Dear Catalog Marketing Friend,

 If you are like most catalogers, you are making the most out of RFM (recency, frequency and monetary value) modeling, and you are spending your dollars to hit your best customers with the most catalogs.

 And you may even be into a more intensive form of modeling. That’s fine. But then what? What do you do for your best customers…send them a new catalog every week? Good grief!

 Your best customers deserve everything you can give them…you must really bend over backwards for them!

 I’m writing this from the Albany, NY Hilton. I’ve been here for several days now. Tonight I escaped to the Wolf Road Diner for dinner. I observed with interest as the manager went out of his way to greet everyone. He ran up to one elderly gentleman, greeted him enthusiastically by name and told him his table was ready. OK, maybe this isn’t all that unusual. But the sincerity and enthusiasm shown this customer, I’m sure, made him feel that he was their most important customer.

And that’s the point!

 I’ll bet this gentleman wouldn’t be too anxious to eat anywhere else. Even if the food was better and the prices cheaper somewhere down the street. Think for a moment about how this might apply to your catalog.

 You’re busy making sure your prices are low and product quality is high in order to get new customers and keep the ones you have. While this is important, could it be that if you turn your customers into friends they’ll be less likely to switch to your competitor? And maybe they’ll overlook a greater deal offered them by another cataloger, or Walmart just to deal with you, someone they’ve trusted and believe appreciates their order?

 Did you realize that cheerful, friendly service can actually make your food taste better? I’ve eaten some places where the food was thrown at you by a snarly waitress. No matter how good the food was, would you return?

 This reminds me of a time many years back, when I was living in California. There was one particular restaurant I frequented that was warm and friendly. The service was great and cheerful. (All the waitresses were even cute.) One of those places that made you feel comfortable and welcomed. But the food was terrible! But stupid Gil was there every morning for breakfast! I almost died from that food.

 No matter what method you use to figure out who your top customers are, once you figure it out, treat them like they really are your best customer. While you want to mail to them as often as they will buy (yes, even if that’s every week), don’t they deserve more than just another catalog? How much are each of your top customers spending with you in a year’s time? Hundreds? Thousands?

 Say you have a store of some kind and there’s this customer that keeps coming back and spending a lot of money. You’re probably going to drop everything you are doing and greet him personally each time he shows up in your store. You’ll make him feel special. You may even throw in extra items with his order and mail him thank you notes and even send him a gift occasionally just to remind him that you haven’t forgotten him and appreciate his business.

 Now…what are you doing for your best customers other than filling their mailbox with your catalogs? Have you ever sent them a personal letter? (Not something that looks like a form letter, but one that appears to be written just to them and have your real signature on it.) And maybe send them an occasional gift. Not part of an offer, but a separate, spontaneous thank you gift. And communicate with them. Something like:

 “Mr. Martin, I just want you to realize how much we appreciate your business and I thought you would like this special gift I selected for you. If you ever have a question or problem my customer service people can’t solve to your complete satisfaction, please call me at 555-555-5555 (this is my private office number) and I’ll make sure you get the attention you deserve!”

 Are there any other ways to make your customers feel appreciated? There’s plenty of them, let’s start from the beginning.

Catalog Requests

 When a potential customer requests your catalog, what does he get? First of all, the faster he gets it the greater your chance of getting his order. I’m not saying that you need to send out every catalog request by first class mail, although you may want to test it. Simply processing that request immediately and sending out your catalog request shipments as quickly as possible may greatly increase your response. If you take too long to get your catalog to them, they may be out of the buying mood for whatever they originally wanted to order from you and may even forget they requested your catalog and just might throw it away!

 I’m always requesting catalogs...I buy a lot of things from catalogers. It’s interesting to see which of the requested catalogs arrive first and what efforts, if any are used to acknowledge you and to make themselves stand out from the others. I’m always impressed by the handful that get their catalogs to me almost immediately. It encourages me to order from them because this efficiency reflects on their whole operation and shows that they take my request seriously.

 Did I hear you say that your response from catalog requests is low and it would be a waste to put more money into sending them out faster? Just maybe you have things turned around! Could it be that putting more time and effort into these requests will greatly increase the response, more than paying for the extra expense?

 A catalog I received from Cuddledown of Maine was sent in a priority mail pak with $3.20 in postage paid on it. (OK, that was several years ago) Included inside with the catalog was a personalized letter. Doesn’t this stand out from all the other catalogs arriving in someone’s mailbox? Does this show that they care and are interested in your business? Would you be anxious to reward them with an order?

 This extra postage must pay off for Cuddledown of Maine. How about trying something similar? Some catalogers will send out a catalog and place first class postage on the back. This is a waste. It doesn’t impress the recipient and may not even impress the Postal Service, they may still not give it first class delivery. Put out the extra effort and put it in an envelope. Then if you are going to use an envelope, put some extra stuff in there with that catalog. A welcoming letter would be great. If you can’t personalize this letter, still make it look as much like a real letter as possible with things like an authentic letterhead and real signature in blue ink. And please, no boring letters. If you can’t write a powerful letter, give me a call and find out how inexpensive it would be to get a great letter written that will really increase your response!

 Now what can you do to really entice that recipient into placing that first order? Maybe a small brochure showing the special gift they are going to get if they place this first order with you. Plus I like they idea of giving them a coupon good for $5 or $10 dollars off their first order. The more effort put into this, the greater your response.

 OK, maybe all this won’t pay off for you. Then you should consider increasing the quality of your catalog requests. Or separate them by source and/or offer. I’m sure you will find that requests from certain sources are a lot better than others. Go after these cream-of-the-crop requesters and put the extra effort into these with first class postage, letters and coupons. Then watch the orders flow in!

A Best Customer Club
 Go after your best customers by automatically enrolling them in your exclusive club for your best customers. Notify them that they will get a discount on all purchases and maybe special gifts or deeper discounts on large orders. Or maybe just free shipping on all their orders. But the trick is to make them feel special and make this club appear exclusive.

 Give them special treatment. Send newsletters letting them know what’s new and giving them first crack at new and special items. Fill it full of a lot of personal from-you-to-them copy. You may have thought that your top customers, the top 10% or 20%, were spending a lot of money with you already, but you’ll be surprised to find out how much more you will be able to get out of them. Plus you will be to keep them around a lot longer. Just show you care about them personally.  

And Your Dead Customers?
 Wait, don’t pull the plug on them yet! At some point it’s time to drop those old customers that just refuse to buy from you. Who’s fault is it that they quit buying?  You blame them for not buying anymore, but could it be your fault? Maybe they’re not buying because you aren’t selling them! You keep mailing them catalogs and then drop them when they stop buying. They were good customers at one time. Can they be revived? Are they worth the efforts? I’m sure they are.

 Instead of beating them over the head with all the catalog mailings, try some of the methods we discussed for catalog requesters. Send them a catalog in an envelope with a “We miss you” letter and some kind of special offer or discount to get them started ordering again. I’ve had great success in situations like this with a powerful letter showing you are concerned and would they please let you know why they’ve stopped buying from you.

 You’ll often get a lot of great feedback allowing you to finally drop some of them that for some reason will never buy again. Plus you’ll get feedback from others that may tip you off to ways to give them what they want and turn them into great customers again. And you’ll be surprised by the number that will be influenced just by the fact that you cared enough to contact them with this letter and will buy from you again.

 Here’s a novel idea: What if we took all these dead and dying customers and treated them like they were still our best customers? OK, this may seem rather strange, but this idea just struck me, so I’ll try to explain it to you. There’s a theory that people try to live up to your expectations. If you tell a kid that they are bad often enough, they will turn out to be bad. And if you keep telling a kid that he is really a good kid, no matter how bad he may act, he just may be encouraged to rise to your expectations of him.

 So what if we took these dead customers and pretended that they were our best customers? Well sort of. Instead of mailing them one of our catalogs with “Last catalog, buy now or else” stamped across the cover we take a different approach. Remember that best customer club mentioned earlier for our top customers? What if we enrolled our dead customers in it? Crazy, Huh?

 OK, here goes…We mail them a catalog and a letter saying that even though you may not have purchased from us for awhile, at one time you were a good customer and are automatically being enrolled in the club. Give them a brochure explaining all the great stuff they are now eligible for such as discounts on all purchases, gifts, free shipping, previews of new products, stuff not made available to regular customers and all that stuff. Interesting idea isn’t it? Will it work? I don’t know, but it may be worth trying. What have you got to lose? You just may succeed in bringing the dead back to life! You don’t have to keep them in this club long. If this doesn’t quickly resucitate them, kiss ‘em goodbye.

More on Recency, Frequency and Monetary  Modeling:

 These three factors may give you a handle on your customer’s buying habits, but wouldn’t you really like to find out what else you can offer them that they would buy like mad or what different approach you could take to increase your sales to them?

 Try overlaying information on your house file that will give you more insight into their leisure activities and lifestyle. Get closer to your customers. Find out more about their lifestyles, needs and wants. Discover who your customers really are so you can market to them more powerfully. Use as many methods as possible to get feedback from your customers. Showing you are interested in them should give you a lot of feedback. Questionnaires can be great for getting this kind of information you need.


 And don’t forget to make the most out of a lot of information you already have. How many customers do you have that buy from only certain product groups and would never buy anything else? Maybe this group of products could be expanded on for this group with separate catalogs or brochures mailed just to them. 


 You probably have certain customers that for whatever reason will only buy at a certain time of the year. “Only fish when the fish are biting.” Instead of mailing to them all year, hit them at the right time of year and hit them heavier with several different catalogs close together and special offers tailored more toward their real interests.


 The time that lapses between each order is of course different with each customer. By being aware of this, maybe you can take advantage of it. If you have a customer that buys only every three months, no matter how often you mail to them, hit them less often, but more powerfully!

 Your friend for very responsive catalog marketing,

 Gil Carlson

 P.S. Retailers are starting to worry about losing their customers to the Internet. How are they fighting back, By being friendly!

 From the food industry newsletter Trend-Wire: “ The best hope retail has is to differentiate itself as much as possible, and one of the best ways is to reinforce a strong ‘Hi, neighbor’ element to it. As life gets more harried and complex, people are going to demand a restoration of more personal connections.” 

 How long have I been suggesting this as a great way to get your catalog to stand out and beat the competition? It really does pay to be friendly!

 P.P.S. I hope these ideas work out for you. Need any more ideas or suggestions? Just e-mail me.

Maybe I can help. Here's a little database insight, a couple of catalog marketing ideas and maybe even a catalog marketing secret or two…
Gil Carlson catalog marketing consultant at his desk

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