Small Catalogs Forum: Creating Covers That Captivate

A great catalog cover doesn’t have to mean luxe paper, a high-gloss finish, gallery-quality photography — and astronomical production costs. Most small catalogers rely on creativity and ingenuity rather than a big budget to create a knockout cover.

New York-based catalog consultant Glenda Shasho Jones, president/CEO of Shasho Jones Direct, points to four key elements in creating a catalog cover regardless of company size: relevance, emotion, drama, and differentiation. First and foremost, the cover should be relevant to the customer base and tie in with the product inside the book. “People want to know what’s inside before they dive in,” Jones explains.

Horticultural cataloger White Flower Farm catalog does this by using lush photographs taken at its farm in Litchfield, CT. The spring 2001 cover features a field of vivid daylilies which entices readers to open the book.

A successful cover should also create emotion and elicit some response from the customer that encourages — or provokes — them to open the book, Jones says. You might show relationships or lifestyle scenes that will appeal to your target market.

For instance, Jackson Hole, WY-based nostalgic western apparel and accessories cataloger Cattle Kate always uses model shots on covers to depict how the catalog’s clothing reflects the Old West lifestyle, says owner Kathy Bressler. Shots taken against old-fashioned backdrops, such as dirt roads, often use local horses and wildgrass prairies as props.

Once you have established emotional appeal, Jones notes, “you want your cover to be dramatic to stand out in the mail and avoid being tossed in the wastebasket.” Something as simple as a closeup of a single product, bold colors, or an eye-catching lifestyle scene can create a sense of drama.

Creating drama is one way to differentiate your offer from those of the other catalogs in a mailbox. Playing with the size of your book is another. White Flower Farm selected a horizontal format rather than the standard vertical cover to help it stand out, says vice president of marketing Ken Lane.

Don’t forget the back cover

While you need to make a statement with your front cover, don’t forget your back cover, “since there is a 50% chance that the customer will first see the catalog from this side,” cautions Jones. For this reason, Cattle Kate continues its engaging lifestyle shots on the back cover, Bressler says.

Washington-based French inspired home accessories cataloger Chez Clarisse always uses a lifestyle photo of a French country setting on the cover — and puts its best-photographed products on the back cover, says owner Jeremy shoot catalog products, but Metz picks the cover shots from Motte’s portfolio of French country settings. Even so, shooting products in France may sound extravagant for a cataloger with sales of less than $10 million. But Metz says he leverages a lower price for the photography by selling Motte’s book and some prints in his catalog.

Four Tips for Top Covers

  • Give your cover editorial a hierarchy. The logo should be on top, for example, and more prominent than the taglines, the URLs, and any promotional offers.

  • Be specific when promoting special offers. For instance, use a dot whack that states “10% off denim products” or “Free shipping on orders over $100.”

  • Use your back covers to sell product. Try to place two or three products on the back cover — which can be the best-performing page.

  • Beware of grid or “collage” covers, which can become too busy and may not perform well with core customers.

What was your best catalog cover?

KEN LANE is vice president of marketing for Litchfield, CT-based White Flower Farm: Based on the lift we’re seeing in conversion rate, our spring 2001 cover is intriguing new buyers. And the daylilies [featured on the cover] are flying off the shelves!

KATHY BRESSLER owns Jackson Hole, WY-based western wear catalog Cattle Kate: We had a group photo of models in our clothes posed around a chuck wagon. It was around 9 p.m. and there was just enough light for the picture, but it came out great and set the personality of our book.

KEN KARLAN owns Bethel, CT-based sports apparel catalog Star Struck: It was a shot of Gabe Kapler of the Texas Rangers standing in front of the dugout in Yankee Stadium with my son. This communicated our position as an official merchant of sports apparel products.

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