How B-to-B Merchants Can Take a Page from Consumer Catalog Creative

Many business-to-business merchants design their catalogs using a “space-it-takes” approach, according to Dan Harding, vice president of the strategic services group of list firm MeritDirect.

In other words, each product listing has as much space as it needs—no more, no less. But this is not the best way to lay out your catalog.

Speaking to the Business Direct Group’s fall meeting in Boston on Nov. 2, Harding said b-to-b mailers using this creative strategy often have underexploited listings. By devoting more space to the top-selling products, the way that consumer marketers give SKUs hero treatment, business catalogers could increase their gross margins per book.

Improvements to the creative treatment of a hero product—enlarging photos, adding props or callouts, etc.—can improve performance significantly, Harding said. Just make sure the changes you make will add persuasive impact, “or it won’t pay off,” he said. If you’re doubling the space you’re giving to an item, you want to increase sales 50%, he said.

While giving top items the hero treatment is a common consumer practice, Harding said b-to-b catalog designers are often resistant to try it. Common arguments: The product photo is already as big as it can be, we’ve already said all there is to say about the item, and we tried enlarging the photo and it didn’t work.

Another excuse Harding says b-to-bers offer up as to why they don’t want to use hero shots: “We’d have to push other product out of the way.” Well, you should be doing that, he says: “Push out product that doesn’t work.”

B-to-b merchants should also include more people in their catalog photographs, Harding said. Some 70% to 80% of b-to-b spreads are devoid of people, and this is a big mistake.

Properly done, he noted, “Product listings with people [photos] tend to deliver more contribution per square inch compared to the same listing without people—even though they take up more square inches.”

Multiproduct pages tend to do better with one person in the photo vs. a photo without a person, Harding said. The same goes for catalog spreads. Photos with people in them make readers stop and spend more time with a page or spread, “at least for a few seconds,” Harding said.

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