3 Critical Copy Elements Your Catalog Can’t Live Without

Thousands of advertisers clamor for consumers’ precious time each day. These messages bombard their eyes and ears, each screaming for a few sacred seconds of attention. Catalogs compete for the same consideration, scattered amidst omnipresent television commercials, the Internet and whatever pops up on their smartphones.

Once we get a catalog into their hands, how do we ensure consumers actually read it? As copywriters, we would love to think that every carefully chosen word we type will be read from start to finish, exactly as intended. Yeah, nice dream.

The truth is far more brutal. Catalog readers scan and browse, always looking at compelling photos and visuals first. It’s the nature of a visual medium. Words get ignored. How can you captivate readers with engaging copy before the siren’s song and hypnotic glow of their pocket-sized technological masters distract and entrance them?

Be strategic and selective with your copy. Obviously, your catalog needs to have basic elements, like product names, prices, color/size options, quantities, whatever informs the purchase decision. Bolster the desire to keep reading with these three crucial copy elements your catalog must have.

1. Guarantee
Customers want to know you’ve got their backs. We live in an age of immediate gratification and stout expectations. If they get your product in their hands or in their mouths (or wherever they’ll use it!), that product better be right. If it’s not, you better be committed to making it right. A strong guarantee need not be verbose. Check out JCPenney’s new guarantee: “Happy returns: any item, anytime, anywhere.” Beautiful brevity.

The opening spread of every catalog should have the guarantee. Repeat it on your order page, add it to page footers or develop a non-intrusive icon to use throughout the catalog. This simple copy addition reassures customers and encourages them to close the sale.

2. Testimonials
Everyone wants to have their say, and technology obliges, giving a touch-screen outlet to the masses. Capitalize on those digital conversations on the printed page of your catalog. The validation of peers still adds weight to the purchase process. Did others like it? Did it work like it said it would?

No longer must catalogs rely on the tried-and-true testimonial solicitation. Integrate a social media component within the catalog. Pull quotes and posts from Facebook, Twitter, online forums, comment posts and online ratings. Let your satisfied customers sing your praises and bring them to life as a copy element. Not only will customers read them, but they will be inspired to join the conversation so that they, too, can be heard.

3. Personality
Is your editorial and selling copy worth reading? Is it written with the flair and substance of your brand identity? If not, fix it. Need an example? Pick up the Land of Nod. The catalog’s headlines represent an exquisite example of infusing the magic and whimsy of the brand with a few carefully chosen words.

While not every catalog has the luxury of playful, imaginative toys to inspire its voice, you can still develop a tone that suits your unique positioning. Be demonstrative. Be humorous. Be irreverent. Be intellectual. Infuse that into your copy, whether it’s brief editorial introductions, attention-grabbing headlines, benefit-driven product copy, or succinct statements reinforcing your brand position. Don’t settle for straightforward, by-the numbers feature-benefit copy. Want readers to linger on every word? Bring your brand to life in inspiring ways through the printed word.

In the spirit of “in with the good, out with the bad,” here are three cumbersome copy elements you can CUT today to make your catalog more readable:

1. Directions
You catalog copy is not a packaging label. Don’t use it that way. Include only what a potential buyer needs to know. For example, if you’re selling clothes and a document is machine washable, that’s all you need to say. Leave out “machine wash cold, tumble dry low, do not use fabric softener, etc.” Use your valuable copy real estate to explain what’s great about the product, NOT the minutiae of care or administration.

2. SKU Captions
Catalog readers, your best customers, don’t speak SKU. Don’t litter your photos with captions delineating indecipherable alphanumeric codes. Since shoppers look at photos first, captions are often one of the first pieces of copy they read. Capitalize on that opportunity to elaborate on important, unseen benefits of the photo. Leave the SKUs in the price line.

3. Length
Keep your copy short. People will read it. That is all.

Matthew Fey is a strategic copywriter with multichannel consultancy J.Schmid & Associates.

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