Time for a Redesign?

When should you consider redesigning your catalog? The snap answer is when sales drop off dramatically. The smarter answer, of course, is before sales drop off. Even if your catalog’s sales are currently fine, you may still want to consider tweaking a few things to keep your catalog up-to-date, timely and working as hard as it can for you.

A good place to start is by looking at what other catalogs are doing. Not just your competitors, but what the dozens of catalogs arriving in mailboxes and office in-boxes across the country look like.

Collect as many as you can and spread them out on a conference room table. Leaf through them and compare them to your catalog.

Ask others in your company to do the same. Does your catalog look a bit stale and old-fashioned? Do the color palette, fonts and design appear behind the times? If so, it’s time to take a hard look at a redesign.

True colors

Merchandisers know colors go in and out of style — not just for clothing but for furniture, wall paint, and even appliances. The same goes for graphic design. Many graphic creative agencies, including ours, rely on Pantone Color Forecasts and Color Reports to keep abreast of what colors will be most appealing in the coming year.

Before revising your book’s palette, have your designers research what colors have been popular for the past few years and what hues are forecast to soon be in vogue. This will provide an idea of colors your customers and prospects will be seeing in stores and in the media, so they will likely feel comfortable with these shades in your redesign.

The same goes for typefaces. See what fonts others are using, not just in the catalog arena, but in advertising, signage and magazine design. You want to be current while still maintaining effective readability.

But remember: There’s a difference between updating your catalog’s design and being trendy. Don’t automatically assume that because fuchsia or vermilion are colors forecast to be “in,” or that lucida sans or orator are the hot new typefaces, that they’re right for your catalog. Keep your customer in mind and make your design decisions based on what you believe will appeal to them, not to the design gurus.

Second life

Have your designers spend some time looking at your catalogs from years past. We’ve noticed time and again that the differences that made a catalog special in the first place get watered down over the years. You may find your catalog has lost some of its differentiating elements — guarantees, copy tone, inset photos, and so on — that made customers place orders in the first place.

Updating those “long-lost” elements into a new catalog design can go a long way toward reclaiming your catalog’s brand, voice and differentiation.

Change with the times

Update your customer profile before beginning any redesign. If your catalog has been around for more than a few years, it’s likely your customer has changed. Time marches on. Not many of us are the same person with the same interests, tastes and shopping habits we had a couple of years ago.

Case in point: A few years back, an award-winning outdoor marketer I used to order from redesigned and updated its catalog. One of the revisions was to switch its body copy to a slightly smaller sans serif typeface. It looks very cool and stylish.

Unfortunately, while I still receive the catalog and enjoy its marvelous design and photography, my “older eyes” have a tough time reading the copy. I get aggravated every time I try. The result? I haven’t placed an order in some time.

Whenever possible, have your creative staff attend customer focus groups. At the very least, have them listen in on calls to your customer service center.

Seeing and hearing actual customers use and talk about the catalog makes a big difference when it’s time for a designer to sit down to redo your book. In fact, we’ve found that when designers and copywriters can attach faces and personalities to the people they’re designing and writing for, sales increase.

Revolution? Try evolution

Challenge your creative teams to come up with different treatments for your catalog. Be sure to tell them you’re not looking for the same old thing, nor are you looking for designs so radical it will turn off your customers. You want them to present you with an evolution, not a revolution in your catalog’s design.

Consider bringing in an outside creative resource, too. They’ll approach your catalog with fresh eyes and new ideas. A few years ago, Harry & David asked us to come up with a number of new cover treatments and ideas — just tissues, not even complete comps — to provide some new thinking and different approaches for their catalog.

The food gifts mailer asked its internal creative folks to do the same. The result was dozens of new ideas Harry & David could use.

If possible, put two or three new “looks” in front of a focus group of customers to see what works and what doesn’t. A cover and a couple of inside spreads for each look is usually enough.

Don’t be surprised if your focus group attendees like different elements from each treatment. It happens all the time. But you’ll find, in general, they’ll all tend to favor one “look” over the others.

We also recommend having them compare the new treatments to your current catalog. Pay special attention to what people say they like in your current book. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: You’ll want to incorporate those “tried-and-true” elements into your final redesign.

In the end, any redesign should be undertaken to answer the following questions: How can we better deliver our brand story? How can we present our products in a better light? How can we make our catalog’s points of differentiation more obvious? If your redesign addresses those specific questions, it’s more than likely to be successful in boosting both your brand and your sales.

Kevin Kotowski is president of Olson/Kotowski (www.olsonkotowski.com), a creative agency based in Torrance, CA.


Even if your catalog isn’t ready for a complete redesign, here are a few creative “rules of thumb” to consider.

Heroes and sub-heroes: Every spread — not every page — should have a “hero” product, the one item that stands out the most on the entire spread and grabs the eye. A sub-hero is the second most important product on the spread.

Serif typefaces: I can hear the groans from young designers, but time and again, serif typefaces when used in body copy score higher in readability and comprehension. And that translates into more sales.

Reverse type: Use it sparingly, if at all. Yes, it looks cool, but people have a tough time reading it. Plus, reverse type makes it harder for people to retain what they’ve read. Ditto type set in colors, run over busy backgrounds or set in all-caps.

Photo captions: Use them whenever possible. They score high in readership studies. We’re constantly surprised by how few catalogers use this proven sales technique.

Testimonials: Yes, they still work. Try to weave a few throughout your catalog. The best testimonials are set in quotes and include the full name of the person who said it, as well as their photograph.

This list is far from complete. But it will point you in the right direction and should help ensure that your catalog spreads not only look appealing, but also work hard to sell off the page.

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