Analysis and Evaluation

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2003-03-01 Print this article Print

Every year, American Greetings churns out 20,000 new cards to meet every need of "social expression" it can imagine. But the life and death of each of those cards is hardly determined by the pen of an artist and the gut of a chief executive.

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Analysis and Evaluation - Day 304 to Day 365

Traditionally, the critical decisions on how well products were performing at each store were based on what former employees say was a "negative points analysis."

"It was always based on bits of information we gathered," said a former 15-year marketing employee with American Greetings, who asked not to be named. "They included the last reorder from a particular store, when the last visit by a merchandiser occurred, when we received our last holiday return … and each was given a score." The scores were totaled, and a higher score prompted attention to a particular product or store.

But the company did not use the sales information as effectively as it could have. Information on what cards were working rarely made it back to the creative departments developing new ones. "In fact, all that information was there," says a former sales executive who requested anonymity.

Now, with the data warehouse and analytical software from MarketMax and JDA, as well as other analytical tools from companies like Stone Timber River, American Greetings product managers can view the performance of cards individually or by category, by store and by region.

This makes it possible for the company to quickly decide about printing more copies of existing cards or bringing new cards into the pipeline. It also tells them which cards aren't making the cut. The card maker can react to weak sales by canceling print runs or redirecting the card to markets with demographics that match where it is succeeding.

The former American Greetings marketing executive says the company traditionally has assigned a sales rate to specific cards, and when they fall below that rate, they are targeted for removal. The best time to do that, of course, is when the inventory runs out, he says.

Unfortunately for Card 18100-83962—the card Travis picked—it was the second from the last of its kind in the rack. Like its intended recipient, the "yourbirthday.com" card is aging. The following week, a new card—one that talks about bifocals, dentures and bald spots on the highway of life—fills the slot.

But the card's design lives on in American Greetings' content repository, where elements of the card may be revived in the future like Ted Williams from cryogenic suspension. Or, it may only serve as a lesson to card designers on what not to do in the future.

Either way, the data created during card 18100-83962's brief run may end up being more valuable to American Greetings than the sales it generated—data that the company will use to fight for its share of the close-mouthed "social expressions" market.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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