Media and merchandising giant Disney has just announced they’re discontinuing their print catalog business and going 100% e-Commerce to “save money.”
Meanwhile, Amazon is going into the print catalog business with offerings in home improvement, kitchen, and electronics.
Before I answer, here are two anecdotes about how powerful print catalogs can be.
1. In India, the Ikea catalog is so popular that it is sold by book stores and street vendors in big cities.
2. The print catalog probably did more to create consumer culture than any other single device.
Before TV, before radio, and before the proliferation of mass market magazines, it was the catalog that educated people about how they could improve their lives with products they had previously not even known existed.
But that was then and this is now. And India is not an advanced economy yet.
So maybe Disney is right and catalogs are old hat and destined for the dustbin of history.
In fact, Disney discontinuing of its catalog is one of the most boneheaded moves in the history of marketing.
Katie Muldoon, a veteran catalog marketing expert and consultant, makes the case that print catalogs – intelligently executed – are likely to become even more valuable to marketers as the years go on.
Consumers love them. Here are some of the reasons Muldoon points out:
1. “Catalogs are free”
2. They reach people who are not Internet-friendly (a group numbering the the hundreds of millions worldwide, including many in the US and other developed countries.)
3. “Catalogs make it easy to dream” Customers are able to flip through a print catalog and comfortably scan scores of products in just a minute. You just can’t do that online.
4. “Catalogs are portable” This is such an obvious point, but it’s often overlooked.
The best Internet ad in the world evaporates like an ice cube on a hot stove the second your prospect clicks to the next thing on his browser or in his e-mail program. Catalogs and other physical print, audio, and audio live on and can be taken to the beach, in the car, put on the nightstand – anywhere the prospect likes to consume information.
Talk about prime time.
Yes, producing physical ads like catalogs and direct mail sales letters is exponentially more expensive than writing an e-mail (or a blog entry) and pushing send.
And that’s the side of the equation that Disney is incorrectly focusing on.
Maybe its catalog business is poorly managed. Maybe the operation is overblown and needs adapting. But to throw the whole thing out? That’s the very definition of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
The Internet and printed media work beautifully together. For starters, you can use the Internet to qualify prospects to mail to and you can use print to reinforce your Internet campaigns and close sales and create customers you otherwise would have missed.
However you slice it, it boils down to closer contact with your customers. more sales and a much stronger business.
At a bare minimum, every Internet marketer should experiment with mailing to its list of proven buyers. My most successful client and students do and it’s always on my own business agenda to put more physical stuff in the hands of people I want to sell to.
Speaking of catalogs, I just received a fantastic one in the mail from a company called Magellan’s.
Part of the pain of traveling is not having the right gear and this little catalog is packed with things to make traveling easier. I see myself placing an order for a couple of hundreds of dollars worth of stuff today. It’s also a great place to buy meaningful gifts for your favorite road warriors. (The print catalog is better than the web site.)
Notice. Magellan just got thousands of dollars worth of “pass along” advertising absolutely free because they mailed me a catalog. Granted this is not the kind of thing that happens every day, but it shows the potential that Disney is amputating by throwing in the towel on their print catalog.
You can read about Disney’s decision to kill its print catalog and the dubious reasons they give for it here:
Just because they’re big, doesn’t mean they’re smart.
What do you think?
– Ken McCarthy
P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business with my clients.
If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.