Catalogs and Direct Mail – Key Steps in the Customer Journey
In the current climate of integrated marketing, digital trends and consumer behavior, “next best action marketing” is growing in popularity.
In an environment where the latest digital trends are shifts like AI, voice user interfaces, cloud computing, augmented reality, machine learning, and more, next best action marketing is all about meeting the consumer where they are, through any one of these tech channels and experiences.
In order to implement next best action marketing, marketers will evaluate a customer’s past behavior, recent actions, interests, and needs, map it to the organization’s offerings and then identify the most effective action to take (crafting a personalized offer, showcasing a promotion, reaching out through mail, sending an email, etc.).
It’s the behavior, the action taken, that counts most. It can provide not only insight but an actual jumping off point to make the next step taken by a marketer — a post, a share, a follow-up email, a like, a discount, etc. — resonate in such a way that it guides the consumer to the next action, coached to conversion in an incremental way.
Why does this matter? Because catalogs are an ideal step in the customer journey — especially when the question is, “How do we drive prospects online who are also primed to take the next action?”
When catalogs are deemed to be the “next best action” to take, the offer can be more direct and the action can be more galvanized, as we’ll soon see below.
Catalogs can help you form an integral link in the action sequence that is the buyer’s journey.
Leafing through a catalog these days, you’ll find that the experience is…well, different. Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer — or, better yet, think back to a moment when you may have received a catalog as a consumer.
Today’s catalogs are not only slimmer and leaner, they’re more beautiful, expressive, and curated. There is something almost editorial and photo journalistic about them.
The browsing experience of a catalog today is tailored, exclusively on-subject, almost as though one is embarking on a guided tour.
A tour with a very specific purpose: to entice your customer, to spark their imagination, to appeal to their aspirations, to persuade by inspiration.
It’s a tactic that online-only men’s apparel retailer Bonobos knows well — and has used to full advantage.
Consider that, in Bonobos’ highly targeted catalog campaign:
- Customers tend to buy the whole outfit, so Bonobos has adapted to showcase shirts with pants
- 20% of its website’s first-time customers are sourced from catalog prospecting
- New acquisition sourced from catalog prospecting spend 1.5x more than customers acquired via digital prospecting
Looking at the Bonobos catalog shows us one of the few calls-to-action are headlines like, “It starts with fit. Start here,” displayed on the very last page of the catalog.
Does this tell us that Bonobos just likes to produce catalogs with no direct pull? No. They’re playing a more subtle and distinctly customer-centric game. The numbers here speak towards their intentional success. The secret is clear: Bonobos has shaped their catalog in a way that their catalog is the call-to-action.
This is the consumer’s experience of a catalog, operating on a level just below conscious recognition.
Which means that the role of the catalog in today’s marketing mix is one of putting the brand physically in a consumer’s hand.
Research performed by Boden, a U.K. clothing retailer (who also mails catalogs in the US), hits this fact home even harder: Where customers spend just 5 minutes on a store’s iPad app browsing the collection and a paltry 8 seconds on a marketing email, they’ll sit down and experience the brand via a catalog for 15-20 minutes.
And, by the way, it’s not re-routed into their spam folder: the average customer keeps their catalog for about a month. So your catalog impressions go along way, especially when compared to digital.
The position of the catalog in the context of next best action marketing, then, is as a call-to-action. Why does this work so wonderfully well?
Part of the advantage that catalogs give businesses and marketing campaigns in particular is that of its inherent efficacy: catalogs in direct mail campaigns are simply more effective than their email counterparts.
According to the Direct Marketing Association,
- 79% of consumers will act on direct mail immediately compared to only 45% who say they deal with email straightaway.
- 50% of consumers prefer direct mail over email. 67% feel direct mail is more personal than the Internet
- 78% of consumers react to direct mail, immediately taking one of two actions: 44% visit the brand’s website and 34% search online for more information
Clearly, catalogs are an integral part of the brand campaign and advertising experience. For a connected consumer, however, catalogs flow seamlessly into other aspects of their consumption, including platform-specific offers.
This means that catalogs can easily be linked to in-person or store events, along with social media, as IKEA did when they celebrated the launch of their 2016 catalog with a social media campaign, which linked their look books to Twitter and a vending machine at Eatons Centre.
This sort of ‘marketing connectivity’ is precisely what catalogs are a part of. In this case, however, the entire campaign centered around the catalog, rather than having the catalog be one step in a series.
Yet, for IKEA, the catalog has historically played a huge role in actually demonstrating the brand’s commitment to clean spaces, family-oriented functionality and creative design.
Formulating the campaign in this way makes sense for them, given where their customers are. The catalog is still a call-to-action but it’s also a key moment in conversion because the next step is, traditionally in-store or online purchase — a fact IKEA recognizes and is capitalizing on.
To keep your audience — your consumer — engaged, you’ll need to provide variability. In a digital world, where encounters with brands and businesses are fleeting, ephemeral and saturated, providing variability in your matrix of ‘next best actions’ is a tool that will help you cut through the noise.
When there is an overflow of the digital, businesses do well to introduce the physical — and catalogs are that new-old approach that are poised to provide the engagement variability we’re looking for.
The need to engage customers at this higher level is unlikely to go away even if the economy takes another turn downward. In fact, as more products become more similar and as the Internet continues to provide increasing access to more products, print catalogs and their content will grow as means to differentiate brands and sustain existing customer relationships. Great brands integrate catalogs with email marketing,social media, and other tactics into a distinctive, memorable, and valuable brand experience for their customers. — “Why the Print Catalog is Back in Style“, Harvard Business Review
Catalog versioning — tailoring different versions of a catalog to different customer segments — is no more a complex undertaking. Instead, retailers like L.L. Bean are experimenting with ease, sending just a few, specific pages of the fuller catalog.
Chief Marketing Officer, Steve Fuller says that his department looks for regular website visitors, targets them and sends them only 20 to 50 pages as a “reminder of, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to the website.'”
Strategies like versioning rely on a highly targeted audience.
40% of the success of your direct mail campaign relies on the mailing list. So first and foremost, you need to make sure you are mailing your message to the right audience.
However, don’t make the mistake of focusing only on demographics. You should segment your database based on RFM (recency, frequency, monetary), product, opt-in status, pages visited, and other criteria.
Source: Think With Google
Remember that assumptions can be costly and analyzing customer behavior can actually allow you to see segments of the population you’ve been missing. The trick is to use targeted demographics-based modeled lists in conjunction with past customer behavior to also find other potential targets waiting for the ‘next best action’ or offer from your end.
Speaking of creativity, we encourage you to get creative with your physical mailer.
While postcards, trifolds, and envelopes are excellent and just as effective, there’s nothing like a mock-DNA test kit that provides test tubes for “the elements of nature” like “freedom, adventure, authenticity and passion,” the values of Jeep’s Cherokee line.
Obviously, the cost to produce such a creative undertaking needs to be aligned with the projected order size. This particular campaign was run in Turkey and most of the recipients came in to take a test drive.
It’s usually at this point that naysayers like to tell you that people aren’t motivated and they’re just unlikely to pick up a postcard and bother to take action.
And, that’s true: they’re unlikely to pick up a postcard — but they are likely to pick up a branded postcard that has the right offer, aimed at the right person, delivered at the right time.
The above ideas are all keys to moving your customers from the physical experience of the brand — the catalog — to the digital action of conversion.