7 Deadly Sins of Catalog Creative

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A catalog is a unique direct marketing tool. It's a virtual store that fulfills a specific need, emotion or merchandise concept. For many DMers it's the only "store" they own, and the bad news is that if a mistake is made in creative, it cannot be corrected by a sales associate.


Though some creative or production mistakes such as typos or misprints will not drastically affect response or the success of a catalog, they can chip away at credibility. However, there are a few creative sins that will affect overall response and typically are made consistently. These deadly sins are mistakes made in the creative presentation that will hurt results.


Sin No. 1: A slothful cover. Your front and back covers must work hard as customers and prospects see them first. With the competition in the mail today and the many messages bombarding consumers, if covers do not encourage recipients to pick up your catalog you can forget the rest of the sins because they don't matter. You've already lost a sale. Covers must work hard to:


· Grab attention and cut through clutter.


· Quickly reference who you are with a recognizable masthead and a consistent brand presentation.


· Quickly help recipients understand your niche with a concise tagline and visuals that support your merchandise concept.


· Pull readers inside with a compelling reason or an inside page reference that teases them to learn more.


· Sell immediately, whether it's placing product on the back cover or presenting a known best seller that will boost your chance for a response.


No. 2: Pride vs. selling. A catalog is a selling tool, not a company showcase. Positioning your company should not be ignored, but a high crime in creative is to not sell soon enough in your catalog. Instead, sprinkle brand statements and benefits throughout your catalog as a sales support tool.


Hot spots, including the covers and spreads at the beginning and the back of the catalog, should include products that have the best chance to garner a response. Pride in a new product without supporting evidence that it might be a winner is foolhardy, especially when you already know what will sell.


Pride also comes in the form of "we" copy. How many times have you seen the copy, "We are so pleased to present ..."? Who cares how pleased you are? Readers want to know what is so special and unique about your products that will add a benefit or value to their lives.


No. 3: Gluttonous spreads. Readers typically abandon catalog spreads that try to accomplish too much or sell too much. Every spread in your catalog should have a creative plan that attracts attention, tells a story and leads the eye. Gluttony can come in many forms: too much color, too many graphics, too much copy, too many messages.


An even bigger crime in this category is a "democratic" presentation. In other words, presenting all of your products equally without taking advantage of a page anchor or a "hero" product that draws the eye into the spread. Democratic spreads are boring.


No. 4: Lust for beauty over benefit. Probably the crime that designers commit most is designing for their portfolio, not the sale. A beautifully photographed product or an "out-of-the-box" layout may grab attention but cannot always sell unique benefits.


Remember that a successful catalog product typically has a unique set of benefits and offers the impression that customers cannot find the product elsewhere. This uniqueness is hard to convey on the printed page. But with a combination of visuals and other attention-getters, a designer can convey that special message at a glance.


One example of this phenomenon is when a food cataloger once sold a package that included ham, bread, cheese and other condiments. A beautiful photograph included all products as individual museum pieces but didn't capture the essence of what the package really offered. The benefit: the product offered a complete buffet meal that easily served a large group. Results rose dramatically when the photograph was re-taken and a story was told in the photo, presenting a buffet, in which a sandwich was completely made.


One catalog that consistently understands the art of presenting the benefit is TravelSmith. It doesn't present just a good-looking shirt. Combining photos, illustrations, captions and insets, it visually shows that this shirt breathes, is wrinkle-free and includes pockets for a passport and sunglasses ... without customers having to read the copy.


No. 5: Getting greedy with your own offer. Greed? What else would you call it when a direct marketer is willing to create value with an offer and then the creative presentation hides it? This is common with both general and specific product offers.


A general offer, one that gives a customer something for responding in a certain way (i.e., free shipping on an order of $100 or more), is often presented only once in a book, on the cover or page two. This strategy makes the erroneous assumption that in the one place your designer presents it, all customers will see it. General offers should be scattered around your catalog, if possible.


Specific offers are those extras that merchandisers create to add value to a specific merchandise offering. Examples include bundled products offered at a discount, dollars off when more than one is purchased or a freebie added to a product. In many cases, these specific offers are not highlighted, but hidden in the copy where they are not seen immediately. Instead of hiding your offers, repeat them frequently and loudly.


No. 6: Creating wrath in the reader. A sure way to lose a sale is to frustrate readers as they try to learn more about your products or make a purchase. Many transgressions cause frustration, but at the core is a failure to create an easy shopping environment.


Here are a few ways that catalog creative causes wrath, or disinterest, with the reader:


· Not presenting copy and pricing information in an easy-to-find location or in close relationship to the product.


· Using hard-to-read type. Reverse type, long line lengths, strange wraps, use of multiple typefaces, script fonts and heavy line leading do not qualify as easy to read.


· Not enough information to make a purchase decision.


· Hiding the order information and an order form that doesn't allow for contingencies.


No. 7: Brand envy. Memorable brands are thought of first when consumers have a product need because their merchandise concept is so strong. In every catalog category, there is a category killer. If you are looking for an ingenious, hi-tech gift, many would think of Sharper Image first. Brand envy occurs when designers try to copy the category killer rather than create a memorable experience for their own customers.


Superior catalog designers understand their company's niche in the marketplace and know how to position that differentiation with a consistent creative platform and voice.


How does your catalog measure up? Most catalogers admit that their creative team is not vigilant enough and that perhaps their presentation is not as effective as it should be. With today's economy, customers do not forgive easily, so the biggest sin would be a lazy creative process. Catalogs cannot afford to ignore the tested rules of creative.


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