How Copy Can Increase Catalog Scannability
PATIENT: "My boss said, ‘make the catalog more scannable.’ But I'm the copywriter, so I get a pass, right? That's the designer's job, right?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Wrong. As a copywriter, you have copy tools at your disposal to increase copy scannability. More scannable copy means more folks read … and buy. Try these tips …"
Visualize your reader flipping pages of the catalog, their eyes roaming quickly, unconsciously over each page (at flipping speed). They won't stop until something (your copy) grabs their attention.
Each product block offers you three basic elements to work with. Each can grab attention from the customer's scanning eye … or be overlooked:
- product headline;
- product subhead; and
- first line of product body copy.
Let's look at product headlines first.
1. Improving product headline scannability: Many style guides dictate "Name of Product" for the headline, which is about the most boring approach possible. If your style guide also dictates "no subhead," what can you do to help grab the attention of a quickly scanning reader?
You can pack interest into the product name. Consider the following example:
- Camp Stool: Not too interesting
- Folding Camp Stool: Better. "Folding" adds a benefit.
- Folding Steel & Canvas Camp Stool: Better yet. Conveys that the stool is handy and strong.
The third headline clearly names the product, adhering to the style guide and thus pleasing management. Plus it instantly evokes a strong (steel, not cheap pot metal), comfortable (you sit on canvas, not metal), compact (it folds) camp stool for the reader in one quick scan.
Suddenly one quick scan makes your reader interested enough to stop and read more — which is your goal.
Add more benefits to product-name headlines. If your style guide allows for longer headlines, you can pack major benefits right into the headline. Vermont Country Store is a master at this type of headline. Here are a couple of its recent examples:
- The Finest Grade Goose-Down Pillow You Can Buy At This Price
- Original Tangee Lipstick and Blush Change Color To Complement Your Skin
Headlines without any product name at all: If your style guide doesn't require the product name (and if your reader can tell what the product is from the photo), turning the major benefit into the entire product headline will garner max interest at scanning speed. CHEFS catalog does this well — e.g., "Press a button to make ice cream or gelato" — as does FootSmart — "Leather walkers withstand the rigors of life and the washer."
2. Giving subheads impact. If your headline is a "plain" product name and your style guide mandates a subhead, then put the primary benefit and/or differentiator right into the subhead to catch the most interest at scanning speeds.
Hotter Shoes’ catalog has short names and short but effective subheads:
Lightweight air-filled sole
Wiggle room for toes"
J.Jill's longer headlines and subheads for featured products are scannable and interest-evoking:
"LOFTY & LIGHT SHAKER-STITCH TOPPER
soft alpaca & merino wool add lux warmth to this refined, flattering piece"
3. Make the first line of body copy work hard. Your reader will scan, in this order, the headline, subhead and first few words of body copy. Make sure those first few words of body copy are snappy. Don't begin the first line with "the," "this" or "these." Borrrring. Also avoid "our" if you can. Don't repeat the product name in the first line if it's already in the headline. Doing so just wastes your interest-grabbing opportunity. Here's an example of a poor use of body copy:
"Folding Steel & Canvas Camp Stool
This camp stool, made of steel and canvas, folds to just …" Yawn goes your reader.
Here's an example of a good use of body copy from National Geographic's catalog:
"EMERGENCY RECHARGEABLE HANDHELD SPOTLIGHT
Penetrate fog, rain and darkness to illuminate …"
Now you're on your way to improving your catalog's scannability. Best of all, your readers will start reading more of your copy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.