Marketing lessons from a Catholic bookstore

In a post referred to me back in May, Musings from a Catholic Bookstore blogged about 10 things you should know about your customers.

It was passed on to me as blog fodder so I thought I’d add a few comments of my own – not being Catholic or owning a bookstore never stopped me from commenting before…so here we go.

Each of the 10 suggested things to know speak directly to the importance of knowing your customers. While I harp on this somewhat regularly, the value of the relationship with your clientèle simply can’t be minimized. In a niche business like a Catholic bookstore, the relationship becomes even more important – BUT..and this is something you “My business is different” folks need to soak up: it’s important to you no matter what you do.

Even if you are already collecting the suggested info, there are a number of lessons here that jump off the page as important even though they aren’t always the primary idea in the content of the original post (uh, that’s a hint that I bolded the original post’s text included here).

The lessons? Plain text.

1) Name – <snip> Also, if you keep a customerâ??s name in your system you can actually figure out statistics on your customers.

No question, collecting names, learning them and making your customer feel more welcome is critical, but this last little comment is the serious value. I tell a story about a restaurant that gets a surprise load of Kobe beef and has no idea who to contact about their one night Kobe steak party. Thousands of dollars of steak go unsold – at $200 a pound – because the restaurant doesn’t know who their high-falutin’ customers are and cant contact them.

If you aren’t collecting the contact info for your clients, you are pouring money down the drain. You may not realize it – it’s costing you additional revenue that you aren’t even aware of because the need to regularly contact your clients hasn’t been recognized or developed yet. It should.

2) Mailing address <snip>

You can’t mail a newsletter, postcard, thank you card, sympathy card, coupon or anything else if you don’t have an address.

You can’t tell anything demographically about your best clients without address information. Do they all live close to the church? Do they drive 40 miles to see you? Do 80% of them drive 40 miles from roughly the same place to see you? (Can you say “new location”?)

In the case of the church, it’s often a neighborhood thing. Are customers coming from one church? One “type” of church leaning/doctrine? A young church? An old church? Is there a church whose members don’t visit? A neighborhood that doesn’t appear to know about you? There’s a lot to glean from this info.

Best of all, if you do any sort of direct mail – you can personalize it and send it to customers rather than doing the equivalent of dropping mailers out of a low flying plane.  That’s a big waste of $$$.

3) Email – <snip> If you have some kind of rewards program

Email. While it changes often, its value is critical. “Free, mass promotion” (was that a pun?) is fine, but it’s bigger than that.

Notification programs: Automatically notify the client when a special order has arrived, when a private sale is available to rewards program or other special clients, and when special promotions or info for a specific parish are needed.

Reward programs. Too many businesses run these by just handing you a card. That’s nuts. They have no way to know which customers participate in the program. No way to reward these customers by offering them a special – unless the randomness of life (or a really expensive media campaign) brings them to your store. That’s one reason why I recommend Royalty Rewards instead of some lame card program that isn’t automated, measurable or anonymous. RR is contextually valid relationship marketing with a really great “reason why” and no extra work for the client.

Speaking of “Reason why” – Giving them the reward card as a reward for giving up their email address solves that gotta-have-a-reason-why thing. “Give me your email address, I might email you a coupon or something” vs “Reward cards are available to anyone on our email newsletter list” is a pretty obvious difference. Or should be.

4) Parish membership – <snip>

Knowing which ads are working – measure, measure, measure. You can’t measure without some sort of coding in your ads, whether it’s an advertising code, a special URL, a special phone number or (for example) the ad itself.  Super critical and rarely done because people won’t go to the trouble to track it. It’s also a great way to test new URLs you are considering and similar.

In addition, knowing the parish membership means you can keep an eye on events in that parish and react accordingly with a card, email, letter, mailing, phone call, or visit.  Same thing applies for any other business.

5) Lay organization membership – <snip>

The example given is the Sierra Club, but this applies to many other things. Is the customer a golfer? Into sailing? Chess? Running? If Tiger Woods converts to Catholicism and writes a book, will the golfers on your list be interested in his book? Probably. Each of these things can be a consideration anytime a new book hits the bookstore.

6) Customer interests – <snip>

If you know what trips the customer’s trigger, trip it. Cater to them. Strengthen the ties. See, they want the interest-specific stuff, they’re just too busy to tell you. So find a good way to ask and then use what they gave you in a productive manner.

7) Customer concerns – <snip>

Know them. Understanding that motivates each one to visit and buy is important. Knowing them and their needs, understanding their family, work and so on is critical to that.

8 ) Top customers -<snip>

Top customers visit more often, spend more, know more, and behave better. What are you doing to attract them, show them the ladder to climb (regular customer, rewards customer, gold priority customer, etc)?

This item also mentioned Thanksgiving – a very much overlooked promotional opportunity by retailers. Sure, they all have sales, but who does a mailing or ships a thank you gift? Almost no one. It stands out because it doesn’t happen at Christmas.

9) Who do your customers know or work for – <snip>

Again, this speaks to knowing more about them than their competition, but it also goes back to using the news. Good news or bad, if you’re the one who reacts with a call, note or card – you’re the nice guy. You’re the one who people want to do business with. The relationship is with you.

10) Why do your customers buy (or not buy) from you -<snip>

Both are important questions. They speak to location, pricing, staff, inventory and so many intangible or otherwise little things that you simply must know. If people don’t come to you because you have a battle axe at the front counter, guess what…the battle axe has to go, even if it’s your mom.  If they buy from you because you are the only one in this part of town, or the only one who sends handwritten thank you notes, or the one who carries their favorite espresso – then that’s evidence of several things.

First, it’s stuff that works, so you should be doing more of it.  Next, it’s evidence of things you may have missed, and it also allows you to look at the ones who buy and ask yourself what they have in common that you’ve totally missed. The questions you can’t answer are the ones that often yield the hidden revenue.  Do they buy Catholic Biker and The Catholic mom’s guide to great holiday baking? Those purchases are priceless ways of learning what excites and motivates your clients.

Presumably you have a customer management / point of sale system that can collect all of this information, extract it, use it to determine who gets a mailing, automate some processes or at least identify which clients do what. If not, perhaps that is tomorrow’s project:)

2 replies on “Marketing lessons from a Catholic bookstore”

  1. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the post.

    One thing, it really is the “Serra Club”, not the “Sierra Club”. The Serra Club is a Catholic organization that promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It’s named after the priest who built most of the Spanish mission churches in California.

  2. Serra vs Sierra: Perfectly illustrative of knowing your customers. Im sure the guy who referred me knew this, but I obviously didnt. Thanks for the heads up.


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