Catalog Critique: A Look Through Delphi’s Glass

Oct 03, 2011 9:30 PM  By

From a handful of items sold from a garage in 1972, Delphi has grown to become the largest supplier of art glass materials in the U.S. The company sells more than 30,000 items through its catalog and website, targeting both beginners and expert glass artists.

Our creative experts, Sarah Fletcher, president/creative director of Catalog Design Studios, and Neal Schuler, principal of Schuler Creative Consulting, reviewed Delphi’s 64-page spring 2011 edition. Here’s what they had to say about it.

SARA FLETCHER

One of the biggest challenges faced by veteran catalogers is looking at their book with fresh eyes so they can see what the customer really sees. Unless we make a point to step back and forget our pre-conceptions, we all go blind to our catalogs — and the result is a slow erosion of sales, especially with prospects.

The Delphi catalog is a good example of this phenomenon, something I call “death by a thousand cuts.” It seems oddly appropriate for a glass catalog.

Starting from the cover, the image used looks more like an industrial grinder than one of the remarkable finished glass pieces shown inside. Hobbyists are passionate, and they love looking at beautiful examples of their hobby. You can never go wrong with beauty shots of spectacular pieces.

Prospective customers respond well to covers showing items being created. Showing the process is both attention getting and a quick read that you are selling glass supplies.

Prospects will look at Delphi’s cover, see “Annual Bevel Sale!” and then a big wad of type that looks like all the stuff the marketing folks thought should be on the cover but was hard to fit. Not all customers will take the time to read it.

The difference between an okay catalog and a great catalog that really sells is often clarity of the message. There are just too many random elements on Delphi’s cover to ever produce a targeted message.

The best way to resolve this is to take all the elements on the page, rank them by importance and then group them by concept. So the logo should be with the corporate positioning statement, and the “Annual Bevel Sale” should be with the bevels being sold. Perhaps one or more of the callouts could be eliminated, which would help elevate one of the more important messages.

As for the back cover (see page 22 for image), there is just too much going on for anyone to comfortably shop. Each element you add to a page competes with every other element and they all lose importance. So the more you add, the less impact each has. If Delphi hasn’t done some testing to determine the optimal number of items and elements to have on the back cover, I would strongly advise they do that.

The coupon on the back cover reads “Welcome New Customers.” If this is a prospect catalog, I would recommend an annotated table of contents on the back cover. The green area around the page does nothing but take up space and make it harder to keep the color even on press.

It took me a while to figure out that there was a theme to the page 2/3 spread. Even though the tab at the top says “new,” it doesn’t look like all the items on the spread are new. In fact, I see only three items marked as new. My issues with having a “new” section are that it makes the rest of the catalog boring to existing customers, doesn’t elevate the new items as well as scattering them throughout the catalog does, and it forces disparate items together — which is not fun to shop.

I liked the Trend Corner, which talks about using numbers and letters in home decor. I understood right away that the Spectrum Mosaic Pack product was part of that story, but the rest of it didn’t hold together as well. You can use any product on the page to make a beautiful project using numbers or letters, but then again, you could use any item in the catalog to do that, so it becomes artificial.

A better way to handle that is to let the Trend Corner just be a cool discussion about a trend and show some finished projects — with page references to the key items used. Editorial is important in hobby catalogs since it can create a strong customer connection.

I would not put it in the upper-right-hand corner, though, since it is the best-selling space on the page. I love editorial, but I love sales more. Editorial that supports sales is worth the space, but there is no reason to put it in prime selling space.

There is lots of room to tighten up the pagination and make the catalog more fun to shop. Starter kits are scattered about. There are kilns on pages 27, 28, 38, 45 and 53. Delphi should make it easy for customers to find the right kiln for them, rather than forcing them to flip back and forth between pages to figure out which is the right one.

Less is more, and when you confuse — you lose customers. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and count to 10; when you open them, see what is really there. Then start simplifying and organizing.

NEAL SCHULER

I was immediately attracted to this catalog. I’ve always been a sucker for arts and crafts that require assembly. After a quick flip of the pages and seeing all the parts, pieces and tools, my heart started to beat a little faster. Stained glass, mosaics, copper enameling, oh man, the dining room table may never be the same!

Before jumping into a review, it’s important to understand the target audience. Like most catalogers, Delphi wants to appeal to three different audience segments: the loyal customer who would, uh, crawl across broken glass to purchase; the infrequent or lapsed buyer who’s a shopper rather than a brand loyalist; and, last but not least, the curious prospect.

Often with enthusiast brands, the presentation becomes too exclusive, targeting only core customers and not inviting newcomers. Clients will tell me, “The customer knows what they want — we don’t have to sell them.”

That may be the case for a small group of brand loyalists, but even the best customers want to be assured they’re making good choices. Certainly the infrequent buyer and prospect require an enticing presentation of the brand, assortment and services. I can’t think of a case where a loyal customer didn’t purchase because the creative was too informative.

The primary message on the cover is “Annual Bevel Sale.” I’m sure that’s an important event for a segment of the audience, but after a quick accounting of offers inside the book, I discovered more than 60 new items and over 100 sale items in addition to the bevel sale.

Promoting new items and a broader sale category — and removing the less newsworthy messages — would provide quicker impact out of the mailbox and would cast a wider net. What’s more, communicating the richness of the sale offer by adding “up to 50% off” will underscore the opportunity to save.

Restating the marketing messages on the back cover is important for two reasons. First, the back cover is often the first thing the recipient sees out of the mailbox. Second, about half the audience will start shopping at the back of the book, making the back cover the first point of contact.

The illustration of a design concept on the front cover is interesting. But I can’t help but think an aspirational finished piece of glass art — or one in progress — would be more representational of what’s inside and more eye-catching. Glass artists are most likely attracted to more vibrant color and form than the illustration provides.

The opening spread is the typical go-to spread for catalog shoppers who are looking for information about the brand, what the catalog has in store, and a payout on cover messages. Delphi’s current execution presents an inconspicuous index and small copy line touting an experienced staff.

The cataloger has a fabulous story to tell, and if presented with proper energy and prominence, it can help persuade all segments to shop and purchase.

Here are some opening spread essentials that would more than pay for the space:

  • Set the tone with a brief greeting from the Delphi team welcoming friends and inviting newcomers. Include a summation of the product categories and reiterate the cover messages: the sale and sale end-date to drive urgency, new products plus free shipping on selected items.

  • Build authority and confidence in the shopper by summarizing your mission. Describe the “Delphi Difference” and why it’s a benefit to the customer. Messages can include: Largest glass supplier and education company with over 35 years in the business, experienced staff makes projects and shopping easy, special discounts for schools and educators, and the 100% satisfaction guarantee!

  • Promote the artist community and how Delphi facilitates the connection between customers — enthusiasts love to share and learn! Highlight the Delphi website and how it’s informative and fun, featuring a customer art gallery, blog, videos and learning center.

  • And, since the fastest growing Facebook user population hits the sweet spot of Delphi’s customer demographic, it’s important to invite the customer to become a part of the conversation, and for Delphi to participate in the social network.

    For a densely merchandised catalog, Delphi is easy to shop. On pages where photos and copy blocks need to be keyed, the merchant has done a brilliant job using bold red type that helps makes a quick visual connection.

    The product copy details features and differentiates between like products. The color-coded category tabs in the upper right make the catalog easy to navigate, and the assortment is well organized with groups of like products positioned together. And including glass projects from customers is a nice touch and lends authenticity.

Here are a few simple additions and adjustments that can help make the presentation even more persuasive and productive:

  • Headlines: There are some effective benefit and call-to-action headlines throughout the catalog; unfortunately, they lack visual punch and recede on the page. Providing the headlines with adequate space, size and/or boldness will help position and sell.

  • Cross-channel reference: Pacing website references regularly through the catalog will remind the reader that there’s a larger assortment online and a ton of great content as well — the references inform and promote a leadership position.

  • Pacing: Most of the page design is based on a two-column grid — it’s an effective way to make a dense catalog easy to shop. But too much similarity in visual presentation will fatigue the shopper. Pacing hero product depictions and alternative designs throughout the catalog will keep the reader’s interest and make shopping easier.

  • Order form: The current positioning for the order form and a glass event announcement is the inside back cover. This is prime real estate for selling and promoting the brand. Moving the page to a less productive position and replacing the order form with simple ordering instructions would be best since the order form isn’t a viable mail-in vehicle and is a waste of valuable space.

Enthusiast catalogs have a bit of a head start because they’re presenting to an engaged core audience. With just a few adjustments, the Delphi catalog can help grow its business faster by converting the curious inquirer or someone who dabbles into a frequent buyer and brand advocate.

The trick is to create a more inclusive and encouraging presentation that defines and differentiates the brand. The good news is, most of the pieces are already there, they just have to be arranged to be more engaging — sort of like a beautiful stained glass window!