A Page from [ or to ] Your Website

The cover of a print catalog says: “2004/2005 / Columbia, Snake and Willamette River Cruises / Aboard Authentic SternWheeler / Along The Lewis& Clark Route.” The Website home page begins: “Alaska & Columbia River Cruises / Cruise Back to a Time You’ll Never Forget / When ships were small and service was grand…When courtesy was actually common…When the journey was as memorable as the destination.”

Oh, neither one is a world beater. But two questions: 1) Why the total difference? 2) Could the specificity of the print catalog be welded to the romance of the Web page?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Direct transfer of lyrical catalog copy to the Web home page almost invariably is less effective than a strong offer. And unlike a print catalog, which “appears” in the mail, few potential buyers land on any Web page by accident. E-mail, space ads, or the print catalog drive them there.

The answer to the second question? That’s what this month’s column is about. The answer should be a resounding yes. Well, make that a conditional yes.

We all harbor Jekyll-and-Hyde possibilities within our Jekyll-and-Hyde hides. Want proof? After reading this paragraph, close your eyes for 15 seconds, using the time to visualize your comparative reaction to a) a catalog that comes to you in the mail, and b) a catalog’s Website.

Test that concept with any consumer or business catalog. Just for an example, and to be sure the samples are parallel, here is the Chico’s catalog — women’s apparel and jewelry — checked the day after delivery. The cover shows an attractive young woman in sports clothes, sans shoes. Page 2 has a Cantina watch for $58, and page 3 has this woman, full length, with descriptions and prices for her outfit.

Now let’s look at www.chicos.com. The home page displays the same photo as the cover of the printed catalog…plus another photo leading to the “Travelers Collection,” plus “a Back to Basics section,” plus a link to watches, plus a bunch of links ranging from special promotions to gift cards. The obvious theory: Grab them and have something for them, regardless of what brought them here.

As the Web moves toward a position of catalog dominance, corporate executives have to decide: Is our print catalog a feeder mechanism for the Web or a stand-alone competitor?

More and more, those who view the future of their print catalog as a competitor to Websites, both theirs and others, are making their print versions more Weblike. Increasingly rare are print catalogs with no “Bargain!” offer on the cover.

A Sierra Outdoor catalog has on its cover, in heavy type: “Save 35-70%.” This same imperative appears twice on the company’s home page.

Need the offer be identical? Not if the company wants prospective customers to be excited by both. The cover of Improvements has a walk-through patio-door screen at a reduced price. The home page, during this same period, has a Twin-Speaker Pestchaser at half price, a “Special Buys” availability, and a list of sectors plus a “Free Shipping” offer for specific items, an incentive not mentioned in the print catalog.

(Free shipping remains the number-one-selling incentive of online offers, despite the determined effort of many spam filters to kill it. With multibuyers hopping back and forth from print to online versions, including this inducement online and omitting it from the print catalog could damage long-range effectiveness.)

Business catalogs have led the way in making their print versions as dynamic as their Web versions. Reliable Office Supplies and to a lesser extent Office Depot load the covers of their print versions with leader items.

Reliable’s print catalog (as of this writing) has 10 differing enticements plus a “Free Gift” Cooler Duffle on the cover. On its Website, Reliable is strangely sedate, with no offers on its home page. Instead Reliable asks the visitor for a “login” with an account number, discouraging casual drop-ins — a philosophy many business buyers might regard as a mistake and an indication of tiered pricing. An “Enter as a guest” link covers newcomers.

Inside the Reliable Website, the jump page is loaded with specials. An oddity: Although I tested this Website two months before the stated expiration date on the print catalog edition, a message says, “Sorry…your catalog has expired. We still have a free gift for you! Click for details.” That free gift is a box of cookies, hardly parallel to the Cooler Duffle…which has to turn some buyers back to the print catalog, or elsewhere. Opinion: Reliable’s print catalog team and Website team are out of sync.

Catalog companies with separate technical/production teams for the two print and Web versions are wisely allocating specialists to each. Catalogs that allow creative teams to produce their own versions, ignoring their sibling, are coincidentally allowing these teams to inflict potential damage to both.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Author of 26 books, including Catalog Copy That Sizzles, Marketing Mayhem, and Effective E-Mail Marketing, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide.

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