INTERNATIONAL: Translating catalog design

What are some guidelines for international catalog creative?

James Dempster: When it comes to mailing into Japan, there are the obvious strategies an American catalog should adopt, such as translating the piece into the Japanese language, converting the prices to yen, and offering a local address with phone and fax lines. But I can also suggest the following three tips:

1) Keep most of your original design from the domestic catalog. While you must modify the nuts and bolts of a Japan-bound piece, such as payment options, address lines, postal indicias, and phone and fax numbers, you should retain your overall design – especially if it’s successful for you in the U.S. Most Japanese catalogs still use pages of functional, silhouetted product shots against a white background, with only product specs written below each shot. U.S. catalogs that use a variety of lifestyle shots are a refreshing change for many Japanese consumers.

2) Review your Japan-bound catalog – especially the order form – several times for accuracy and clarity. Hastily thrown-together order forms, with incorrect contact details (such as an 800-number not available in Japan) will lead your Japanese customers to see you as an inexperienced marketer. Make sure you can fill out your own order form, and that you have provided enough space to accommodate Japanese addresses, which are typically longer than those in the U.S.

3) Use translators as well as professional Japanese copywriters to write the catalog. One U.S. apparel cataloger translated the name of a cantaloupe-colored product shade into the Japanese word for “melon,” not realizing that Japanese customers who ordered this particular sweater in “melon” would expect it to be light green – the color of melons sold in Japan.

Japanese copywriters can also help tone down strong direct sales copy – such as “Buy now!” and “Call today!” – which tends not to go over well in Japan. U.S. consumers tend to be impulse-purchase-driven compared to Japanese customers, who are more deliberate and tend to shy away from offers that sound too good to be true or that hint at pressure. Copy to motivate Japanese consumers should include a low-risk guarantee, a local contact, company credentials, testimonials, and detailed product information. All of these points are easily crafted into Japanese with a good copywriting team.

Lois Boyle: Good catalog design principles don’t change, but the perception of catalogs around the world is different. For instance, mail order in the U.K. was considered to be low-end just a few years ago. When we worked with U.K-based retailer Marks & Spencer – a department store known for value and quality – on its mail order launch four years ago, it wanted the book to convey a more upscale image than the stores, by using lush photography and high-end paper stock. This strategy helped M&S improve its own image, as well as the overall perception of U.K. mail order, and gave it credibility in the mailbox.

If you’re going to market to a certain country, you must do your homework and come up with a presentation that appeals to customers in that market. For instance, it may be important to use local models. We recently worked with a small U.K. cataloger of children’s clothing and uniforms, which we photographed in the U.S. Though we tried to select British-looking kids as models, the company hated our choices – “too American.”

If you’re selling home decor products, you need to have a sense of how people in that country live. We are helping a company in Argentina launch a catalog of home products. We first went to visit several homes in the region to take pictures, and we found that tastes ran toward sparse decor and that window treatments were pretty much nonexistent. We would not have known this if we hadn’t visited the market.

You should always translate copy to the local language and pricing to the local currency, working with a copywriter indigenous to the region. Though this typically requires only a black-ink plate change from your U.S. catalog, keep in mind that many foreign languages use more words than English. For example, Spanish-language copy may take up to 30% more space than English to say the same thing, so you must consider how the increased type will affect your layout.

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