The Direct Marketing Center presents:
Direct Response Articles
The 12 Keys to Supercharged, Profitable Catalog Marketing!
Catalog marketing presents tremendous profit opportunities right now. Huge growth and new launches in both B2B and consumer catalog sectors are creating soaring profits for manufacturers, retailers and mail order marketers.
If you sell multiple products, catalogs are an unbeatable way to increase profitability. The biggest reason is because they act as a great retention tool for your database, helping you maintain customer loyalty as well as providing cross-sell/upsell opportunities.
A catalog also acts as a direct mail extension of your web marketing program. You can have a far more extensive product mix on the web…and a catalog is a great way to drive your prospects there.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, marketers mailed 19.2 billion catalogs last year…a 5% increase over the previous year. And it’s guaranteed to be even higher by the end of this year.
Williams-Sonoma posted a 4.5% increase in revenue last year, largely from catalog sales. Restoration Hardware says direct sales through their multichannel catalog/internet strategy grew 59% last year. And Victoria’s Secret shipped out over 400 million catalogs last year and saw 10% growth (in comparison, their in-store sales grew only 4%).
And if there’s any doubt that marketers are scrambling to take advantage of catalog marketing, it’s worth noting that this fall, Sears is bringing back its iconic “Wish Book” catalog after a 14 year absence.
If you’re thinking of expanding your marketing strategy with a catalog—or you’re seeing your existing catalog sales dip—here are 12 guaranteed, profit-boosting catalog considerations:
1. It’s essential your catalog contain direct response copy
You’d be surprised how many catalog marketers don’t follow the simple rules of direct response copywriting in their catalogs…and lose potential sales because of it.
Your product descriptions should be benefit-oriented. Don’t just describe your product’s features. Tell your prospects the benefits. For example, “You’ll discover how warm and cozy an Egyptian cotton bathrobe can feel,” or “These elegant energy-saver light fixtures will save your business an average of $500 a year in electric costs.”
Notice that the above descriptions also feature “you oriented” copy. Your prospect or customer doesn’t care that you love your products. You have to show how the product will make their life better (you’ll find…you’ll discover…you’ll enjoy).
Your order forms and ordering information pages need reinforcing copy to make the sale. Don’t be shy and hope they order. Be direct. Tell your prospects how to order. Also, your website URL and toll-free number should be on every page.
Make sure you include a solid guarantee that’s prominent and includes direct response copy. “My Risk-Free, Triple Money-Back Guarantee” is one way to phrase it. Give your prospect absolute confidence that they can order without worrying they can’t return or exchange what they purchase.
2. Make sure to use long descriptive copy
It’s critical that you say enough to be able to overcome objections and make the sale. Longer catalog sales copy increases response. A big key to the success of catalogs like Land’s End, Sharper Image and Supercircuits is the effective use of long descriptive copy.
Describe your products in detail and draw your prospects into the product descriptions. Long copy will help you to create a mouthwatering desire for the product…whereas short copy just looks like a boring, uninvolving list of products.
3. It’s also essential your catalog contain direct response art and graphics.
Your art and graphics are a key part of the success or failure of your catalog. They should be designed to guide the reader’s eyes and encourage readership. For example, your products should be laid out so your prospect’s eyes go from product to product rather than randomly across the page. Also, captions should be used under products and in ordering instructions.
In areas like your order form, use direct response graphics like an operator standing by or a customer on the phone or at the computer. Small details like those will motivate your prospects to act.
4. Your catalog must have a clear USP and theme
For a catalog to succeed, it’s important that you use your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to create a theme. L.L. Bean, for example, uses a very specific unique theme: apparel and equipment with an outdoorsy feel. Victoria’s Secret is another catalog marketer that created a very specific theme in women’s apparel (to say the least).
In both of those catalogs, a specific focused theme was established and runs through every single catalog.
To create your theme and USP, finish this sentence: In no other catalog will you find ___________.
5. Your catalog should have personality
The reason Lillian Vernon and Shaper Image are such successful catalogs is their sense of personality. Just the name Lillian Vernon conjures up images of folksy homewares and gifts. And Sharper Image immediately conjures up images of innovative gadgets and gifts.
For years, Viking Office Products catalogs featured the owner of the company on just about every page…even after the company became a corporation and he no longer owned the company! His personality gave the catalog a face and a feeling…and contributed to the great success of the catalog.
6. Structure your catalog into buying categories
If your catalog is currently broken up into static categories like men’s, women’s and kid’s, think outside the box. Use categories and category titles that show benefits and suggest a need to buy.
For example, the Magellan Travel Supply catalog has categories like “What If…” for emergency preparedness items, “Rise and shine…” for items like clocks and bathroom kits and clothes categorized under different weather conditions around the world.
You could also list items under interest or buying suggestions like “Gifts under $25.00” for the prospect looking to buy an inexpensive but meaningful gift for a co-worker or friend.
7. Use your Real Estate
As you probably know, your most precious real estate areas are your covers and page 3. Even so, you’d be surprised how many companies waste this precious space!
Your covers need to do more than advertise a big item. They have to create an irresistible, mouth-watering need to flip through the catalog.
Use tease copy on the outside (“Inside: Find out how to get our most popular bouquet at 50% off!”). You could also use page numbers to encourage browsing.
Neiman Marcus always lists an item on the cover (and pages 2 and 3) that are out of the price range of 99.9% of their buyers. However, the items are usually so outrageous you have to open the catalog and read more. This year the Neiman Marcus catalog featured a $1.44 million submarine!
The areas around your order form are also prime real estate. Use these areas to sell your most popular items or smaller “impulse buy” items that cross-sell or upsell easily.
A final note on covers: If you place an item on the cover be sure and tell the reader where to find it. I’ve heard horror stories from people who wanted to buy the item on the cover then couldn’t find it inside!
[NOTE: Leave space in layout for a couple readable catalog covers and FPO space for a two page spread (if possible)]
8. Hero Shot
A catalog full of same size items is a bore. Make sure each page has a hero shot: a product that draws the eye in and then lets the prospect notice the other items on the page.
Each page should punch a particular theme and use the hero shot to state that theme. Guide the eye through the page. Random items of the same size scattered haphazardly is distracting and confusing…and kills sales.
9. Make it Value-Added
A great strategy is to give your catalog added-value. Your catalog should be more than a laundry list of the products you offer. Use a theme and compelling copy to carry the reader through the catalog instead of random flipping.
Here’s a great example: If you sell travel-related accessories, you could use the sidebars to tell a story and guide the reader through the catalog. Sidebar pieces could contain an article on safe traveling abroad or ways to pack light.
Using a value-added approach, you’ll come across as less of a marketer, you’ll increase your credibility and you’ll encourage the reader to look through the entire catalog.
10. Know thy customer when designing copy and layout
Every catalog will have its core readers. It’s important to consider those core readers when crafting copy and designing layout.
For example, if your catalog features tech-heavy gadgets, appeal to the typical gadget lover with long copy that details all the specs of the gadget. If you publish a B2B catalog, make sure you use a copywriter can write in the lingo of the industry. Don’t fake it. Your prospect will know.
11. Your catalog needs a well-conceived web strategy
Your physical catalog and your website are not separate items anymore. They’re two parts of an overall strategy. Unfortunately, while some catalog marketers create successful catalogs, their corresponding websites violate direct marketing rules and lose sales.
Just as in your catalog, your copy, art and strategy need to encourage sales and drive your prospect to act. Your site should be cleanly laid out without dozens of links on every page. If your site is a navigation nightmare, you’re sure to lose sales and depress response.
You should also have a direct response shopping cart with reinforcing copy and graphics to ensure your prospect doesn’t abandon the order at the last moment.
Take advantage of the opportunities the Internet presents to catalog marketing. Your site should have a burst that will guide prospects to specials, deals and new products. You should also take advantage of email, to send out updates on special sales and discounts.
12. Send them to the web with exclusive online items
Remember your catalog doesn’t need to contain every single product in your mix. Use strategic direct response copy to drive readers to the Internet where you can offer additional items. Use copy like “exclusive online offer” or “online-only products.”
Another way you can use the Internet is to use special java-based software to let your readers customize items. Nike has a special area of their site (www.NikeID.com) just for customizing sneaker colors.
If you’re looking to improve the sales rates coming from your current catalog, or if your company is looking to expand its retail sales by launching a catalog campaign, give me a call at 310-212-5727.
My full-service agency has helped dozens of catalogs launch new catalogs or improve the profits on existing catalogs. You can also email me personally at .
Craig Huey is recognized as one of the worlds leading experts in direct response
marketing. He is the winner of 78 major marketing awards for breakthrough campaigns that led to multimillion-dollar sales.
21171 S. Western, Suite 260, Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: 310-212-5727 • Fax: 310-212-5773