The Titanic was supposedly unsinkable and so, for a time, were American catalog companies — brands as enshrined in the mythology of American business as capitalism itself. Montgomery Ward, Sears, JC Penney: pioneering companies such as these were instrumental in shaping modern consumers’ expectations for selection, convenience and service. And today, while the golden age of the mail order catalog is decidedly over, many of America’s most prominent brands continue to rely heavily on catalog and direct mail marketing. Direct mail isn’t dead — not even close. But with B2C and B2B customers alike increasingly online and mobile, print and postage rates climbing and competition increasing, the iceberg is looming. Ready the lifeboats now or get ready to swim. In the same nautical spirit, here are 3 tips for brands interested in finding a better balance between direct mail and digital marketing:
1) Plan Ahead and Avoid the “Crash Stop”
On the ocean, it can take several miles and up to 20 minutes for a supertanker to perform a “crash stop,” moving from “full ahead” to “full reverse.” The maneuver is considered a last resort, only advised in cases of emergency. It should (hopefully) be pretty obvious, but when it comes to direct mail-dependent brands shifting to digital marketing, the same is true: plan ahead.
2) “All Hands on Deck”
Finding a better balance between traditional and digital marketing is about more than just marketing: it’s about the very model and philosophy of your business. It affects pricing, inventory, shipping, customer service, database design and more. Yet frequently when we talk with brands interested in tackling this challenge, it’s striking how few stakeholders are initially involved on the client side. It’s easy to decline a meeting, but impossible to attend one that’s already happened. Developing a digital marketing strategy for your direct mail and/or catalog-focused business is about building a new ship, not simply changing course. It takes “all hands on deck” to do it right.
3) Recognize Sea-Sickness and Offer an Alternative
Remember what happened when JC Penney tried to reinvent itself too fast? It wasn’t pretty. Similarly, catalog companies in particular should remember that implementing a more digital strategy is just one part of the challenge. Next you need to introduce it to your customers. And like passengers testing their sea legs for the first time, many customers (particularly in B2B markets) do not historically respond well to rapid change. In shifting your business online, be sure to pack enough digital Dramamine (e.g. phased reduction or elimination of the catalog or more limited direct mail promotions) for customers accustomed to the catalog.