Alternatives to Full-Sized Catalogs

by Bonnie Parkos

With the resurgence of catalogs, it’s always at the forefront of our minds how to stay relevant. Ecommerce only retailers are finding that web acquisition channels are not as fruitful as they once were, so they are expanding their repertoire to the direct mail market, and it’s working well for them. On the other hand that leaves us catalog veterans looking for ways to stand out among the glut in mailboxes these days. Customers acquired through catalog generally have a higher response rate, AOV, and LTV over web buyers. It’s an important marketing channel, and we certainly aren’t aiming at getting rid of it any time soon. Yet the traditional catalog piece is an expensive marketing vehicle, and sometimes it can be tough to feel like you are getting all that you can out of the channel. Here are a few ways you can utilize direct mail without a traditional full-size catalog.

Mini mailers: There are a plethora of size options out there, but some of the most commons sizes are a 4-page bi-fold, or 8-20 pages with a trim size of 6” x 9”, 5” x 7”, or similar, depending on what your printer can optimize for you. These can be a terrific opportunity to touch base, especially to your housefile, in between regular catalog mailings. If you have a low season where it doesn’t make sense to send out a full mailer, consider pulling together a mini mailer with best-selling, new, or a specific line of product to highlight. You can use a heavier weight cover to give your piece a more substantial feel and impress your customers. Note, these pieces should be used with caution for prospects. The lack of pages to effectively showcase your product line to catch a prospects eye, could mean your mini mailer ends up in the recycling bin faster than you’d like.

Special promo options: Consider sending your housefile customers a special promo, separate from the catalog. It can be something as simple as a postcard, or you can up your promo game to a tear card, or go all-in with a folded piece that has a “gift card” inside. For your special promo, you can choose from several options regarding which customers to target on your housefile. There is the opportunity to reward the top 1% to 5% of your current buyers, or alternatively you can go with an aggressive offer to try and reactivate your older housefile buyers, or even a combination of the two. No matter which path on which you embark, a special separate offer is sure to intrigue your buyers.

Postcards of all sizes: We mention postcards briefly above as an option for your special promotion, however postcards can be so much more than just a promo vessel. Do you have a store opening nearby, a special sale, an online only sale, or other awesome announcement you want to share with your customers? Email is the most often thought of option for these types of messages, but it may pay to consider sending a postcard in addition to the email. Email open rates are diminishing more and more every year, but a postcard can be another way to stand out and get your message to your customers among all the clutter. This is just a small sample of alternative direct mail options that are available. Explore! Have fun! Find something that suits your business and your customers!

However, for our final piece of advice, these alternative formats should never replace a full-size catalog…and definitely not without an accurate, repeatable A/B split test. If your customers are used to receiving a full-size catalog at the same time you are considering sending the alternative format, it is highly likely that these new mail pieces will have a lower response rate. With a lower response rate, there exists a good possibility that revenue will not cover the lower cost of the new format. But as always, test, test, test. Happy mailing!