HOW COPY CAN INCREASE CATALOG SCANNABILITY
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog October 2013
© 2013 Susan J. McIntyre
PATIENT: "Our boss said ‘make the catalog more scannable’. But I'm the copywriter, so I get a pass, right? That's the designer's job, right?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Wrong. As a copywriter, you have copy tools at your disposal to increase copy scannability. More scannable copy means more folks read...and buy. Try these tips..."
Visualize your reader flipping pages of the catalog, their eyes roaming quickly, unconsciously, over each page (at flipping speed). They won't stop until something (your copy) grabs their attention.
Each product block offers you 3 basic elements to work with. Each can grab attention from the customer's scanning eye...or be overlooked:
- product headline
- product subhead
- 1st line of product body copy
Let's look at product headlines first.
ELEMENT #1: IMPROVING PRODUCT HEAD SCANNABILITY
Many style guides dictate "Name of Product" for the headline, which is about the most boring approach possible. If your style guide additionally dictates "no subhead", then what can you do to help grab the attention of a quickly-scanning reader?
You can pack interest into the product name. Example:
CAMP STOOL [Not too interesting]
FOLDING CAMP STOOL [Better: "folding" adds a benefit]
FOLDING STEEL & CANVAS CAMP STOOL [Better yet: sounds handy & strong]
So our third example head clearly names the product (so adheres to the style guide, thus suiting management). Plus for the reader it instantly evokes a strong (steel, not cheap pot metal), comfortable (you sit on canvas, not metal), compact (it folds) camp stool...in one quick scan.
Suddenly one quick scan makes your reader interested enough to stop and read more...which is your goal.
ADDING MORE BENEFITS TO PRODUCT-NAME HEADS
If your style guide allows longer headlines, you can pack major benefits right into the head. Vermont Country Store is a master at this type of head:
The Finest-Grade Goose Down Pillow You Can Buy At This Price
Original Tangee Lipstick and Blush Change Color To Complement Your Skin
HEADLINES WITHOUT ANY PRODUCT NAME AT ALL
If your style guide doesn't require the product name (and if your reader can tell what the product is from the photo), turning the major benefit into the entire product head will garner max interest at scanning speed.
Like the Chef® Tool catalog does:
Press a button to make ice cream or gelato
And the Footsmart® catalog:
Leather walkers withstand the rigors of life and the washer
ELEMENT #2: GIVING SUBHEADS IMPACT
If your headline is a "plain" product name, and your style guide mandates a subhead, then put the primary benefit and/or differentiator right into the subhead to catch the most interest at scanning speeds.
The Hotter® shoe catalog has short names and short but effective subheads:
Lightweight air-filled sole
Wiggle room for toes
J. Jill's longer heads and longer subs for featured products are scannable and interest-evoking:
LOFTY & LIGHT SHAKER-STITCH TOPPER
soft alpaca & merino wool add lux warmth to this refined, flattering piece
ELEMENT #3: MAKE THE FIRST LINE OF BODY COPY WORK HARD
Your reader will scan the (#1) head, (#2) sub and (#3) first few words of body copy. Make sure those first few words of body copy are snappy. What to avoid:
Don't begin the first line with "the" "this" "these". Borrrring. Also avoid "our" if you can.
Do not repeat the product name in the first line if it's already in the headline—that wastes your interest-grabbing opportunity. Example of bad:
FOLDING STEEL & CANVAS CAMP STOOL
This camp stool, made of steel and canvas, folds to just... ["yawn" goes your reader].
Good example from the National Geographic catalog:
EMERGENCY RECHARGEABLE HANDHELD SPOTLIGHT
Penetrate fog, rain, and darkness to illuminate...
Now you're on your way to improving your catalog's scannability. Best of all, your readers will start reading more of your copy.