Print objects are still an integral part of the customer journey

SSI Schäfer Shop GmbH is an omnichannel mail order company and part of the Schäfer Group. SSI Schaefer Shop is active in the field of complete equipment for office, warehouse and business equipment. Catalogs are a proven means of advertising and communication, but today they have to be filled in a much more individual, target group-oriented and automated way.

Ulrich Gursky, Head of Marketing Communication at SSI Schäfer Shop, provides insights here into programmatic approaches, individualization of print advertising media and an outlook on future developments.

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Let's start with a somewhat provocative question: Why does the SSI Schaefer Shop still produce printed product catalogs at all?

The answer to this is simple: We see from the behavior of our customers that print catalogs are used to generate sales. However, the type of use has changed. As an impulse medium for an online purchase, our print items work very well. This makes them an integral part of the customer journey.

Your new catalog concept has already won some awards, one of the reasons being a "pioneer of a new, future catalog generation". What exactly does that mean?

The basic idea is to offer each customer an advertisement that has maximum relevance for them. To do this, we structure our range components in such a way that we use them in a print medium for each customer group, as in a construction kit. Or not. These modules give us the opportunity to reduce the size of catalogs without cutting back on the components that are important for the respective customer group. When it comes to personalization, or rather individualization, we go one step further. Here, the best possible offers are determined and displayed for each individual customer at product level. This is actually an online strategy that we use on the print side.

What technologies are you currently using to do this?

The basis for this is our in-house data warehouse and strategy team. There, a group of specialists observes the respective customer behavior, forms meaningful customer groups, monitors the success and makes recommendations for further actions. This is where real pioneering work from the data warehouse team has been done for Schäfer Shop.

The content must be just as structured for playout. Here, we rely on our own development in the PIM area, which, for example, populates the web store. The data is stored there in a media-neutral form and is then transferred to the priint:suite, which we use to create automated, on-demand, target group-specific catalogs. In cooperation with an external service provider, we then need a recommendation engine - a recommendation generator - to assign the right products to the customers. Here, we have found that pure online recommendations are not sufficient to process our data.

What were the biggest obstacles to implementation?

You can't really talk about obstacles. Once the idea of advertising individually to customer groups and individual customers had been floated and our management had given the go-ahead, it was just a question of how we could find a solution on the production side. The benefits and early successes then kept the topic going.

Many of your marketing tasks happen in-house, not in external agencies. What prompted you to do this?

This has certainly been a development over the years. We are fortunate to have very dedicated experts. This makes testing and further development possible even in very tight time frames. However, we like to work with external agencies when it comes to inspiration or - as with the redesign of our CI - in subject areas where the view from outside is helpful.

And last but not least, a look into the crystal ball: How do you see future developments in the area of your product presentations?

Personally, I believe that there is still potential for development in the information structure of a product along the customer journey. To be more precise: What information about a product do I give to the customer at which point and on which channel?

The second point, in my personal view, is the timing of an application. The rigid concept of a kick-off chain will become more dynamic in parts. One thing is certain: We will continue to focus our efforts on our customers and learn from them how to communicate with them in the best possible way.

Thank you, Ulrich Gursky

Ulrich Gursky has been working in the field of communication at the B2B mail order company SSI Schäfer Shop GmbH for nearly 10 years. As the Head of Marketing Communication, he is responsible for the design and production of corporate communications. Previously, the qualified designer and marketing communications specialist held leading positions in the field of dialog marketing at agencies and for clients. He uses his many years of experience in the mail order business for the future-oriented further development and optimization of print measures. Digitalization, individualization and customer-relevant communication are the drivers for constant progress.

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