Direct Marketing

Not Your Grandmother’s Catalog: New Strategies for Print

Bill Nichols

October 26, 2018

Bill Nichols

October 26, 2018

That 4-inch-thick catalog Sears published every Christmas has gone the way of the Sony Walkman, but guess what? The days of catalogs are not over.

In fact, a lot of companies use them and use them well. These glossy pieces, which make kids dream of new toys and parents of sound-blocking headphones, are still effective marketing tools. In light of recent Sears’ closings, I was reminded of their catalog and found myself online reading up on catalog publishing.

A few things I learned:

  • Catalog circulation is about 9 billion, half of what it was in 2007.
  • At the same time, studies show that millennials, of all people, love to flip through catalogs. A generation raised on the web likes to get ink on its fingers, maybe because it is such a different tactile experience for them.
  • Another interesting stat? A survey by a global management firm showed that 86 percent of young women (18 to 30) bought something after seeing it in a catalog.
  • I also read a lot of reader comments in various blogs about catalogs. A common comment? “I come home and find my spouse (wives and husbands) on the couch, flipping through a catalog.”

But catalogs are not an inexpensive endeavor. After all, postage makes up half of their cost. That’s why it is important to use them strategically.

Here are some points I think you should keep in mind.

Catalogs live on, but they are different.

Catalogs aren’t dead, but the days of packing everything you sell into one catalog are. Today’s catalogs are…

  • Teasers– visually driven, paper appetizers designed to pique buyers’ interests. Often to entertain and engage consumers, while showcasing products.
  • Targeted. They aim for niche audiences. For example, an outdoor outfitter might send young men who have bought camping gear in the past a catalog promoting tents and sleeping bags in the spring, before they head off to the woods for summer campouts.
  • Designed to work alongside other marketing vehicles. Catalogs work in tandem, especially with websites. These two marketing tools should echo one another in terms of design and message. One of a catalog’s main jobs is to drive a customer to the website, where they will place their order and complete a purchase.
  • Brand reinforcement – similar to a website, a catalog can and should reinforce a company’s brand, delivering the same messages in ways that are quickly recognized.
  • Reminders – a catalog that arrives in early November, filled with pictures of wool and cashmere sweaters, can be left in a prominent place, maybe even with a Post-It note that says, “This one!” a not-so-subtle Christmas gift hint. Or, when the catalog describing the homemade chocolates made by a local candymaker arrives, it might remind you that dear Aunt Helen, always hard to buy for, might like a box of dark chocolate bonbons for the holidays.

Catalogs can be scaled for large or small businesses.

In the past, large retail businesses (cue Sears) have mailed out thick pieces containing their products. Today, fewer businesses do this for a variety of reasons. One of which is the internet, where a business’ website can act as a digital catalog. The other lies in the cost factor, as I mentioned before. Many of these retailers are turning to magazine production instead to promote their product as well as entertain their audience.

As for small businesses, a limited catalog sent to a carefully selected audience can help cultivate new customers. If, for example, your company makes expensive leather goods for men, you can create a small catalog that showcases your best sellers and send it to a list of potential customers. Now, how do you choose those men for the list? Perhaps send it to households in high-end neighborhoods or to a purchased mailing list chosen based on specific demographics.

Catalogs aren’t over, but they are changing for the better.

Want to talk about creating a catalog, or about how to better target an audience for yours? Give us a call.


Do you have a project in mind?

We want to hear about it.

Call us now