9 Errors That New-to-Cataloging Firms Make, and How to Avoid Them
PATIENT: "Doc, we've run brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce sites, but our catalog is new to us. What do we need to know to keep us from stumbling in this channel?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Catalogs have some significant differences from other channels, and that can surprise people new to cataloging. Here are nine mistakes that new-to-cataloging firms often make. These mistakes don't have to happen, however; they're within your control. Avoiding getting seduced by them can put you on the road to catalog success."
Error No. 1: Targeting too narrow a portion of your buyers. To get a reasonable response rate, don't just target your totally dedicated buyers. Your copy, imagery and product selection must also work for your half-dedicated and so-so buyers.
Error No. 2: Too minimal or no copy. A "clean" design is trendy, but you can't sell without words. Tell readers why your product is better than others of its kind. List important features if they're not super-clear from the photo. Your job is to convince the reader to buy, not just show the product then walk away. Without enough "sell" in the copy, response drops.
Error No. 3: Being excessively consistent from page to page. Avoid having every page look similar to the next. Consistency is seductive … and easy. You give the product list to a low-cost production person and they populate the grid. The result is the audience gets bored, the catalog doesn't get read and sales suffer. Change up the layouts, keep the catalog exciting throughout. You'll increase your readership and your sales.
Error No. 4: Assuming your customers are fully sold on your brand. If you tell your brand story only in your prospecting catalog, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Your catalog is only a sometime thing to even your best customers; you need to keep reminding them why your brand is so good. In a sense, everyone is always a prospect.
Error No. 5: Making covers beautiful but devoid of marketing. Your cover isn't for framing, it's to lure the customer inside. What's fabulous about the cover product(s)? What else is inside this book? Are there holidays or events coming up you can help customers prepare for? Any great offer(s) inside? Say it on the cover.
Error No. 6: Not being clear. Clarity trumps everything. It's the foundation upon which a successful catalog is built. I've seen new-to-catalog firms produce books where it wasn't clear what was for sale (really). Don't assume your fabulous but unclear layouts and copy will inspire readers to go online to figure it all out. Most won't go … or buy.
Error No. 7: Assuming that you can keep every customer forever. I've seen numerous unseasoned catalogers keep mailing their entire buyer list for several years and not grasp why their response rates have gone into decline. Catalog marketing guru Dick Hodgson used to say, "half of your customers will never buy from you again." You must segment your list and mail scientifically to be successful.
Error No. 8: Assuming that if a customer hasn't bought in two years that they'll never buy again. In the inverse of No. 7, I've seen numerous unseasoned catalogers stop mailing what could be highly productive buyers because those customers haven't bought recently. Circulation is a science. If you don't know the science yet, start by going to an expert. It will pay off big time.
Error No. 9: Building a monument to your personal taste. The very fact that you own or run a catalog business makes you different from most people. It's highly unlikely that there exist enough clones of your personal taste to support an entire catalog. Look, listen and learn from your customers and craft your catalog for them.
Susan J. McIntyre is Founder and Chief Strategist of McIntyre Direct, a catalog agency and consultancy in Portland, Oregon offering complete creative, strategic, circulation and production services since 1991. Susan's broad experience with cataloging in multi-channel environments, plus her common-sense, bottom-line approach, have won clients from Vermont Country Store to Nautilus to C.C. Filson. A three-time ECHO award winner, McIntyre has addressed marketers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, has written and been quoted in publications worldwide, and is a regular columnist for Retail Online Integration magazine and ACMA. She can be reached at 503-286-1400 or email@example.com.