Is it time for a makeover?

“Is my catalog looking dated?” “Does my catalog need a creative makeover?” “Will a creative makeover increase my catalog’s sales?”

These are tough questions because, as you know, you absolutely don’t want to ruin something that is working, alienate your core customer base, or walk away from your brand identity.

So just what do we mean — and not mean — when we refer to a creative makeover? A creative makeover or facelift is a way to energize and freshen your book using your brand strengths. It is not a brand repositioning.

Let’s put it this way: When your core customers receive your book after its creative makeover, they should recognize it immediately, but they should also notice that something is new and exciting. Your objective is for these customers to be compelled to spend more time (and money) with your catalog, because they recognize that there are new things going on — that this is no longer the same old book with just a new product on the cover. And this “new” book should also sell harder to those customers who have no commitment to your catalog — those all-important prospects.

Before you decide to embark on a creative makeover, take the time to ask yourself some important questions:

  • Are response rates flat or declining?
  • Have the demographics of your core customers shifted?
  • Do you need to reach younger customers without alienating your core older customer base?
  • Have you made significant shifts or additions to your merchandise mix?
  • Is a competitor trying to copycat your creative?
  • Are customers indicating that they are getting bored with the book?
  • Has your catalog creative remained exactly the same for two or three years?

If you answered yes to several of the questions above, perhaps it is time to consider a creative makeover for your catalog and to do the appropriate analysis and research to determine what to keep and what to change. Here’s how to go about it:


Do you read your customers’ e-mails and letters? Take the time to call some of your customers to hear their perception of your catalog. And call a few prospects to hear their fresh perceptions of your book. Or, if feasible, do more-extensive research such as focus groups or customer surveys. And talk to your customer service reps. The feedback they receive during daily contact with your customers is invaluable.


Have you taken the time for a fresh look at sales and square-inch analysis? Your best-selling products should be getting the hero treatment they deserve. And your best merchandise categories should receive the real estate and placement they need to perform their best. Your best spreads should be placed in the most advantageous positions within the pagination: the opening spread, the center spread, the inside back cover spread, and the back cover. Also, consider placing your lower-margin and marginal product categories in the back half of the book.


Do your covers really stand out and compel the customer to open the book? Your covers should clearly convey the essence of your brand and what your catalog is all about. The messages on your cover (dot whacks, call-outs, and special promotions) should be working hard, not just taking up valuable space. Your logo should be dominant and consistent from book to book.


Does it give your customers and your prospects a snapshot of your book and your merchandise mix? Your intro spread should clearly communicate your positioning, your services, and your guarantee. And it should be inviting, immediately conveying the breadth of your merchandise assortment. It should initiate a pleasant, easy shopping experience. If you are using icons to convey information throughout the book, they should be clearly introduced and explained on this spread.


When was the last time you stood back and really looked at the organization of your catalog? Try taping up your entire catalog on a wall, spread by spread, and taking a hard look at it. Have different people within your company do the same, and solicit their feedback. Your book should be organized in a logical way that makes shopping as easy as possible for your customer. The telephone number and the URL should appear on every spread. And if you have more product and options available on your Website, your catalog should communicate this throughout. If you have a large, complex business-to-business catalog, do you have a complete, updated, and easy-to-use table of contents? Do you introduce each section effectively? Are spreads labeled by section?


Does the pacing of your catalog create energy and interest so that readers will continue turning the page? Each of your spreads should have obvious product heros and subheros. Spread designs should vary as a reader flips through the catalog, to add excitement to the shopping experience.


The density of your book needs to reflect the positioning of your catalog, your merchandise mix, and your sales goals. If you feel that your book is too dense but you must feature that many products without increasing the page count, get creative with your page layout in order to introduce some breathing space.


Shoppers’ eyes follow predictable patterns. Take advantage of those patterns by designing your book with key product in the outside edges and with less important or lower-margin product in the gutter positions.


Does the voice and tone of your copy reflect your positioning? Headline and body copy should clearly communicate the product’s features and benefits. And your layout should make it easy for your customers to find the copy block that belongs to each product. Editorial copy should be used sparingly, but you should include enough to create a sense of authority for your catalog.


Does your photography effectively sell and explain the product? Take the time to go back and understand what type of photos sell most effectively for you — location or studio, silhouette or propped. If you have an apparel book, examine which models work best for you. Look at whether on- or off-figure shots are most effective. Often insets or in-use shots are needed to explain features of a product or to sell a lifestyle. And keep in mind that the setting and propping of your shots should accurately reflect your branding.


Typography, call-outs, and charts should be clear and concise. If you choose to break some of the “rules” — such as using reverse type or a sans-serif font — make sure that these design elements work for your customer base and are legible and communicate clearly.


Take a good look at your competitors’ catalogs. Does their photography, copy, and creative presentation communicate the features and benefits of the product more effectively than yours? Pull pages from their books — particularly of products that you both feature — and conduct an item-for-item comparison.


What is your time frame for your catalog’s facelift? Creative makeovers can be introduced gradually, as an evolution, or all at once. If you are unveiling the makeover gradually, plan ahead with your creative team to identify how each new or revised element will be introduced over time. And, if at all possible, test your updated creative.

Having determined which creative elements work and which ones need work, there’s one more thing you should do before the creative makeover begins. Whether you use an inhouse design team or an outside agency, it is critical to share as much information as possible with them before they begin the makeover. Give them access to any and all research, financial numbers, and analysis.

If you haven’t done so already, review all of your conclusions with your creative team. Conduct an in-depth postmortem of your last several books; look at what sold and what didn’t — and, if possible, figure out why. And try to be as objective as possible. Once you have done this work with your creative team, you should all be in a position to clearly identify those areas of your book that could benefit from improvement.

You may want a creative makeover to increase sales or order sizes or to win over new buyers. But it should achieve those goals without diluting your brand identity. Your brand is your equity. Your constant challenge — and opportunity — is to maintain it while keeping it fresh, current, and exciting.

Chris Carrington is president of Catalogs by Lorél, a creative agency based in King of Prussia, PA.


The Franklin Mint determined that it needed a creative makeover to reintroduce its brand heritage story, which supports its positioning as the leader in consumer collectibles, into the catalog. The Franklin Center, PA-based marketer also felt that it needed to freshen its book via a new, less rigid spread design that would allow for greater hero and subhero treatments. Finally, Franklin Mint decided that the introduction of varying spread designs throughout the book as well as spread headlines would improve pacing and generate excitement. It was felt that these moves would not only create renewed interest from the core customer but would also be compelling to prospects.

We redesigned the spreads to give key item focus and real estate to best-sellers. The addition of dramatic silhouettes and headlines makes the spreads more visually exciting. Based on sales, product categories and spreads were repaginated to introduce variety and to ensure that both female and male collectors’ attention would be held throughout the book. Finally, we varied the design of the spreads throughout the book to improve pacing and add interest.

To add excitement to and romance the product, the cover shot was photographed in a natural outdoor setting, rather than in the traditional tabletop manner. In addition, the boxed logo treatment was designed and launched with this book, since we had determined that the logo needed to be consistent from cover to cover.

To reinforce and strengthen Franklin Mint’s authority in the collectibles market, editorial boxes were selectively introduced throughout the catalog. The “brand detail boxes” give information about Franklin Mint’s brand heritage and craftsmanship positioning, while the “special detail boxes” provide intriguing details about the design, development, and authenticity that define the quality of each Franklin Mint product.

For example, by introducing stories about the collection of craftspeople behind the Mint’s products as well as information on the painstaking details of each model or the fine-art process of sculpture, consumers are given an inside look at the expertise and effort that go into creating each product.

The result: a catalog with a stronger and more exciting presentation, but one that’s still recognizable by core customers.


Bible distributor The American Bible Society (ABS) has a simple mission: to make the Bible available to every person, in a language and a format each can understand and afford.

But being known as the “low cost” bible distributor and selling its product to businesses in such volume that it was nothing more than a commodity had caused the catalog to evolve into something resembling a publisher’s trade journal rather than a marketing medium with a brand identity. ABS had also neglected to tap into the “value” of its message in its catalog. Therefore, while increasing sales was a critical objective of the creative makeover of its catalog, ABS also wanted to encourage readers to share and read the Scriptures.

Initially, sales were closely analyzed by product and by category. Based upon this analysis, we increased the density of the pages and repaginated the book to increase the average order size, grouping product families together on spreads. In addition, best-selling products were given the proper hero and subhero treatment on individual spreads as well as within the pagination as a whole.

To make the catalog more user-friendly, a table of contents was introduced on the opening spread. Typography was carefully selected to maintain readability for ABS’s older target audience; copy and charts were revised to make reading easier and more enjoyable.

Making the logo more prominent strengthened the cover, as did introducing warm lifestyle photography featuring product. Including lifestyle photography throughout the catalog also added personality to the book. And whenever possible, we used inset shots featuring illustrations, type, or photographs of the interiors of the books.

Finally, the mission of ABS, that of “Sharing the Word,” was promoted on selected spreads throughout the catalog with graphic headers that not only displayed the spread’s category but also described the accomplishments and mission of the organization.

The result of the makeover: a catalog that generated a double-digit increase in sales and order size, despite a lower circulation.

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