatalogCity and FreeShop. These companies are in the business of generating traffic from Internet shoppers who are interested in catalog shopping. It generally costs you nothing to participate, but you pay for each lead they pass on. Of course, the key to success is to measure your conversion rate. Test offering your catalog for free vs. charging a nominal fee. Test the various promotional opportunities available -- many are free, but you need to invest the time to develop a relationship with the people running the site. And if one site in this category works for you, that's a clear signal that you need to participate in all of them.
The Web has various shopping malls. Many of the major online services and Internet Service Providers aggregate shopping sites and offer innovative ways to reach a large number of eyeballs, and there are many other Web malls. On America Online you can pay an additional fee to participate in one of their pop-up screens to drive traffic. Many develop seasonal promotions; and since you provide the content to help fill out their offerings, you often can participate for free. If you are willing to run a contest or provide prizes, they will give you added visibility.
<B>E-Mail Marketing.<B> This is one of the most awesome vehicles you can employ. Most of the marketing opportunities on the Web are based on pull technology where you try to attract people who are online to your site. E-mail operates in a different and very personal space. People don't surf through their e-mail. They are in a different mindset when they are reading their mail and you can use this to push individuals to your site.
Two-thirds of all the marketers using e-mail use it to get closer to their own customers. The major obstacle encountered is not having e-mail addresses for each and every customer. If you are in this situation, make sure you do anything and everything you can to aggressively collect e-mail addresses. Ask for e-mail address on every order form. Train your customer service representatives to ask for e-mail address on each call. Create reasons on your site for individuals to register with you -- whether it's a survey, a promotion or a registration area. Even if you only have a limited number of e-mail addresses, begin today to communicate with your customers. You will reap rewards.
There are a finite number of opted-in e-mail lists on the market today and they do not offer the number of selections we are used to in the traditional world, but they are working. A few tips to consider:
* First of all, you need to develop a control e-mail letter. Don't just try one creative effort. Click throughs (clicks on links embedded in your letter that transport recipients to specific offerings on your site) begin within minutes of launching a campaign, and 80 percent of responses occur within two days of a mailing. Test multiple offers, creative approaches and personalization techniques. You'll be able move from test to rollout on the most effective letter within hours or days.
* One catalog marketer we work with learned a very valuable lesson -- they included a unique toll-free number and fax number within their e-mail letter. They found that 20 percent of all the revenue generated came offline.
* This is a personal medium. Use personalization within your letters wherever and whenever possible. Do everything you can to make it easier for the customer to order. Some e-mail service bureaus also can help you to pre-populate order forms. If the customer's name and address is already entered on a form, it is that much easier for a customer.
* Feature multiple offers within your e-mail and link directly to each of your featured products.
<B>Loyalty programs.<B> There are several major sites that have created loyalty programs on the Internet. They usually develop a profile of each registrant and then provide offers tailored to these interests. BonusMail offers their 1.7 million customers Rew@ards to those who click on embedded links to learn more about specific offerings.
There are three keys to making these loyalty programs successful: a strong offer, good creative and pinpoint targeting. Don't let some of the large universes tempt you. Select carefully and you can reap rewards.
<B>Affiliate Programs.<B> Amazon.com may have been the first e-commerce site to offer affiliate programs, but many other sites have followed suit. This is a nice way to borrow content from another site to round out your offerings and have the opportunity to generate incremental revenues. Using Amazon.com's affiliate program as an example, a cigar catalog might feature Amazon books on cigars. The cigar catalog will retain 15 percent of the revenues from the sale of books. The downside is that if consumers decide to search for books beyond the cigar category Amazon gets all the revenues and the cigar cataloger loses these consumers from his site.
<B>Synergistic Links.<B> Look for sites that complement your catalog offerings and develop reciprocal links. The more links there are to your site the more traffic you have the potential to generate. Also check out sites such as LinkExchange and LinkShare.
<B>Technology.<B> A few weeks ago Victoria Secret launched a fashion broadcast on the Web. They made a splash. Consider the appropriateness of using cookies to customize and personalize the experience for your customers. Explore the possibilities of Flash, audio, video, multimedia e-mails and more.
Companies have made major investments in building their Web sites but quickly realize that you have to work hard to build traffic to your site and to stimulate e-commerce.
<I> Regina Brady is leader of interactive services at Acxiom/Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT. <I>