Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is pressing ahead with an ambitious rebranding of its popular Martha By Mail catalog, unfazed by the scandal surrounding its founder's stock market dealings.
On Oct. 8, the company will roll out a more contemporary Martha Stewart: The Catalog for Living book. The fall/holiday 2002 catalog temporarily will drop certain assortments, paying added emphasis to more utilitarian items at broader price points.
“It's a very crowded market, and I think this rebranding is really sort of establishing authority in the area of lifestyle and home,” said Shelley Nandkeolyar, the executive vice president who heads catalog and e-commerce operations at Martha Stewart, New York. “A lot of people are chipping away and trying to establish themselves as the authority in this space, and we believe we need to position ourselves ahead of that competitive group.”
The new catalog issue will retain its monthly frequency, circulation of more than 1 million and typical 96- to 100-page count. But it will focus more on houseware, homekeeping, tabletop, crafts, textiles, entertaining and cookware. Out are luggage and items for pets, baby and children.
The inaugural issue will list items like specially commissioned Danish Fern pattern crockery, Buche de Noel candy and peanut brittle in a pan pulled out of a recipe from sibling Martha Stewart Living magazine. The same 100-page holiday catalog will include a turkey red damask tablecloth and matching napkins, a line of entertaining essentials like oval porcelain serving pieces and antique copper reproductions from Stewart's kitchen.
Favorites for this holiday season would be Wedgwood platinum plates that cost $88 for a set of four, a $99 lamb's wool throw and assorted food items ranging from $14 to $35.
“What we want to do is increase the utility and practicality of the goods,” Nandkeolyar said. “A lot of the merchandise lends itself to everyday usage, the idea being that not only do you buy it, but you use it frequently and get more value out of it.”
It also helps that these categories are more in keeping with the Martha Stewart brand. That persona has taken a media drubbing over Stewart's role in selling shares of biotech firm ImClone just before the price plummeted in December.
The feeling inside is that the Martha Stewart brand is resilient enough to brave such brouhaha.
“Anecdotal feedback that I've heard from customers has all been very positive,” Nandkeolyar said. “They're all supportive of the products and of the brand name, sort of realizing that the brand name is distinctive. I've not seen an appreciable drop [in business], from the volume of letters and calls that we get from customers.”
All the catalog changes will be reflected on www.marthastewart.com and www.marthastewart-catalog.com, the company's online stores.
“We're going to create a two-channel experience — one brand, two channels, one customer,” he said. “We believe, in the end, you need to have a seamless shopping experience.”
Media support for these changes is critical for the holiday catalog's success. An ad campaign will break soon in Martha Stewart Living magazine and a range of food and shelter titles serving readers in search of holiday gift ideas.
Online, the company will continue an e-mail outreach to its house list as “it's been a very effective marketing tool for us,” Nandkeolyar said. It will run ads on AOL and is negotiating with Yahoo and MSN, he said.
A big benefit of successful acquisition and retention efforts is the potential improvement in the Martha Stewart list's performance. The company exchanges lists and rents as well.
“We anticipate this will dramatically give us a big lift for a prospective response and brand recognition, which will help response as well as make us more marketable to list exchanges and list rentals in the future,” he said.
Even cosmetic changes are expected to chip in to boost direct sales. One big addition with this makeover is the emphasis on a signature color called — what else? — Martha's Green.