By Shari Altman, president of Altman Dedicated Direct
Catalogs and direct mail. We think of them as different things, but catalogs are direct mail. But there are a lot of other formats one can deliver to a customer or prospect’s mailbox besides a catalog. 
Most of the other formats are based on promotion of a single product as opposed to the multi-product nature of a catalog. But they still share in common the medium of mail. In other words, transitioning a customer from responding to one format sent in their mailbox to another format delivered to that same mailbox is less a challenge than moving new buyers from, say, print or radio to the mail. And other direct mail formats open up opportunities that just don’t work with a catalog–either because of cost, time or space constraints.
Let’s consider how and when these other formats should be used. The direct mail format most familiar is a traditional envelope mailer. Why would a catalog mailer use an envelope mailing? Both prospect and customer offers come to mind. First, let’s assume you have a strong hero product. An envelope mailing without a hero product is like a fish out of water–it can’t breathe and thus won’t last long. 
For prospecting, a solo envelope mailing with a product and offer matched to a given audience can be a powerful tool. Let’s face it–you send your 36, 52, or 100 page book with dozens of products. What’s the likelihood a prospect finds the one that is just perfect for him or her? Not quite a needle in a haystack, but not so easy either. 
With an envelope mailing you hand select the product and have loads of space to sell, sell, sell. For example, a technical book catalog sends a solo mailer to electrical engineers with the must-have engineering book included as one of hundreds of items. With all the space available in the envelope mailing and the ability to really sell the book’s benefits, the response rate to the prospect solo mailing is much higher for all the engineering lists than merely sending the catalog. For customers a solo mailing allows you to feature that hero product and scoop up additional sales that would not be had without the additional space to really sell.
Another direct mail format alternative that takes the idea of sell-sell-sell and puts it on steroids is the magalog. Magalogs combine the best of both a magazine and a catalog and, like the envelope mailing, focus on selling one thing. Magalogs require not only a hero product but also a lot of content to share about that hero product, usually including lots of testimonials. This can also work with technical products that need lots of space and graphics to explain how and why they work. 
A magalog, for example, could be used to sell an age-defying skin care system and its benefits to one’s beauty while using the catalog to sell all the hundreds of other cosmetics and makeup items offered by your brand. Or a magalog could be deployed to sell a high-end laptop and the catalog could be used to sell all the accessories, supplies, software, etc.
You may use a catalog, but it doesn’t define your brand. Keep your focus on your brand and consider if envelopes or magalogs might not allow you to get more prospects to buy or gain more sales dollars from existing customers. 

—Source: Multichannel Merchant List & Data Strategies May 19, 2008 newsletter ( Shari Altman is president of Altman Dedicated Direct. Reach her at