Nine tips on creating catalogs

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Michelle Farabaugh
Michelle Farabaugh

Catalogs can motivate consumers to visit retail websites more often and stay longer, and they can enable the retailer to build more personalized relationships, according to a study by comScore. It's not surprising that many retailers want to learn more about how to create catalogs. The US Postal Service launched a promotional campaign this summer called “Getting Started in Catalogs,” offering free webinars and DVD instruction online.

DirectConnect caught up with Michelle Farabaugh, consulting partner with San Rafael, CA-based Lenser, a multichannel marketing firm specializing in integrating e-commerce, catalog and direct mail campaigns for clients ranging from start-ups to household names like Hewlett-Packard and Safeway. Farabaugh, along with Lenser president John Lenser, presented a USPS webinar offered in August on driving web sales through the use of catalog and direct mail.

Educate yourself. In her presentations, Farabaugh tells attendees to read about catalogs and direct mail, participate in webinars and attend conferences. “The smarter they are, the better their program will be,” she says. “They'll know the right questions to ask if someone else is doing it for them, or they'll know the right direction to go in.”

Build your website before building the catalog. All retailers need to have a website before they go to print. “Print should drive that consumer or business to a website that provides much more about their products, services and company. So, don't start with print. Start with the website,” advises Farabaugh.

Create a strategy, budget and a schedule. Because many of today's retailers are accustomed to fast and economical marketing online, they aren't prepared for the challenges of print. “Print is a great way to drive acquisition and customer loyalty. But it is a different cost structure than a website,” cautions Farabaugh. “Companies have to come up with a budget and develop a schedule so they understand what the lead time is for putting something into print.”

Use an experienced team for creative. Designing a web page and designing a catalog are very different, and have different best practices and rules of design. “If you're classically trained in one and not the other, you will really struggle,” says Farabaugh. “You'll make mistakes and [impair] the overall success of the program because you won't realize the response rates you should achieve.”

Learn about production and circulation — or find experts who can support you. So much of the success of a program will depend on whom you mail this piece to. You need to make sure you're putting it together appropriately, selecting the right names and mailing the right amount. “Especially when you're starting out, I recommend hiring a consultant because you can get really high-level talent at a very reasonable price,” Farabaugh advises. “You'll make fewer mistakes.”

Include a test component in every mailing. “Whether it's an offer, a product assortment or who you're mailing to, there are always elements that you should be testing. You're always trying to beat your control and beat the last, best thing you did,” she says.

Get acquainted with standard catalog specifications. A standard-size catalog offers printing and mailing cost efficiencies, according to Farabaugh. “We typically recommend a 48- or 52-page catalog with a 60-pound cover and a 50-pound body. That will get you into that sweet spot between the piece weight and the pound weight for postage, where it's typically most economical,” she says. The cost is about the same for printing and mailing a 32-page catalog, she adds. “It's pretty economical to add those last pages,” she adds.

Know how to use a catalog. You can send an e-mail, but sending e-mails to house files translates into low open and conversion rates. “When you start talking about prospecting, response rates [for e-mail] are nonexistent. So print is a way to really get out there,” Farabaugh says. “It's a way to be in front of that consumer's face and drive him or her to the website.”

Don't feel compelled to put all your products into the catalog. Farabaugh says the catalog should include a large enough sampling to communicate whom the company is, what products are sold, and what differentiates it from competitors. The catalog should drive the consumer to the online store so they can explore the rest of the product line — and place an order.

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