Relationship Marketing to Move Your Catalog in the Magazine Rack

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Just like millions of other consumers, I find myself doing the nightly mailbox sort, which usually includes deciding which catalogs will be set aside for my weekend browsing. Having worked in the biz, I normally can spot immediately a repagination that's destined for its place in the recycling bin.


When I think about the millions of dollars worth of beautifully created catalogs that get tossed away every day, I wonder why more catalog companies aren't looking beyond product rankings to consumer attitudes and lifestyles to create a winning book. A relationship with your customers will win your book's place in the magazine rack.


Sure, everyone in the business works hard to select merchandise that is appropriate for the lifestyles of the household, but what I'm talking about is taking a closer look at the customers you're targeting to uncover information about what makes them tick so you can make a connection beyond the product offerings. In the simplest terms, that's what relationship marketing is, and those who employ it can end up establishing more frequent purchasing behaviors and customer loyalty.


So, how do you get started? The best way to get to know someone is through a dialogue. Since everyone likes to talk about themselves, why not invite them to do so? We've all been conditioned to give out information about ourselves, but how often do companies take the time to ask us what we think or how we feel about something? Believe me when I tell you there's a lot that consumers will tell you outside of an expensive focus group suite if you ask.


As much as the creatives love to tell you that it's the picture on the cover that will make the difference, a simple sentence, "We'd like to get to know you better...! (See page 3 for details)" tells the customer you're interested in more than just their order. Today's production personalization technology allows catalogers vast opportunities to include simple screeners, and you can and will get response -- premium or not.


Your next step is to listen and learn. That means that you need to devise a way to collect and organize what your customer is telling you so you can gain more insight into what differentiates one from another. If you don't have sufficient databasing horsepower, there are ways to begin developing a customer relationship management database with an outside firm that will help you get those new insights to continue connecting through dialogue. And, if you choose a smart enough database firm, it will help you plan ways to migrate to a more customer-focused platform so you can eventually enhance the dialogue at every customer touchpoint.


The journey toward connecting with customers as a relationship marketer can often be derailed because many forget to take the next step. Respond to what the customer told you. Some marketers get so caught up in looking at and analyzing the new information that customers have given them that they sometimes forget to let them know they heard them. This is a make it or break it step to establishing a longer-term relationship with your customers.


Fingerhut, for example, received a lot of positive response with the placement of a customer's first purchase anniversary on the outer wrap of the catalog. Of course, the inside of the wrap could have told a customer's life story with the depth of information that was available in the database. The point is, as much as we all like to talk about ourselves, we love being recognized even more. Recognizing what the customer has told you is essential to continuing the dialogue and eventually connecting.


Push your production group to allow more personalization and use some of the real estate in your book to "let 'em know you care." It may not create a new purchase the first time you do it, but who doesn't like to shop with someone who remembers what they like.


Tony H. Hart is senior vice president and chief strategist at RTCdirect, Washington.
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