Episode 46: Mastering Catalog Marketing: Success Strategies for Maximum Impact with Rick Binger

Mastering Catalog Marketing: Success Strategies for Maximum Impact With Rick Binger

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In this episode, take a behind-the-scenes look at the catalog process. Joining Drew and Michael is guest Rick Binger, Founder Brand + Creative Director at Binger, who has been working on catalogs for over 30 years. They chat about why a DTC brand would want to create a catalog, the story behind PostPilot's Cardalogs, and the process behind a successful catalog. 

Guest Speaker: Rick Binger

Rick Binger is the guest speaker in this episode and the Founder Brand + Creative Director at Binger, a branding, marketing and creative agency.


- Rick Binger's Catalog Process

- Follow Rick on LinkedIn.

- Learn more about Binger.

Read the Transcript ↓

Today, we are doing a session on catalogs. When would you want to do a catalog as a direct consumer brand? Why would you want to do a catalog? How painful is doing a catalog? Or is it easy? We cover all that stuff, and my guest is an old friend, Rick Binger, who runs a catalog business. He made his name doing the Design Within Reach catalog, which was like the catalog you wanted to get back in the day. So I asked Rick to come on board the podcast and just talk to us about getting into catalogs. So I hope you enjoy it. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. My background is in graphic design, but early on, I got into doing catalogs. I was working at a big design firm in San Francisco called Pentagram and one of their clients when I joined was the Nature Company. Nature Company, if you remember that brand, was one of the first designed catalogs that like actually had a creative look and feel to it. And started working on that and kind of fell in love with the whole catalog process. Even though my background is in creative, I love data. I love numbers. I love being able to measure the results of the work that I do.

So that's kind of how I got into catalogs and I've been doing it for 30-plus years. We met in South Park, San Francisco. I was running this small furniture and design retailer and you at that time, I think we're doing the Design Within Reach catalog. I did do the Design Within Reach catalog for several years and I do remember meeting with you and talking to you and trying to convince you to go in a catalog direction. And we felt like it might be a stretch at that point. I don't remember how big we are, but maybe that's just a good segway into our first question which is, why would a brand want to do a catalog? 

Putting stuff in the mail works and you know this very well from Postpilot and your other experience, but you kind of can't beat putting something in the mail and having it show up in somebody's mailbox. It's a great way to test audiences, a great way to test offers. You know I've seen a lot of brands that are e-commerce only and they get to a certain point and they plateau and they can't figure out why they're just not continuing to bring in new customers, increase their AOV, their average order value and I think getting out in the mail. Again, whether it's a catalog or a postcard or something to start getting something in people's mailboxes, it's a very effective strategy for almost any brand. 

When should a brand start thinking about doing a catalog and where do you see it fitting into the overall marketing mix? So I've got five basic points for when it's appropriate to start thinking about a catalog. The first thing is products. Based on an average of about two to four products per page, also based on a kind of minimum of a 24-page catalog. That means you need about 50 to 100 unique products and that's products, that's not SKUs so if you've got a t-shirt that comes in five colors, that's one product, that's not five, then you should be good to go. That 24-page limit, where do you get that? 

You need a certain number of pages and products to make it feel like you've got a selection. So people are going to respond to the products themselves but also to the breadth of product that you have to offer. You could do an eight-page or 16-page catalog but it feels a little flimsy at that point, literally and figuratively. And with that said, I actually just got a catalog in the mail yesterday from a shoe company. It's a 28-page catalog and I counted up the products in there, they have four products. Does that work or you think it's a waste? I don't think they're going to make the dollars per book that they need to make to justify it with only four products. We kind of learned this in ramping up on direct mail over the years, and it seems like there's a rule of thumb that when you're using direct mail for retention, it's okay to have one product on a card, but if you're going to get into prospecting, it's better to put a selection in front of a customer. I guess it's sort of what you're getting at with having enough SKUs if you're going to talk about prospecting. That's where a catalog comes into play. So you said five things to consider?

Yep, you got to have your selection, you got to have a house file, you have to have some names, or you should have some names because the way that the co-ops work in renting names, they're going to look for look-alikes, they're going to look for people who look like your existing customers. I recommend at least five to 10,000 buyers, and if you've got that many names, you can build out a pretty good prospect list based on those names. Just some definitions for the folks listing. House file is like your customer file, your buyer file. So Rick's saying you want to have at least several thousand people in your buyer file and then you're going to use those folks to create look-alike audiences, and then there's these data providers that will allow you to essentially rent those names of folks that look like your best buyer. 

So we don't need to get too much into the weeds on like co-op versus non-co-op but essentially, there are these big data aggregators that have hundreds of millions of people with thousands of attributes on those people and you want to build these look-alike models based on

your best customers to find folks like them. 

What's number three? Number three: have a good website up and running. At the time that you launch a catalog, you really want the catalog and the website to feel unified and to have kind of the same look and feel. So that might be something that happens during the catalog process. If there's a particular design direction you're going with the catalog, you may need to go back and tweak the website a little bit to make sure that it all looks consistent. All right, four. Four, money. Printing and mailing a catalog is not cheap. You're probably going to spend between one and two dollars a book. If you mail 50,000 catalogs, which I kind of feel like that's around the minimum that you should mail in order to get good data, to get good response rates, you mail 50,000 catalogs, you may spend $100,000 getting that done. 

So not only do you need the money to do the first one, you need to be able to keep doing Nobody wants to do a one-off catalog, you know, mail one catalog and then shut it down. If I had a client come to me and say they wanted to do that, I would tell them not to even do the first catalog because it's just it's not going to be sustainable to print one catalog and then be done with it. Brands should think about it similarly to prospecting in other channels. You're not testing Facebook with one ad and one piece of copy and saying I'm going to spend a couple of thousand bucks and if it doesn't work the way I wanted it to, Facebook obviously doesn't work.

I think people need to have the same sort of mindset. It sounds like that's what you're describing, Rick, like that sort of mindset of test, learn, optimize and you can crack the code, but it's not necessarily going to crush for every brand on the first try. It just so happens that it's more expensive to do that testing with a catalog than it would be with a Facebook ad.

How about number five? Number five is having a good team in place. Brands should have at least a bare-bones team that can handle this new channel. It's a big job during the catalog process. Even if you work with an agency, which I do recommend to get your catalog launched, internally, you still need to have at least a person who can be kind of the catalog point person, somebody who can route proofs around, somebody who can get the information that's needed, get samples out for photography, bug the CEO to proof the catalog. You know, you need somebody internally who can be the liaison for everything else that needs to happen. 

In your experience as a full-time job at these clients, or is it like the CMO gets saddled

with it? I feel like there's always someone who gets really excited about a catalog, and they kind of raise their hand, and they say, yeah, I'd be interested in working on a catalog. It sounds fun, and it is fun. So yeah, it can start out as a portion of someone's job, but if you continue to mail and produce multiple catalogs a year, it can very easily and quickly turn into a full-time

job for that person. You talked about selection being one other variable that's important for a brand to be thinking about. 

What are some of the other attributes that you think make for an ideal fit with catalogs

and direct mail? You know, unique products, differentiation in your products. If you've got products that you can't find anywhere else, obviously, you're really in a sweet spot. That's pretty hard for most brands these days because you can find anything anywhere almost, especially with Amazon. But the more differentiated your products are, the better off you're going to be with a catalog offering. Having a really strong reason to buy from you is a great indicator that you're probably going to do pretty well with a catalog.

What are some of the most successful catalogs that you've seen? You know, Design Within Reach is a great example. They have done such a great job of positioning themselves as the expert in modern furniture design and that shows on their website, it shows in their catalog. They've got bios of designers. They've got, you know, all the information you could need. And whether you like them or don't like them or buy from them or don't buy from them, almost everybody has heard of them. And for a lot of people, it's a brand that they think of when they think about modern furniture. That's who they may think of. You know, their stuff is expensive. It's not for everyone, but they've done a really good job of setting themselves up to have the differentiation.

 Even though you can buy almost everything they sell somewhere else, why is it that they are kind of known in this marketplace? And you think the fact that they do so much direct mail and catalogs is the main driver of that mindshare and awareness? I do. They were kind of the first kid on the block with that kind of furniture selection. And, you know, they really paved the path for that vertical. So, yeah. Design Public was second on the block. Yeah, it's true. 

Rob Forbes came out of the gate when he started DWR. If it wasn't catalog first, it was catalog second to the website. It was like one, two websites launched. And then the catalog came within that category of design. You know, it became iconic. Like you wanted to read the Design Within Reach catalog. Yeah. And digital marketing, we're so good at capturing demand. Somebody searches Google for an Eames lounge chair, and we're really good at directing that search to a product page and getting them to buy. What we're not as good at is demand generation and thinking about exposing a new customer to a whole breadth of an offering. That's what the great catalogs have always done. I am not in the market for furniture, but I get the catalog, and all of a sudden I am because I sit there and I read the whole thing. Bedroom furniture, dining room, like I'll just read it from cover to cover. And I think of the catalogs that have made an impact on me going back to when I was a kid, I loved Sharper Image because I could find all the cool little trinkets, you know, that I wanted to buy there. 

And L.L. Bean, if you're an outdoorsman and just sort of that experience of, like, I am going to check out the whole new offering for this company on a quarterly basis or on a month, whenever, however often they come out is something that you don't really get in digital.

Yeah, no, you don't. I know in digital, you can't really direct customers and shoppers to look at what you want them to look at the way you can in a catalog. You know, in a catalog you lead people through a store essentially, you know, it's like walking into a Design Within Reach or a pottery barn or anywhere else. You know, you come in, you see what's in the front, you know, they're kind of leading you through. On digital, it's just a free for all. You go to a website. If you're looking for a new dining room table, you'll go to the dining room section and click on tables. And there you go. There are your tables. But you're not going to get inspired to see other rooms and the bedroom is, oh, that's a cool bed. Maybe I should think about that, too. In a catalog, you can absolutely direct your shoppers to be inspired by whole room scenes and multiple products rather than just having them hunt and gather.

You can really tell your brand story in a way that you can't with a banner ad popping up in your social feed or something like that. If you're a DTC brand, you feel like you've you've gotten to this point where you plateaued or you've tapped out digital. You want to break through to the next level. You hit all five of the criteria you mentioned. What does the process look like if we decide to run a catalog today? When is that catalog going to hit the mailbox of my customer?

For a new catalog launch, if a brand has never done a catalog before and the whole thing needs to be conceptualized, designed, produced, and mailed, I like to work with a time frame of about six months. That's kind of ideal. We've done it in a lot less time than that, but six months is about right. And that would be from a kickoff meeting until catalogs are in home, meaning in people's mailboxes. You have to remember that just the printing, binding and mailing portion of the catalog process takes probably a month, and there's a lot to do. So basically, you start with brand research, understand the brand, understand the history of the brand, who their customers are, what their challenges and successes are, and really kind of get a feel for the brand because every catalog needs to be designed to be a reflection of the brand. So that's a really important part of it. 

Then you can go into the conception and creative part where you're putting together mock-ups of, you know, here's what your covers could look like. Here's what the intro pages two, and three could look like. Here's what a dense spread could look like. Here's what a product, you know, a category opening spread would look like. So there's a whole design process in there. Then once that's done, you go into the actual catalog design and production, designing every page, sketching out every photograph that needs to be shot, figuring out what products go on which pages and then doing the whole process of working with photographers, working with copywriters, getting the pages laid out, going through multiple rounds of proofs, getting all the copywritten, color proofing, and then off to the printer. So there's a lot that needs to be done. It's definitely a process to plan for and kind of work through over the long term.

Rick, if the postcard industry is the tip of the iceberg, I felt like the catalog industry is the iceberg. And it's just like a lot of indirect mail, a lot of time and attention is devoted to catalogs. And we saw that process at Postpilot and we tried to develop sort of an intermediary step. We knew a lot of brands would be hesitant to invest six figures and six months in catalog development. And we thought, hey, we need more real estate. To your earlier point, how about a trifold format? We call it the Cardalog, which costs under a buck per Cardalog. The lead times are days when you can work with our team to kind of get them out and swap out creative. And I know we've shown you these Cardalogs before.

So I would ask, in your honest opinion, what are the pros and cons of that approach? I think that the Cardalogs is a great option. Like what you are offering at Postpilot, from the postcards to the Cartalogs, that's a great progression for clients, and it's a great way to get them to kind of gently move forward into the world of direct mail, which they may not be comfortable with. They may not know anything about it. So if you think about those five points that I listed, one of them was having 50 to 100 products. Well, with a Cardalog, you're not going to be putting 100 products in there. So if you don't have 50 products, maybe you have 10 or 15 products. A Cardalog would be a great option for that because you can put out something that looks very professional. 

You've got a solid brand, but you don't have to worry about loading it up with that many products. On the con side, you know, even though a catalog does take a lot longer, it's a lot more effort to put it together. You could get a catalog out the door for a dollar. So that's a con. But I still think that they're really very different products, the Cardalog versus a catalog. And I think the Cardalog absolutely has a very strong place in this market. But I think that there's a great synergy between catalogs and postcards when they're deployed in an intelligent way.

They can really help each other. We get so many questions about this. Yeah, about catalogs. And it was really good to have an expert just kind of put together this resource. So cool. Thanks for taking time out of your day.

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