Harvesting fresh creative

Operating a farm is hard work — and running a catalog of products for farmers no doubt has its challenges too. Hoping for a bumper crop of fresh ideas, Orscheln Farm & Home submitted its 2006 edition for a critique. Catalog pros Davey Rosenbaum, vice president of marketing operations for Morristown, NJ-based consultancy Marketsmith, and Monika J. Shourie, account manager of San Francisco-based consultancy Character, plowed through the 154-page edition, noting where the book is a barn-burner and where it needs a little fertilization.

Davey Rosenbaum

Orscheln Farm & Home is a family-owned chain of 133 farm stores in nine midwestern states. The company produces a catalog of farm supplies, automotive products, hardware, lawn and garden supplies, clothing, housewares, and pet supplies. The 8-1/2″ × 11″ catalog is primarily in black and white on newsprint-type paper. It has a number of color ads, some on glossy paper, in the front, in the middle, and at the end of the book.

I’m assuming that the book is strictly a store driver, since there is no phone number (toll-free or otherwise) immediately obvious in the book for customers to call to order or ask questions, and there is no Web address to check out for ordering or further information. If the goal of the catalog is to do more than drive people to one of the stores, Orscheln needs to include more information and more-specific directive messaging.

On the front cover, the Orscheln branding is lost at the bottom. The company name is at the top but not the logo. There is no need to show the name and the tagline at the top and then place the logo and tagline at the bottom, as Orscheln has. It would be more effective to place the logo and tagline at the top. The tagline, “Answers & Low Prices Down Every Aisle,” is an important message and one that can guide the branding and messaging throughout the book.

The catalog cover also does not tell the recipient anything about the contents of the book. All the messages have to do with buying — interest-free financing, awards program, gift card, low prices. I strongly advise including some sort of description of the contents of the book and its purpose, as well as a call to action to invite the reader inside, such as “From hog pellets to power mowers, from safety vests to tractor tires — your local store for farm/garden and automotive equipment and supplies. See page 23 to find a store near you.” Or maybe the address of the closest store could be ink-jetted in a starburst on the cover.

It’s not clear why there is a picture of a plant shoot on the cover. Orscheln does not sell plants, and the picture is not related to any of the messages. Orscheln might want some sort of lifestyle picture of a customer using several of the products — for instance, wearing a pair of boots and changing the tire on a tractor with fencing in the background. If Orscheln wants to appeal to both its farm/rural clientele as well as homeowners at large, it might consider mailing two different covers with different images to the two potential customer groups.

Because the catalog accepts advertisements/co-op dollars, I suggest that Orscheln evaluate annually its co-op strategy and the placement of the ads. The company must make sure that the co-op strategy does not conflict with its best interests in terms of promoting its full line of products and generating store buyers. For example, a number of advertisements appear on the inside front cover and gatefold, taking up valuable real estate that may serve Orscheln’s mission better if used for some self-promotion.

Overall, the placement of the advertisements in the catalog is distracting. Also, running eight pages of product ads before the table of contents can be confusing to the reader. It is not even clear whether these products are available at the Orscheln stores or not.

I suggest Orscheln run two sections of color ads in the book. The first section would be the inside front and back covers and the outside back cover. The second section would be in the middle. All the other ads, including the black-and-white ones, would run here, and the section would clearly be labeled “advertisements.” If all the ads are for products included in the catalog, it might be useful to put in each ad “please see page…” It may also be useful to have a directory of advertisers after the table of contents so that, again, the ads are clearly marked as ads.

The immediate inside pages are an opportunity for Orscheln to tell its story — in business for almost 50 years, founded by Ed and William Orscheln, local folks, neighbors — and set the stage emotionally for the customers’ shopping experience, highlighting points of difference, letting people know that everything in the book is available at a store near them, identifying any offerings (products or categories) it wishes to promote. Also the book needs a call to action here, as it does on the front cover, inviting readers to look throughout the pages.

These initial pages set the tone of the book. It is the place to use icons to identify sections and make shopping easier; for instance, the place to introduce Orscheln’s “answer man,” which could be positioned as a knowledgeable farmer who provides the “answers down every aisle,” as the tagline says.

This section is also where it is important to reinforce the message that Orscheln Farm & Home has been providing quality goods at the lowest prices for decades and that customers can count on Orscheln for a good deal as well as for answers to their questions.

In the table of contents, the general listing of the product categories is good. But an improvement would be to include financing options, awards program, gift cards, and any other company offerings so that readers can find them easily.

The page numbers are very small in the body of the catalog and large in the advertising section. The numbers should be the same size throughout the book; that size should be larger than the smaller size, which older eyes will have trouble reading. Also, the name of the catalog should be featured large enough to be read at the bottom of each spread, reinforcing the company name.

Having the category heading on each page in the same place is user-friendly. I’m not sure if the flow of merchandise is based on customer interest or store layout, but it works.

The catalog’s pacing, however, could be livened up by the use of icons. Within each product category, for instance, the company could highlight merchants’ specials, recommendations, or customer favorites.

Orscheln could also add a voice of authority by incorporating answers to real customer questions from the previously mentioned “answer man,” particularly in the “Helpful Hi-lights…” or “Did you know…” editorial sections included on product pages.

The “Helpful Hi-lights…” are a mix of sales promotion and useful hints that are not all that different from the “Did you know…” blurbs. All the editorial that falls in either category could be featured as “Helpful Hi-lights…,” which could be shown in a shaded box with a different font or in bold to separate them from the merchandise on the page. Providing answers to real questions in this section would make the book more useful to customers and prospects as well as reinforce that Orscheln is indeed the source for knowledge as well as products.

Monika J. Shourie

Orscheln Farm & Home’s tagline, “Answers & Low Prices Down Every Aisle,” has great promise. The company’s catalog format is informative and direct, with a no-nonsense approach to selling products and driving customers to its stores. Overall, the copy is terse and to the point, while products are featured in a no-frills format. Though the printing is low-budget — two-color on newsprint, with the exception of the covers and a few advertising pages in the first signature — the book offers an ease in shopping its well-organized pages.

Several things work for the Orscheln catalog: the table of contents located in the first few pages of the book, which helps ease navigation through the rather hefty book; the store listing right next to the table of contents; the category headings that immediately inform the reader as to the merchandise (farm supplies, hardware, automotive) contained within; the straightforward product captions. The front cover has compelling sales messaging featured prominently — buyers’ awards programs, interest-free financing — serving as incentives in a direct manner that is no doubt appropriate for Orscheln’s customers.

But while the sales incentives are effective hooks, the cover image is not intriguing, and it does not follow through on the tagline’s promise of informing and selling. The use of a low-resolution generic stock image of a seedling is not as compelling as images that speak to the company or the products they offer — a photo of a store aisle or a product in use in the fields — would be.

Also, the bar on the top portion of the front cover is unnecessary, as it merely repeats the tagline that is already featured prominently with the logo on the lower right corner. Pick one or the other; I recommend using the logo/tagline combination on top, without the bar.

Orscheln could improve the usability of certain sections by introducing additional typographic treatments to break up the monotony. The “Did you know…” and “Helpful Hi-lights…” sections in particular would benefit by being set apart creatively from the selling copy. These mini editorials contain relevant information that the reader could find useful, but unfortunately they are all but buried within the pages.

In addition to typographical variety, the pages could benefit from harder-working drivers to lead people to the stores. I don’t think the store listing is easy enough to access — occasional reminders by the folios would not be a bad idea — maybe something along the lines of “See store listing, page 9.”

Additional editorializing of the products by showcasing the ultimate must-have items or organizing similar products in a “good, better, best” manner would ease customers along in their buying decisions. This would also better communicate the company’s wide product selection as well as Orscheln’s dedication to delivering the promise of providing the answers.

The Orscheln Farm & Home catalog is dry and simple, but it works. It doesn’t need fancy photography or flashy production to make it better; it just needs a more compelling cover, a few tweaks to ease usability, and clearer, more consistent use of store driver messaging.

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