Monday, August 14, 2006

Interactive Technology Brings New Life to Old Media - Catalogs

With even the most carefully-worded search terms result in thousands of hits, PPC costs are rising, and new laws and spam filters have reduced the impact of email marketing, catalogs remain a powerful marketing tool. Catalogs have am impact and immediacy that can't be matched by email or Web sites; they arrive in the mailbox with bills and letters that the recipient has to look at, and they sit on the desk or kitchen counter, just waiting to be opened and perused.

Catalogs are particularly powerful for online-only retailers. Yet it's amazing how few retailers and distributors still take advantage of this powerful tool. Based on some recent client research, I estimate that less than 20% of retailers overall still produce catalogs, and that figure is below 10% for high-tech retailers and distributors. By relying on increasingly difficult and crowded opt-in email and search engine marketing, these retailers are missing a lot of potential business.

Paper catalogs have their drawbacks, of course. They kill trees and are expensive to print and mail. But interactive technology is bringing new life to this old medium. Many retailers who still use print catalogs are adding interactive versions to their Web sites, with impressive results. Tools such as Rich FX and Zmag make it easy to convert a PDF catalog to in interactive, page-flipping format.

Still, simply reproducing a print catalog on the Web is merely formatting; it doesn't produce the impact of a catalog showing up in a recipient's (real world) mailbox. If a retailer is going to produce an e-version of their catalog, why not take the next step and put it on a CD or DVD to mail out? Print catalogs retain certain advantages: they can be read by people who don't own a PC (although with 80% of U.S. households owning at least one PC, this wouldn't seem to be much of a barrier), and they're easier to read in the bathroom.

Interactive CD/DVD catalogs, on the other hand, have a number of advantages over their paper counterparts: they are less expensive to produce and mail, can include features not available in print (audio, video, animation), and can link directly to the retailer's Web site.

What's more, new interactive technology such as iTrax from Zomax lets retailers not only convert their paper-based catalog to interactive media, but also track response, track Web clicks, and update content on the fly. Did the price of item #123 change right after the CD was sent out? No problem; update it in a Web database, and the next time your catalog recipient pops the CD into his or her PC (assuming they connected to the Web) they will see the new price.

In the hyper-competitive world of online retailing, the greatest success may come not to those who seek new ways of reaching consumers, but rather to those who creatively apply new technology to traditional marketing media.


Terms: interactive CD marketing, interactive catalogs, Rich FX, Zmag, Zomax, iTrax, catalog on DVD

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