AdAge: Direct Marketing Catalogs Are Out of Control

Direct Marketing Catalogs Are Out of Control; Print Catalogs Are Outdated. So Stop Printing Them and Join the Digital Age

Recently I received a complete set of catalogs -- we're talking a baker's dozen stacked a foot high -- from Restoration Hardware that left me wanting to boycott a company I once loved. And the company had the audacity to put "Heavier Load = Lighter Carbon Footprint" on the cover page. Talk about an oxymoron.

I fall within the generation that supposedly still likes paper, and I am tired of catalogs coming in the mail. Companies need to quit hiding behind false claims and old ways and adopt more creative and sensible ways to reach and influence customers.

Forget recycling catalogs. Quit printing them in the first place.


If it's not broke, don't fix it. Now there's a dangerous mentality in business. Unfortunately, it's still prevalent among even the best and the brightest. For example, companies continue to spend millions of dollars producing print catalogs when we live in a digital, eco-conscious world. It's absurd.

And it's turning off customers like me.

Have we not learned anything from Blockbuster? The former video giant closed its doors practically overnight because its leaders failed to innovate and, as a result, became victim to digital media. Simply stated, they lacked vision.

What works today may not work tomorrow. The writing is on the wall. Print catalogs are an expensive, inflexible, unimaginative and antiquated way of communicating to -- not with -- customers.

Companies are afraid to break tradition, and it's going to cost them.

Google "direct mail" and tons of articles will come up in support of it. Ironically, a disproportionate number of stories come from within the industry itself. Even the likes of the Wall Street Journal ran a piece last month about the creative role catalogs play in marketing today -- the operative word being today, in my opinion.

Today is not where I want my marketing team to play. A catalog might be the safe play, but it sure as heck isn't the walk-off home run that is going to separate a business from the pack and leave its customers wanting more.

Marketing is changing overnight. Getting noticed and capturing market share isn't about keeping up with the trends. It's about setting them. Successful business calls for bold decisions. It's time to break ties with tradition. Stop giving people what they expect. Start delighting and surprising them.

Younger generations don't care about paper.

Millennials are expected to outspend baby boomers by 2017. In light of this, what I find unbelievable is that companies continue to market to this audience using printed catalogs. Younger generations, coined "digital natives," don't even know life without the internet. They never had to use the Dewey Decimal System or rely on a Gazetteer for directions, so why do marketing executives assert print catalogs are the way to go?

Fast forward 10 years and rethink this, people. It's not the smart move.

Business Insider recently ran an article about the demise of print that hit the nail on the head, saying that "consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s and 30s have no such print habits or allegiances" and "to them, the idea of printing information on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful." Amen.

And I just love the video that went viral of the little girl who is sitting at a magazine trying to pinch, swipe and prod it. Throw all the research out the window; if this isn't evidence enough that print is yesteryear, then I'm not sure what is.

Print catalogs are expensive for companies … and the environment.

From months of planning to extravagant photo shoots, print catalogs come at a hefty price. Moreover, they cost companies flexibility, nimbleness, interaction with customers and more. I'd much rather see companies spread their dollars across other channels. Invest in advertising, experiential marketing, public relations, digital or some form of marketing where dollars don't end up straight in the trash can, or if we're lucky, the recycling bin.

Speaking of recycling, I also don't like that print catalogs put the onus on customers to get rid of sheer volumes of unnecessary paper. But, I guess it's easier to kill trees than to kill an industry -- and the print industry is a big one with a lot of history, influence and money. Print may not die. But it also won't be the primary and most profitable way to reach, retain and win customers. It's time to reinvent the wheel.