Getting Started On Your Catalog

“Either dance well or quit the ballroom.”” – Greek proverb

Yesterday, I introduced you to the lucrative world of catalog marketing. And I gave you some information to help you decide if and when the time has come for you to do your catalog.

Ready? Let’s look at what it will take to make your catalog work.

Know Your Product . . . Know Your Audience . . . Know Yourself

The first consideration is your product. Catalogs are generally best for selling (1) products rather than services and (2) commodity-type items (toys, books, clothing, jewelry, furniture, etc.) rather than “perceived-value” products (newsletters, legal or health advice, etc.).

The next consideration is your marketing strategy. Will you do better by coming into the market as a price discounter (always my choice if you can afford it) – or would you be better off positioning yourself at the top of the market?

If your business is upscale and yet you want a big share of the market, consider creating two product lines: a discount line that allows you to pull in a large number of names, and a more expensive line that more accurately represents your current business. Make sure the discount line isn’t priced too far below your core business line or you won’t get your customers to jump up.

The important thing to remember is this: Every catalog must convey a strong, clearly comprehensible identity. Quick and Dirty. Elegant and Expensive. Homespun and Honest. Slick and Technical.

Don’t Go To A Formal Dinner Dressed In Jeans.

Pick an image. Find your price range. And make sure they are both apparent to your prospect. Don’t let your catalog designer dress you up if you are a downtown business. And if you are competing with Tiffany, don’t be cheap with the paper stock.

Decide which you are, fish or fowl. If you are a fish, be sure you have fins and scales. If you are a fowl, wear feathers.

I learned this lesson years ago from JSN. He showed me that in the discount travel business he got a much stronger response to a cheap-looking, one-color ad on pink paper than he could ever hope to get from a glossy brochure.

The same rule applies to catalogs: Dress appropriately. If you are selling Caribbean knick-knacks, make sure your brochure is filled with bright, vibrant colors. If you are selling coffins to rich people, choose a dignified typeface and forgo the 64-point headlines. Keep in mind that your catalog is selling much more than merchandise. It is selling benefits, promises, and a lifestyle.

A catalog, like all direct mail, is scanned by your prospect for about three seconds. If it sends the wrong message or a confusing one, there is a high probability it will be trashed. So spend a lot of time making sure you have exactly the look that appeals to your market. And be sure every page reflects that same impression.

Making A Catalog Work Is Also About The Items You Select To Feature And How You Present Them.

This is an art and science unto itself. In the catalog industry, there are people who specialize in this task . . . and who make good money doing so. The item you decide to present on the front page can make or break the entire catalog. There is also a method of interpreting results and applying that information to the creation of the next catalog. But these are things I will discuss another time. The point here is that when it comes time to produce your catalog, don’t design it yourself, and don’t let someone do it who hasn’t had a lot of catalog experience.

That being said, you should use the knowledge you have of your market and your product to influence the design. If you sell fishing supplies and your prospects are good old country boys, make sure the designer creates a visual effect that will appeal to a good old country boy.

You Will Never Go Broke Underestimating The Attention Span Of The American Consumer

Also very important: Make sure your catalog is easy to read. This rule apples to the descriptive copy as well as the ordering information. You can’t overdo this. Remember that even smart, sophisticated shoppers have limited time. If they have to spend an extra minute figuring out how to order, what the price is, etc., they may just throw your catalog away.

Spend some time looking at the catalogs of your competitors or your hoped-for competitors. Discover their secrets. What is it they all do the same way? How are they different? What images do they project? What are the main promises they make? To be a successful catalog promoter, you need to know not only your own products and your target market, you have to know the competition too.