‘Covering’ prospecting books

Lois Boyle: Using consistent creative elements, customer covers should announce that an old friend has come to visit. Besides the logo, consistent creative elements could include a unique border treatment or layout style, or a consistent color (think of the blue used by jewelry catalog Tiffany & Co. as the ultimate example).

But for prospects, your catalog cover must quickly grab attention, describe your merchandise niche, and get the reader inside-all in a matter of seconds. Some of the best prospect covers get attention with an unexpected approach. For instance, our client Cushman Fruit Co. has found that its best prospect cover to date is the “singing fruit” cover (see below), which presents its folksy brand image while still promoting product. And this past fall, another food gifts client, Wolferman’s, tested five prospect covers, from the expected to the imaginative.

Once you’ve found a cover that works, you can use it season after season to test new names. You can also resurrect a cover that has worked in the past and retest it.

Unless you have brand equity in the marketplace, as do casual apparel mailers Eddie Bauer and Lands’ End, your prospect cover needs a tagline that positions your unique niche. You can also test first-time-buyer offers, such as product discounts or free shipping. Many mailers test such offers using a dot whack or a black-plate change, with a detailed explanation printed on a bind-in card within the catalog.

Can prospect and customer covers use the same creative? Absolutely-as long as the cover fulfills the needs and expectations of both segments. If you send customers and prospects the exact same catalog, sometimes a great offer is all you need to get the prospects’ attention.

Jeff Haggin: Unlike with seasoned customers who know your company, prospects’ experience begins with your catalog cover. Many prospects are looking for a low-risk way to try catalogs but lack confidence in the ordering, service, and delivery steps of the transaction. Perhaps you can help push the prospects off the fence and into your customer file by promoting well-priced, popular, “easy trial” items on the cover.

Analysis of historical prospect purchasing behavior can reveal a list of popular lower-ticket items appropriate for the cover of your prospect catalog. Special offers to prospects, including discounts on a first purchase and free shipping, can also help reduce risk and encourage ordering.

In comparison, customers often respond better to covers highlighting new items, which may project something more fresh and creative. Keep in mind that you could treat certain segments of the house file-namely inquiry names and ship-to-address customers-as prospects, so when determining who should receive which cover, consider additional criteria such as recency, frequency, and monetary purchase levels.

Lifestyle-oriented or conceptual covers can also work for prospecting, but you must support a concept cover with messages directed to your prospect’s wants and needs. For example, a recent prospect concept catalog cover for one of our clients, bookseller Barnes & Noble, features a simple image of a book with the tagline “1,029 of the best books. Discounts up to 40% off on hardcovers. Order online, by phone or by mail.” Barnes & Noble invites new customers into the fold by giving them compelling reasons to turn the page. The book company also advertises access via various shopping channels, with an emphasis on its Website.

Customer and prospect cover versions should both adhere to your catalog’s logo template and should build a consistent impression of your look, positioning, and unique selling proposition. At the end of the day, remember that your catalog cover has just one do-or-die job: to get the book opened.

Glenda Shasho Jones: Your mission with customers is to get them to buy again, probably at a higher average order size. If you’ve done your job right, these people should recognize your catalog in the mail and feel predisposed to shop with you.

On the other hand, when mailing a catalog to prospects you want to get as many people as possible to buy for the first time, so response rate, not average order size, is the goal. Since prospects are usually not familiar with your catalog, you need to demonstrate your unique position and your product line. That’s why many effective prospecting covers show an assortment of product.

Targeted catalogs have a more important mission of building a branded image through their front covers. Catalogers such as clothing marketers Victoria’s Secret, The Territory Ahead, and J. Crew; home accessories cataloger Frontgate; and educational/entertainment products cataloger The Discovery Channel (one of our clients) consistently do this well. The real litmus test for brand recognition: If you cover the logo, can you still recognize the company the catalog is from?

Since you want a prospect cover to encourage recipients to give your company a try, you need a strong offer. And since you’re not as concerned with the average order size as you are with the response rate, that offer shouldn’t rely as much on a minimum dollar order as a customer offer might. So, for example, a prospect cover might carry a sunburst, a dot whack, or colorful type highlighting free shipping and handling, or dollars or percentage off an order. A fall catalog cover from office supplies marketer Reliable, for instance, featured a free duffle bag with a first order.

Catalogers typically use fewer incentives for regular customers, and when they do, they are less aggressive, with more restrictions: for example, free shipping and handling with any order of $150 or more, or a percentage off provided they order by a certain date.

Remember that customers will respond to your logo, and prospects will respond more to your tagline. Logos should be on the larger side, strongly placed and easy to read on all catalogs, but particularly for customer mailings. Conversely, a tagline, which should clarify the unique positioning of the catalog, should be especially prominent on a prospect cover. Taglines should not be wishy-washy, such as “clothes for how you like to live,” but should describe a customer’s lifestyle or preferences or describe the product inside. One of the more impressive catalog taglines belongs to business-to-business telephone products marketer Hello Direct, the “catalog of telephone productivity tools.”

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