The 7 'Wonders' of Catalog Covers

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When you consider all the items bombarding mailboxes daily, it's a wonder catalogs garner any response at all. Ask yourself these seven questions that customers might ask as they peruse through stacks of mail. Then, see whether your cover has what it takes to answer these seven "wonders."

I wonder why I should bother looking at this catalog? With busy lives, readers lack the time or desire for a catalog that doesn't strike them immediately. Use proven best practices to create an interesting visual presentation. Grab attention with strong colors and graphics. Use an interestingly cropped photo, one that captures the product up-close. The fewer messages and images, the better chance your cover has to stand out.

Present a strong message and say it loud. Offer a practical solution that intrigues the reader, such as "10 ways to organize a cluttered kitchen, see pages 8-9."

I wonder why I recognize this catalog? Create a consistent look and feel with an instantly recognizable presentation and distinguishable masthead. The masthead is key. Ensure it's large enough to get noticed and always in the same location, preferably at the top of the page. Knowing that the back cover has high readability, repeat it there. Your customers, who have a positive emotional connection with your brand, look forward to seeing your catalog in the mail.

I wonder what this company specializes in? Catalog recipients should be able to understand immediately what sets you apart from the competition. If they think you provide a special product line or service, they are more inclined to open the catalog. Spell out your differentiation with a brief, catchy tagline that explains your specialty in benefit terms.

I wonder what this catalog sells? Your catalog is a selling tool, so sell - especially on the back cover. It is the No. 1 selling hot spot in the book, but only if the reader notices it, so use the back cover to sell proven winners. Present those best sellers for the 95 percent of customers who haven't purchased yet, not the 5 percent who have.

Also, always present a few products from various price points that best represent your price mix. New is not necessarily better for the back cover. Use a new product only if it shares attributes with established best sellers.

For business-to-business catalogs with multiple product categories, grab attention with a strong product from a successful category as the main image on the front cover. Then use small, organized inset shots to show the range and depth of your offering, including inside page references. Sometimes a mini-table of contents is appropriate on the front or back cover.

I wonder where I can find that product? The kiss of death in cataloging is to frustrate readers. The easiest way to do that is to present a product on the cover that they are really interested in and then make them hunt for it. Always, always include an inside page reference. Once inside it does not hurt to repeat the image so that the connection is made quickly.

Getting readers inside quickly is an important goal, so take every opportunity to direct them with inside page references. This includes references to offers, special promotions, a sale section or anything else that might intrigue them. On the back cover, tell customers where they can find similar products. Another visual rule that helps "lead" the reader into the book is to ensure the front cover image faces to the right, not toward the spine.

I wonder what else they're willing to do to get my order? Offers usually are created to solve a problem, and consumers love offers. But most offers don't work because catalogers hide them rather than making them bold, noticeable and easy to understand. An offer must be on the front cover, stated simply and presented strongly. Use action words like "order now" and "act fast" to prompt an immediate response.

Try to keep it simple. However, if the offer is complicated, lure readers inside the book using an inside page reference where they can learn the rest of the story.

I wonder how I contact this company? Customers typically go to the bottom of a catalog spread, order form or the back cover to find contact information. Don't waste valuable front cover space with your address, phone and fax numbers, etc. Save this information for the back cover where it's essential and where customers look for it.

The exception is if you have a special message regarding your contact information, such as trying to push orders to the Web site. Or, you can highlight your differentiation with statements like "live help online" or "24-hour customer service."

Are you left wondering? If you're left wondering why response rates are lagging, if you wonder why sales aren't as high as you anticipated, if you wonder why your catalog is not making an impact, then examine the seven "wonders" listed above. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but with catalogs, you're often only as good as those two bookend pages.


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