AdNation News: Why Print Catalogs Still Provide a "Call to Action" in the Digital age

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AdNation News interviews Lois Brayfield, President of the direct marketing firm J. Schmid & Assoc. Inc. about the continued relevance of print catalogs

Retailers learned several years ago that a multichannel customer is much more profitable than a single-channel customer

AdNation News interviews Lois Brayfield, President of the direct marketing firm J. Schmid & Assoc. Inc. about the continued relevance of print catalogs in providing a "call to action" in this digital age.


Direct marketing is older than our country itself; Benjamin Franklin published "a scientific catalog, complete with a guarantee," Brayfield says. Many thought that with the emergence of the Internet, traditional catalogs would go away, but this proved to be untrue, she notes. "Retailers learned several years ago that a multichannel customer is much more profitable than a single-channel customer," she explains.

Online Retailers and Manufacturers Embrace Catalogers

Ironically, catalogs and direct marketing have not only continued to be important, but some retailers that were conceived as online-only (including Amazon) have begun to utilize catalogs to provide a "proactive tap on the shoulder," Brayfield explains.

Jockey is a J. Schmid client, an international manufacturer of sleepwear and underwear. Manufacturers such as Jockey, "for years have relied on shelf space, and were at the whim of Walmart or Target as to how much shelf space they get," Brayfield explains. In the past, manufacturers avoided catalogs to avoid competing with and/or upsetting the retailers that they sold through. Today, however, "consumers demand direct access," she comments.

A Call-to-Action

The Internet, in itself, did not spell the end of catalogs because it does not provide that tap on the shoulder, Brayfield says. Catalogs today bear no resemblance to Sears' "Big Book" catalog that was discontinued in 1993, in that they do not contain a comprehensive list of a Company's inventory. Instead, a catalog will highlight some key products, but the consumer will typically make a purchase in-store or electronically, she explains. In this sense, the catalog is best described as a "call-to-action," she adds.

Brayfield provides an example of Journeys, one of her clients. Journeys is a "young, hip shoe store, found in about 1,000 malls across the country," Brayfield says. "When they mail a catalog, it is the number-one driver to their stores." While the young "skateboarder" is very unlikely to pick up a catalog and order an item out of the catalog, he may be enticed to visit a Journeys' store if the brand and its products have been placed in his mind.

QR Codes and "Likes": Not Enough on their Own

Brayfield is not a believer in QR (Quick Response) codes, because "it is asking the consumer to do too much." Referring to the U.S. Postal Service's 2011 Mobile Barcode Promotion, she says, "The reason you saw a ton of QR codes is that the post office gave all of these catalogers a three percent discount on postage if they used one, so everyone rushed to put QR codes on their catalogs." She explains that in previous years, the Postal Service had severely impacted direct marketers with sharp increases to bulk mailing rates. She notes that a QR code could be effective "if there was the promise of something extraordinary" to the consumer.

Similarly, Brayfield believes that driving "likes" on Facebook is also a weak call-to-action. A consumer may like a brand on Facebook because they are offered a one-time incentive, such as a discount on a product. If a consumer liked a brand, and the brand lacks a secondary call-to-action, the consumer will eventually unsubscribe. Brayfield cites research that the two largest reasons that consumers unsubscribe from a brand's Facebook or Twitter account is that there are too many posts, or that the content is repetitive and boring.

Brayfield refers to Tony Hsieh, CEO of, who uses the acronym "ICEE" to refer to Tweets and other brand communications. Hsieh believes that a Tweet should inspire, connect, educate, or entertain. Brayfield comments, "If it is not ICEE, do not do it."

Data Collection

Just as the political landscape in the U.S. has been impacted by unprecedented, sophisticated data collection, so has direct marketing. Similar retailers have long shared intelligence, and this continues, Brayfield notes. "Harry and David and Wolferman's Muffins might swap a list, or buy from each other, and that still works," she explains. Today, however, this intelligence goes beyond merely purchasing or trading names.

Almost every cataloger today relies on cooperative databases, namely Abacus and I-Cooperative, Brayfield says. It is through the use of these databases, which track the shopping habits of millions of households, that many brands are able to target potential clients with a "call-to-action" in the form of a catalog. Retailers are also able to detect if a purchase was made within a certain time-frame after a catalog was mailed, even if that purchase occurred online or in-store, Brayfield explains.


Based in the suburbs of Kansas City, Brayfield has 20 years of experience studying direct marketing and catalog results. She contributed to "Creating a Profitable Catalog," a book written by J. Schmid's founder Jack Schmid in 2000. She currently works with major national clients, including Brookstone, and also works with companies that are just becoming large enough (typically, five to ten thousand customers) to begin a cataloging program.

J. Schmid & Assoc Inc.
5800 Foxridge Drive, Suite 200
Mission, KS 66202

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Christine Mohan
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