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MarCom Matters

January 2015
Issue: #63

Print Catalogs Are (Not) Dead

Note to L.L. Bean: Received all eight Christmas catalogs. Thank you.

Interestingly, they didn’t send the same one eight times. Nosiree.

Instead, each catalog showed up in a different disguise for a different audience. There was the one for him, for her, for the home and for the outdoors. Then there was the gift guide, the holiday catalog, the special-edition and, of course, the official Christmas catalog.

Now I’m sure from time to time you’ve heard that one or another traditional means of communication has passed on to the netherworld: cold calling, white papers, TV advertising, Morse Code, or whatever.

And for eons one of the foretold casualties of modern marketing has been the print catalog.

Experts say the reasons are just too persuasive: rising costs of production and postage, too anti-green, and the increasing role of the Internet in commerce.

Don’t believe ’em.

But just as with Santa Claus, the myth is mightier than the reality.

The National Directory of Catalogs boasts over 12,000 consumer and business-to-business catalogs in its database. A big number. And for good reason…

They work.

According to the marketing research group FGI, half of those who get catalogs read every single one (Get a life, huh?). And when ecommerce or brick-and-mortar stores cut back on catalog distributions, sales drop big time.

And here’s the kicker: Three out of four people who buy from catalogs have done so online.

All of which begs the questions: Why do print catalogs still work in the Age of Twitter? And if most people end up buying online, then why produce them at all?

Generation and Fulfillment – Two sides of the same coin

It turns out the Internet is great at demand fulfillment. It’s not so hot at demand generation.

That’s because the Internet is a reactive beast that performs only the tasks we tell it: find information, entertain me, socialize with friends and family, and buy this thing.

And while we’re focused on performing those tasks we tend to ignore irrelevant distractions – like banner ads – that in other contexts might pique our interest.

Catalogs, on the other hand, are proactive. They stare at us seductively from the coffee table. We look at them when we’re not otherwise occupied. And flipping through them reveals a bunch of stuff we forgot we needed or didn’t know existed.

“Hey look, left-handed barbecue spatulas. I gotta get me one, pronto.”

At that point, we’re off to the Web to put in our orders. Or maybe to find out the best brands, read the reviews and compare prices.

Catalogs – like advertising, direct mail, books, research papers, published articles, presentations, workshops, and PR campaigns – grab us by our collars and show us what’s new, what’s possible, and what’s on the horizon.

On the other hand, inbound marketing, social media, websites, content marketing and online catalogs help those who are already aware of a need to be satisfied or a problem to be solved. They inform the buying process once the demand bug has bitten.

That’s where the Internet shines.

The bottom line

What we learn from catalog sellers is that demand generation and demand fulfillment are different concepts that require different approaches and tactics. Some may be online, some traditional. But increasingly they are a blend of the two.

So instead of thinking about digital versus non-digital, think about generation and fulfillment.

Focusing on just one side of the coin or relying on fulfillment tactics to generate demand (and vice versa) will result in prospects passing you by. And it will leave your interested prospects without a clear and logical path to purchase.

What you can do

Before 2015 gets too far down the road, resolve to take a closer look at how your marketing and sales processes work together.

Map out and analyze the tactics you use today to get each audience interested in the products and services you sell, and how you transition that interest to a purchase.

Give it a try. With a little realignment you just might flip your growth curve. Even if you don’t sell left-handed barbecue spatulas.