WHY CATALOGS ARE NOT A BUNCH OF ADS STAPLED TOGETHER
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog April 2014
© 2014 Susan J. McIntyre
PATIENT: "Doc, our new owners want to change the catalog so it's more like a series of ads: aspirational, exciting, clean, with attention-grabbing headlines on each spread. They figure ads work to drive sales to their brick-and-mortar stores so that proven formula will work for the catalog too."
CATALOG DOCTOR: "It's the same old story. They're new to catalogs so "common sense" says their non-catalog experience must apply to catalogs too. Like others before them, they may have to lose a lot of money before they're willing to try proven catalog principles."
Ads are great...in their place. Good ads grab attention and create desire. They make your prospect want to go to a store and check out the brand or product. Good ads help them remember the product and brand favorably, so they're more likely to buy when they're in a store. Or if they're on the web and see a good web ad, to click to that ad's site.
Ads are like two-step mailings.
Step 1, ad: grab attention and create desire.
Step 2, store: once they're in a store, sell to them.
How is ad selling done?
Selling might be done via packaging or labels filling the prospect in on what they need to know before they buy ("Recyclable, yes!, union-made in the USA, great, oh look, a warranty card with a lifetime guarantee — I'm ready to check out"); via sampling ("Tastes great, got a coupon, guess I'll add it to my cart"); via a salesperson ("You can drive your daughter's entire school band in this vehicle, just like I did for my son, and look, under this floor panel is room for her tuba").
In contrast, a catalog is almost a one-step.
The successful catalog does the job of the ad and the store and the packaging and the salesperson. The only thing the catalog doesn't do is dial the phone or enter the sku in the website's quick-search box.
So how does a catalog do that selling?
- Grab attention
- Create desire
- Play the role of the salesperson
- Close the sale
There's not a set formula for how to do all that. J. Peterman does it differently from Vermont Country Store who does it differently from Duluth Trading.
But in their differentness, they all accomplish these steps:
1. Use the cover to grab attention and get the viewer to open the book. You can grab attention with clever headlines and/or illustrations (like Duluth), amazing adventure photos (like Patagonia), a mouthwatering steak (like Allen Brothers), or just great products. Your cover is your "ad". Inside is your "store."
2. Create desire with a combination of layout, color palette, photography, headlines (for pages, groups, and individual products), pagination rhythm and flow. Throw in some evocative photos or illustrations, or helpful tips, depending on your brand and product line.
3. Play the salesperson with informative product photos and copy that together communicate the product's wonderful features and benefits. Sometimes copy needs to be long, sometimes short. Sometimes one photo per product will do, sometimes you need several. Just imagine yourself as the salesperson talking to an on-the-fence prospect. What would you need to say or show in order to convince that prospect to buy?
4. Close the sale with easy-to-find contact info (URL, 800#, other if you have other), and order form (yes, they still lift response even if customers don't mail them in — especially over 40's use them as a reference, and often pre-fill them in).
A catalog that's more or less back-to-back ads (you're seeing more of them lately, aren't you?) can do an admirable job of Step #1 and Step #2. But it falls flat on #3 and #4 — and that's where the money is.