Covering your rear

Jul 01, 2008 9:30 PM  By

Your catalog’s back cover should be front and center when you’re planning the book. Why? For many mailers, it’s the best-selling page in the catalog. And for any recipient, it’s an enticement to enter the book. The back cover is the place where product, information and price come together.

Before we get into the back cover “checklist,” keep in mind that your back cover strategy should take into account whether you are mailing to prospects or customers. It may be worth tailoring your back cover to appeal to the target audience, which is fairly easy and inexpensive to do, since many catalogers print a separate cover form.

The key considerations in putting together your back cover are product, price, and presentation. Let’s take a closer look at each aspect.

Picking the product

Sourcing, selecting, pricing and presenting the right product for a “home run” back cover can be challenging. While the back cover certainly has great visibility, simply putting an item there does not guarantee success. In the best of situations, merchandise should meet many criteria.

  • Wide appeal is one of the most important aspects of back cover product. The item or items should be as attractive as possible to the widest group of your customers — and prospects, too. It should be a product that most people will need or want.

    “Trial product” typically invites the recipient to try it with a purchase. If it is a basic product — especially if it comes in multiple colors — it is often referred to as a “key item.” In all cases, these goods are well priced and offer considerable value for the money paid.

    While a product need not be a “loss-leader” (or sharply discounted as a way to attract new customers), it is sometimes wise to accept a lower margin if generating awareness — and a sale — from a prospect is at stake.

  • New is important for a back cover product, especially for customers who may have reviewed a previous catalog. Proven winners may be good selections because their track records are great indicators of success; they should be presented as a “best seller” or “back by popular demand” to pump shopper confidence. “Exclusive” is also a big bonus, especially to savvy shoppers.

  • Density. How do you choose how many products to put on a back cover? Seasoned catalogers with good track records will sometimes settle on one single item, because it has the same traits as previous winners and can potentially generate huge sales. Less experienced or unsure catalogers might be better off offering two or more products on the back cover to give them the best chance possible.

Including more merchandise on the back cover gives you the chance to show more than one product category. This is especially important to a prospect who is learning what you have to offer, and is deciding whether to open the catalog or not.

Naming the price

Pricing is one area in which it helps to know the targeted audience. If it’s a prospecting back cover, the strategy should be to divulge as much relevant information to the catalog recipient as possible. In this case, consider items of multiple price points for the back cover. If your customers are getting the catalog, you may have an opportunity to show a strong new product. But if you’re creating only one back cover, I’d vote for multiple products.

  • Including more than one product will provide the opportunity to show price range. This can generate excitement on the back cover, allowing you to promote a well-priced item as well as special merchandise that may create interest or buzz.

  • It can be effective to show a unique offer, sale or special pricing on the back cover. Let’s face it, we want to get those customers in the door, and any promotion helps. Just make sure the offer is consistent with the positioning and brand of the catalog, as well as with other offers inside the book.

  • The back cover is a great place for multiple-unit pricing. In apparel, key items (such as turtlenecks or T-shirts) that come in multiple colors can be great for this strategy. Offering a special price for customers buying more than one item is a good way to drive up sales.

Presenting the presentation

While the back cover should generally have a look that is consistent with the inside of the catalog, you’ll want to use more drama in the overall design. We’re looking to grab the readers and pull them in, so using the layout of a typical page is just not going to do it for real estate as important as the back cover.

  • Use recognizable anchors. The type styles for headers, subheads and body copy create more recognition and consistency then we think. We can often get away with other big changes without confusing the customer by keeping type consistent.

  • Shoot stellar photography. Yes, you should always strive for great photography throughout your catalog. But the back cover is the place to shine. Once you’ve chosen back cover product, spend the extra time and money to shoot award-winning shots, whether the product is a doormat or Steuben glass. Make sure you choose the back cover merchandise before the photography takes place, so that it’s shot with back cover presentation in mind.

  • Organize and simplify. The back cover should be trying to do a lot of things, so it’s imperative that the recipients comprehend what they see in seconds. This means design it, then go back and simplify it. The back cover creative should be scrutinized and modified so that it communicates a lot of information quickly and easily.

  • The address and indicia area. Keeping this space well designed and effective is often overlooked. Most catalogers will go for years without conducting a thorough assessment of this area. But everything we give the customers to look at or read adds to their perception of the brand. The design and content of the address area is no exception. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Required information The back cover needs to have your logo, address, 800-number and Website address. Sounds like a no-brainer, but make sure these appear prominently on your back cover — not everybody does.

  • Ink jetting While they may not have a lot of impact because of their location (near the address) and the way they look (a bit low budget), ink-jetted messages are typically free. So don’t overlook them as a communication technique.

  • Retail location information It’s one thing to mention a local store or stores in a personalized message on the back cover. But I’m not a big fan of using good space to list retail locations or directions there — I’d much rather give the back-cover merchandise more space.

    Some may argue that showing retail presence builds brand perception, but I’m skeptical about this. Showing retail locations really won’t affect the performance of a catalog shopper, certainly not the way offering more merchandise will.

  • Vertical vs. horizontal With the goal of asking the reader to do as little work as possible, the preference is to have a horizontal address and indicia area. Don’t make the reader turn the catalog on its side to verify their address or double-check the information contained in the area, such as an 800-number, ink-jet message or special offer.

Don’t think of your back cover as simply the back or end of the book. You should expect it to be the best-performing page in your catalog. But the exposure is not enough to guarantee the performance. The product, price and presentation — along with all the supporting considerations — are what your catalog’s back cover needs to achieve sales success.


Glenda Shasho Jones is a New York-based catalog industry consultant who specializes in improving performance and branding through creative applications. The author of The Identity Trinity: Brand, Image and Positioning for Catalogs, she can be reached at glenda@sjdirect.com.

Front to back

If the recipient spends only seconds with your catalog before deciding whether to keep or toss it, you want to make sure you’ve done your best to communicate product scope. That’s why you want the products on the back cover to really ADD to the first impression of the book, not just reinforce what you’re saying on the front cover.

Keep in mind that catalog buyers expect to see your premium product on the front cover; the back covers are usually reserved for more promotional items. Take care to make sure back cover product is more “best value” rather than the most upscale product you offer, which is a good way to spark the interest of both customers and prospects. — GSJ