Test your catalog’s effectiveness

Mailing a catalog is a considerable investment, so every single book, every page, every photograph must work hard to maintain the catalog’s goal: tapping customers on the shoulder and driving a sale no matter the channel.

Has your team lost sight on how important this format is? Are you taking advantage of every square inch of the printed catalog?

All catalogs should be using 10 primary response drivers. To see how your book stacks up, consider these 10 questions.

  1. Have you built an engaging brand experience?

    Your brand is more than just a logo and tagline. It represents the perception consumers have of your company, who you are, what you stand for.

    And a catalog is one vehicle that helps you manage and promote your brand. It’s the tangible representation of your brand brought to life on the printed page.

    Your catalog must reflect your brand. What is your brand promise? What do you deliver that none of your competitors can claim? Your catalog cannot simply present products on a page.

    EXTRA CREDIT: Are you critiquing your catalog from the customer’s point of view?

    Create an experience that connects with them on an emotional level. Everything you do must deliver on the brand promise one way or another — through photography, offers and, especially, copy.

  2. Are you using your front and back covers to maximum advantage?

    The front and back covers are the two most important pages of the entire catalog. The covers dictate whether or not you will earn the customer’s consideration at all.

    When planning your catalog, spend more time on your front and back covers than any other spread. Your covers literally have seconds to get the recipient’s attention — make them count! Successful catalog covers — both front and back — accomplish five key goals:

    • Grab attention with a compelling visual
    • Quickly tell who you are with a consistently presented logo and tagline
    • State any key offers or messages
    • Get readers to open the book with inside page references
    • Sell! Sell! Sell!
  3. Have you assembled an organized store that capitalizes on customer expectations and encourages shopping/stopping power?

    Make good use of catalog hot spots — the page 2-3 spread, inside back spread, center spread — with your best selling, most popular and unique products. Work hard to get people to spend more time in the “valleys,” or those not-so-hot pages, by varying layouts and pacing, using attention-getting photos and introducing new themes.

    Put answers to questions where readers expect them to be. For example, include brand, service information and your table of contents on page 2 — where customers typically go to get those questions answered.

    Also, place your order form in the center spread, either as a bind-in or on the printed page. Capitalize on these expectations and guide the readers based on their needs, not how you think the catalog should be organized.

  4. Is there a method to your merchandise assortment?

    Your customers buy from you for a reason: They are looking to fill a need or solve a problem. How you present your products on the catalog page and how you use engagement techniques can easily help their decision process

    One of the most successful techniques in presenting products is to create themes within your book. Themes solve a problem or engage the customer in a desired topic.

    These themes need to be carefully chosen and relevant to your brand promise. Use a square-inch analysis to determine commonalities among your merchandise, then build a plan to assemble your categories by these themes.

    Is there a “color” story? Are there products that solve similar problems? Group these products together to tell a story, injecting a sense of romance. Themes will often offer a value-added tip or other relevant information.

    Tell customers something they didn’t know. Visually tie the products together so that readers know, at a glance, what the theme is all about and why it matters to them.

  5. Are you promoting relevant offers that will entice customers?

    It’s been proven over and over again that offers placed on the cover — free shipping, free gift, discounts — must stand out. Developing an attention-getting offer is the only way you will see the increased response. But many designers unfortunately treat specific product or service offers as afterthoughts.

    Pay attention to all your offers, even the obscure ones. Each one should be created as a visual announcement, using bold type, bursts or icons.

    Don’t neglect offers, like bundles, “two-fors” or other volume savings, created to increase your average order. Even a unique product that no one else sells should be presented as a special offer. That’s right — a full-price product, with special value, should be presented as an offer.

  6. Do your hero products get the attention they deserve?

    Heroes are the premier products within your merchandise assortment. They demand the most space and the most prominent placement within your catalog and on the page.

    These products must stand out and create a visual story, using large and compelling photos, explanatory insets, additional attention-getters or testimonials. Never underestimate the power of your flagship products.

    Heroes are also prime candidates for cover placement. In some cases, your number-one product may be the reason people seek out your brand. No matter what medium you’re selling in — Website, catalog, e-mail, television, space ads — your hero should be front and center.

  7. Does your catalog copy reflect your brand voice and complete the sale?

    Copy is the most underrated element in catalog creative. It’s your voice and has incredible power to reiterate your brand promise and personality.

    While product copy is important and should always be benefit-focused, many catalogs do not take advantage of the power that other copy components can wield. In fact, you should spend just as much time crafting engaging and brand-enhancing headlines, subheads, footlines, the guarantee, sidebars, editorial, tips, instructions, callouts — any and all instances where you’re asking consumers to learn more.

    Are there products throughout the catalog that relate to one another? Include copy references to cross-sell those products. Use appropriate language to communicate to your customers in a way that reflects who you are. Is your tone conversational, authoritative or whimsical? Whatever customers cannot see in pictures, say with copy.

Next Page: Are you incorporating attention-getters to tell the rest of the product story?

  1. Are you incorporating attention-getters to tell the rest of the product story?

    When people shop a catalog, visuals always grab attention first. Strong photographs captivate consumers — catalogs are a visual medium after all. But sometimes a picture cannot tell the entire product story, and photos need additional support.

    Tell the rest of the story or benefit by adding an attention-getter. What visual elements do you use to help sell something the reader cannot see?

    Captions, callouts, insets, icons and in-use photos all help support the primary photo and tell the rest of the story; they also help close the deal. Showing what a product does with an in-use photo or caption may give consumers that vital piece of information to make a decision.

  2. Have you made the order process easy?

    Ordering must be easy, easy, easy! It’s more than just printing your Website and phone number on the bottom of every spread. It’s more than just including an order form.

    What else do consumers need to make a purchase decision? Ask an outsider to order a complicated product — how easy is it for her? Does the catalog give customers everything they need to know?

    If your products involve any type of personalization or special options, can the average customer understand what he needs to do from just the information on the printed page? Guide customers through the process using simple copy and tools.

    For instance, many designers have found that adding visual steps (i.e. Step 1, Step 2) will increase sales. For especially complicated products, remind customers of your guarantee and include references to call or go online for support.

  3. Are you coordinating the catalog with your other multichannel efforts?

    In the ever-evolving world of multichannel communications, the catalog should not work in a vacuum. Today’s savvy consumers demand more from their shopping experiences as they choose how they will become informed and purchase a product.

    You must anticipate and meet those demands, and your catalog must become part of a multichannel, multifaceted marketing campaign. E-mails must certainly work in concert with a catalog, announcing a drop or mirroring an offer. But a catalog must also announce online events or tools to help broaden the shopping experience.

    Within the pages of your catalog, strategically plan how you will get people to create their own personal URL, sign up for e-mails, build a wish or gift list — anything that will enhance overall loyalty.

What about social media interactions? If your company engages customers using Facebook or Twitter, remind customers within your catalog. Place the social media logos where they make sense, but always offer a benefit for their participation.

What about videos? Create a “how-to” video, upload it to YouTube and use the catalog to drive customers to your Website to watch.

There are so many new technological advances, but rather than view them as an alternative to or replacement of your catalog, use them to enhance the medium and create a multichannel experience to engage customers like never before.

EXTRA CREDIT: Are you critiquing your catalog from the customer’s point of view?

Finally, take a step back from your catalog. Look at it from a different perspective — your customers’ point of view.

Put yourself in their shoes and ask how you would react if you received the catalog in the mail. Would you want to shop from it? Does it give you all the information you need to make a purchase? Is it engaging?

Sometimes we get so close to the material that it’s difficult to separate ourselves from the process. Show the catalog to someone outside the marketing group. Ask your customer service reps for feedback. Get inside the consumer’s head and critique your catalog with their eyes.

Final score. Does your catalog earn a passing grade? Even if the answer is yes, never rest on those laurels. Keep testing and pushing the limits of your catalog so that it remains a viable selling tool in your marketing efforts.

Lois Brayfield (loisb@jschmid.com) is owner of J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog consultancy based in Mission, KS.