BTB Apparel: A Modern Approach

In this era of “the power of the brand,” smart marketers worldwide have recognized the need to differentiate their brands. While we are all aware of the consumer apparel catalogs that have done this successfully — such as Banana Republic, J. Crew and Eddie Bauer — the less brand-savvy business-to-business world is waking up.

These BTB marketers are increasingly aware of who their customers are and the need to develop a unique visual identity and personality so their brand can stand out from the competition.

As with consumer brands, BTB organizations that leverage the power of their brands will emerge as the leaders in their segment. When developing their brand strategies, BTB marketers must recognize both customer and end-consumer touch points, ensuring a relevant reflection of their brand image. Product packaging, labeling, the catalogs themselves and other promotional materials must work in harmony. Also, tapping into their customers' emotions and buying behaviors will yield successful creative solutions that visually define brands and motivate purchases. More recently, BTB apparel marketers have demonstrated creative tactics that support similar aesthetic principles used by consumer apparel brands.

Companies such as Broder Bros., Alpha Shirt Co. and Cintas have large catalogs that are used as direct selling vehicles and as selling support for their direct sales forces. Each has taken steps to develop its individual brand personalities based on the creative character of consumer brands.

It is essential for BTB brands such as these to be relevant from a shopping experience and to serve as a reference tool that their customers can return to several months later for additional purchases.

These types of catalogs have an average shelf life of nine to 18 months, compared with less than three months for traditional consumer catalogs. They must use creative approaches that reflect what is happening in the broader fashion marketplace.

Lifestyle photography, typographic style and copy voice must appeal to their customers, who, after all, are the same people who shop from Eddie Bauer, J. Crew and Banana Republic.

The large page counts of most BTB apparel catalogs also require that the catalog be sectioned effectively. Various categories must be clearly defined to create an ease of shopping. The overall structure of these big books must also tell visual stories pertaining to the range of merchandise. Often, two brands may have a similar product line.

For example, Broder Bros. and Alpha Shirt Co., distributors of imprintable corporate sportswear, must create visual identities that distinguish their brands from each other because the product offer is very similar. Graphic treatments relating to color swatching, positioning text and tabbing pages contribute to the development of a brand personality. Model imagery, photographic style, copy and layout must create a recognizable style for the consumer.

Cintas, the leading provider of corporate identity uniform programs, has taken cues from the fashion marketplace to appeal to its consumers. Its use of location photography with a more editorial approach has helped to define a more fashionable identity for this brand. Double-page section openers throughout the catalog echo the look and feel of a fashion magazine. Cintas' copy voice combines fashion statements with functional messages for the uniforms and other merchandise.

The innovative creative solutions employed by many consumer fashion catalogs have influenced how BTB apparel catalogers present their brands. It is even more essential for BTB catalogs, with a life span of a year or more, to create formats that are functional, easy to shop from, relevant to consumers and offer a visual identity that is aspirational, has personality and is memorable.

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