We’re under siege. So what?
The catalog business is fragmenting itself, with dot.com appendages cannibalizing business from paper siblings…and, we hope, from competitors. Retail stores are fighting for their lives with discounts, rebates, and free latte.
And those delightful (or pesky, depending on whether you’re buying or selling) “bots” are ferreting out lowest Web prices, eliminating any other reason to buy.
But so what, unless you’re the latest online book marketer promoting yourself as having “the lowest prices anywhere”?
Why do I say “So what?” Because except for the dogged bottom-price buyers, catalog prospects are likely to respond to a psychological weapon we have in our admittedly thin arsenal, the Emotion Over Intellect Rule:
When emotion and intellect come into conflict, emotion always wins.
If now you think it’s your turn to ask “So what?” you aren’t thinking of the rule as a selling weapon. It’s the difference between “You look smashing in that dress” and “That dress is your size.”
One sentence will do it
A catalog of home furnishings begins its description of some wicker furniture this way:
Furniture for the rooms you really live in. Relaxed and informal, woven rattan lightens the mood and the setting, and these pieces are no exception. With especially high backs….
Okay, okay, we forgive “and these pieces are no exception” because we’re making a point. Now visualize the sales impact of the copy if the first words had been, “With especially high backs.” Injection of motivation with that opening? Close to zero. That simple little partial sentence, “Furniture for the rooms you really live in,” transcends price and competition and, for that matter, ennui.
In a seething milieu of vitamin/ supplement catalog vendors is this description:
Hey, Guys, how many times do you have to get up at night?
Good news. No, make that great news! We have a fresh supply of Pygeum for you. This marvelous discovery can actually shrink your prostate….
You’ll understand the point when you compare that opening with this one from a competing catalog:
Pygeum is associated with hormonal health related to the prostate. It has been proved and tested in Europe….
If prices were remotely close, which catalog would you buy from? And I hope you noticed the clever psychological ploy: It’s “Hey, Guys,” not “Hey, Guy.” The plural diminishes any embarrassment with sensitive subject matters.
Puff words alone don’t hack it
A catalog of fine watches has a page of Tourneaus. These are the first two sentences of the copy block:
TOURNEAU: AMERICA’S FIRST WATCH STORE
A classic collection of elegant timepieces characterized by exquisite beauty and uncompromising quality. Crafted with the finest attention to detail and a pure sense ofstyle.
No, I’m not being harsh. I’m being a catalog salesperson while this copy is a catalog clerk. I wouldn’t hire whoever wrote this, on two separate levels of rejection:
First, the copywriter has forgotten the ambience. This is a catalog of watches. “Beauty” and “quality” are omnipresent in every page. The professional writer would have forced an answer, for each brand, to the question “How do I position this one?”
Second, do you see a word that emasculates any emotional content that might exist? Right: “characterized.” This intellectualism cancels whatever emotional impact “exquisite beauty and uncompromising quality” might supply.
I have additional proof of semi-pro copywriting in this catalog: The description of Raymond Weil watches says, “Luxuriously designed to reflect a musical heritage of precision and form.” Musical heritage? What planet did that come from?
You don’t need big copy blocks
Yes, longer catalog copy is becoming more prevalent each season, and as this new century matures, longer copy may be necessary for competitive survival.
No, longer copy doesn’t mean verbosity. It means, rather, replacing naked terminology with salesmanship. But don’t forget specifics.
Here are two side-by-side product descriptions, in their entirety, from a cookbook catalog. Number one, How to Bake:
From baguettes to cheesecake, crumpets to calzones, this indispensable baking encyclopedia is sure to become a classic reference for beginning and experienced bakers.
Number two, Short & Sweet:
These irresistible desserts use seven ingredients or less, take no more than 30 minutes to make, and will satisfy your sweet-tooth cravings. Color photographs.
Why is the second description superior to the first? Because it positions the book with specifics – seven ingredients or less, and no more than 30 minutes. The first description ends weakly: “for beginning and experienced bakers.” Adding the word “alike” would help, although the concept reminds me of a certificate sent to me by Bennigan’s restaurants: “For new or current customers only.”
It’s off the point, but this page of the catalog is headed “You’ll continue to enjoy savings of up to 50% off publishers’ prices.” The How to Bake book lists for $35, and Short & Sweet lists for $22.50. Each book is marked down to $1. Wow, 50% goes a long way. See why I continue to argue that all catalogers should employ an ombudsman, who would earn his/her keep by catching just one gaffe per catalog issue?
Adding an emotional appeal isn’t difficult, doesn’t eat up much space, and can be a huge incentive. So why don’t more catalogs load up the heavy howitzers of the Emotion Over Intellect Rule? Beats me.
Enough of them do to assure continuing readership and response. As the phrase “catalog glut” is replaced by “catalog uncertainty,” consider emulating catalogs whose bright and shiny descriptions transform readers into customers.
Just a few more examples of potent first sentences, from current catalogs:
– (Sierra Trading Post, for a Chantel Pullover): “So thick, fuzzy and warm, you’ll think you dozed off in the wilderness and woke up as a bear.”
– (Virginia Traditions, for Soppin’ Sauce): “I was making a sausage sandwich in the kitchen, looking around for something to put a little `kick’ into it.”
– (Cushman’s, for Chocolate Ambrosia): “We are about to give new meaning to the culinary terms health food and finger food.”
– (Duluth Trading Co., for an industrial contractor’s briefcase): “If all you did was carry your briefcase to and from a nice, clean office, anything would do.”
– Terry Precision Cycling for Women, for an inexpensive chain-link bracelet): “Buy these for everybody in your bike club and become a bigger hit than you already are.”
See? You don’t have to be Shakespeare or Browning or John Barth to set a mood. The only talent required to implement the Emotion Over Intellect Rule and add buyer motivation to your catalog copy is being able to imitate the thought process of a typical catalog recipient. And every single one of us can do that, can’t we?