Drive More Sales With Your Catalog in 2013

catalogs1At this past year’s DMA, one of the best seminar’s I attended was a Catalogue Marketing Seminar lead by Lois Brayfield. Ms Brayfield is the President of J Schmid, a catalogue design and marketing agency in the US ( She has 20 years of studying direct marketing and catalogue experience working with many of the country’s leading direct marketers, including Hallmark, American Express, HoneyBaked Ham, Sprint, Better Homes & Gardens, Sears ( Canada ) and Mark & Spencer (UK).

Your first question might be are catalogues even relevant anymore? Isn’t everyone going to digital nowadays? Ms Brayfield’s first slide answered that question with this research statement:

Multiple studies prove the value of a catalogue and it continues to be the most effective acquisition and retention tool for many brands                                 (Forester, McKinsey & Company, DMA).

Now whereas catalogues are still big business in the US , they are used to a lesser extent in Canada . But I think as you read through these notes, you will see tips you could use in your retail flyers if you aren’t in the catalogue business.

Her work in this space has lead her to the conclusion that cataloguers must do 3 things right in order to be successful. She says this list is required to engage prospects and customers in order to sell your product in today’s ultra competitive market. “If you can engage your customers meaningfully, you are significantly more likely to convert”.

1. Engage Customers – give them a reason to act

2. Call to Action – start thinking digitally too

3. Do Something Different – stand out, be memorable

1. Engaging Customers

You must begin by knowing your customers & what they care about. Most companies will have this information ready. If not, then you need to conduct research and everyone in marketing/sales needs to be current on what their list is and how responses are trending.

In marketing and sales we often hear that we need to talk about benefits not just features. Ms Brayfield suggests we push further and reach for higher order benefits. In today’s ever changing retail environment, product differentiation is slim and when it does truly exist, it can be copied quickly. Given we often buy for emotional reasons, stretching beyond standard benefits is the sweet spot. What is a higher order benefit? It is the emotional takeaway for customers – the intangible benefit they receive from transacting with you. Customers today are asking, “What’s in it for me?” but we’ve been missing the point. We’ve been telling them WHAT we’re selling, but they want to know WHY they should buy. And the Why is the most important of these questions – it must be well developed and protected. For example Targets higher order benefit is ‘affordable style’.

To truly engage someone you need to create some level of excitement. Satisfied customers do not always translate into increased profits (Frederich Reicheld, The Ultimate Question 2.0). We need a stronger connection beyond ‘satisfied’. Today the aim should be to surprise and delight, to captivate and engage customers. Ms Brayfield suggests borrowing the ICEE principles Tony Hsieh uses to engage his customers at Zappos:

• Interesting

• Compelling

• Entertaining

• Education

2. Call to Action – Digital

Too often this basic requirement is forgotten or not executed well. Many offers today are simply the cost of entry and so do not stand out – i.e. Free delivery. You need to get customers to take some action after reading your catalogue: anything from an actual purchase to a step towards that outcome such as ‘like us on facebook’, ‘go to this url’, ‘watch this video’, ‘call us at 1-800’…If you are asking someone to do one of these intermediary steps, be specific as to what value they will get for their effort – give them a reason. Don’t just say ‘follow-us on facebook’ but rather ‘follow-us on facebook to…get a sneak peak on our new model…discover your design style…enter our sweepstakes…

We see a lot of QR codes today but most are a waste of time – they take you to the company’s home page. Why waste a customer’s time scanning the code only to disappoint them with something they can do on their own? Instead give them something unique not offered on your website. A fun video on the product…a contest…vote…an offer. Again best practice dictates you tell people what they are going to get by scanning through the QR code. If you have good content or a good offer, people will act.

With the digital call to action, simplicity wins says Ms Brayfiled. People are busier than ever and when customers interact with you digitally, they want to do so quickly and easily (I think being ‘online’ ignites the ADD in us all).

3. Do Something Different

In general, catalogues are too safe according to Ms Brayfield. “You will not succeed in this extra sensory environment” with safe creative. “We have forgotten that we need to stand out – the brain notices what is different”.

Certainly this is easier said than done, but she did challenge us to break some taboos. And not just for the fun of being ‘creative’. Your difference needs to be tied to what’s important to your customers. The four places to stand out are: covers, images, copy and themes.

(a) Cover: Here are the five goals your cover should seek to accomplish:

•Grab attention
•Tell me who you are
•Present an offer
•Get the reader inside
•Sell – yes sell even on the cover!!!

Your cover is the best way to test offers so try to find ways to do so. I know in my own work with cataloguers, testing is not used as much as it was 5-10 years ago. Budgets are tight so often the focus is on cost as opposed to ROI improvement that testing can lead to. Patagonia and Pigalog were two of her cover favourites.

(b) Images: We all know people look at picture first so your images – products and supporting imagery – are of paramount importance. Lotus Touch changed their imagery to sell the higher order benefit of the product as opposed to just selling the product and sales took off. JL Powell and again Patagonia also do an excellent job using arresting images in their work.

(c) Copy: Copy is the poor cousin in the creative family. Good copy is MORE than just well written product descriptions. It should mean making your benefits intangible…solving a customer problem…creating credibility and trust … and connecting at an emotional level.

Be a storyteller or a problem solver and you can more easily enable the higher order benefit your product addresses. Even the product description itself can be better than ‘a red bathing suit’ – it can become ‘get your hourglass figure’ (i.e. cyberswim).

Eye flow studies conducted by Chuck Tannen (Profit Strategies for Cataloguers) found this pattern watching people read a catalogue page:

•Attention getting graphic or copy
•Product headline and body copy

So copy is fourth (or 2nd) on the list but it’s on the list. Therefore it’s important.

(d) Themes – Themes are catalogue spreads that tell us a collective story. Instead of only having product categories, themes allow you to present products in other groupings. Ms Brayfield reported that themed sections typically outperform other spreads in her experience. It is an opportunity to weave storytelling within your catalogue.

And finally she finished off her discussion with suggestions of best of breed cataloguers who are good practitioners of these principles. Here are 10 of the best to keep an eye on in 2013:



Land’s End

Duluth Trading (Used a boxer vs brief contest to make it men’s underwear sexy!)

Legal Seafoods

Lotus Touch (Great product copy writing)

JL Powell


Awe (Clear, uncluttered product shots that stand out)

Pigalog (If these guys can make industrial leak and spill solvents fun, you can make your product line more interesting too)

To contact Louis Brayfield you can do so at 913-236-8988 or

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