When You Need to Cut Even Deeper
PATIENT: “Doc, I really need to cut catalog program costs again, but without impacting sales. We've already done the standard things like lighter paper, fewer pages, operational efficiencies, and so on. What's left?”
CATALOG DOCTOR: “You've done well so far. What's left isn't as easy as the standard cuts. Most require study and elbow grease. But if you're willing, here they are, in approximate order of difficulty and risk.”
1. Write your own copy. Have you been using an outside copywriter? Consider moving copywriting in-house. However, be aware that it's not easy to write catalog copy that sells. It's critical to be clear and concise, outline product features vs. product benefits, to know what to put in headlines and subheads, etc. Arm yourself with books on copywriting, including the following:
- Denny Hatch's "Write Everything Right!";
- Otis Maxwell's "Copywriting That Gets Results"; and
- just about any book by Herschell Gordon Lewis, including "Direct Mail Copy That Sells" and "Catalog Copy That Sizzles."
2. Cut back on mailings in your off-season. Does your catalog have a distinct season? Food gift catalogs, for example, see most sales in October through December, and much less the rest of the year. I've seen mail frequency reductions during off-season work pretty well for some seasonal catalogers, delivering nearly the same off-season sales as higher frequency. For instance, if you've been mailing every four weeks off-season, you may be able to reduce mailings to only every five weeks or six weeks with very little or no reduction in sales.
3. Replace sale catalogs with sale postcards in off-season. Stick with proven catalogs during your top season, but in your off-season you may find that a punchy, multipanel sale postcard works as well as a sale catalog – at a lower cost. Make the postcard holler "DEAL." A two- or three-panel postcard provides enough room to promote the deal, show several products for sale, and push your brand too.
A postcard that folds to a big letter size like 6x9" is affordable and mails at the lower "letter" rate. Your printer can fugitive-glue the flap shut, so no annoying tabs. However, don't mail postcards to prospects; they typically work only to your house list.
4. Learn to do your own design. Have you been using an outside design firm? It's technically possible to take design in-house. I don't mean hiring a professional designer on staff, which can cost the same as going with a third-party provider. I mean assigning design responsibility to an existing staffer. There are pitfalls to consider, however. Catalog design that sells is highly challenging.
If your catalog has a simple grid-like design, then moving design in-house might be practical. However, if your catalog has an upscale look or complex design, you might be better off sticking with design professionals.
To minimize the risk to sales when moving design in-house, here are steps you can take:
- Buy Adobe InDesign.
- Take online classes to learn how to use it (like at Lynda.com).
- Study your current design details to use as a template.
- Find noncompetitor catalogs with designs you like for additional design ideas – e.g., headline treatments, hero image placement, etc. Do not copy anything out of competitive catalogs because you'll end up looking like your competitors, which sends sales to them.
- Keep it simple. Inexperienced designers tend to use too many fonts, too many textures, too many colors, too many fun “designy” elements. Don't look like an explosion in a flinky factory; stay focused on the products.