Appearance counts

The urge to use one’s creative license is rarely the driving force of a business-to-business catalog redesign. Catalogers view a redesign as another tool to boost sales: A new creative approach can inspire customers to view a catalog with fresh eyes-and to buy products that they might have missed in the old predictable format. As the following case studies show, though, some b-to-b redesigns work better than others.

National Fire Prevention Association (above right) Product line: fire safety educational books, handbooks, brochures, videos

Sales goal: $11 million

When redesigned: January 1998

Why: to command more attention

Cost: more than $10,000

The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), which educates building supervisors on fire prevention, wanted its NFPA Selects specialty catalog of best-selling items to get more attention. So in January, the Quincy, MA-based nonprofit group changed the catalog from a digest to an 8-1/2″ x 11″ format, the same size as the main NFPA catalog. “We assumed the Selects catalog wasn’t as easily noticed in the mail,” says marketing specialist Andrea Flynn.

NFPA also spiced up the copy with more features and benefits, and added more bulleted lists of the books’ contents to highlight product updates.

But the redesigned catalog is “not doing as well as we had hoped,” Flynn admits. “Maybe slightly better than before, but not much. So we’re doing another test to determine whether people buy from the full catalog vs. the specialty catalog.” If the test shows that buyers prefer the main book, Flynn says the NFPA might drop the specialty catalog.

Creative Training Techniques (below) Product line: training books, videos, and seminars

Sales: more than $800,000

When redesigned: June 1998

Why: to increase sales 20%, improve catalog’s creativity

Cost: less than $25,000

Following a square-inch analysis of the Creative Training Techniques catalog earlier this year, design agency LCH Direct recommended that the Minneapolis-based training tools company draw more attention to its best-sellers, says Creative’s marketing director, Janet Lee. Also, “we wanted the catalog to reflect the ‘creative’ in our title,” she says. “We felt it was time for a new look.”

So Creative Training had LCH redesign the book to feature more photos and more color, replacing the gridlike templates with more fluid layouts that allocate more space to “star” products. LCH also enlarged the contents section and moved it from a hidden spot on page 2 to a more noticeable location on page 3.

Although it’s too early to measure results, initial response to the book has been favorable, Lee says. “We’ve received many compliments on the new layout.”

Transcat (above) Product line: electronic test and calibration instruments for engineering professionals

Sales: $70 million

When redesigned: July 1998

Why: to inspire customers to look deeper into the catalog

Cost: redesigned inhouse for less than $4,800

“The old catalog was pretty boring,” laments Bob Dunn, vice president of marketing for Rochester, NY-based electronic instrument marketer Transcat. “It used sterile product descriptions, and was fairly specification-heavy, without speaking to users.”

But rather than risk putting off its customer base of engineers by overhauling its extensive 540-page main catalog, Transcat instead revamped its supplemental catalog, which sells only Transcat’s best-selling products. The redesigned 8-1/2″ x 11″ catalog, which mailed July 1, is bound horizontally rather than vertically so that it stands out from other catalogs. The book also has an outer wrap featuring the Transcat tiger logo and a new slogan, “Let the cat out of the bag!” Inside, products are described in a more conversational manner, and many product photos are larger.

“We wanted people to recognize that it’s different from our old book, because we had seen somewhat lower response lately from our smaller catalogs,” Dunn says. “People may have glanced at the supplemental catalogs and said, ‘I’ve already got this stuff.’ Our feeling was that if we could do a better job to get people to read just one product presentation, they’d probably read the whole book and hopefully buy some stuff.”

Source One Plus Product line: packaging materials for shipping companies

When redesigned: July 1998

Why: to double a disappointing 0.5% response

Cost: $12,000-$15,000

Source One Plus was launched in the fall of 1997 with a 30,000-piece mailing. Only about 150 buyers responded. The Lawrence, MA-based mailer blamed some of the poor response on the design. “We had the same amount of space for each product, with items in the margins and tables in the gutter,” says marketing manager Joe Fernandez.

So Source One Plus redesigned the catalog, giving more space to better sellers, and adding more color and white space. “The new catalog is less monotonous and more exciting,” Fernandez says. It mailed to 30,000 customers and prospects in July, and the cataloger plans to continue mailing to another 30,000 every month through the end of the year.

“Our goal is to go into the black,” Fernandez says, adding that it was too early at press time to comment on response to the new book. “If we can reach a 1% response, we can bring the business to a self-sustaining level without having to tax our investors more.”

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