We all know that square-inch analysis is nothing to scoff at. The best multichannel marketing companies are successful because they build their catalogs and Websites with the use of solid scientific data.

Square-inch analysis, or squinch, helps merchants determine where products will perform the best and how much space to give them in the catalog or on the Website.

But other factors, less scientific and more anecdotal — and in some cases, pure gut — can make you even better at selling product on the page once you have the science to give you your start.

Having the wisdom to know when to apply the non-scientific strategy takes cultivation, and a lot of explaining at times — but it’s worth taking that plunge into the less-known.

Logic vs. the way people behave and buy

An essential fact to consider when going beyond squinch is how people behave.

Your analysis says that product A, which is in the “dead zone” of your catalog (the area from the center of the book to the back cover, which is not strong selling space), is doing well and in fact earning far more than the space it’s taking up right now.

Meanwhile, product B, which appears on the back cover, has not earned its space at all — it’s actually tanking.

It doesn’t take a genius to choose to move the back-cover product inside. But it takes smarts and some belief in your gut to make the decision to move the over-achiever from the dead zone into a hot spot.

While its numbers aren’t peaking at the level of products you already have in your catalog’s hot spots, an item that is performing that well may just shoot to the stars if given good position.

Sometimes a back cover is such a hot spot that it becomes a place to make a statement. This is well and good if it’s a statement that people will get, and one that supports direct sales. But this is valuable real estate — and a perfect place to sell your best product. You depress the entire catalog with a weak choice of product on the back cover.

So if your back cover is a reflection of a political decision, it may take some delicate maneuvering to move that poor performer to a less prominent place — or even dump it from your book altogether.

Some years ago I worked with a tech catalog that sold printers and plotters to customers in engineering, architecture, and mapmaking. The company was exploring some new products, including a tablet for drawing plots and plans.

These tablet were a new thing at the time, and there was no evidence that the item would be at all successful. In fact, it was so unlike every other product in the book, it was a huge risk for the back cover, or for any other valuable spot in the catalog.

Management wanted this product on the back cover as a symbol of the new direction the company was going in, but we had our concerns. It ended up on the back cover (you can’t win ’em all), and the product bombed.

While the catalog itself was a success, we knew that, historically, if the back cover is strong, the momentum drives sales for the book as a whole even higher. So this meant that even with our strong sales with the book overall, we would likely have gotten even better results had we used a proven best-seller on the back. Even a new product that was more in line with the traditions of the catalog would have improved sales.

Now we’re getting into both the fine art and the science of pagination strategy, and it doesn’t always follow logic to be successful.

For example, a catalog that’s paginated in order of the products’ use, which often occurs in the business-to-business world, is rarely as successful as a book paginated with the strongest sellers in the hottest spots.

From there you need to dig down to create a reasonable hierarchy that will get the weakest — but necessary — products into the catalog’s dead zone.

Logic vs. easy-to-find

That same tech catalog also taught us a thing or two about logic vs. easy-to-find. For example, our first catalog with these folks included the task of combining its supplies catalog with its equipment title.

Because the space in the original catalog was not used efficiently, we managed to develop one 32-page title from two 24-page books. But we had no idea how to paginate it because the company hadn’t done any analysis. And the figures were not accurate enough for us to do this after the fact.

So based on anecdotal information, we put supplies and equipment for each category side-by-side — for example, pen-plotting supplies alongside of the pen plotters. We thought that this would give customers a chance to see the upgraded version of the equipment they had now.

The equipment catalog had been used to generate interest in upgrading printers and plotters. So we thought product envy might draw them to ask about and purchase the latest model. The catalog did well — up about 50% from the original sales from the two catalogs — and it cost less to produce.

But numbers, plus suspicions based on what our client knew to be true about the market, and customer feedback, told us that it might do better to separate the equipment from the supplies.

The following year, ignoring square-inch analysis, which told us we were doing well, we followed information we heard from sales people and customers. We repaginated leading off with the supplies, and coming in from the back with equipment. The jump in response was amazing: an increase of nearly 100% in sales directly from the catalog, and a significant leap in lead generation for the equipment.

This was a great example of how science and psychology caused a breakthrough for this client. A few years later, a new manager looked at squinch and read the numbers literally — showing equipment to be a poor seller from the catalog. This was no surprise, since this equipment started at about $10,000 and was in the catalog primarily to generate leads for the company.

Thinking it was not earning its space, and not taking into account the quality and quantity of leads, the catalog was feeding the sales force, the manager removed the equipment from the catalog. This led to a huge crash in the lead-generation cycle. You can imagine the upset cries from the sales force!

Eventually the manager relented and put an equipment mini-insert inside the catalog. But he never recovered the catalog to its spot as a powerful lead-generator as well as supplies seller. Taking squinch literally was a crippling move for this catalog.

The appeal of a thoughtful spread

When I consulted with a collectibles catalog awhile ago, the company was stuck with disappointing numbers. It had been using squinch to move better sellers around and give them more space, as well as moving out the poor sellers. But this was not really showing the merchant any significant improvement in sales.

When I looked at the sales numbers and the catalog’s organization, it occurred to me that the marketer was not appealing to the collector’s soul — the emotional buy-in that makes a person collect. I knew from other experiences that many people will collect objects by subject matter rather than by the product’s construction.

So, for example, a page full of porcelain figures may have included only one item on the page that a particular kind of collector would be looking for. It was unlikely that someone who bought a Disney collectible porcelain figure would also buy a John Wayne porcelain figure.

What’s more, the spread is less appealing if it’s filled with products that don’t interest the viewer. They are, in fact, more likely to turn away without buying.

In discussing this with the client, we proposed a new pagination that used squinch only as basic information for subject categories. Thinking “subject matter,” we put eagle porcelain items with an eagle thimble and an eagle mug.

If this had been an Americana-theme area, it would have been a great place to include other eagles and American flag items, too And if there was a John Wayne figure from his military films, that would also have worked.

Meanwhile, the catalog’s more fantasy-oriented porcelains, such as unicorn figurines, would go with other like collectibles of all sorts, such as plates with cottage scenes and snow globes.

While the cataloger’s logical approach was organized using squinch, ours was pure psychology and customer affinity. And one thing we know is that affinity is a powerful motivator.

The results were off the charts. This led to that company moving into themed catalogs. At one point, the company had eight catalogs, including military themes, fantasy, Disney collectibles, and so on. And these were highly successful books.

Balancing numbers with psychology

One of the most commonly ignored aspects of the catalogs I review is the pagination. Most creatives don’t even consider this to be a factor when redoing a catalog. Yet this is the first thing I look for in a catalog makeover. We want to control when prospects will see certain merchandise!

And the client’s squinch numbers are an essential part of the discovery process for me. As a creative consultant working on giving them a jump in response, I need to see those figures.

But there is always that less-considered and often scoffed-at approach, which is to look at the behavior of the catalog customer, and balance that with the numbers. Try it — you may find that a combination of fact and psychology provides a powerful lever to greater response.

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