Catalog marketing presents tremendous profit opportunities right now.
In fact, huge growth and new launches in both B2B and consumer catalog sectors are creating soaring profits for catalog marketing.
If you sell multiple products, catalogs are an unbeatable way to increase profitability. One reason is because they act as a great retention tool for your database, helping you maintain customer loyalty as well as providing cross-sell/upsell opportunities.
A catalog also acts as direct mail extension of your web marketing program. You can have a far more extensive product mix on the web…and a catalog is a great way to drive your prospects there.
And for retailers or marketers with products in retail stores, a catalog can spark huge volumes of traffic into stores.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, over 100.7 million U.S. adults made a catalog purchase in 2016. And there was a 23% increase in overall response to catalogs from the previous year, according to the USPS Household Diary Study. And it’s likely that responses will be even higher for 2017.
If you’re thinking of expanding your marketing strategy with a catalog—or you’re seeing your existing catalog sales dip—here are 18 guaranteed, profit-boosting catalog rules I’ve developed having worked on so many successful catalogs:
Rule #1: It’s essential your catalog contain direct response copy
You’d be surprised how many catalog marketers don’t follow the simple rules of direct response copywriting in their catalogs…and lose potential sales because of it.
Here are 4 keys to direct response copy:
Your product descriptions should be benefit-oriented. Don’t just describe your product’s features. Tell your prospects the benefits. For example, “You’ll discover how warm and cozy an Egyptian cotton bathrobe can feel,” or “These elegant energy-saver light fixtures will save your business an average of $500 a year in electric costs.”
Notice that the above descriptions also feature “you-oriented” copy. Your prospect or customer doesn’t care that you love your products. You have to show how the product will make their life better (you’ll find…you’ll discover…you’ll enjoy).
Your order forms and ordering information pages need reinforcing copy to make the sale. Don’t be shy and hope they order. Be direct. Tell your prospects how to order. Also, your website URL and toll-free number should be on every page.
Make sure you include a solid guarantee that’s prominent and includes direct-response copy. “My Risk-Free, Money-Back Triple Guarantee” is one way to phrase it. Give your prospect absolute confidence that they can order without worrying they can’t return or exchange what they purchase.
Rule #2: Make sure to use long descriptive copy
It may be seen as counterintuitive, but long descriptive copy will boost your sales. It’s critical that you say enough to be able to overcome objections and make the sale. Longer catalog sales copy increases response. A big key to the success of catalogs like Land’s End, Sharper Image and Supercircuits is the effective use of long descriptive copy.
Describe your products in detail and draw your prospects into the descriptions. Long copy will help you create a mouthwatering desire for the product…whereas short copy just looks like a boring, uninvolved list.
Rule #3: Know thy customer when designing copy and layout
Every catalog will have its core readers. It’s important to consider those core readers when crafting copy and designing layout.
For example, if your catalog features tech-heavy gadgets, appeal to the typical gadget lover with long copy that details all the specs of the gadget.
If you publish a B2B catalog, make sure your copy is in the lingo of the industry. Don’t fake it. Your prospect will know.
Rule #4: It’s also essential your catalog contain direct response art and graphics
Your art and graphics are a key part of the success or failure of your catalog. They should be designed to guide the reader’s eyes and encourage readership. For example, your products should be laid out so your prospect’s eyes go from product to product rather than randomly across the page. Also, captions should be used below products and in ordering instructions.
In areas like your order form, use direct response graphics such as an operator standing by or a customer on the phone or at the computer. Small details like those will motivate your prospects to act.
Rule #5: Your catalog must have a clear USP and theme
For a catalog to succeed, it’s important that you use your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to create a theme. L.L. Bean, for example, uses a very specific theme: apparel and equipment with an outdoorsy theme.
Successful catalogs have a specific, focused theme that’s established and runs through every single catalog.
To create your theme and USP, finish this sentence: In no other catalog will you find _______.
Rule #6: Structure your catalog into buying categories
If your catalog is currently broken up into static categories like mens, womens and kids, think outside the box. Use categories and category titles that show benefits and suggest a need to buy.
For example, the Magellan’s travel supply catalog has categories like “What If…” for emergency preparedness items, “Rise and shine…” for items like clocks and bathroom kits and clothes categorized under different weather conditions around the world.
You could also list items under interest or buying suggestions like “Gifts under $25” for the prospect looking to buy an inexpensive but meaningful gift for a co-worker or friend.
Rule #7: Use your real estate to your advantage
As you probably know, your most precious real estate areas are your covers and page 3. Even so, you’d be surprised how many companies waste this precious space!
Your covers need to do more than advertise a big item. They have to create an irresistible, mouth-watering need to flip through the catalog. Use tease copy on the outside (“Inside”: Find out how to get our most popular bouquet at 50% off!”). You could also use page numbers to encourage browsing.
Or, try highlighting key benefits, or your most popular or most sensational items on the cover, as Neiman Marcus does. This department store lists an item on the cover (and pages 2 and 3) that are out of the price range of 99.9% of their buyers. However, the items are usually so outrageous you have to open the catalog and read more.
The areas around your order form are also prime real estate. Use these areas to sell your most popular items or small “impulse buy” items that cross-sell or upsell easily.
A final note on covers: If you place an item on the cover, be sure to tell the reader where to find it. I’ve heard horror stories from people who wanted to buy the item on the cover but then couldn’t find it inside!
Rule #8: Hero shot: Draw them in
A catalog full of same-size items is a bore. Make sure each page has a hero shot: a product that draws they eye in and then lets the prospect notice the other items on the page.
Each page should punch a particular theme and use the hero shot to state that theme. Guide the eye through the page. Random items of the same size scattered haphazardly are distracting and confusing…and kill sales.
Rule #9: Place information strategically for optimum results
Use page two of the catalog to sell the company’s services. Pages two and three are also good for introducing new items and best sellers. A new product preview section in the front of the book also works. Pages facing the order form are a good spot for selling add-ons and impulse items. The upper right corner of a spread is a good corner to put a feature.
Rule #10: Use space and color to improve eye flow and increase readership and sales
Make every page more interesting to the eye by varying the amount of space and attention given to each item. Don’t just plop items down on a page. Arrange them with thought to white space and lay them out on the page for maximum sales.
The proper use of color can create emphasis and guide the reader through the book, as well. Use attention-getting icons, testimonials, reviews/star ratings, captions, and graphic devices, such as rules, borders and tinted boxes to aid the reader’s eye. The size, position, and direction of photos can also influence the reader.
Rule #11: Make it value-added
This is one of my favorite response boosting tactics for clients.
A great strategy is to give your catalog added value. Your catalog should be more than a laundry list of the products you offer. Use a theme and compelling copy to carry the reader through the catalog instead of random flipping.
Here’s a great example: if you sell travel-related accessories, you could use the sidebars to tell a story and guide the reader through the catalog. Sidebar pieces could contain an article on safe traveling abroad or ways to pack light.
Using a value-added approach, you’ll come across as less of a marketer, you’ll increase your credibility and you’ll encourage the reader to look through the entire catalog. It can make the difference between a mediocre return and a super return.
Rule #12: Your catalog needs a well-conceived web strategy
Your physical catalog and your website are not separate items anymore. They’re two parts of an overall strategy. Unfortunately, while some catalog marketers create successful catalogs, their corresponding websites violate direct marketing rules and lose sales.
Just as in your catalog, your copy, art and strategy need to encourage sales and drive your prospect to act. Your site should be cleanly laid out without dozens of links on every page. If your site is a navigation nightmare, you’re sure to lose sales and depress response.
You should also have a direct response shopping cart with reinforcing copy and graphics to ensure your prospect doesn’t abandon the order at the last moment.
Take advantage of the opportunities the Internet presents to catalog marketing. Your site should have a burst that will guide prospects to specials, deals and new products. You should also take advantage of email, to send out updates on special sales and discounts.
Rule #13: Send them to the web with exclusive online items
Remember, your catalog doesn’t need to contain every single product in your mix. Use strategic direct response copy to drive readers to your website where you can offer additional items. Use copy like “exclusive online offer” or “online-only products.”
Rule #14: Distinguish product differences to aid in the buying process
Be sure copy and art (as well as closeups, call outs and charts) highlight distinguishing product differences to aid in the buying process. Position descriptive copy and order information close to the product’s picture, so it’s easy to connect the two.
Rule #15: Ask for the order and get the customer to respond
Customers respond well to a good reason to order and to deadlines. Discounts and free gifts are one way to get customers to move quickly.
Rule #16: Add a “free shipping” element
Shipping costs depress response rates.
When you advertise “free shipping” on your catalog, it creates a powerful marketing strategy that will boost increase.
Rule #17: Make sure to integrate retargeting in your campaigns
Retargeting is a strategy that allows you to track potential customers who visit your website or look at your products. For example, your catalog may drive potential customers to your online landing page, where they will look at your products and services and then leave the page. Retargeting will allow you to then “follow” those customers with banner ads, Facebook ads, Google ads, pre-roll ads on YouTube, and more.
Let’s say potential customers place something in your shopping cart, and then they don’t follow through in buying the product. Retargeting will allow you to strategically place ads for that same product in multiple places, reminding them to return to your webpage and shopping cart.
Rule #18: Use a multi-channel approach with your catalog
A multi-channel approach allows you to advertise to the customers on your postal list through a variety of channels, including Facebook ads, pre-roll ads on YouTube, email marketing and more. This will help you to lift your response, and make your whole campaign more profitable.
If you’re looking to improve the sales rates coming from your current catalog, or if your company is looking to expand its sales by launching a catalog, give me a call at 310-212-5727.
My full-service direct response advertising agency has helped dozens of companies launch new catalogs or improve the profits on existing catalogs. You can also email Caleb at