Catalog Doctor: Vitamin Maybe
Patient: Doc, our catalog works great for our core audience. We know this because we get tons of love letters from customers. So why can’t we improve response rates and grow faster?
Catalog Doctor: Just like building your body, building a strong core audience for your catalog is important. But if you only work on your core, you may be leaving the rest of yourself weak.
Patient: You mean, like strong abs aren’t enough? I also have to build up my arms and legs?
Catalog Doctor: Exactly. You must focus harder on selling to your marginal audience, not just your core. Make it easier for fence-sitters to buy from you. You’ll get higher response rates, higher growth and higher profits.
Patient: How’s my core audience different from my marginal audience?
Catalog Doctor: Let’s look at the Simplified Audience Pyramid.
Definitive About Maybes
Focus on the Maybes. You’ll have to work harder to sell, but if you can convert more Maybes from prospects to tryers and from tryers to buyers, response rates and profits will go up. And look at their size: Maybes are equal to Super Cores and Cores combined.
To convert Maybes, make some changes. These changes won’t affect sales from Core customers. Rather, they’ll just increase response rates from Maybes, who just want you to make it easier for them to buy. Try these techniques:
1. Don’t assume Maybes understand your product line as well as Cores. Sales will rise when your product line is crystal clear to less-than-knowledgeable Maybes.
2. Stash Tea has a chart that divides teas into four quadrants. Within each quadrant is more detail regarding the tea — is it sweet, spicy, etc. Before the chart, non-expert customers didn’t understand the difference between “real” and herbal teas, or realize some teas had caffeine while others didn’t, or that some teas added flavors while others' flavors come from just the tea blends. Stash Tea was a groundbreaker in making the world of teas accessible to folks who were interested but not knowledgeable.
3. Light Impressions sells archival supplies to professional photographers and museums. Its product line is extensive and complex. Its catalog makes that product line accessible to a broad range of readers with a short, simple table of contents on the front cover (“Storage,” “Protective Enclosures,” “Mats,” etc.), plus explanatory intros at the beginning of each section.
Clarify Product Differences
What if you carry many products that are all similar to one another? Cores know the difference, but how can non-expert Maybes decide which are right for them?
Let’s say Bill’s catalog only works for Cores. It offers high-tech products that all do the same thing. Figuring out which models are right for them is easy for Core and Super-Core customers. But for Maybes, the catalog is hard to use and understand.
Most Maybes Won’t Call
Yes, Bill’s call center has knowledgeable customer service representatives to help callers choose the right model. But most Maybes won’t call. Calling is the last step in deciding to buy. The catalog needs to be easy enough to use on its own.
Light Impressions, conversely, works for Cores and Maybes. Here it quickly and simply explains how to choose between two-ply, four-ply and eight-ply mat boards:
2-ply: Great for portfolio use where space is critical or as a backing board. 1/32 inch.
4-ply: Creates adequate separation between your artwork and glazing [glass]. 1/16 inch.
8-ply: A window in 8-ply adds depth and drama to any image. Also ideal for larger photographs or artwork that need more structural support. 1/8 inch.
This copy doesn’t take much room, but makes deciding to buy easier, even for new-to-mats Maybes.
Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive
Use plain English. Avoid jargon or expert copy shortcuts to avoid making Maybes feel intimidated, confused and irritated.
Say you’re selling model airplanes. “Curtis SB2C; Metal; cockpit opens; 12x18 in.” is an adequate description for expert collectors or World War II Navy pilots. But Maybes will be clueless.
“Flying from U.S. carriers in WWII, the Curtis SB2C Helldiver destroyed more enemy targets than any other dive-bomber in the Pacific; metal; cockpit opens; 12x18 in.” This copy is understandable to Maybes.
Most catalogers won’t offer a product unless there’s something great about it. Yet many catalogs struggle communicating what that greatness is. Maybes will skip over a product if its greatness isn’t clear.
Example: There are lots of backpack-style purses nowadays. Clothing cataloger Norm Thompson carries one. Its copy could’ve described it as such, “Backpack can also be worn as a shoulder bag.” Instead their copywriter communicated its greatness:
As a shoulder bag, it stays quietly by your side, slouchy and chic in the richest, softest Napa leather. But a simple tug of the straps easily changes it to a backpack — comfortably out of the way and secured by a full-zip closure.
Even lazy Maybes will understand that this bag looks stylish, converts in an instant and has a securely sealable opening. Communicating the greatness of a product lifts sales.
Ready Extra Information
Once Maybes are interested in a product, some want more information before deciding to buy.
Allen Brothers’ catalog of prime beef has a section explaining such beef terms as “wet aging,” “dry aging,” “marbling” and “USDA Prime.” While hardcore enthusiasts already know such specialty terms, it helps Maybes understand the terms and choose.
Recipes, sizing notes, testimonials, craftsman profiles and added product details will all help lift sales from undecided Maybes. What you can’t fit in your catalog, put on the Web. The results will be increased response rates, sales and growth.
Susan J. McIntyre is president of McIntyre Direct, a full-service catalog creative agency and consulting firm based in Portland, Ore. You can reach her at (503) 286-1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.