10 Steps to Improved BTB Branding

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Business-to-business catalogs are a special breed. They share many of the requirements as consumer catalogs, but these requirements need to be interpreted differently and prioritized in a different fashion because BTB buyers have different needs. The buyers, in fact, often are not the product users, and need their own set of incentives to buy.


The challenge is compounded because BTB catalogs seem to lack the commitment to creative presentation that consumer catalogs have. Though some BTB catalogs do a stellar job, many could use a lot of help.


More attention to these areas could improve some BTB catalogs and elevate their level of branding:


1. Clarify your positioning. You can't be effective at brand building unless you're 100 percent clear on your positioning. Basic criteria include that your positioning differentiate you from your competition and reflect the benefits you offer customers. You can't say, "We do everything for everyone, fast and efficiently," and expect to build a brand.


Having a unique positioning statement doesn't mean that pricing can't be part of the formula. But competing on the absolute lowest price is a slippery slope. There's always someone who can undercut your prices, even if only in the short run. No. 7, below, discusses the presentation of price.


2. Create "authority cues" throughout the catalog. Spend time and space in your catalog providing examples of your intelligence and experience in your area. Areas of authority may involve construction, quality, service, durability, etc.


Staples, for example, has an "Ask the Experts" blurb and photograph that advocates asking for free advice on furniture buying and planning. It knows this is a complicated category and that you'll have questions. WearGuard places customer testimonials about merchandise performance throughout its catalog. The company uses the credible words of other buyers to underscore product quality.


3. Develop unique creative strategies. The really "creative" part of creative kicks in when you challenge your designer or art director to create striking or impressive executions that support your positioning and sell your product. Challenge them: How do we reinforce the quality of our product? How do we promote our great prices? How do we remind people about our commitment to service?


One of my favorite examples of a company that developed this kind of strategy is New Pig Corp. It took the risk of creatively thinking out of the box with its likable and laughable pig character, which provides a personality throughout the catalog.


4. Devote space to editorial content that supports positioning. Provide information that helps. If your buyer is the catalog recipient, you may emphasize testimonials, product attributes or products in use. If the recipient is mainly buying for others, you may focus content on office life, how to do their job better, service support or easier ordering.


Dell isn't shy about calling out the awards it has won, for example, and Gemplers devotes four opening spreads in its master catalog to company, service and delivery information. This company wants you to know that it is dedicated to great service.


5. Organize your presentation. Help your customer shop. The biggest design challenge for densely merchandised catalogs is organizing the presentation of product and information. The recipient needs to digest the information in the catalog easily. You also want to give the reader a pleasant experience. The easier and more pleasant the experience, the more time a prospect will spend with your catalog.


I have seen a direct improvement of performance following an organization of a disorganized catalog. There's enough information here for another article, but the main components of organization for BTB catalogers are:


· Use categories. Make them easy to read and place them at the top of a page.


· Use grid lines. Maybe not on all of your spreads, but where they are needed to organize densely merchandised spreads.


· Prioritize information. This is especially important with a complicated or expensive product that needs a lot of description or an extensive editorial.


· Clean up those charts. Go through an exercise (or have a contest!) with your creative department to develop the easiest to read charts.


6. Use proven techniques. There's enough to do with your catalog without reinventing the wheel on commonly accepted areas. Why confuse them? Why make them search? Why add impediments to the process? Here are some areas that you shouldn't fool around with because they're basic "givens" that help the customer shop:


· Place your company positioning (in the form of a message or letter), service, guarantee and ordering information on the opening spread. If you have a table of contents, it belongs there, too.


· Put page numbers on the bottom of the page, either in the center or far corners. It's where readers look for them.


· Put your Web address and phone number on the footer; don't make your customer search for them.


· Avoid reverse type, color type for body copy, all caps or wide copy blocks.


· Put headlines at the top of a page or spread; put body copy below or on the side of a product.


· Never use vertical type.


7. Strategically communicate prices, offers and special promotions. The presentation of price and offer should be done thoughtfully because the way price is presented has as high level of meaning as the actual price.


If price is a big part of your offer, it should be a big part of the creative presentation. Staples does a nice job of communicating price through the use of bold numbers and the attention-getting colors of red and yellow. Charts are easy to read.


However, consumer demand for competitive prices has pushed many catalogers into a reactionary mode of doing everything possible to portray themselves as competing only on price. When this is coupled with the apparent strategy of copying the competition, we see a crop of catalogs that look alike.


8. Reach the recipients and get them to order. BTB catalogers have at least one extra level to pass through before they reach the buyer. First, a catalog must make it through the mailroom and, secondly, it must get to the buyer without being tossed in the trash. Sometimes it has to be approved by the end user, who may look at it with a different eye. This is why creative must consider the journey a catalog takes. Everyone on that journey must be made to feel that the catalog is important, interesting and has something relevant for them.


9. Borrow strategies from other catalogers. What creative can be borrowed from consumer catalogs and what can't? Art directors use "swipe" all the time. Existing photography or design that is representative of what works, what direction you are going in or what you are looking for is a great communication tool. The danger lies when too many aspects from one source are used in your catalog. Then it becomes "copycat creative," which probably won't be effective in the long run and, more importantly, is not a conscientious business strategy.


10. Let people know there is more on the Web. I'm surprised by the lack of attention most BTB catalogs seem to give their Web site. For many companies, a huge amount of business is done online, and there seems to be no slowdown to customers feeling more comfortable making an Internet purchase.


Letting readers know there is more on the Web can be done creatively, throughout a book, without using much room. Reminding customers they can get a wider assortment of products, sale items, specials or closeouts are all desired options, if you've got your Web site in shape. Some catalogers offer customers a "quick order" (just fill in the SKU#) or the ability to check the status of their order.


Solutions should be part of a larger picture, not isolated fixes. Change should not be microscopic, either. If it's substantial, it should be planned as evolution (not revolution) so the changes can be evaluated and so customers don't go into shock.


One big challenge that BTB catalogers have is finding good creative talent. Can you decipher whether your creative people are good designers? Do they know what catalog applications to use and how to use them? If they are on staff, they need to be taught about the customer and trained regarding what creative strategies should be applied and how to apply them. If they are bad designers or cannot be trained, let them go.


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