CATALOGING IS ROCKET SCIENCE
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog July 2014
© 2014 Susan J. McIntyre
PATIENT: “Doc, our staff and vendors who handle the cataloging side of our business seem to continually run into problems. Why is that? After all, cataloging isn't rocket science.”
CATALOG DOCTOR: “I used to think you were right, but over the years, I came to realize that in many ways cataloging is ‘rocket science’. Here are four reasons …”
1. Many, many parts must all converge at a common end point.
Envision a 56-page catalog with four front cover, four back cover and four 2/3 versions. That's 68 unique pages. Just one page is a complex project with many decision points and demands.
But the whole catalog is 68 times more demanding. For every page of those 68 pages, product selection, space allocation, creative concept, copy, photos, retouching, design, prices, sku numbers have to be researched, created, proofed, revised, reproofed, approved, uploaded, rechecked, re-approved, plated and printed. And that's just the creative portion.
There's also the sales analysis, circulation plan, budget, print booking, scheduling, LDC (Last Date of Change to order paper), mailing lists, data processing, file trafficking, address-simulations, proofing, approvals, binding, addressing, trucking, mailing, and finally...in home. (And that's all before the first order is placed, which spawns a cascade of more work tracks. And we haven't even touched on inventory management.)
2. ALL catalog tracks must hit a common deadline, together.
That's especially hard if your catalog program isn't one that's in continual production, but rather is sporadic throughout the year. That's because when the catalog process starts it's an interruption of and addition to everyone's “regular” work.
Something about cataloging — and its many projects-within-a-project — conflicts with the human tendency to put things off to the last minute. If just 1 person underestimates the time they need, and ends up a day (or a week) late, they can throw a monkey wrench into the entire project. If 2 or 3 people do that, it can miss your deadline, which misses your print date, which misses your in-home, which misses your sales.
Managing all the parts, keeping those parts on track, and making sudden changes of course when a part goes wrong, is quite a juggling act. It requires being part manager, part whip-cracker, and part emergency-responder.
3. Cataloging requires elevated levels of design.
A single 2-page spread has many elements that need to come together to create an appealing whole that's also clear, guides the eye among all the products, keeps the look on-brand, and “sells”.
Even catalogs that are “low density” have more graphic elements than most ads or emails. Higher-density catalogs are even more challenging. If there are 18 products on a 2-page spread, when you count the photos, the copy, inset images, the main spread headline, grouping headlines, a testimonial or cross-sell, that 2-page spread may have 45 different graphic elements to juggle before ending up with an eye-stopping spread that grabs interest and creates desire. On top of that, you can't set up a formal grid to plug-and-play. Every spread needs to be different to create the flow and pacing that keeps the catalog reader with the catalog, page after page.
4. Catalogers can't afford to have mistakes in the catalog.
Once a catalog mails, you can't pull it back and tweak it or fix last-minute errors. A website can be tweaked, added to or subtracted from daily. But a catalog error is out in front of your customers for weeks or months, confusing or irritating them and causing ongoing problems for customer service. The only solution is no errors. That means diligent proofing of everything, done in a thinking way. Not just checking prices and weights and colors, but also proofing for wrong ways your customers might interpret copy or photos, or interpret deadlines or your guarantee. Hard, yes. But achievable.