Conducting a Multichannel Creative Critique

When was the last time you critiqued your print catalog or considered the creative presentation of your Website? More important, do you typically consider the two channels as a whole?

Many multichannel marketers realize that the two media must work together but fail to understand how the customer experience shifts from one marketing vehicle to the other. What kind of process do you have in place for making sure both channels present your merchandise in a method that is going to maximize sales and average order sizes and present a consistent brand message?

We’ve put together several checklists you can use as a guide to help make sure both channels are working in tandem. You should consider critiquing both channels simultaneously, keeping the following questions in mind:

  • What is the unique customer experience for each channel? How do shoppers interact differently with the catalog and the Website?

  • Why do customers and prospects use one medium over the other, or do they use them together?

  • How can you incorporate a process that will build a consistent voice, look, and feel to the catalog and the Website so as not to confuse customers?

Remember, you have only two goals: to create an easy shopping experience and to sell product!


Your brand, the one thing you stand for and all the colors, logos, graphics, photo treatments, editorial content, copy voice, and other elements that represent it, should be relevant and clearly communicated to your customers and prospects throughout your Website and your print catalog. But the packaging of the brand components may vary slightly from channel to channel.

Because Web searches and pay-per-click programs will generally lead customers and prospects to specific pages deep within your site, it’s important that the key branding elements appear on every site page to reinforce the experience with every visit. In the printed catalog, where customers may spend more time browsing the piece, the brand story can be built up and reinforced throughout but doesn’t have to be recapped on every page.

Regardless of the channel, here are several questions that you should ask about how you’re presenting your brand:

  • Do you effectively communicate your merchandise concept and how it is unique compared with those of others in your competitive set? Do customers and prospects immediately understand how your products will serve a need or a desire? In other words, what differentiates you?

  • Have you used all applicable graphic or copy opportunities to support your merchandise concept and expertise in your category?

  • Is your brand consistently presented from one campaign to another, creating recognition among your customers but maintaining a fresh look? Have you been able to “own” a look that is distinctively yours?


In the print catalog, format and organization is your trim size, page count, and pagination. Online it’s your navigation and interface. In both channels, it’s how you set up your marketing vehicles to allow customers to navigate the product assortment and, ultimately, place an order. Here are some questions to ask:


  • Have you optimized the number of pages allowing for enough profitable real estate to sell your full product assortment? Are you over- or underassorted? Because the print catalog has limited space compared to the site, have you included enough options to appeal to both customers and prospects?

  • Is the format — the trim size and the number of pages — of your catalog optimized for the most productive print run?

  • Does your catalog enable readers to quickly find the products they are most interested in? Is it large enough to necessitate a table of contents or an index? If so, are you using terms that your customer would use rather than terms that your staff uses?


  • Are your product categories assigned according to how customers shop and search?

  • Do you offer “catalog quick shop” functionality on every page of your site?

  • Would a solutions-based navigation, based upon your customers’ key needs, aid the online shopping process?

  • Do product category pages cross-reference other sections of the site to encourage longer visits and greater spending?

  • Do you use spider-friendly technology to optimize natural search results?


Catalog covers, site landing pages, and hot spots tell who you are and what differentiates you. They also get people to engage and spend more time with your brand.


  • Do your catalog covers present an easy-to-read, recognizable logo and tagline that quickly tells who you are and what you offer? Do you provide a consistent presentation that your customers will recognize each time they receive your catalog in the mail? This applies to your back cover as well, as many customers see the back before the front.

  • Do your covers grab attention? Have you used an interesting product, photo, and copy that will immediately engage the reader? Do they invite readers inside with a page reference or the hint of providing a “solution”?

  • Do your cover products differentiate your brand and your merchandise concept? Are you including products that represent your better-selling categories and price points?

  • Have you effectively presented a brand-relevant offer? Is it a quick read?

  • Have you included your toll-free number, URL, and any other pertinent customer service information?

  • Have you maximized your back cover by using only the minimal amount of space necessary to get your catalog mailed?

  • Have you used your hot spots — the opening spread, the inside back spread, the pages around the order form, the upper right corner of each spread — wisely, placing your best-selling, most intriguing, or most profitable products or categories there?

  • If you have placed new products in these hot spots, are they truly special? Do you have evidence that they will appeal to customers?

  • Have you placed important messages — the president’s letter, the guarantee, special offers, a table of contents — in these spots?


  • Do your landing pages — the home page and all other pages that customers land on from search, e-mail, or affiliate programs — present an easy-to-read, recognizable logo and tagline that quickly tells who you are and what you offer? Do you provide a consistent presentation that your customers will recognize from receiving the catalog in the mail?

  • Do your landing pages grab attention by featuring an interesting product, photo, or copy that will immediately engage the reader?

  • Does your home page include products that differentiate your brand and your merchandise concept? Do products represent your better-selling categories and price points?

  • Have you effectively presented your online offers as a quick read? Are your online offers coordinated with your offline offers so as not to confuse customers?

  • Have you included your toll-free number, URL and any other pertinent customer service information on every page of your site?


It is here that the catalog and the Website arguably differ the most. By its nature, the catalog is an intrusive marketing vehicle that encourages customers to participate. It is an assortment of items collected and presented to be browsed, to stimulate interest, and to drive demand. It’s something you cuddle up with and take time reading through. The Website is, simply put, an ordering mechanism that has the capacity to show large amounts of information about a product but is largely passive. If it is not sought out, the content of a Website is of no value.

A catalog’s design needs to encourage a purchase, show the product in the best light, pace the reader through all of the pages, and build a brand. A Website’s design must, almost above all, facilitate checkout; you want the shopper to find the product, add it to the basket, and pay. As a result, pacing and design techniques are quite different between the vehicles, but the branding should be the same.


  • Are you encouraging customers to browse the entire catalog?

  • Have you varied your layouts so that all spreads do not look as if they were developed from the same template?

  • Do your layouts take advantage of how the eye flows across a spread? Does every spread tell a story or provide a relevant theme?

  • Does photography vary in size throughout the catalog and on individual spreads? Do photographs flow “into” the page as opposed to leading the eye off the page?

  • Have you placed best-sellers, items in key price points, or interesting visuals in the upper right-hand area on each spread?

  • Are product copy and pricing information easy to find? If necessary, have you used keys to help tie products and copy together?

  • Have you used selling techniques to encourage multiple-unit sales such as bundles, “two-fors,” and cross-references? Have you highlighted these special-value offers?

  • Have you used combinations of compelling price points within a spread or a section? Have you explained why two seemingly similar products are priced differently? Have you helped your customer discern “good-better-best” options?


  • Is your navigation designed to facilitate a speedy shopping experience?

  • Do you use your right-hand or “under-page” navigation to cross-sell products from complementary categories?

  • Are you using a consistent page template for categories and another, distinct template for product pages to present merchandise in a consistent way?

  • Are visitors always no more than two clicks away from being able to make a purchase?


Colors, typographical treatments, visuals, call-outs, copy: All these elements contribute to the customer’s experience and facilitate the transaction offline and online.


  • Are your products photographed and cropped as the “hero” without distracting props or backgrounds?

  • Are products clearly presented with important features in focus?

  • When color is integral to the product, is it accurately represented, preventing a high return rate? Do your color names help ease the difficulty of overcoming differences in individual computer monitor settings?

  • If a product shot cannot tell the entire story, have you used other graphic tools to help quickly explain features or benefits? These tools might include before-and-after images, in-use shots, alternative views online, testimonials, captions, call-outs, and sidebars.

  • Have you used color to organize your layouts or page templates or to draw attention to special messages?

  • Do the photo backgrounds use a consistent color palette or ambience appropriate to your brand and the product presented?

  • Are product headlines, item numbers, and prices easy to find and distinguished from the body copy?

  • Are your copy and headlines presented in fonts, sizes, leading, and line lengths that allow for easy reading and are available on most computers?

  • Have you limited (or eliminated) your use of hard-to-read type, such as reverse type, all caps, copy that is justified right, and copy that is placed over a photograph?


  • Does the copy voice support your brand differentiation with authority, inspiring the reader to purchase?

  • Does all editorial content focus on brand differentiation that is relevant to the consumer, not your company?

  • Have you used category headlines that pull the reader into the catalog or site page while explaining the overall concept?

  • Have you used product headlines that clearly state the primary benefits of the item?

  • Does body copy quickly support product benefits by offering enough feature information for the reader to make an educated purchase?

  • If your assortment warrants it, do you use your site to provide detailed product information that isn’t justified in the printed catalog?

  • Does every spread in your catalog or page in your Website include easy-to-find service information such as a toll-free number, a URL, page numbers, and FAQ links?


The order form and the online shopping cart play important roles in getting the customer from the point of selecting products to actually buying them.


  • Is your order form placed where customers expect to find it — either in the center or on the back spread?

  • Does your order form include all the information customers might need, including customer service numbers, to make an educated purchase?

  • Is your order form easy to use, allowing for all options and contingencies?


  • Does every page of your site offer a quick view of the shopping cart and a link to get there and check out?

  • Does your shopping cart include functionality to return the customer back to the last page they were visiting?

  • Is your checkout process one-step? If not, have you done everything possible to eliminate as many steps as possible?

  • Do you ask for a catalog source code as one of the first three requested pieces of information in the checkout process?

Lois Boyle is president and Steve Trollinger is executive vice president, client marketing for J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.