Category: Catalogs

Introducing Steve Parke; The Product Catalog

It is a great privilege for me to introduce the first of our newest contributors, Steve Parke. Steve’s somebody who is not only a friend, but is also somebody I have a great amount of respect for. I worked indirectly with Steve for several years when he was the Director of Sales & Marketing at Ritchey Logic, then I had the brief pleasure of working for Steve when we were both at ASI (Fuji/ Kestrel/ Breezer/ SE Racing/ Terry) and he was my “boss”. He’s more than a little smart and insightful, plus he’s funny as hell, has a great turn of phrase, and still remembers the main reason most of us got into cycling- bikes are fun to ride.

In his own words;

Started as a mechanic in the late 70’s when I was lucky enough to race on Clement – Campione del Mundos.
Worked my way into the shop management gig with 2 separate stints as GM of The Bike Gallery in Portland.
Ten years in the NW as a sales rep and later regional manager – fantastic experience in the Trek machine, fully enjoyed the Bridgestone anti-machine.
Fifteen years in management on the Brand side – Scott, Ritchey, Advanced Sports – great exposure to the global bike biz.
In this world preoccupied with virtuality, I love that we make things. (Emphasis provided by me, not Steve… but I’m sure he meant to do that anyway.)

That bio reads as humbly as the man himself. I’m honored to have Steve join us here at the Krew, and I’m really looking forward to reading his posts (and those of the other contributors).

 

Steve’s first post is an ode to the printed catalog. Having produced more than a few of them myself, there is a lot that I can relate to. Painfully so. Now that we’re all mostly out of catalog production time right now, this allows an opportunity to review the process, the product, and maybe shed a tear for the hours and hours spent hoping that you didn’t screw anything up. How we all hated getting that call or email pointing out the mistake/s that we missed during “final” review… ugh…

 

Without further delay, I’ll let Steve do the talking now…

 

 

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In this digital age, the printed product catalog is fighting to stay relevant, under pressure to gracefully step aside and yield the annual spotlight to its more current brethren – the online product catalog.  I believe the printed version still has merit and serves a key goal in generating brand equity, specifically because of its physical nature.

To address the subject today, one has to look back a bit at the history of the printed catalog in the bike biz; retrospect to the late 80’s, early 90’s will serve just fine.  For most of the 80’s, printed catalogs were largely the domain of the bicycle makers and generally filled with studio shots of the latest models, accompanied by specs, geometry and color options.  They traditionally opened with a page or two of company philosophy, but were otherwise a bit boring unless you were a bike geek and liked digesting the thing cover to cover over a few weeks of time as it sat idly on your coffee table or commode magazine rack. The 90’s saw us become more “sophisticated” in our catalog brand marketing, with accessory companies joining the fray, driven by a heightened competitive environment and a desire by marketers to separate themselves and their brands from the pack with bolder images, more racing shots, technical evolutions, glossy covers and heavy paper stock with sexy varnish masks.  It was the golden age of catalog based, brand-storytelling and many a marketing career was redirected up or down by virtue of the final product. In the same period, we saw the rise of the printed direct mail piece which had a long run of success at driving consumers into stores with the notion of deals to be had twinkling in their eyes, followed up lastly by the highly effective, but frowned upon by purists – mail order catalog.  Print was king and getting all those thousands of details correct before printing was the Holy Grail of execution.

Inevitably, the task of accurately coordinating all those moving pieces to complete the annual catalog and hoping the printer would hold up their end of the bargain when the presses were done, frustrated everyone who touched the process.  With few other options, marketers soldiered on and did their best to elevate the game and outdo their competitors.  The product rhetoric became more hyperbolic, and each year’s product suite was “crushingly” better than the last year, every brand attempting to outdo themselves and each other along the way.  A disingenuousness slipped in to the scene.

At the time I was a field sales rep for Bridgestone and a staunch voice in my company barking loudly for us to embrace this one-upmanship trend and give me the tools my dealers needed to be heard above the noise of all the emerging brands.  Grant Petersen was in charge of directing this effort at Bridgestone at the time (along with the product) and took a different view of the whole premise.  In 1992 Grant arguably invented the first “anti-catalog” in the bike biz.  He jettisoned many imbedded notions about what moves the brand needle on the consumer opinion dial.  I was so pissed at him the first year this concept was revealed and remember moaning to all that would listen that we had become marketing dinosaurs in one year while others where planning the next wing of the space station.  When fashioning the catalog, Grant dumped: the traditional size and paper, sponsored racer shots, sharp color bike images and meaningless, me-too brand prose only to replace it with 100% post-consumer waste paper (costly at the time), soy ink (after learning this part I felt justified in making him eat one), Daniel Reboor renderings (he did the technical product renderings for Campy for a bazillion years), and even introduced model segments done in a trading card format.  The prose was painstakingly written to explain the brand, the rationale for the models and made an appeal to sensibility as a driver in the buying decision process.  And with the benefit of hindsight, it could be argued was one of the most masterful printed catalogs done in the bike biz.  Grant used this format for three years before the sad news Bridgestone Japan had had enough of currency fluctuations and uppity Americans telling them how to do things, and pulled the plug, exiting the market for good in 1994.

I tossed those Bridgestone catalogs in a drawer and gave them little thought for years as my career evolved and I took on marketing roles that left me free to pursue my own perspectives on catalogs.  I learned a valuable lesson from that time – a catalog must make an emotional connection with the reader in order to be judged successful at creating top of mind awareness for the rider when the time comes to plunk down the money and head home with the product.  On the plus side: a printed catalog is visceral, physical, visual, dimensional, and transportable – engaging multiple senses.  On the not-so-plus side: they are heavy, costly to print-ship-distribute, wasteful of resources, and far too many end up in the recycle bin at year’s end, never having been opened.

There is an active changing of the guard of marketing folks from baby boomers to gen x’rs and y’rs in the industry today.  Since many of the new marketers grew up in the digital age, they are completely comfortable with presenting the best face of the brand via a website and an online product catalog, with more recent evolutions into the social media realm.  After all, that is how they and their peers are influenced to develop brand appreciation.  Aside from inspiring imbedded video assets, the online format is largely one dimensional and requires the viewer to fill in a lot of the multi-sensory gaps left in the online environment in order to arrive at what I call “lust to own”.

It’s widely accepted that no matter how a consumer begins their product affiliation process, at some point, they must cross over from cerebral to emotional before the purchase occurs.  Can online effectively marshal that journey for the buyer exclusive of the traditional printed format?  I would argue, No Way!  Even for those who report they never use printed catalogs to make buying decisions, they still engage in seeking out the “trusted influencer” in order to make the jump from intellectual consideration to emotional purchase – proving the point, as brand builders, we must help the buyer across the chasm of understanding what fits them best.  If we could run around the market place and make sure the 3 million influencer folks (recognized core user population) were accurate champions for our brand stories, then yes, maybe we can dispense with the hassle and expense of the annual printed catalog.  It turns out those folks are quite busy with their lives and even if self-motivated, will only remember a few key brand messages, and I will bet brands have a much broader message to share than the rule of three retained product attributes leading to brand opinion.

If you haven’t done so in a while, go seek out a printed catalog and look through it carefully.  Some group labored mightily to put it out so you could read it.  Does it inspire you and engage you at a deeper level than a cursory click-scroll of the company site?  I am betting the smell of ink on your fingers will make you a convert.

Steve Parke

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