Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
A Real Page Turner


October 1, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois

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With all of the attention being paid to shiny new marketing tools like Twitter, Facebook and websites, it’s easy to forget some of the more traditional marketing tools. Catalogues are a classic direct marketing tactic and if deployed strategically, they can work well with your other marketing activities as part of an integrated strategy. You’ll see that it’s not really about choosing between e-marketing and catalogues but rather how both can co-exist and benefit each other as complementary channels for your customers to access.

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With all of the attention being paid to shiny new marketing tools like Twitter, Facebook and websites, it’s easy to forget some of the more traditional marketing tools. Catalogues are a classic direct marketing tactic and if deployed strategically, they can work well with your other marketing activities as part of an integrated strategy. You’ll see that it’s not really about choosing between e-marketing and catalogues but rather how both can co-exist and benefit each other as complementary channels for your customers to access.

Catalogues make sense right now because most of the attention has shifted to the online channel. With the recession, most corporate marketing budgets were slashed and with the cuts went many direct marketing initiatives. In short – consumers are getting fewer extraneous marketing messages in their mailboxes. With fewer messages to compete with, your catalogue will stand a better chance of getting noticed. If your catalogue is beautifully presented, it will not only stand out but will potentially become a welcome treat much like a treasured magazine subscription. Lee Valley is a well-established Canadian retailer founded on a mail order business platform. The company produces several different catalogues targeting gardeners, wood workers and Christmas gifting options. The production quality is top-notch; a feature Lee Valley’s management team feels is mission-critical. “Every photo is scrutinized to ensure that the angles, lighting, etc., meets with the message that we intend to send. Regarding keeping them longer – yes, customers do keep them and read them like a magazine,” says Susan Clark, marketing manager of Lee Valley. The descriptions and catalogue copy are key to the catalogue’s appeal as well. It’s important to find a “voice” or tone and manner that will capture the essence of your retail experience. It’ll help to have a couple of people who can write the product descriptions. Try a conversational tone – as though you were describing the item to a good friend over coffee or were serving that customer personally in your bricks and mortar store. While perusing your catalogue, your customers will be “shopping” with you. Where and when the actual purchase takes place may surprise you.

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A multi-channel business is defined as one that offers its customers more than one way to purchase products and services from it. If you have a retail store and do a little bit of mail order, then, congratulations – you’re a multi-channel business. Catalogues aren’t just for mail ordering or on-line commerce. They often excel at driving business to your physical store. A December 2008 report by Vovici EFM titled Key Catalog/Multichannel Issues, surveyed retailers who distributed catalogues to gauge how these catalogues drove purchases to their stores. Of the 110 businesses surveyed, respondents indicated that 43 per cent of subsequent purchases were through the physical retail store while they also reported that the catalogue drove 93 per cent of sales through the catalogue itself (via phone or mail in). The survey indicated that more than 96 per cent of online sales were driven by the direct mail catalogues. It’s a phenomenon that even the most established catalogue/gardening retailers are experiencing. Stokes Seeds in Thorold, Ont., has been mailing catalogues to customers for more than 100 years. They began in 1881 and today mail out more than 450,000 catalogues annually all over North America. Having multiple ordering channels for consumers to access when they decide to act on their urge to buy after seeing the catalogue seems to have its advantages. “We do find that many of our customers go through the catalogue to make their choices and then go to the web or phone to order in. Many still like to browse actual physical pages. It will be interesting to see how long that will last. The next generation is completely computer savvy doing everything on the Internet from reading the newspaper to all their communications. We have a program that tells us what kind of platform our customers are using when browsing our website and I am floored by how many use their iPhone or Blackberry,” confirms Joan Adam, marketing co-ordinator of Stokes Seeds. Catalogues not only link to how and where the consumers make their purchases – they also influence when they place their orders.

The sweet spot for delivering any marketing messages would be to have the information land in the customer’s lap right when they’re making a purchase decision. Avid gardeners are typically planning next year’s garden well before spring has sprung. “We send out our main catalogue which includes flowers and vegetables in mid November. There are a number of varieties that have to be started very early. We find that shortly after Christmas, during the bleak month of January, many of our customers dig out the catalogue and start planning and dreaming about their summer garden. We are at our busiest during the months of January and February, with mid-February being our peak,” says Adam. For those businesses wishing to target corporate sales or holiday shopping occasions, a special edition holiday catalogue could capture a bigger slice of that festive wallet. For those wooing corporate sales, plan for your piece to drop in early October since these budgets and orders are often set in stone early. Mid-October is also a good target date for consumers too. Once November comes there will be so much other holiday “noise” that your message may be lost.

If the people won’t come to the message, take the message to the people. Catalogues still work and continue to be well suited to the gardening industry because it’s an activity that requires planning and having a tool in hand to facilitate that plan makes it easy to stay top of mind with your customers. Consider adding a little reading material to your marketing mix. If all goes well, they’ll be begging for the sequel.


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