The traditional catalog, the kind mailed to customers’ homes and most often associated with retailers like Lands End, is getting a programmatic facelift.
Brands like ModCloth are teaming up with programmatic mail platform PebblePost to take online customer behavior and translate it into related material that can fill a few pages of a catalog, which is then delivered to the same customers’ homes within 48 hours of their internet browsing.
PebblePost CEO Lewis Gersh said that the catalog comes together through a “programmatic loop” that connects behavior activity like keyword search and cart abandon to physical advertisement: A customer’s internet history is boiled down to the product page they visit and the type of items, sizes and colors that coordinate with where time online is being spent. That customer behavior is then sorted by geofilters and delivered by zipcode.
PebblePost follows the catalog down to the day it was delivered by the post office, and then keeps track of consumers’ behavior for 30 days following when it was delivered to follow through on return and conversion rates after the catalog was delivered.
“We use every day activity to optimize tomorrow’s mail,” said Gersh. “We know there’s real time interest on what customers are receiving.”
PebblePost and the brands it’s partnering with for the programmatic catalogs are counting on a 100 percent viewability rate, since “everyone checks their mail,” according to Gersh. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that once received, the customers won’t toss their digitally optimized catalog into the trash.
Brands are hoping that by linking their direct mail efforts to digital browsing behavior, their materials will capture more attention and drive more purchases.
Retail catalog circulation has been on the decline as digital media has usurped the attention and time paid to print: In 2015, 10.6 million catalogs were mailed, down 9 million from 2007, according to the Direct Mail Association’s annual report. The Association said in the report that the future of direct mail would revolve around “targeted segmentation,” — as in, personalization — and reported a 4 percent increase in data spend among direct marketers in 2015.
“As online advertising has grown in complexity and outpaced direct mail, direct mail and catalogs are leveraging a lot of online insights to stay relevant,” said Curtis Rose, svp and director of technology innovation at Erwin Penland. “This is a much more appealing level of direct mail than sending out a blind ad.”
ModCloth is pushing its direct mail efforts to be data-driven in preparation for the holidays, according to Margaret Parra, director of acquisition at ModCloth. She said that the brand plans to use the programmatic catalog in preparation for the holidays, offering up gift ideas and style advice for its community based on browsing activity.
For a season based around shipping deadlines and events, following up on online consumer behavior, like a dress that they browsed, with a direct mail offer within two days will help capitalize on that customer interest. Other brands like UncommonGoods, a jewelry retailer, are using the programmatic catalogs to be more creative with their in-home advertisements.
“It’s a good plan to get that extra notice — you can be a bit more creative to sink the hooks in,” said Rose. “But do I think this is the savior of the in-home catalog? No, I don’t. At the end of the day, you’re still dealing with the limitations of the physical, print world.”