Don't Forget the Details

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Most catalog companies are working smarter these days. They have clean, well run databases and list strategies that give them the best insight about who their best potential customers are. Some even have product selection down to a science. Sometimes, however, as you get the big picture right, you lose site of some small but critical details.

These nagging little details can destroy your catalog almost as much as mailing to the wrong prospects. Here's a check list of details to be on the lookout for. If you get them wrong, you can cause your prospects -- and even your good customers -- to look somewhere else when it's time to order.

* Are you talking about yourself instead of concentrating on how the products you sell meet the needs and wants of your customers? This problem is usually found in positioning copy for the catalog. Rather than proving how buying from your catalog can save prospects time, trouble and money or improve their life or home, some catalogers provide chatty little details about themselves and their business.

"We've been in business for over 15 years" is a classic example. It puts the emphasis on the company instead of telling the prospects how your background and experience can work for them. Another of my favorite lines is "Our luxurious offices are located at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city." This is a great way to give prospects and customers the impression your products are overpriced.

* When you use personalization, make sure you get it right. I recall receiving a catalog that spelled both my name and company name correctly in the address. Then in the side note next to the address, they started off with "Dear Sir." Since they didn't personalize the note, they could have used the gender neutral "Dear Decision Maker" instead.

* Are you making it hard for prospects to see potential benefits? One business-to-business catalog I reviewed stated, "We work closely with clients." What does that mean? Does it mean they're physically close or mentally attuned? And how would this closeness benefit me? Catalogers who haven't clearly defined what they can provide customers tend to produce this type of copy.

* Are you confusing prospects and making it hard to order? Don't forget to feature your toll-free number -- on every spread if possible. Make your order form/fax form easy to find and easy to use. What about the size? You're bound to lose orders if the size or stock on your order form is almost impossible to feed into a fax.

How about your telemarketing center? Just how long does a potential customer stay on hold before a representative gets to them? And if your telemarketing center isn't staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at least let prospects leave their name and number so they can be called back. Don't depend on them to remember when your business hours are. Make it as easy for them as possible.

* Is your order form really easy to fill out? In the past year, I've come across at least two fax/order forms that were printed on coated stock. I had to try three different pens before I found one that would let me write on the stock. Even if most of your orders come over the phone, some customers like to fill out the order form to organize themselves before they call. (That saves your order takers time, too.) If customers are off hunting for pens, there's a good chance they may end up not ordering at all. And if you expect people to fax back your order form, don't use colored stock or a color screen under vital information. It often comes up black when it comes back to you. How can you fulfill an order you can't read?

* Is your copy presentation working for you or against you? The rule of thumb tends to be "Don't use screens on your pages and never reverse out copy in your catalog." These design elements, however, can add a great deal of drama to your catalog. In one food catalog I worked on, we tested spreads -- black background with reverse type versus black type on a white background. The reversed spread actually produced more sales. Just make sure your type is large enough so it's easy to read. It's also critical to ensure a good printing job. If the type comes out blurred, so is your product message.

* Is it easy to see which copy goes with which picture? Some layouts are beautiful. But if your customers and prospects can't figure out what copy block goes with which picture, they're not likely to order. Even if you key photos and copy, it's important to ensure that each catalog page is laid out so it's logical for the end user.

Judith E. Finerty is president of Finerty & Wolfe Advertising, Chicago, as well as an author and lecturer on direct marketing and catalog topics.

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