Victoria's real secret

June 1, 2005

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Beautiful women! In alluring lingerie! Gratuitously flaunted in fashion photo spreads! Now that I’ve attracted the attention of many of you, please allow me a few minutes to present the boring details.

In our last visit to Johnson’s World, I bemoaned the mindless mailing of duplicate catalogs, which dilutes the value of print even while appearing—on the surface—to increase sales for both printers and their clients.

Now, I want to share an example of a strategic catalog mailing program that seems to use what I call alchemy: increasing print and mail volumes while increasing print value.

Mailing gone mad

My wife finds a Victoria’s Secret catalog in her mail now and then. I don’t believe she ever made any purchases from their catalogs until recently. Therein hangs a tale.

As I mentioned in my last column, my wife doesn’t casually browse through catalogs much, anymore, due to direct mail overload. In spite of this, Victoria’s Secret mailed a catalog that somehow piqued her interest and held it long enough for her to notice an item she actually wanted to own. Don’t get excited—it was just a dress.

She ordered this dress by calling the toll-free number in the catalog, and she was impressed with the customer service. That doesn’t happen often. When the item arrived as promised, she was so pleased that she ordered another in a different color.

As best I can reconstruct, it was that second order in as many weeks that started it all. Before her second shipment was delivered, a new Victoria’s Secret catalog arrived in the mail. No big deal—our mailbox is stuffed daily with catalogs of all types.

The next day, another Victoria’s Secret catalog arrived. More intensive mailing was to be expected, I suppose, since my wife moved from being a targeted prospect to a repeat customer. But two days in a row? There’s something odd about this.

Busy as we are, the mail sometimes piles up on the counter for days until we have time to sort through it. Fortunately for Victoria’s Secret and for Johnson’s World, this was one of those times. With two mailings from the same company sitting side by side, it was easy to spot the differences.

What I noticed with my printer’s eye, my wife spotted intuitively. She doesn’t care about web cutoffs or signatures, but she could see that the two catalogs were different. With different physical specifications, it was natural to assume there were also differences in content. As such, it became more difficult for her to discard one of the catalogs unperused. Next day, you guessed it. Another catalog from those fashion hawks in Ohio. This was getting a bit silly. This one was album style, saddlestitched on the short edge—clearly different from the first two.

Yet another catalog was waiting in the mailbox the next day. Surely this one would be a repeat of one she’d already received. No, it was much thicker than the rest. Once again, unique content was the natural assumption.

Day five brought catalog five. Boldly marked "Clearance," it sported a selfcover and lacked inkjetting on the bound-in order form. Hey, it’s a clearance catalog.

The secret?

We’ve clearly shown that "Unique = Value" is a solid proposition. Mailing a catalog every day of the week might seem like a fruitless extravagance. In this case, by eschewing cost-cutting measures and actually increasing print expenditure, each catalog arrived implying unique information... then delivered on this promise.

I would further observe that my wife’s initial purchases gave the database wizards very little to go on. With her meager purchasing track record, it would have been next to impossible to tell whether she’s a professional model or a grandmother. (In fact, she is both, which shows just how tricky this database business can be.) By sending a variety of mailings with diverse content, one was certain to strike a chord.

I have since received our monthly credit card statement, so I can vouch for the cost effectiveness of their strategy. I am certain my wife’s subsequent purchases have justified the cost of the five-catalog blitz.

Not in the catalog business? Neither am I. But the next time a customer tells you of a need to cut costs, think about what can you suggest that will increase his or her perceived value of print. The solution is nothing less than the holy grail of marketing print.