Hi-tech, Net Find Home at Catalog Show

BOSTON — New products were unveiled, new workshops were added, new speakers were introduced and new business contacts were made at the 15th annual Catalog Conference & Exhibition at the John B. Hynes Convention Center here last week.

Hi-tech and Internet-related products received more attention than in previous years. Catalog City and Catalog Finder, two Web storefronts through which customers can search or browse for products from a host of catalogs debuted designs for their Web sites.

Catalog Finder, whose redesigned site will be launched June 10, features enhanced searching and browsing capabilities. The company also has added back-end enhancements that will speed customer service times by 100 percent to 200 percent, said technical manager Kirby Fling. The site includes a more user-friendly design, better search capabilities, a gift registry and new groupings of catalogs under headings such as gift ideas and rare and unusual.

The Internet, along with a marketing plan, follow-up, customer list and a designated guerrilla or head marketer, rank as the five most important weapons for catalog marketing, said Jay Conrad Levinson, co-founder of Guerrilla Marketing International Inc., Mill Valley, CA.

“The most important location in Boston, in San Francisco, in Chicago and in Houston is on the Internet. It has become the important location in cities around the world,” Levinson said during the opening general session.

In a concept tested for the first time at this year's conference, catalog executives candidly discussed which ideas have worked and which haven't. A standing-room-only crowd attended the workshop, which featured representatives from L.L. Bean, Ethel M. Chocolates, Barnes & Noble Direct and Levenger, a catalog of reading and writing tools.

Tom Sidar, vice president of creative at L.L. Bean, described how different creative approaches produced different results for the same product. A successful presentation of a sleeping bag called the Burrito Bag explained that the bag got its name because campers could keep themselves warm by sleeping under the left flap, the right flap or by wrapping themselves in both flaps like a burrito. In a later, less successful spread, 12 campers were pictured in nine different sleeping bags.

“It's kind of like we took the burrito concept and opened up a whole restaurant and confused the customer,” he said.

Steve Leveen, president of Levenger's, noted that what has worked well for his company is copy that speaks to a customer honestly and comfortably.

He said the company has been unsuccessful when it has strayed too far from the reading, writing and home-office products that are its staple. Failures included jewelry, a sweater with a book pattern and Levenger's brand coffee.

“Our merchandiser has a new rule. Nothing in the body, nothing on the body,” Leveen said.

Meanwhile, for the first time this year, a nondirect marketing keynote speaker addressed the show. Steering clear of direct marketing, former White House adviser George Stephanopoulos told attendees to expect statesmanship, scandal and a struggle for succession to dominate the remainder of President Clinton's second term.

In one of the other keynote speeches, Rebecca Jewett, president of catalog company Norm Thompson, Hillsboro, OR, predicted that branding had the potential to add the most value to the company's share price over time.

Jewett used examples from catalogers, retailers and auto makers to show how branding has contributed to a company's strengths.

“Branding is a profitable tool to both consumers and companies alike,” she said, noting that brands helped companies segment the marketplace and helps customers process price and quality decisions faster.

The DMA is compiling its first-ever major study of the U.S. catalog industry's financial, marketing, merchandising and operating standards, H. Robert Wientzen, president and CEO of the DMA, announced at the conference.

“The 'DMA State-of-the-Catalog Industry Report: 1998' will provide industrywide objective criteria from a broad sampling, enabling consumer and business-to-business catalog executives to compare their performance with industry standards,” Wientzen said.

The study, conducted in cooperation with W.A. Dean & Associates, San Francisco, will be presented at the DMA Catalog Management Issues Weekend on Oct. 10-11.

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