Catalog Doctor: Strike the Right Beauty/Clarity Balance
The clarity catalog had less razzle-dazzle. But the headlines popped, and scannability and eye flow were great. It was a fast and easy read. The book optimized all the selling elements, even if it occasionally had to sacrifice beauty to do so, and it reaped the bigger rewards when orders started coming in.
Over the years, seeing hundreds of catalogs and lots of tests and results, I’ve formed these three copy and design principles:
1. Clarity first: includes eye flow, scannability, unambiguous writing.
2. Benefits second: these are promos and your unique selling proposition.
3. Brand third: covers voice, look, photo style, fonts and color palette.
Benefits and brand won’t sell well without clarity.
Clarity trumps benefits and beauty. So when you’re trying to balance all three, sometimes you have to sacrifice gorgeous for clear. And that’s OK.
Beauty or Beast?
Three catalogs I really admire that are very different from each other, but very on-target for their respective audiences, are Levenger, Vermont Country Store and Duluth Trading. All have great copy and wonderfully unique products. Each has a very different look and feel. I could make a case for each being beautiful in its own way, but for hang-on-your-wall beauty, only Levenger’s gorgeously lit and photographed images of “tools for serious readers” come close.
Vermont Country Store’s newsprint paper, line drawings and simple photos expertly convey small-town, general store charm; old-fashioned function; and family-run friendliness. It does so ... well ... beautifully. In fact, gallery-style beauty would be wrong for the brand.
Duluth Trading’s big, often humorous headlines and clear, function-oriented illustrations convey the sense that a team of knowledgeable, down-to-earth workmen developed these practical products for customers like them. “We understand your working needs and problems” comes across just right without any gallery-style beauty that would, again, be wrong for the brand.