You do not know Polly Wang, but you got his mail. Wong is the president of Belardi Wong, a direct mail agency that helps brands, especially private labels, reach customers through good old-fashioned catalogs, brochures, and inserts. Surprisingly, in 2021, when you can 3D print a tape dispenser and complete an interior design project on Zoom, the mail business is booming.
“My business partner and I would sit in airport bars for years and talk about how to future-proof our business. [as] everything is going digital,” says Wong Home business. Turns out they shouldn’t have worried. “We have now launched over 200 D2C brands in mail over the past five years. Everyone wants to be in the mail.
“Everyone” is a fairly accurate description of Belardi Wong’s clientele in the home world. Wong told me his company has an 80% market share in the category, and his client list certainly backs that up, ranging from retail powerhouses like Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, Arhaus, and Serena & Lily to Top-notch D2Cs like Brooklinen, Parachute, and Framebridge. (Yes, Belardi Wong even works with the most famous — or most infamous, depending on who you ask — catalog dealer at home, RH.)
Why is an age-old method of communication still thriving in the digital age? For one thing, in an increasingly transient world, it’s possible to stand out simply by addressing customers with a physical sheet of paper. “One hundred percent of consumers see the mail we send to them,” Wong says. “Even to recycle it, you have to touch it.”
It’s not particularly new. But one of the main drivers of the influx of mail that has emerged in recent years is the rapidly rising cost of ads on Facebook and Google. A catalog with postage, Wong says, costs a business about 60 cents to ship, while a single click from a digital ad can easily cost a private label $4. “Incredibly, you can send four to six catalogs to a highly targeted audience for the cost of one click,” Wong says. “Digital marketing has become so expensive that it’s actually more reasonable to send out catalogs.”
The skyrocketing cost of digital ads has pushed many companies, even digital native startups, to explore analog marketing solutions like mail. When they get there, they tend to find that catalogs are just as data-driven as Instagram ads. Wong describes a dizzyingly complex targeting system that matches mature potential customers (eg, new owners) with the right mail, then seeks to track the results by linking the data to their online shopping habits.
“In the spring, one of the variables we add to the customer file is whether or not someone has purchased outdoor furniture in the past. We can send a dedicated outdoor furniture catalog to someone who did it,” she said. “But if we are sending someone who has never bought outdoor furniture for this brand, we can send them a catalog with outdoor furniture on the cover, but the inside of the catalog shows the full range. of the product.”
All of this postal matching is done under a complicated privacy protection system, in which centralized list owners keep track of precise consumer details but anonymize them before sharing them with agencies like Belardi Wong. .
(In case you’re wondering: you get catalogs you never asked for because at some point when you bought something you didn’t read the fine print of the confidentiality agreement of a brand, and they sold your info to a list. Also, Wong says, house brands absolutely send catalogs to interior designers in particular, though they’re notoriously hard to track because they often ship multiple addresses or make purchases with a customer’s credit card instead of their own.)
Wong’s business works in a variety of industries, and most of the factors behind the catalog surge apply whether you’re selling shoes or sofas. But the domestic industry, she says, stands out for its vast catalogs of high production value. In fashion, direct mail is now aimed at nudging customers to make a quick purchase, usually online, so clothing catalogs have become slimmed down. At home, Wong says, the sales process can take months and months. As a result, brands are looking to deliver a more ambitious message to customers.
“Home is where we still see a lot of pages and large dimensions. It’s uplifting and inspirational, and they have more lifestyle photography,” she says. “It’s not the catalog anymore. It’s not the JC Penney look anymore. There’s more storytelling, more white space, less item density, less product copy. Catalogs are more like lookbooks now.
Another unique driver of the home catalog boom, Wong says, is simply the buoyancy of the underlying market. “The affluent consumer was at home spending a ton of money last year, and she was spending more money on the home than anywhere else,” she says. “Our residential customers are acquiring new customers profitably because the results are so strong in the affluent consumer category. We expect the house to continue to be strong this year – we are going to have a huge season of new movers and owners. Last year was an incredible year for the house; we think this year will be too.
Front page photo: naftizin/©Adobe Stock