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A catalog should have a unique concept and point of view that reinforced throughout the catalog. At the most fundamental level, the presentation should answer the questions, "How is the merchandise unique?" "How will it benefit the buyer?" and "Why would or should the buyer choose your catalog and products over another?" A catalog needs to have an overriding theme. The catalog should have a point of view and personality. The catalog needs to use a design that is appropriate to the merchandise and the intent of the book. The catalog needs to communicate and reinforce the catalog's unique selling concept at every customer touch point.
A catalog needs an overall branding message that is conveyed visually, through the copy and with the merchandise that is consistent across both the catalog and the company's website.
Overall Catalog Design Consideration
- The overall design and feel of the catalog should be targeted to and in harmony with demographics and psychographics of the target audience of the catalog. You need to decide who the target audience is first. The overall look and feel of the catalog should clearly indicate what they objectives of the catalog are.
- The front cover has to be attractive. It has to have stopping power. It should romanticize the products. It should be clear from the cover what the overall merchandising concept of the catalog is. If a product is on the cover, then the product should be presented as “hero.” The cover should also have a strong call-to-action on it to get people to use the catalog’s website to place their orders. It’s also a good idea to include a tag line on the cover that ties everything together and conveys the overall selling message of the catalog. It should be clear from the cover who the targeted demographic is. The presentation on the back cover should also draw the shopper into the catalog.
- Inside the catalog, the opening spread is the hottest spot inside the catalog. It should be used to present the entire merchandising concept of the catalog, to give the reader a taste of what is being offered inside. This is also the space where the cataloger gets the chance to tell the story of the offer and products, to reinforce the customer service and program guarantees.
- The catalog should use calls-to-action at every opportunity on every page including the front and back covers. For example there could be a call to action all throughout the catalog telling the customer to visit the catalog website to take advantage of special offers and closeouts or special sales, which are not included in the catalog. The catalog also needs to address common customer questions/concerns and provide prospects with risk-relieving reasons to buy.
- The spreads in the catalog can be grouped by themes, but you should also use headlines and color to tie the spreads together. Spreads need to be treated as visual units. There needs to be consistent eye flow over a spread and also from spread to spread. The catalog should also make good use of white space to reduce clutter or the impression of clutter. The spreads should also make use of sidebars or editorial copy to prove the catalog is an authority on the products that are offered.
- The center spread surrounding the order form should have a strong call-to-action.
- Graphic tools should be used to sell the product and the concept. The photography needs to highlight the product as hero. Image sizes should be varied on pages with the more important products getting more photo space. You should vary the spacing given to products based on their prior sales history or their potential revenue and profits if they are new to the catalog. Treating products democratically, meaning giving them all the same space regardless of their price, value or importance, besides being boring can negatively impact the sales and profits generated from the catalog. Higher priced products should receive more space than lower priced products as a general rule. The catalog should use a limited number of color and type faces. A simplified color pallet improves a catalog’s shopability. The visual and other graphic treatments in the book need to flow and not have a schizophrenic look.
- The catalog should use props where appropriate to enhance the products. The catalog should use subtle props or accessories or a selection of specific backdrops for photography to identify it. Apparel items are better shown on real models to help personalize the offer. Outdoor gardening tools should be displayed in use in their environment.
- The catalog needs to be easy to shop. Product key coding should be consistently used, and easy for the customer to understand. They should be tied to the pages or locations of the products. The catalog should keep all product images and pricing information together for easy shopping. The catalog should not look cluttered as if the merchandise was being jammed on the page as an afterthought. If there is not enough space to present the product properly, then cut the number of products or increase the page count. The catalog needs to make appropriate use of white space. It needs to have air by varying the number of products on spreads, some heavy, some light. Wherever and whenever possible, the catalog should use “sidebars” or editorial copy to prove the catalog is the authority on the products offered. The catalog can use critical “hot spots” to convey critical selling messages to buyers regarding the offer, the company and the product line.
- The catalog should also use a consistent pricing presentation. Price ending should be consistent whether you end with 00, 50, 95, or 99 endings. Besides looking odd, odd price endings make it more difficult for customers to calculate what they are spending before they place the order.
- The catalog should use some space to educate and entertain the customers. For example, a catalog on southwestern Native American art, might use some space to talk about the native culture and native art in general. And, it should use key spots throughout the catalog to tell the story.
- Space allocation for the products should be based on importance of the product, and how much space is needed to present it properly.
- The merchandise needs to be the star of the spreads, the catalog. The products need to be well organized, and for a catalog with a lot of product categories and / or a large number of pages, the use of a table of contents will make the catalog easier to shop. If items are paginated along a theme, they need to be consistent to that theme. Unique merchandise should be chosen for feature slots.
- And, most important in today’s digital marketing age, there needs to be a consistent look and feel between the website and the catalog. Screen shots and other promotional techniques should be used in the catalog to drive the customer to the website. Products featured in the catalog should also be available at the company’s website.
Catalog Design & Layout Specifics
Not all pages or locations in the catalog are created equal. Because of the way people scan and read catalogs, certain positions and pages are more important for readership attraction and recognition. These locations which are considered the “hot spots” and in order of importance are:
- Front cover
- Back cover
- Inside front cover
- Opening spread
- First four pages of book
- Order form
- Pages facing order form (when a bind-in form is used)
- Then starting from page 5 going through the rest of the catalog from front to back
Front cover: Earlier in this chapter, we covered front cover design and layout. But to repeat the important points, it has to be attractive; have stopping power, romanticize the products, present a clear picture of the overall merchandising concept, and position the catalog relative to the target audience.
Opening spread: How is the opening spread in the catalog treated? Are new products featured here? The front spread should have representative products of the catalog and feature the new and hot products. Page 2 when possible should include important customer information. The strongest products should be on the inside front spread and the products should be representative of the rest of the products offered.
Back cover: The back cover needs to focus on the merchandise concept, presenting products from key categories and price points using page references to draw the reader inside. The back cover of the catalog should feature new products that the catalog customer hasn’t seen before.
Best -sellers or projected best-sellers should be featured in all of the hot spots. The pages next to the order form should have lower priced, high impulse, best-sellers featured that make it easier for the customer to add it on to their order.
When developing your catalog concept, keep these factors in mind:
- The audience
- The products
- The image
- The graphics and format
- ROI components
Catalog organization is important and there are 12 ways to organize your B2B or B2C catalog:
- By product demand
- By application
- By function
- By type of equipment
- By “system hierarchy”
- By theme
- By merchandise category
- By scarcity
- By price
- By sizeBy model number
How big should the catalog be? The answer to this question involves not only page count which we talked about earlier, but also the overall dimensions of the catalog. The best way to evaluate the optimum catalog size scientifically would be to mail catalogs of several sizes to a random split of names in your list and the compare responses.
But that kind of testing can be prohibitive, so the approach you should follow is to keep expanding the catalog until further expansion will not increase your total profit. You should expand your catalog gradually, by no more than 50% as a rule – go from 16 to 24 pages, 24 to 48 pages. Go from a slim jim to digest size. Go from a digest size to a standard book size. Go from a standard book size to tabloid size. But, just like increasing the number of pages, increasing the actual dimensions of the catalog should also be tested after conducting the preliminary breakeven analysis.
One benefit of going to a larger catalog is that the “half-life” during which the catalog will continue to be used will be longer with a bigger catalog. A bigger catalog also creates more customers who will be purchasing from catalogs in the future.
Space allocation by product:
The more profitable an item, the more space you should give it. As a rule of thumb, you should try to apportion space so that the ratio of gross profit (revenue minus cost of goods) based on projected sales to the cost of that much space is the same for each item. Ideally you want an index of 1 as we discussed earlier in the mechanics of conducting square inch analysis.
Catalog Page Count
How many pages should you have? Page count and the decision to add or remove pages should be driven by merchandising and P&L analysis. When you add pages, you should try to maintain the proper page density. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should give more space to the products being added.
When should you add pages and how many to add?
Use square-inch analysis to determine which products should be retained, dropped or added to your catalog. In a well merchandised catalog, about 1/3 of your products will be winners, exceeding the catalog square-inch breakeven; another 1/3 will sell at about breakeven and the remaining 1/3 will sell below breakeven.
An industry rule of thumb is that if less than 30 percent of your catalog pages lose money, consider adding more pages in 8-page increments. At the other end of the spectrum if more than 30 percent of your pages lose money, then you may want to consider dropping pages.
You need to also pay attention to products that you are repeating from catalog to catalog. The general guideline in the industry is that repeat products will have revenue drop-offs of about 20 percent each time they are repeated. If they decrease more than these, you will want to replace them.
Catalog Positioning & Pagination
You should give your better selling items more space. You should put your better selling items up front. Mixing up the types of merchandise through a catalog will add to the excitement and surprise. Page strength in terms of sales potential are the:
• Front cover.
• Back cover.
• Inside front cover.
• Inside back cover.
• Center spread around the order form.
• Order form.
You want to position your best selling products and offers on these pages. These are the pages that will get the most attention from the readers when they initially scan the catalog to see if they have any interest in buying anything from the catalog. You don’t want to place closeout items or your merchandise “dogs” here in hopes of selling them, because doing so will negatively impact the sales from the catalog.
The above pages and locations are considered your primary catalog “hot spots.” These are your bestselling positions in the catalog. Other “hot spots” include:
- The opening spread
- Any page facing a bind-in card
- The closing spread
Not considered a “hot spot” but often a better selling position is the right hand page in a spread. Why? Because most of us read left to right and the eye tends to gravitate to the right hand page.
Pagination of merchandise in your catalog greatly affects the overall catalog performance and you need to use the most important pages to convey the strength of your merchandise and offer. In terms of importance…
- Inside front cover - start with pages 2 and 3. There should be a cross section of all items in the catalog. Get the customer's attention and give an indication of the type and pricing of merchandise in the balance of the offer.
- Pages 4 and 5 - should strongly reflect the reason the catalog exists. Fashion books should show the most fashionable clothing here.
- Order form – add impulse items that lend themselves to last minute purchase should be teamed up here to encourage multiple sales.
- Inside back cover and back cover – place grabbers here.
- Cover - last page to setup - most important - should reflect what is in the catalog.
Catalog Cover Design
These are the most important pages of your catalog, the front cover and back cover. Must be the hook and must be interesting or it goes in the circular file (trash can).
Guidelines for selecting merchandise for cover include: selecting unusual not generally found in other catalogs or stores; merchandise that is easily photographed; merchandise that is representative of the rest of the merchandise in catalog; and merchandise that is understandable.
Creative techniques for successful cover design include making sure that the image and copy on the cover create drama, drama to stop the reader in their tracks and make them want to open the catalog. You should use people in images where appropriate. This is especially true of apparel catalogs. When using a solo product image, add something to shot to create scale. There is nothing worse than leaving the reader guessing as to how big the product being featured is. Try not to use manufacturer provided art work unless it precisely mirrors the feel of the other artwork.
Catalog Order Form Design
There are several styles of order forms to choose from, but the two most commonly used are the V-mailers and bind-in order forms.
V-mailers are mailers which have a fold-up envelope on one side and a single sheet or panels on the other side. The advantage is you can use every bit of space on the paper. The style is paper efficient. The downside of using this form is that it requires the customer to do some work.
Bind in order forms can have one or two panels with the perforated envelope that is already glued together. This style is more expensive. But, it seems to pull a greater response rate. It asks little of the customer and seems to offer enough space for your bare essentials.
The order form can be placed in three different locations in your catalog. It can be used as the outside wrapper for the catalog. It can be a bind-in order blank between forms. And, it can be a bind-in order form in the center of your catalog.
The advantages of the outside wrapper form are that it offers protection of your catalog through the mail. It also offers the best chance of capturing your label information correctly. The downside is that the catalog is covered up with an outside wrapper.
The advantage of the bind-in order blanks between forms is that creates four “hot spots” in the catalog. The downside is that it can be hard to find the missing side of the order blank.
The advantages of the bind-in order form in the center of the catalog is that it is the most popular. It creates two valid “hot spots.” And, it’s easy to find and use.