Restoration Hardware’s Mail-Order Extravagance

Amy Merrick, writing in The New Yorker, explores why Restoration Hardware mailed a 17-pound catalog: 

Why do we still have catalogues? Web and mobile browsers have improved dramatically in the past decade. It’s hard to argue that catalogues, like books, are objects worth preserving for their aesthetic value; they will be obsolete within months. Yet Americans received nearly twelve billion catalogs last year.
Marketers say that people who browse catalogues buy more than those who shop only online. The U.S. Postal Service works hard to promote catalogues, which have become an increasingly important segment of U.S.P.S. business as people mail fewer first-class letters. The online retailer Bonobos, which began shipping catalogues last year, told the Wall Street Journal that twenty per cent of its new Web customers placed orders after receiving their first mailings, and spent more than other new shoppers.
Those incremental sales are accompanied by enormous waste. Industry surveys from groups like the Direct Marketing Association estimate that catalogues get average response rates of four to five per cent. In the case of Restoration Hardware, that means that for every sixty thousand pages mailed, approximately three thousand pay off.

In Modern Marketing, a Big Dose of Data in the Creative Juices

Claire Cain Miller, NY Times Bits Blog:

Computers are once again transforming the business of marketing, infusing the art with science. This time, though, the change is being driven by cloud computing and the processing of huge amounts of data about what customers do and what they desire.
Unlike the computer on “Mad Men,” which took up an entire room, the computers processing the data are not even in marketers’ offices but in far-off data centers. But just as in the fictional company depicted on “Mad Men,” the new technology is causing tensions among the quants, or quantitative data analysts, the artists and the information technologists.
...
For consumers, the result is personalized marketing.
...
Ideally, consumers do not notice the computing and data-crunching in the background and instead just see more relevant messages from brands, said Ian Schafer, chief executive and founder of Deep Focus, a digital agency. But when marketing is too personalized, it can feel creepy.

The Paradox of Art as Work

A. O. Scott, The New York Times:

In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream. They are subject to admiration, envy, resentment and contempt, but it is odd how seldom their efforts are understood as work. Yes, it’s taken for granted that creating is hard, but also that it’s somehow fundamentally unserious. Schoolchildren may be encouraged (at least rhetorically) to pursue their passions and cultivate their talents, but as they grow up, they are warned away from artistic careers. This attitude, always an annoyance, is becoming a danger to the health of creativity itself. It may seem strange to say so, since we live at a time of cultural abundance and flowering amateurism, when the tools of creativity seem to be available to anyone with a laptop. But the elevation of the amateur over the professional trivializes artistic accomplishment and helps to undermine the already precarious living standards that artists have been able to enjoy.

[...]

But it is, nonetheless, a job. The risk in separating the labor of making points and differences from its worldly reward lies in losing sight of the fact that it is labor, and therefore has a value that is material as well as abstract. In March, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report estimating that more than two million American workers identified themselves as artists, and noted that they had, since 2008, undergone the same bumpy, piecemeal recovery as other workers. An earlier report, from 2011, calculated that “the production of arts and cultural goods and services contributed $504.4 billion to the U.S. economy,” or 3.25 percent of gross domestic product. It may be relevant to note that the single largest category of artistic endeavor was advertising — a sign, perhaps, that the distinction between art and commerce is finally moot — but the upshot is that what artists do represents a significant quantifiable share of the nation’s wealth.

The Commercial Allure of the Eighties

Amy Merrick writing for The New Yorker’s Currency blog:

By choosing the eighties, marketers are taking advantage of what we know about when people experience nostalgia. As people enter their fifties and begin to take stock of their lives, they become more susceptible to nostalgia, according to Erica Hepper, a psychologist at the University of Surrey and a leading researcher on the subject. Because we tend to form lifelong preferences in our early twenties, adults in their fifties are now nostalgic for the nineteen-eighties—the time when their lives seemed full of promise and their tape decks were blaring heavy-metal bands. That thirty-year retrospective glance might explain the popularity of “Back to the Future,” a 1985 movie set in the nineteen-fifties, or why “That ’70s Show” was a television hit in the early aughts. (Adam Gopnik has written about a similar cycle, which he calls the Golden Forty-Year Rule.)

 

How Disruptive Innovations Happen At The Edges

On her blog, The Story of Telling, Bernadette Jiwa address where great innovation comes from:

Great innovation, and thus products and services people care about, lies at the intersection of the customer’s latent desire and your solution. Innovation then is not always about giving people a slightly better version of what they’ve got, or have demonstrated that they need, even if that is what you’re equipped to deliver and how you profit today. Sometimes it’s about rewriting the future for a customer who doesn’t know what will matter to him in five years time, in a market that doesn’t yet exist.

More from Jiwa in her book Difference: The one-page method for reimagining your business and reinventing your marketing.