Oh, the good old days of catalog production. Back in the day, designers, copywriters, art directors and photographers spent their workdays creating, well, catalogs. Their time was spent laying out pages, writing to line and character counts, and directing photo shoots.

In today’s multichannel world, designers, photographers and copywriters work on a multitude of projects. In addition to catalogs, you’ll find them creating Websites, direct mail pieces, newsletters, e-mail communications, space ads for print publications, banner ads, free-standing inserts (FSIs) for use in newspapers, trade show materials, retail store signage, and a host of other projects.

The one consistent component all those projects have, or should have, is your brand. And the best way we’ve found to ensure brand consistency across all your communications is to make sure everyone — your internal creative team, freelancers, and/or agency — has a copy of your brand guidelines or stylebook.

It’s astonishing how many organizations have no brand guidelines other than “these are the colors and fonts we normally use.” Taking the time to create specific usage guidelines for your logo and marks, an approved color palette for use across all media, approved fonts, even punctuation use, is the best way to ensure that your brand stays consistent and recognized across all your communications.

When putting together your stylebook, be sure the fonts and colors work across all the media you’re using or intend to use in the future. Try them on dummy Web pages, direct mail pieces, catalog pages, e-mails, and print ads. Remember, you’re going to have to live with your stylebook for a long time.

Here are some other tips for making the most of today’s multichannel creative.


Another reality of today’s multichannel marketing world is the need for design specialists. It’s the rare designer who’s equally adept at creating Websites, print catalogs, store signage, print ads, direct mail pieces, e-mails, and so on. Instead, you’ll likely discover that some designers’ talents are better suited to online work and others to traditional print media.

But be careful not to so compartmentalize your designers that each is unaware of what the others are doing in your different marketing channels. Let them trade ideas back and forth — even if they’re working in different mediums — and you’ll have happier designers, fresh thinking and probably a few breakthrough ideas.

It’s worked so well for us that we now always try to have both our “traditional” media designers and our “online” specialists together at meetings to create synergy across all the platforms we’re working in for our clients.

The online world, in particular, changes rapidly. Be sure your designers and art directors are aware of the latest Web 2.0 tools, online design standards, search engine optimization techniques, how and when it’s appropriate to use tools like AJAX and Flash.

Most important, they should be on top of “what’s working” response-wise. An investment in sending them to design conferences, seminars, and workshops can pay off in greater response rates and higher average orders down the road.

One tip: Rather than hoping designers keep up on the latest trends by reading design magazines, we’ve found that copying relevant articles from the magazines and handing them out at staff meetings to our designers ensures 100% readership. Remember, these days your designers and art directors face tougher schedules and tighter deadlines than ever. Help them out by copying important articles and sharing them whenever you can.


Perhaps the most significant new reality of 21st century creative is in the area of photography and photo management. Previously, a photographer might shoot to a layout and bracket the shots, and the art director would have a number of selects to choose from.

While it’s still true for some catalogs, many of today’s photographers and art directors have to plan on their shots being used both online and offline and in a multitude of different marketing vehicles.

Urge your photographers to shoot more and at different angles than what the current assignment might call for. If the old mantra “film is cheap” is true, than “digital photography is even cheaper” is more so.

Remember, the angle of the shot you’re using for your catalog may not be the best for use in a space ad, e-mail, or on your Website. More than once, an art director has come to me and said, “I’ve only got this one shot to work with and it’s not ideal for the piece I’m designing. Can you get me a few more to look at?”

If you’re shooting fashion, be sure to shoot as many colors “on figure” as possible. You may not need them now, but they might come in handy later for a sales catalog, flier, mailer, or on your Website. We’ve run into this so many times that we’ve made it standard operating procedure at every fashion photo shoot we do.

A critical point: If you’re currently shooting a product for Web use only, be sure your photographer is capturing a hi-resolution image. You may want to use it for a printed piece later. It’s a lot cheaper — and faster — than having to reshoot later.

Even if you’re not planning on showing close-ups in your catalog, ask the photographer to shoot a few close-ups of any interesting or special features the product may have — like the control panel of an electronics gadget or the really cool buttons of a shirt. You may want to use them later as inset shots in another piece where you have more room to call out specific features.

When you’re creating drop shadows, be sure you create them for both your high-res and low-res photos. We just ran into this: We were asked by a new client to create a couple of postcard mailings for use in a multichannel campaign combining both online and traditional media. Of course, it was on a rush schedule.

One of the postcards featured several laser printers. We created comps by grabbing the low-res images and drop shadows from its Website and, at the presentation, reminded the client we’d need the high-res images as soon as possible to be able to go to press.

You guessed it. Two weeks later, someone was able to find the high-res photos and get them to us. Unfortunately, since they’d never been used before, there were no drop shadows. The shadows all had to be created and, while we still made the press date, there were a few anxious moments that could easily have been prevented if a system fororganizing, managing, and retrieving photos had been in place.

If you’re a multichannel marketer sending out pieces in different media, consider investing in a photo management software system if you haven’t already done so. You’ll find it’ll pay off big time in speed and efficiency, and you’ll have a lot fewer headaches. Your creative staff will thank you.


As someone who started out as a copywriter, I’m happy to say that copy is more crucial than ever in the multichannel world. With today’s short attention spans, your copy has to immediately grab your viewers’ attention, interest them in your product and service, sell the benefits, and differentiate both the product and your company from competitors — and do it all while still maintaining your brand’s voice. Not an easy task.

When marketers first started putting up Websites, it was common practice to pick-up their catalog copy and use it word-for-word on their sites. But enlightened marketers soon realized that a lot of their customers were going to their Websites to get more information about their products.

How many times have you seen the words “For more information, visit www.nameof your” at the bottom of a space ad, direct mail piece or catalog? Savvy marketers realized that content is king (or queen, if you prefer). And for most marketers, content means copy.

If you’re a lucky writer who’s writing for different media with different space requirements, I’d recommend writing the “long copy” version for say, use in a direct mail package or on a Website, first. Then pare down your copy to the two or three big benefits for your shorter copy vehicle, like a catalog or space ad. As any experienced writer will tell you, it’s always easier to cut copy than it is to lengthen it.

Finally, beware of pronouncements that you should always use “short copy on the Web” or that “long copy sells more in e-mails.” Especially be wary of anyone telling you “people don’t read anymore.” Nonsense. If your copy is interesting and intriguing and relevant to your readers, they’ll not only read it, they’ll likely read it two or three times.

The truth is that short copy works best for some products and services and long copy for others. What works for one company may not work best for you.

A case in point: We recently created two e-mail campaigns for two different clients and tested long and short versions within each campaign. The short copy version was the winner for one client and the long copy version was the winner for the other.

The bottom line is, as always, testing. In fact, the single most important “new reality” of multichannel marketing is that testing is even more critical than ever. Sure, it costs a bit more to do two — or more — versions of a creative test.

But knowing what type of creative works best for your particular products in our hyper-competitive world is what, in the end, will not only make your creative efforts stand out, but also make your sales figures soar and your customers keep coming back. And that, in the end, is what all your creative efforts should be aiming to accomplish.

Kevin Kotowski is president of Olson/Kotowski, a multichannel creative and marketing agency based in Torrance, CA.

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When it’s time to redesign Reasons for Website makeovers vary – as do the results Given the speed with which many catalogers rushed to put up Websites, it’s no surprise that numerous marketers have decided to invest in online makeovers.

There are no hard-and-fast rules as to when you should redesign your site. Outdoor apparel cataloger/retailer Patagonia, for instance, debuted its site redesign in August, nearly five years after the site’s October 1995 launch. But shoe manufacturer/marketer Naturalizer redesigned its Website after just one year online.

Nonetheless, several factors can help you determine if your site could use a makeover. Has your Website traffic or sales volume slowed recently? Are you generating fewer leads than you were a few months ago? Are you taking advantage of the available technology? Sometimes a redesign can improve your site’s efficiency, stimulate sales, and generate buzz.

The reasons behind the redesigns Northwest’s Best, which publishes the Northwest’s Best and Naturally Northwest gifts catalogs, redesigned both of its Websites in July. “We did some comparison-shopping,” says secretary/treasurer Jan Lajoie, reviewing other Websites and determining what aspects, such as navigation, copy, and product placement, might work for Northwest’s Best. The original incarnation of Northwest’s Best site debuted in September 1995; Naturally Northwest went live in July 1999. Naturally Northwest’s Website redesign included a new URL,, to emphasize its product offering. Lajoie says the new look also includes crisper graphics and more-prominent navigational tools on the home page.

Medford, OR-based Northwest’s Best handled all the redesign work itself. “The best way for us to achieve the look and feel of what we are reaching for is to handle this type of design work inhouse,” Lajoie says, though she declines to specify how much the company spent on its redesign.

For Ventura, CA-based Patagonia, the goal of its redesign was to bolster brand support and enhance customer service, says director of public affairs Lu Setnicka. The redesigned home page features new “short cuts”: links that enable users to check order status, shop, request a catalog, find a store, or key in a promotional code with just one click-through. The redesign also lets visitors to search by item description or by style number.

The redesign of the Naturalizer Website not only made the site more user-friendly but also revitalized its graphic appearance. After launching in summer 1999, “we quickly outgrew our site,” says Kevin Brandt, manager of database and Internet marketing. “We built our original site on the premise that you set it up, put product there, and people would come. But then we realized that people were coming to our site for more than just shopping – they were looking for product information and how to order print catalogs.” So the company relaunched the site “from the ground up” this past September.

As it happens, Naturalizer has started a reimaging campaign for its print catalog last year to attract younger buyers. Since then, the age of the average customer fell from older than 55 to 38 years old, Brandt says.

So the company extended the reimaging to its Website. Changes include a splash page featuring a lifestyle photo of a group of young girls lounging on a boat in swimwear and sneakers, and the use of gray-scale photos, which Brandt says load faster than color images.

Naturalizer gave its IT department charge to go in and redesign the site, Brandt says. Because the parent company, St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Co., had launched a business-to-business site the previous year, it had the technology and manpower in place to revamp It was also more cost-effective, adds Brandt, to do the redesign inhouse.

According to Mallory Weil, executive vice president of Internet for Best Cellars, a New York-based cataloger/retailer of wines and wine accessories, you should follow several steps when contemplating a Website redesign:

– Make an objective assessment. Keep in mind that you’re likely to be more critical than your customer, since you live with your site every day. Your site may not need an overhaul, but just a facelift to keep it fresh, which you can achieve by updating your home page, specials, and inventory. Adding flash or animated GIFs can help freshen up the overall look. In some ways, this tactic is similar to redesigning a catalog cover as opposed to redoing the entire book.

– Consider the cost. Depending on how complex your redesign is, it can cost less than 25% of your Website budget to…well, you name it.

– Compile a list of desired changes. Use site/session analysis to discover which areas people link to – and which areas they avoid. Consider what you can do to draw visitors to the less-popular areas of your site. If your customers are spending a lot of time browsing instead of shopping, maybe you can find a new way to jump-start buying, such as by moving the location of your site’s shopping cart icon or putting links to sale items on your home page.

– Set specific goals. The goals of a redesign should include increasing sales and persuading people to return to the site more frequently.

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When you talk about breakthrough catalog creative, you need to consider more than pretty pictures or catchy graphics. True catalog creative innovation involves using customer information that sends the desired message to the target audience-and generates outstanding results. n But catalog creative that makes a difference in the bottom line is not as elusive as one might think. It’s a matter of understanding your customers, developing an offer that will encourage them to buy or spend more money, and executing the creative presentation. While most catalogers understand the value of segmenting their customers and “speaking” to each segment differently based on past behavior, too many underestimate the power of integrating marketing with creative. If you want to try to move every single customer segment up a rung in your stairway to profit heaven, your campaign must embrace the following five steps:

1) Know your customer segments, and define specific goals for each. If you’re presenting offers as incentives, make sure they are well defined. For instance, if your goal is to increase your customer’s average order, make sure your offer includes some enticement, such as free shipping for orders over a certain amount. Then let the creative team brainstorm various methods for getting those specific messages read by your customers.

2) Make sure the end result is affordable. If you’re an apparel cataloger, you may not need to create a special shoe catalog to sell your shoe customers more shoes-especially as it won’t take long for production costs to eat up any additional profits.

3) Make sure your efforts are measurable. Unfortunately, great creative doesn’t guarantee great results. To ensure that the impact of your creative can be measured, plan ahead-especially if you are creating multiple catalog versions with different offers, which can be cumbersome to track.

4) Don’t whisper! Subtlety does not work when asking customers to do something different from what they are accustomed to doing. Many catalogers attach very pretty and very small dot whacks on covers in hopes that customers will see them. But “in your face” creative always wins out.

5) Be sure customers “get it.” Is the offer or suggestion easy to understand, and does it enhance the brand image that brought your customers to your catalog in the first place?

Choose your weapons You have probably seen catalogers use at least one variation of the following creative techniques. All are affordable methods for presenting unique messages to multiple customer segments.

* Dot whacks. Because these stickers cost only about 3 cents per piece to print and apply, many mailers use dot whacks, typically on their catalog covers. But again, if you use them, make sure they jump out and scream their message. You might also want to try a dot whack on the cover that leads the reader to a bind-in card with a specific offer. For instance, on versions of its holiday cover, casual apparel cataloger Eddie Bauer applied a dot whack that directed customers to a “20% off orders of $100 or more” offer card bound inside the book.

* Cover wraps. Adding four pages to the outside of your catalog is more expensive-about 6 cents per piece-than applying a dot whack, but it can work well if executed with attention-getting graphics. Unfortunately, many outer wraps are printed in one or two colors and cover up the attention-grabbing four-color cover within.

* Personalization. Printing customers’ names on the front or back cover is a favorite technique of mine, and it’s becoming more affordable (it now costs 6-8 cents per piece).

The Breck’s gardening catalog uses its customers’ names in the headline and body copy of one of its offerings. With ink-jetting becoming “cleaner,” this technique is bound to get noticed.

* Cover changes. Changing the cover per customer segment can be effective if the specific message comes through loud and clear. This can be a four-color change or simply a black-plate change. One client, food cataloger HoneyBaked Ham of Ohio, used a combination of both in a recent mailing to its business customers. By changing the cover on its core consumer catalog to reflect a business setting and making black-type changes throughout the book that highlighted business gift-giving, HoneyBaked produced a catalog that spoke specifically to its business customers.

The following case studies of two of our clients prove that such creative treatments can make a difference if they embrace specific marketing needs and production savvy.

Case study: Garfield Stuff What happens when a fat cat with an attitude demands that customers buy products from his catalog? He gets his way. In just two years of business, the Garfield Stuff catalog of toys and gifts inspired by the popular comic strip has grown to more than 30,000 customers. But Paws, the company behind the cat, recently decided to cut the fat from its growing list of customers-both new and old. In its 1998 holiday and 1999 winter and spring catalogs, tests were run to try to accomplish two goals:

Goal #1: Get catalog requesters who have received several catalogs but have yet to order to finally purchase.

Message: “Last chance! Are you napping?” This message was tested with no offer vs. an offer of 50% off shipping when ordering $50 or more.

Goal #2: Encourage older buyers to purchase again and to order at least $50 worth of merchandise.

Message: “Don’t make us beg!” This message was also tested with no offer vs. 50% off shipping when ordering $50 or more.

To reach multiple customer segments affordably, Garfield creator Jim Davis designed one holiday cover depicting the cartoon cat catching snowflakes with his tongue. The cover supported the brand identity with attention-grabbing power; it also provided a prime opportunity to use a dot whack to get the messages across. Placing the dot whack on the cat’s tongue almost guarantees that the message will be noticed and read (see example on p. 119).

For the spring 1999 catalog, black-plate changes enabled specific message copy to be placed in a “thought balloon” that appeared as part of the cover image. Garfield was able to thank his best customers, thank first-time customers, and welcome catalog requesters (see p. 199). This technique is just as cost-effective as a dot whack-and who cannot help but read cartoon copy?

It’s important to note that the copy used on the dot whacks and in the “thought balloons” is irreverent in the way it communicates the message-in true Garfield style.

But is this a creative breakthrough? Well, in all cases, the message tied in with an offer increased results significantly.

Case Study: Cushman’s A purveyor of citrus fruits for more than 50 years, Cushman’s has grown over the past 10 years largely because of its entertaining and folksy copy that, while reflecting the fun and whimsy that president Allen Cushman is known for, also keenly focuses on customers.

Several segments within Cushman’s customer base were performing below par. Typically, the cataloger mailed three books in the fall season, but it decided to send a fourth catalog with a cover change to test these “problem” segments, with the additional goal of attracting more business gift-givers:

Goal #1: The fourth catalog would target the best customers in hopes of getting last-minute sales.

Message: “You still have time…” This message let customers know that there was still time to place gift orders. Additionally, the message recommended giving gifts of HoneyBells, Cushman’s signature product (a hybrid of a navel orange and a grapefruit.)

Goal #2: Encourage older buyers to purchase again.

Message: The “We miss you” memo says that Cushman’s would do almost anything to get them back, including offering free shipping.

Goal #3: Encourage buyers who historically had low average orders. These customers were divided into two groups by order size.

Message: Customers who had previously spent less than $25 received catalogs offering 50% off shipping on orders of $50 or more; customers who had spent $25-$50 received catalogs promoting free shipping on orders of $75 or more.

Goal #4: Identify business prospects and encourage first-time orders.

Message: A note from Allen Cushman announcing big savings for businesses and professionals. The focus of the message? “Wow” your clients while saving on shipping costs.

The cataloger decided that a dramatic “in your face” approach was needed to get the individual messages across. An inexpensive creative solution was a cover image of a sheet of Cushman’s letterhead against a sea of fruit. All of the messages used the same creative with a simple black-plate change.

The results? Cushman’s exceeded its marketing goals, thanks to these cost-effective techniques that enabled the cataloger to “speak” to so many segments of its audience.

As you can see, when the core competencies of marketing, creative, and production are integrated, breakthrough creative that gets results can become a reality . When you combine “in your face” graphics with targeted offers and cost-effective production techniques, customers cannot help but listen to what you say.

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