The 10 Best Catalog Redesigns

Jun 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in catalog creative, a pretty presentation had better check out on the balance sheet as well. As one catalog creative consultant points out, “It isn’t creative if it doesn’t sell.”

We asked a number of well-known catalog creative experts to name their favorite and most successful redesigns (and not surprisingly, most of them picked their own clients). We then selected 10 of their choices (in no particular order).

THEIR TOP 10 1. Health for Life. In redesigning this catalog of body-building products, Carol Worthington Levy, the principal of Worthington Levy Creative in San Jose, CA, chose to increase the visual appeal by showing more photos of fit bodies, to encourage readers and get them to envision themselves as buff as the models. At the same time, however, she wanted to include more educational copy, as a means of strengthening the relationship between customer and catalog. She was able to achieve both goals by freeing the layout from the rigid grid template it had previously used.

Placing the educational copy in sidebars to set it off from the selling copy also heightened the book’s visual appeal, as did using a mix of large and small photos. The result: Response from Health for Life’s six-month buyers soared from 4% to 19%, according to Levy.

2. Murad. This redesign is the pick and the brainchild of Jeff Haggin, president of catalog creative agency The Haggin Group in Mill Valley, CA. Murad was struggling with its skincare, haircare, and bodycare products in a crowded catalog marketplace, Haggin says, largely because its prices were higher than the competition’s and the book did not illustrate why the products were worth more.

For instance, the opening spread in the “before” Murad catalog featured a product bundle of six items that sold for $119.95, yet the largest container size was 1.4 oz. Moreover, claims such as “Blemishes, fine lines and discoloration give way overnight to younger, healthier, more beautiful skin” were not supported. In short, the catalog was another “glam” beauty book, featuring a sea of bottles, short copy blocks, and expensive lifestyle model shots that often had nothing to do with the products.

Distributed primarily through select beauty salons, Murad need to establish a compelling position. In its redesign, The Haggin Group created the tag line “Developed by a doctor, not a cosmetics company.” The opening spread now focuses on medical/scientific information and the “technologically progressive ingredients” that support the claims. The copy now explains, “This 5-step daily routine was specifically developed for individual skin types to produce visible, significant improvement in the texture, tone and clarity of your skin in just a few short weeks.”

The redesigned catalog tells Murad’s story, sells a complete skincare system based on skin type, and most important, has improved sales dramatically, Haggin claims.

3. The Company Store. This redesign was selected (but not executed) by Michele Gilbert, the managing director of MG direct, a catalog and direct marketing services firm in Bridgewater, NJ. The original Company Store catalog featured a straightforward presentation of quality comforters and mattress pads, using primarily natural tones, with whites and off-whites proliferating the pages of the book. But since the purchase of the catalog by Hanover Direct in 1993 and the subsequent rebuilding of the brand, a significant yet gradual shift in the merchandise and the creative execution of the catalog has occurred.

The repositioning of this catalog is dramatically visible within the progressive redesign, Gilbert says, in which the catalog promotes an image of quality bedding and linens with a sense of simplicity and style. The introduction of lifestyle photography, which treats the merchandise as if the reader were paging through a decorating magazine, adds interest and drama to the catalog and provides fresh ideas for the home. The introduction of the latest trends in color palette gives The Company Store an updated feel, as well as a sense of authority in home decor.

4. Aerosoles. Overall, the Aerosoles redesign takes a more focused approach to who the customer is, says Robin Glat, director of marketing services for AGA Catalog Marketing & Design, the New York-based creative design and direct marketing agency that handled the redesign. Just as important, the redesign better captures and reinforces the Aerosoles brand-fun, energetic, comfortable shoes that are also fashionable.

Previously, Glat says, the catalog’s look was more urban and high-fashion, and did not reflect Aerosoles’ approachable and friendly style, which is geared to a family-oriented, suburban customer. The catalog redesign incorporates creative that better relates to the company’s personality and its customers’ lifestyle. For instance, while the models in the “before” book were posed against Manhattan backdrops or cold, slick interiors, in the “after” catalog they’re seen in bucolic, sunny settings.

The redesign also made better use of prime real estate by selling product on the back cover and the opening spread, which also now includes editorial to position the brand and the catalog. Moreover, the Aerosoles catalog has added a table of contents and has the phone number printed on every spread, making it easier to shop from.

As for results, the book was 60% over projections, Glat says. In fact, Aerosoles was having trouble keeping its stores stocked with the catalogs-an enviable problem.

5. The Highlander Catalog. The Highlander Catalog sells merchandise for fans of the Highlander TV show and films. With its reversed-out, sans-serif type, haphazard pagination, and too-busy design, this was not a buyer-friendly design, says Carol Worthington Levy, who worked on the redesign. The offers didn’t pop, and the photography didn’t reflect the quality of the items for sale.

The fact that the catalog was the sole source for Highlander merchandise-and that it mailed exclusively to fans who requested it-kept response high. But the catalog was, in Levy’s words, an underachiever: illegible, confusing and not intriguing once you got inside. So she had three goals in mind when she set out to redesign the book:

1) Establish the product as king by including better, more imaginative photos of the merchandise.2) Keep the Highlander “culture” strong without conf using it with the product. By organizing the catalog presentation better (for instance, adding sidebars to draw customers into a behind-the-scenes look at the films), Levy would provide enough space to allow both the editorial and the product to do their jobs.

3) Recognize customer convenience and salesmanship by making the product offers clear and easily readable and by adding a table of contents to save customers time and lure them inside.

The redesign team had the go-ahead and the budget from the executive producer of the Highlander series to fill the catalog with imagery from the shows, as well as guidance and specific database information about the show’s target audience from the catalog marketing team.The creative team also dug deeply into the Highlander culture, watching almost every film and program from a four-year archive so that the designers and copywriters could call upon specific names and events within the creative.

This kind of research and the subsequent creative execution paid off, Levy says. The Highlander Catalog redesign produced a “spectacular” jump in response and profitability, she claims. The big lesson here: Even a catalog with great response can be improved upon, given clear parameters, in-depth information, imagination, and creative autonomy.

6. Natural Baby Catalog. Another pick from Michele Gilbert, the Natural Baby Catalog sells, in the words of its tag line, “fine quality items made solely from things of this earth.” The environmentally friendly merchandise ranges from organic apparel to educational wooden toys. The catalog had been introduced as a digest with a very natural tone and look. The redesign to a standard-size catalog coincided with a more updated look and feel for broader appeal that brings what was a very targeted niche marketing position into a new light.

The redesigned cover was clean and inviting, yet remained true to the brand position. Throughout the new design, the impact of great photography and color reproduction brought this catalog up to date. The introduction of children in location shots also brought pacing and focus to the layouts.

A major part of the Natural Baby identity has been its large selection of cloth diapering essentials. What was previously featured in five digest-size spreads has been reconstructed into three full-size spreads. The use of insets and pointers to show details was carried over from the original design, but with a cleaner, more simplified look and feel. A new font added a clean, light line; the use of icons, color section headers, and dotted rules made this a more consumer-friendly direct marketing effort. By maintaining the original voice of the catalog and much of the merchandise mix, Gilbert says, Natural Baby Catalog remains an old friend to existing customers while being introduced as an inviting new player on the market to prospects.

7. Jostens Learning. A business-to-business catalog selling educational software to teachers and schools, Jostens Learning was an underachiever in its creative, says redesigner Carol Worthington Levy. The book did little to reinforce the credibility or build relationships; the creative wasted space and lacked human interest.

The redesign team worked to make the customer the hero by showing teachers interacting with students who were excited about learning. Improved headlines and sidebars highlighted special features of the software, which had previously been hidden in the body copy. The team also added customer testimonials from Josten’s archives, repaginated the book to put hot products in hot spots, and used screen captures instead of photographs of the software boxes to spice up the catalog’s visuals. To help Jostens get rid of its overstocks, a sale section was introduced near the back of the catalog.

As a result of the redesign, Levy says, catalog sales jumped 150% from the prior year, and awareness of Josten’s proprietary software brand increased, while overstocks decreased-both substantially.

8. Wolferman’s. Since the late 1970s, the Wolferman’s catalog has featured its signature English muffins and other bread products. But Lois Boyle, the chief creative officer of Shawnee Mission, KS-based catalog consulting firm J. Schmid & Assoc. (the agency that worked on the redesign), says Wolferman’s had several reasons to consider a makeover by 1997. For one, a new logo and new product packaging had been developed, with product labels that included a specific color that tied into a specific flavor. Wolferman’s had also broadened its product line to include new products: scones, tea breads, mini muffins, muffin breads, and other fine foods. What’s more, the creative elements did little to focus on the benefits of the Wolferman’s products as gifts.

The design team made the following changes to the catalog:

* Matched the actual packaging used for each flavor to create color-coded bars (for instance, plum for cinnamon raisin and blue for blueberry) to better present the individual product flavors.

* Revamped product photography to capture the mouth-watering goodness of the food and clearly illustrate the gift packaging. To help pacing, the design team also added “lifestyle” photos showing the product in use.

* Updated the logo to include a “lace” effect picked up from the new packaging. The tag line was changed from “Fine Breads Since 1888″ to “Gifts of Fine Foods Since 1888.”

* Rewrote the copy to give both traditional and nontraditional gift suggestions. And to dress up and personalize gift-giving, a ribbon program was added: For $3.00 customers could add a ribbon that addressed the gift-giving event such as “Happy Anniversary” or “Thank You.” Finally, sidebars were introduced to explain why particular bread products were so special.

The result? According to Boyle, the initial makeover resulted in a double-digit increase in sales over the previous year.

9. Marshall & Swift Catalog. The business-to-business cataloger Marshall & Swift sells construction and material costs guides for residential and commercial buildings-not an easy product line to depict, says Carol Worthington Levy, who was charged with redesigning the book. The goal in the remake of Marshall & Swift was to get to the heart of its product-and the reasons that appraisers, architects, and builders would want or need to buy it.

Gone were the obscure graphics, such as photos of wild animals to illustrate that “it’s a jungle out there” in the construction business. Instead, in both copy and graphics, the redesigners took a straightforward approach, using architectural details and buildings that are difficult to appraise-a specialty niche of Marshall & Swift-as graphic elements. The new catalog also displayed pages from the guides with callouts highlighting features of interest to the customers. Levy says the redesign resulted in more renewals, higher sales, and an improved dialogue with customers.

10. The Golden Bear. Another redesign from The Haggin Group, The Golden Bear catalog sells upscale jewelry and clothing. One of the Golden Bear’s signature pieces is the Pave Bear, a diamond-encrusted charm that comes in “Mama,” “Papa,” and “Baby” bear sizes.

The “before” Golden Bear catalog presented the jewelry in what Jeff Haggin describes as “a clean and pleasing environment,” with black-and-white photography conveying a New York sophistication. “The ultimate in wearable indulgence,” the copy proclaimed under the headline “Pave Persuasion.” But it didn’t reflect any personality or explain what The Golden Bear is about. The overall presentation was technically well executed, Haggin says, but lacking in soul.

Haggin’s goal in redesigning the book was to make the presentation more active and engaging. For instance, a new headline read, “Our Pave Bears are literally paved with diamonds. It takes an entire day to pave a single bear.” The story continued with a sidebar editorial that emphasized the painstaking hand-crafting and the quality of diamonds used by “our pave specialist” to make each bear. The snob appeal was gone, replaced by a sense of warmth about the jewelry,because it was made by people who celebrated their craft and had a story to tell.