Why Catalogs Aren't a Bunch of Ads Stapled Together
PATIENT: "Doc, our new owners want to change the catalog so it's more like a series of ads — aspirational, exciting, clean, with attention-grabbing headlines on each spread. They figure ads work to drive sales to their brick-and-mortar stores, so that proven formula will work for the catalog too."
CATALOG DOCTOR: "It's the same old story. They're new to catalogs so "common sense" says their noncatalog experience must apply to catalogs too. Like others before them, they may have to lose a lot of money before they're willing to try proven catalog principles."
Ads are great … in their place. Good ads grab attention and create desire. They make your prospect want to go to your store and check out a brand or product. Good ads help consumers remember the product and brand favorably, so they're more likely to buy when they're in a store (or if they're online and see a good web ad, to click to that ad's site).
Ads are like two-step mailings:
- Step 1, ad: grab attention and create desire.
- Step 2, store: once they're in-store, sell to them.
How is Ad Selling Done?
Selling might be done via packaging or labels, filling the prospect in on what they need to know before they buy (e.g., "Recyclable, yes!, union-made in the USA, great, oh look, a warranty card with a lifetime guarantee — I'm ready to check out"); via sampling ("Tastes great, got a coupon, guess I'll add it to my cart"); and via a salesperson ("You can drive your daughter's entire school band in this vehicle, just like I did for my son, and look, under this floor panel is room for her tuba").
In contrast, a catalog is almost a one-step solution. A successful catalog does the job of the ad and the store and the packaging and the salesperson. The only thing the catalog doesn't do is dial the phone or enter the SKU in your website's quick-search box.
How a Catalog Sells
Successful catalogs accomplish the following:
- grab attention;
- create desire;
- play the role of the salesperson; and
- close sales.
There's not a set formula for how to do all that. J. Peterman does it differently from Vermont Country Store, which does it differently from Duluth Trading. They have their differences, but they all accomplish the following:
1. Use the front cover to grab attention and get viewers to open the book. You can grab attention with clever headlines and/or illustrations (like Duluth Trading), amazing adventure photos (like Patagonia), a mouthwatering steak (like Allen Brothers) or just great products. Your cover is your "ad"; inside is your "store."
2. Create desire with a combination of layout, color palette, photography, headlines (for pages, groups and individual products), and pagination rhythm and flow. Throw in some evocative photos or illustrations, or helpful tips, depending on your brand and product line.
3. Play the salesperson with informative product photos and copy that together communicate the product's wonderful features and benefits. Sometimes copy needs to be long, sometimes short. Sometimes one photo per product will do, sometimes you need several. Just imagine yourself as the salesperson talking to an on-the-fence prospect. What would you need to say or show in order to convince that prospect to buy?
4. Close the sale with easy-to-find contact info (URL, 800 number) and order form (yes, they still lift response even if customers don't mail them in).
A catalog that's more or less back-to-back ads (you're seeing more of them lately, aren't you?) can do an admirable job of steps one and two, but it falls flat on steps three and four — and that's where the money is.