Catalog reinvention goes full speed

There are vested interests on both sides of the debate. Printers, paper manufacturers and the U.S. Postal Service see the paper catalog as being invincible. Internet service providers, search firms and the Internet industry see the catalog as a relic of the pre-online era.

The truth: the debate will be decided by metrics. The problem: we don’t have the metrics.

The coming year will advance those metrics and the logical answer will be that the catalog is losing influence and search is gaining influence.

In fact, while not in 2007, but one year soon, there will be no multichannel marketing, only marketing once again, and it will demand mastery of all channels. We will come full circle and be completely re-invented in a much larger industry.

In 2007, catalog creative conventions will begin massive change. All of the square-inch, grid, pagination, space allocation and other traditional conventions will begin to be abandoned in favor of new conventions that drive and support online conversion.

Photography will become much larger-heroic, as it is called. Space, copy and message will be thought of differently; not as cost per square-inch, but conversion cost relative to paid search, key word expense and pay per click/pay per order. If a large hero photo does the job at less cost, that tactic will be adopted. Catalogs will begin to look very different, more like magazines.

In 2007, the number of pages will decrease. As catalogs morph to Web drivers, the intent will be to attract buyers rather than display products. If a buyer can be attracted to the in-depth online product experience with 36 pages instead of 120 pages, the “bait-and-hook” catalog will gain in usage.

Next year, the last vestiges of lazy, sleepy marketers will begin a flight back to quality lists. Catalog companies who continue to use pre-1990s circulation plans relying on lowest-cost compiled names will be forced to seek high-quality, segmented, response names. Far too many business-to-business catalogers are still mailing the entire business universe once a year, segmented only by SIC.

In 2007, the debate between “black box” membership list co-ops and list-specific co-ops will intensify. Catalogers will demand metrics – from both – that empirically prove the future value of customers. The loss of list rental income with membership co-ops will grow in importance, and senior catalog executives and chief financial officers will begin to look at these models with increasing, intensive scrutiny.

Next year, the youngest baby boomers who own catalogs will turn 62 years of age. Many others are approaching 70 years old. The largest transfer of catalog ownership ever known will occur over the next three to eight years. Some of these companies will be sold to competitive catalog companies. Some will be bought by private equity groups. Some will be handed off to the children.

In all cases, however, youth and profit will come to dominate their operations. And that can only mean huge shifts from tradition to innovation, from passive to aggressive, from print technology to online technology, from response-based to conversion-based. An age ends and begins in 2007.

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