At one time, the catalog was considered a big deal in U.S. retailing. Leading retailers, most notably Sears, would produce numerous catalogs every year, each consisting of hundreds of pages. These direct mail pieces were shipped to homes, where customers would page through a catalog and then place their order by phone or, in the years before the telephone, by mailing a print order.

For most retailers, the days of catalogs are long gone thanks in large part to the Internet and e-commerce. While Sears built its business with catalog sales, they are now barely surviving, with many blaming the retailer's struggles on their slow response to recognizing the Internet's impact on retailing. Other big catalog retailers, including Montgomery Ward, have also gone away.

So it is a bit curious that another struggling retailer, JC Penney,  is returning to the catalog business. According to this Entrepreneur story, after a nearly six-year absence JC Penney is once again sending out catalogs. As the story notes, the new catalog is very different from the last one they mailed in 2009, which contained over 800 pages. This one is a much skinner version, 120 pages, and likely serves more as an alternative to looking at products on a computer screen, as the actual purchase is still mostly made online.

JC Penney's return to direct mail catalogs may also be an indication the company is beginning to feel they are on the road to recovery. Of course, given the incredibly competitive environment that is retailing, that road to recovery may require they come up with many more interesting marketing ideas.

Product NamingSeveral times in the last few years we have noted how difficult it is becoming for marketers to come up with names for new products and new businesses. Back in 2012, we saw the difficulties Kraft Foods encountered when they split into two companies and were searching for a name for the new entity. Kraft, like many companies, faced a number of challenges when contemplating a new name including whether someone else owns a name, how well a name translates into other languages. and whether there are Internet domains still available for a name.

Just two weeks ago we saw another situation where product naming was becoming an issue. The example this time was in the craft beer market, where companies are discovering that the explosion of craft beers has made it extremely challenging to find names for new beers.

Given the issues with product and company naming, it should be no surprise that there is a growing industry of firms offering naming services. One such company was highlighted in this New York Times story that was published last week. It looks at the circumstances that led a start-up tech company to seek out a naming specialist to create a company name. The story explores the techniques used to come up with various naming options and then what was involved in getting to the final name – Jaunt. If you think that name seems pretty simple, the path taken to get to that name is quite involved.

The story also offers a number of additional highlights including a brief history of the brand naming business. It also looks at what it costs to hire someone to develop a new name (as much as $75,000) and the key industries where brand namers are in demand. As would be expected, given the expense in using a naming service and as we noted in our post regarding the craft beer naming, companies offering naming services primarily direct their services to well-financed clients and not to small businesses that have little cash. While Jaunt is a startup, they are backed by some big investors including Google.

Ranking of Marketing JobsThroughout our Principles of Marketing tutorial, we make it clear that marketing is a critical component for running a successful organization. We also note that, given the Toolkit that marketers must employ and the skills needed to use the Toolkit, doing marketing well often requires a team approach involving many people responsible for different tasks. Consequently, career options in the marketing field are quite wide-ranging. Moreover, for anyone looking at a possible career in marketing, the future seems to be bright.

According to a ranking of top 25 business jobs provided by U.S. News and World Report, marketing positions are well represented. In fact, the rankings, which include position profile, salary range, required education/training, expected stress level and advice on obtaining a position, show two marketing jobs at the top of the list.

The first, Market Research Analyst, is a specialist position and is number one due to the expected demand for researchers over the next few years. In terms of training, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer marketing research specific concentrations and certifications, including in the growing field of data analytics. However, it is important to note that strong quantitative skills are a must for this position.

The second job, Marketing Manager, is what the name suggests.  It is the person in charge of all marketing activity. While these people may have initially started their career in a specialized area (e.g., sales, advertising), their skill set now requires they know about all marketing areas. In many organizations, Marketing Managers are the main decision maker when it comes to marketing issues and, as noted in the ranking information, while they face a higher stress level than most other marketing positions, they also are the most highly paid.

These were not the only marketing positions to make this list. Additional positions include Sales Manager (#13), Sales Representative (#15) and Customer Service Representative (#22). There are also several other jobs, such as Logistician (#6), Insurance Agent (#7)and Real Estate Agent (#19), which require people to possess important marketing skills.

There are many business pundits who firmly believe the key to marketing success always comes down to product awareness. They believe companies cannot be successful unless customers know who they are, and that means focusing significant efforts (and money) on promotion. While it is true that, for most businesses, effective promotion is vitally important if products are to succeed, for the majority of businesses it may be a major mistake to believe promotional spending is the most important marketing decision. In reality, which marketing decision is the most important can vary. For instance, for low-cost airlines, that essentially offer the same services, pricing decisions may be the most critical. For quick-stop gasoline stations, the many concern may be outlet location, which is a distribution decision.

While promotion, price or distribution may be at the head of the task list for some marketers, for the vast majority of marketers, who produce their own goods and services, the biggest marketing concerns deal with product issues. For these marketers, everything starts with finding products that customers will want. If they do not want the product, no amount of spending on promotion or lowering price or providing effective distribution will help.

The issue of marketing desirable products is especially a challenge in industries who are apt to experience rapid change, such as computer, home entertainment, smartphone and other technology-heavy industries. But product design is also on the front burner of companies in low-tech industries, such as consumer foods, greeting cards and fashion. These industries, along with many more, realize that a poor effort in new product development is a recipe for disaster that may prove fatal.

Sometimes, though, struggling companies, which have either lacked a strong focus on product development or have done it poorly, can recover by altering how they carry out the design process. However, changing how things have been done may not be easy, particularly if company personnel are resistant to making the adjustments that are necessary for adopting new methods for innovative design.

A good example of a company that faced the tough times and made the necessary changes to improve product development can be found in this Fast Company story. It discusses how Denmark's The Lego Group, marketer of the popular Lego toy brand, was in trouble ten years ago and on the verge of going bankrupt. The leading cause of their problem was product development that was not focusing on what customers (i.e., kids) really wanted. Things changed when a new CEO was brought in and instituted creative methods for carrying out product development. The result is a company that is now not only a leader in toy development, but a model for how most companies should approach product innovation. This story, along with another Lego story we noted back in 2010, should serve as must-reads for anyone involved in product decisions.

Issues With Naming Craft BeerIf product marketers are asked to rank the most difficult tasks they face, the most likely responses will be something like: "it is hard coming up with new product ideas" or "we struggle deciding on what is the best price to charge" or "it is challenging finding distributors that are willing to sell our product" or "we rack our brains trying to come up with a great slogan". It is almost guaranteed that way down on the "challenges" list is deciding on what name to give to a new product. This is because many marketers view product naming as a secondary decision that can always be addressed later. That is, the challenge of giving a name to a product is not considered as critical as other issues they face.

Yet, as we discuss in our Product Decisions tutorial, product naming is one of the most important elements in establishing a respectable brand. Along with creating specialized features, such as a unique design, the name gives products an identity that may help separate it from competitive offerings. The name is also the leading element in product promotion as it is repeated over and over.

Naming is so important it has led to the creation of specialized marketing companies whose key service is to come up with brand names. However, these marketing specialist mostly target big companies, who can afford the large consulting fees that are charged. Smaller companies searching for a brand name must do so in-house, and this is not always easy. They often lack the skills or research capacity to figure out what names may grab the attention of potential customers. They also may not be fully informed of the legal consequences for adopting a name that may infringe on the same name owned by someone else. Others find it hard to come up with a name because Internet trolls have swooped in and registered the domain name and potentially hold it hostage unless someone is willing to fork over large sums.

A good example of smaller companies facing naming challenges can be found in the craft beer industry. As discussed in this National Public Radio story, craft breweries are among the most innovative industries when it comes to new product. However, the proliferation of products has led to problems with name creation. In some cases brewers, who have named a product, are discovering that other companies have already trademarked the name, and this has led to legal battles. What is particularly interesting is that nearly all words that are associated with beer and brewing have already been trademarked to the extent that it is nearly impossible to name a beer with these words. The story also notes that the issue is not limited to words. Trademarked images appearing on craft beers is also resulting in legal battles.