The Refinery - Cleveland Web Design Firm

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First off, this year was our first as NEMOA members, and we really enjoyed the friendly conversation and informative content from both the spring and fall events.

I especially appreciated the genuine conversations and “non-salesy” atmosphere. As someone who attends many different events each year, I initially put my guard up when talking with people and vendors, just waiting for their sales pitch to start. But that wasn’t the case at this event, and as a result, I found the relationships and conversations to be quite humble and sincerely helpful.

I’ve spent my career on the digital side of the catalog business. I find it really interesting to see the parallels between the things print designers think about compared to how I think about digital catalogs.

Throughout the event, we heard a number of case studies about the struggles people encountered when trying to creative effective digital campaigns. I also had a number of similar one-on-one conversations with others during the social events and networking sessions.

I believe this is where I can contribute some value back to the group.

Disclosure: Let me put this out there. Digital catalog design and implementation is what my firm specializes in, and I’d love to work with any of you. Please reach out to me directly if you’d like to talk more about that. Okay, enough of my sales pitch…

Interruptive Marketing

When you mail a print catalog and it shows up in someone’s mailbox, it interrupts their day. They have to deal with it and your company, whether they toss the catalog in the recycling bin or bringing it into their house to browse.

This gives you great power. As long as you pay postage, you have guaranteed eyeballs on at least your cover page. In the digital world, this tends to be more difficult, and I’m a bit envious.

The digital world is much more “pull” based. Through research, we must find the specific terms people are searching for and insert our marketing into those places. We don’t get to interrupt our customer's day with our marketing. We have find where they are browsing and sell there.

As a result, our creative ads must capture attention of potential customers and entice them to click into the catalog for more information.

Where People Browse

It’s important to understand how and why people browse for products online so we can use that information and effectively get those creative campaigns in front of the right audience.

In retail stores, people walk through the door and are immersed in everything that store sells. They browse products by walking around.

In a print catalog, people browse by flipping through the pages. As we learned in Brent’s Catalog Critique session, often they flip from the back to the front. They immerse themselves in the catalog to browse all the products you have for sale.

Because of this, it's natural to think that your web catalog would work the same way - that people would browse the website by clicking through it. This is the point where many print marketers get into trouble regarding their digital campaigns.

People rarely browse through your website. Rather, they browse on other websites. They may be a member of a fishing group on Facebook and browse the tackle products there. They may create boards on Pinterest around different types of purses they like. They're not likely doing this on your website.

Important! Don’t simply scan your print catalog and put that file online. It's vital that your customers click directly to your product pages and skip the traditional catalog browsing experience. Otherwise, they’ll most likely leave. Most, if not all of your customers, want a native web experience.

A/B Testing

I’ll admit, when I hear you guys print off 100,000 catalogs and mail them at once, I get the shivers. I know that’s how the print game works, but in the digital world, we could never do this.

We need to run many different ads with small variations to test the market for each individual campaign. Based on the results of those variations, we makes changes to creative elements, messaging, AND even circulation. Data and feedback on these tests can been see in hours or a few days, not days or weeks. We are also able to make adjustments at virtually no cost.

Last year on Black Friday, one of our customers had over 15,000 unique digital advertisements running, with each being tailored to a very specific target audience.

Brand is Everything

Kudos to J Schmid and their opening talk on Humanizing Your Brand. I found myself nodding along the whole time.

In the digital world, your brand's story isn’t told linearly. Print catalogs tell a story from front to back, like we saw in the Duluth and Yeti examples. But online, it is much more organic. For example, customers see your brand in a social feed somewhere, on a retargeting advertisement, in the stories of people they follow and in content created by industry influencers.

You need to craft your brand image, voice, tone and story so well that other people can represent it for you, and your website should reinforce you as a peer in the community.

How to Compete with and

We all understand that when you sell your products on marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, you're sacrificing a bunch of direct customer opportunity. It’s easy to vilify them for making our margins lower, but they do contribute a lot of revenue into our businesses.

That said, there are huge benefits in selling products on your own website in addition to Amazon or Walmart. Not only are your margins higher, but you also get valuable customer contact information to use in future marketing efforts, better data/analytics, better customer support and superior representation of your brand's story.

Amazon and Walmart thrive on the immense size of their catalogs. As such, their catalogs are produced by robots at scale. Their product pages are highly tuned to convert. Also, most people have Amazon accounts, so it's incredibly easy to buy from them.

They do have a notable weakness, though. They can't tell your story like a human because your brand is completely discarded on their platform. They cannot fine tune the shopping experience specifically based on your audience, either. Instead, they have to rely on generic templates.

When it comes to converting visitors into customers, nothing works better than personalized messages for those people. This was a big theme of the conference and something Amazon or Walmart don't really do well due to their platforms.

The good news is that you can deliver those experiences quite easily by designing a website full of engaging content, imagery and video. You can even build utilities and tools specifically to meet the needs of your audience. For example, we recently built a utility for one of our clients that assists their customers in identifying what weatherproofing products are recommended for their home.

How To Get Started

At The Refinery, we start each project with a Path to Purchase analysis. We’ve created a Path to Purchase map, which combines your buyer's journey with our research and experience. This gives us a baseline that we can use to analyze your website against, identify the projects with the greatest ROI and create a proposal for us to work together on those projects.

If you're interested in going through this exercise with us, I’d be happy to do it for you free of charge as fellow NEMOA members (normally $999). Just fill out the short form below, and I will reach out to you to schedule some time in the near future.

It was an absolute pleasure to meet everyone at the NEMOA conference, and I look forward to seeing you all in Boston this coming spring.


Josh Walsh

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