Don’t Stick to Your Knitting

May 01, 2004 9:30 PM  By

Our reviewers this month assess the creative presentation of The Wool Connection, an Avon, CT-based cataloger of yarn, needles, books, and accessories for knitting enthusiasts. Experts Christine Carrington, president of King of Prussia, PA-based creative agency Catalogs by Lorél, and Glenda Shasho Jones, president of New York- and Washington-based catalog consultancy Shasho Jones Direct, reviewed The Wool Connection’s 64-page 2003-2004 edition

REVIEWER #1: CHRISTINE CARRINGTON

The Wool Connection sells knitting patterns, yarns, and kits to consumers with an interest in crafting their own knitted garments. Despite a limited knowledge of this industry, the competition, and what compels customers to shop this category, we can nonetheless identify ways to improve this catalog’s presentation by comparing it to industry standards and general catalog best practices.

Pluses and minuses

The Wool Connection has a strong merchandise proposition, selling a wide variety of quality products to a niche market. The catalog is filled with patterns from high-end designers as well as unique wools and yarns sourced from all over the world. Shoppers are rewarded for orders of $75 or more with offers such as free shipping or a free sweater bag.

Like a piece of fine art, the cover is beautifully styled, depicting a sumptuous piece of knitting that compels you to open this catalog and explore its contents. An index on page 2 immediately directs customers to their area of interest.

The catalog’s density seems a bit tight but is still appropriate for the page count, allowing enough room to adequately showcase the merchandise.

Descriptive copy supplies much-needed information about the different types of yarns, including their performance qualities and applications to knitting projects.

The catalog could do more to simplify shopping, however. On its Website, The Wool Connection promotes itself as “the publisher of the finest full-color knitting catalog in the industry.” Ironically, I found the site easier to navigate and shop from than the catalog. With a product this complex, it is essential to organize the catalog in a way that is easy to shop.

Improving organization

I suggest creating a simple table of contents for the opening spread, moving the more detailed index to the back. The opening spread could also preview each merchandise category and introduce shoppers to what they will find inside.

Currently products are sprinkled throughout the catalog rather than being grouped in a logical way. Instead like products should appear together. Instructional books and videos should also be together in their own section, rather than featured among the other products. If these are best-sellers — with high enough margins — give them more play. If not, move them to the back of the book. Direct shoppers there with callouts throughout the book along the lines of “See our large selection of how-to books on page XX”.

I’d make the typography treatments consistent and use more-contemporary fonts. Brand names such as Softwist and editorial headlines such as “Fabulous and Fun” appear in the same font, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. It’s also a good idea to create consistent page templates so that shoppers can find the same information in the same place on every spread. Set up style sheets in QuarkXPress to ensure that type treatments remain consistent.

Include icons that designate each project’s level of difficulty. Currently this information is buried in the copy. Icons can also clearly communicate what is included in the price — pattern only, wool only, complete kit — as well as promote exclusives.

Decide on a single approach to color swatches, and stick with it. Because some of the colorways are complex and textured, they would benefit by some white space between them. Also, copy running over the swatches impedes the shopper from seeing the texture and color.

Design and photography

I would incorporate hero shots to balance out the spreads. Use best-selling, high-margin products to anchor the page, and give less space to lower-margin products. Put the customers’ focus on the key products that you want them to buy.

You want to strike a balance between location and studio shots. Use locations to subtly give a sense of place and to depict the lifestyle circumstances in which a shopper would use the product. But don’t allow the location or background to overwhelm the product, which should always be the star.

You also want to choose vendor-supplied photos carefully. Make sure that they meet quality criteria for inclusion in your book. If they look like amateur shots, don’t use them. And don’t scan vendor photos directly from their catalogs; insist on getting high-res files or original transparencies.

Set tight, consistent photographic standards for all new shots. Decide on lighting premise, model type, background colors and textures, and propping parameters, and apply them to every shoot. This will really help to hold the book together.

Give the catalog a “color story”: Include graphics and color bars in ways that support the book’s organization. You should also play up the unique, beautiful, and most important, fashionable aspect of the products in the photography. On that note, the mannequin shots in this catalog are disturbing (what happened to their heads?) and look out of place — why not replace these with beautifully styled laydowns or hanger shots.

Getting branded

As for the overall branding and promotion, I would include the URL on the cover and incorporate a positioning line under the logo. Then I would use the opening spread to reinforce the positioning line: What sets you apart from the competition? What is your unique selling proposition?

I would also use the opening spread to establish the catalog as the standard of authority in this category. Why not preview the upcoming year in knitting with features about hot styles and colors, the latest yarns and wools, or current accessory trends? These are not your grandma’s sweaters!

Regardless of the category or the audience, a catalog’s goal is always the same: to effectively sell product and reinforce the brand positioning. Implementing even a few strategic changes can go a long way toward better sales — so long as you make sure that your catalog is a reflection of your customer.

Remember, you are not selling sweaters but rather the process of creating a sweater and the accomplishment of crafting something by hand. If you can weave this message throughout the book in a consistent, unique, and organized way, it will surely inspire your customers to buy.

REVIEWER #2: GLENDA SHASHO JONES

The Wool Connection’s front cover features a closeup shot of the colorful wool pattern of a knitted sweater. The wonderful thing about this cover is the use of color and texture to create drama. You really want to touch it!

The challenge here is that the cover doesn’t say enough about this catalog at a glance. In fact, it says nothing about knitting. That this catalog is about knitting needs to be immediately evident. This could be accomplished in a variety of ways, from placing knitting needles in the shot to using small inset photos on the cover depicting knitting.

Another way to make this a stronger cover would be to move the logo to the top of the page, so that it’s the first thing the recipient sees.

What’s it all about?

Most catalogs put both editorial information and product for sale on the opening spread. The Wool Connection has the right idea about using a personal message on the opening spread; it just needs to improve the content and readability. The letter should contain a definitive statement about the company’s positioning — its unique and relevant promise to the customer. What makes it different? Is it a higher level of expertise? Is it an unrivaled selection of patterns? The selection of quality wools? It’s important to remind buyers and imperative to educate prospects.

The letter is also a good place to provide relevant or “MFA” (most frequently asked) information, such as where new patterns or luxurious wools appear or where beginners might go for best project choices. As with any block of copy, the letter content needs to be managed. For easy and quick readability, The Wool Connection should use bold, underlined, or italicized words. And it should use a P.S.; it’s the first piece of a letter that someone reads. The opening spread editorial also needs to include the guarantee, how to order, and delivery information.

Inside the catalog, I would work on organizing the layouts. Right now, the reader’s eye doesn’t know where to go when it lands on a spread. Consumers’ biggest gripe about catalog design is disorganization — and they won’t work hard to figure out what you’re trying to sell.

Spiffing up the creative presentation

Smaller companies usually can’t afford to use professional, seasoned models. To get the best performance out of models who might be less experienced, arrange “go-sees” to check them out in person before you choose. Have them put on your merchandise, and take a digital shot to see how they look through the camera.

You should have a stylist on your photo shoots to ensure that every product looks superb. Consumers don’t like wrinkles, and they need to see lengths and details. Also, the mannequins, especially the ones with hands but no heads, look very dated. You need to use updated mannequins or shoot the product as styled laydowns.

Lighting is critical:You need enough light to show texture and product details, and enough shadow to create drama. Right now many of the shots in The Wool Connection look flat and without detail. While the production process may have contributed to this, it all starts with photography. You can’t correct an out-of-focus shot. I’d recommend looking into photographer options.

There are a few steps you could take to make the catalog easier to shop with. First, consider creating merchandise sections to help shoppers locate items in categories that might contain significant amounts of product, such as beginner projects and luxury wools.

And you could improve type selection by avoiding hard-to-read color type and limiting the use of italic type. While the sans serif type used in the catalog is readable, it’s worth noting that serif type is easier to read.

Here are a few more simple techniques to create interesting and easier-to-read spreads with which shoppers will want to spend more time:

  • Include feature and subfeature presentations

    These larger photos and text boxes should act as anchors to draw the reader in and give interest to the page.

  • Use columns to organize copy

    Get rid of all the free-floating and choppy copy blocks. The item keys will do the work to bring the reader from the photo to the product description.

  • Use eye-flow strategy

    Move the recipients’ eyes around the spread with your placement of photos, text, and other creative elements. And maximize the use of page hot spots, such as upper corners.