Live from ECMOD: The DaVinci Code, Hold the DaVinci

London–What does “The DaVinci Code” have in common with catalog creative? Plenty, according to Lois Boyle, president/chief creative officer for Mission, KS-based consultancy J. Schmid and Associates. In fact, she created a session entitled “Cracking the Creative Code” around the similarities.

The customer experience, Boyle said, is the key to effective catalog or Website creative. To determine the optimal customer experience–or break the code, if you will–requires a knowledge of physics, ambigrams, and deciphering tools.

Physics in this case doesn’t refer to the architectural fundamentals clarified by Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps most famously with his “Vitruvian Man” drawing of proportions. Instead it refers to proportions as they relate to measuring of marketing, customer service, merchandise, and online results.

For instance, if you sell shoes with an average price point of $99, but your average price of shoes sold is $75, Boyle explained, your creative team should make a point of highlighting the $75 shoes throughout the book. This needn’t be blatant–simply putting shoes at this price point in the catalog hot spots (the upper right corner of a spread, the inside front cover, the center spread) can help boost response. In terms of online results, Boyle advised reviewing your most effective keywords in search advertising and ensuring that those words are featured prominently in your catalog copy.

A member of the merchandising team at one of her client’s, food gifts mailer Wolferman’s, had noticed in conducting square-inch analysis that products with “breakfast” in the name sold well. This led the marketing and creative teams to create an entire spread of breakfast products. The result: a 21% average lift for all items on the spread. This example underscored not only the importance of multichannel “physics” but also the importance of communication among the various departments.

Multichannel physics also referred to the physical appearance of the catalog–eye flow, pacing, graphical hierarchy, readability, and the like. At this point Boyle showed examples of tried-and-true best practices, with a few surprises. Regarding the cover, for instance, she said it wasn’t necessary to include the toll-free phone number or URL on the front cover. Research has showed that customers expect to see them on the bottom of spreads, the back of the catalog, and on the order form, “so why put it on the front cover and ruin it?” She also advised using the front cover to spotlight a strong seller rather than a new product. “It’s not for the 5% who bought the item; it’s for the 95% who weren’t ready yet.”

The second code breaker is the ambigram. Derived from “ambi,” meaning “both,” and “gram,” meaning “word,” ambigrams are word drawings in which the message can be read upside down as well as right side up. The critical ambigram for catalog creative, said Boyle, is brand and product, with each inseparable from the other. In practice, this means, among other things, creating themes throughout a catalog so that you’re selling a concept rather than an item.

It also means determining the “one thing” that you want customers and prospects to associate with your offering. Too many catalogs include copy that gives equal weight to multiple benefits. The customer is not going to remember them all, Boyle said; you need to determine the most critical point and emphasis it. This is true for the product as well as the brand: Are you differentiating yourself with merchandise exclusivity? Service? Value pricing? Once you determine this, your creative needs to reinforce it throughout the catalog, via the tagline, the copy, the guarantee, the headlines, the sidebars, the photography.

The third code breaker is a deciphering tool. By maintaining good design hygiene–best creative practices such as sufficient white space as well as the concepts of catalog physics discussed earlier–you can help your readers decipher your catalog. Other deciphering tools include the use of “good-better-best” positioning when appropriate, upsells and cross-sells, and an easy-to-understand order process.

Still not clear on the ambigram concept? Want to know more about catalog physics? Lois Boyle and her team at J. Schmid and Associates will be writing a series of articles, “Breaking the Multichannel Code,” exclusively for MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT beginning with the January issue.

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