Building Catalogs with a Lot of Digital Assets

Building Catalogs

All catalogs benefit from using photos. Whether you are trying to sell industrial items like nuts and bolts, or commercial items like fancy picture frames, photos are what reassure your clientele that they are purchasing exactly what they expect. Obviously, B2C catalogs will benefit even more from multiple hi-resolution photos, such as alternate and optional shots, because they are relying more on “emotion” when selling. And great photos are the best way to do this.

In most cases, though, there is an equal or greater amount of page space devoted to the marketing copy. While the image(s) capture the emotion, you still need to accurately describe the reasons for purchasing, why it’s needed, how it works, possible applications, etc. If there are technical details or specifications that need to be conveyed, this will also take up significant square inches on the page. Whether your catalog is focused on B2B or B2C, copy, images, and charts (if applicable) are indispensable to the catalog. In the vast majority case, it is inconceivable that you could properly sell without any of these components represented equally.

In some rare cases, however, companies can sell unique products that are best represented by photos and require little to no copy. Let’s take a few examples and try to gather why this applies for them.

Case A: Artwork

Let’s take an example of a company that sells Art prints. Whether it is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, “Portrait of Dr. Gauchet”, or his “Sunflower” series, how much descriptive copy do you really need for these masterworks? Any potential buyer will recognize the art itself first and foremost. They may recognize the unofficial “title” of the artwork, or they may not. The bottom line is that if they’re looking for art prints to decorate their home, they aren’t going to rely on descriptive text when ordering some. They are going to be sold based on the image of the artwork they plan to purchase. They are going to want to imagine that artwork on their wall, and how it will look. For the cataloger, all he needs on the page is a large image, a SKU # (for ordering), and maybe a Title. That’s it.

Case B: Labels

Now, let’s look at an example of a company that creates labels in bulk, as well as custom labels. These could be used as nutritional value labels for fresh foods and meats (grocery stores go through thousands of these daily). Another way custom labels could be used is for smaller companies that produce limited run products: all-natural shampoos and lotions, micro-breweries, herbal remedies. They can manufacture and bottle the products, but still require professional-looking labels for legitimizing these when selling online (and most of these smaller operations do 95% or greater of their sales online).

Regardless of the application, when trying to sell their bulk labels to these prospective clients, what is the likelihood that there will need to be a lot of descriptive or marketing copy alongside those labels? How much explanation does a micro-brewery need, about how the label will look on their bottles of pale ale? Very little. What they need to see is the label itself. The look and contents of the label is going to 100% determine whether or not these labels will meet their needs. A grocery chain just needs to see if the “93% lean Beef” labels accurately describes what they’re trying to sell. The image of the label itself, much like the artwork, is all they’re looking at. Apart from a SKU # next to the label images, there won’t need to be much descriptive text at all except perhaps to categorize the different labels (Fresh Meats, Nutritional Value labels, “Contains Peanuts” warnings, etc.).

Case C: Clothing

In our final example, we’re basically thinking of clothing retailers. If you’re selling T-shirts, what are your prospective customers looking at if not for the color and logo/design for each T-shirt? You may not elect to show each individual SKU (a Description such as “Dukes of Hazzard logo” essentially tells you what to expect), but you can imagine that the top sellers for sure are going to be pictured. If possible, you’re going to show each unique design as its own image (and maybe even a front/back shot for each-because they will often be completely different), because that is what is driving the sale.

As a consumer, you’re buying the T-shirt because the design is pleasing to the eye, is amusing, is interesting or hip, or some combination of the above. So, again, there isn’t much beyond the image itself that is needed, really, to sell the product. You certainly aren’t going to take paragraphs of valuable square inch space on the catalog to describe the Muppets / Kermit the Frog t-shirt, when one picture does that much better than you ever possibly could.
Easy Catalog Building

Do These Types of Catalogs Benefit From Database Publishing?

At first, the above product catalog examples might seem less tuned for database publishing because they are all extremely image heavy and light on content. But this perception is often wrong. Just as you would need to manage thousands of individual descriptions, SKU’s, specs, and various marketing copy fields, you still need to manage thousands of images and tie them correctly to their corresponding SKU’s.

You still need to potentially group these images / SKU’s together, so you can easily locate them and keep them together on your catalogs because they are related. Take the “Fresh Meats” example. Assume that you may have 300 versions of these labels: some for Pork, some for Beef, some for Chicken, and then many different breakdowns for each based on fat % and other ingredients. Without a databased solution, how exactly are you keeping track of these 300 images? How do you know they belong together? How do you update them when there is a change, however minor?

Database publishing is only part of what Catsy does. The often overlooked aspect is the content linking and built-in digital asset management (DAM). When you are dealing with thousands-potentially hundreds of thousands-SKU’s and related images, you simply can’t produce catalogs efficiently without a powerful database and DAM behind the scenes. You can try to do this by keeping everything in related individual folders. Meanwhile, you need to keep those images in lock-step with your SKU’s (which are probably saved in a multitude of formats such as Excel spreadsheets, PDF’s, or desktop publishing document originals). Good luck! There is simply too much management that goes on behind scenes to allow you to roll out, create, and maintain these image-heavy catalogs. It simply isn’t possible to do it all manually and efficiently.

Catalog Template

Why Family Grouping is Beneficial

The first major aspect Catsy handles is the family groupings, also known as “Item Groups”. For instance, if you are selling a particular Hex Bolt fastener, there might be 200+ variations or SKU’s. Different lengths of the screw, a variation on diameters-some bigger, some smaller-but all will have the same Hex Bolt pattern on the screw head. Because this is the only real difference, there is zero need to have a photo for all 200 variations in this case. Likewise, the descriptive copy applies to all 200 variations. For this scenario, we “group” all of the 200 variations and call it a Family.

At the Family level, we have ONE set of descriptive copy which applies to all 200 variations. We also have ONE photo that applies to all 200 variations. The only thing that changes from SKU to SKU are the technical specs such as Length and Diameter. So, we would display the SKU’s as a List with columns like “SKU #”, “Length” and “Diameter” in order to differentiate between them and make it easy for customers to find the exact right match for their particular application.

That’s an obvious case of where a Family Grouping makes sense-it conserves page space because there is no need to display the same image and same copy 200+ times, and it is very efficient to display a large amount of varying SKU’s in a list format. But what about the 3 Cases we talked about earlier? In short: YES, it still makes absolute sense. Here are some reasons why:

•  Your descriptive copy still applies to all variations, even if each SKU has a wildly unique image. So, you still want to just store this copy in one spot (not for each SKU, which is inefficient as well as a management nightmare).

•  You still may want to publish a List (perhaps with pricing), even if you end up including most or all of the individual SKU images. This is because it’s easy to find a SKU in a List format, and having the individual photo somewhere on the same spread makes for a simple cross-reference when ordering or looking up pricing.

•  Management-wise, you still want to Group all of these “like” items, even if they don’t have much in the way of data fields beyond Pricing. It’s still beneficial to know that all 350 of these SKU’s are “Raw Food Labels”, particularly when it comes to managing those 350 photos!

How Digital Assets Flow Within Catsy

Once you have the Families grouped, the Content Sprayer plugin for Adobe InDesign can do the vast majority of the work for you. When creating your template, you have the option to a) include only the “Family” photo, b) include all of the individual SKU images, or c) both. Also, as part of the Template creation process, you can decide whether you want the individual SKU images to flow horizontally or vertically. This quickly and efficiently provides you with an Image Gallery, right on the page.

Even if you don’t have individual images for all 350 SKU’s, you can quickly get an idea as to how many you have missing. The “empty” image frames can be deleted at this point, or you can use this opportunity to get those remaining images uploaded. Some image frames may be empty by design, as perhaps only “top selling” items have individual photos. Regardless, you will get a quick idea as to which variants have photos available and which do not, and you can remove or shift the image frames as needed. At the point of spray they are just normal image frames, and can be resized, stretched, formatted, or manipulated however you wish.

Some other benefits to this approach include:

•  Frames can be grouped within a template. So, let’s say our Family portion of the template contains the Group Name (such as “Raw Food Labels”), a brief description, and the List of SKU’s, Title, Unit of Measure, and Pricing. On the individual SKU portion of the template, you have the image frame, and almost certainly you would want the SKU # to spray directly below or above it. By grouping these frames, you ensure that all 350 SKU images and SKU #’s stay together and make it easy for you to manipulate post-spray.

•  Vendor images can be added directly at the group level. Going back to our Family example, we could include an image frame for the Vendor (if applicable) and that would spray right along with the group title, copy, and List. The great thing is, because the Vendor would apply to all items contained in the Family, we only maintain this Vendor relationship ONE time-at the Family level-and we know that all contained items apply. The one Vendor image at the Family level is therefore sufficient.

•  Since Styling and Content are kept separate in Catsy, you can apply whatever paragraph styles you use to enforce your company branding directly to the template. This ensures that your color combinations and specific fonts will be propogated throughout your catalog. These paragraph styles can be easily tweaked, changed, or replaced-even after hundreds of pages of catalog have already been sprayed! That wouldn’t be possible if we kept styling as part of the content.

Pulling the Manual Override

As is typically the case, Catsy is built to automate work as much as possible. You can’t just create a simple template, spray out all content within the catalog, and ship it off to the Printer-no one would reasonably want or expect that. This is because most catalogers prefer to make overriding changes from page to page. You may want to emphasize a few particular images (like Top Sellers), so you enlarge the sizes. You want to show only one piece of this photo, so you crop it accordingly. You wish to fit all 20 of these photos onto the spread, so you resize them just small enough to fit them all. So many individual decisions, many of them styling choices, will be made once the content is initially laid out on the page.

When trying to automate the catalog creation process, therefore, we like to say that we shoot for “80% automation”. This is an arbitrary figure but acknowledges that while our system is great for getting all related content onto the page minus a lot of human error, there is still layout work to do, and “artistic decisions” that need to be made. A template can’t do that. So, once the content is there, you or your design team still have full carte blanche to remove or add any “out of scope” images. Using our IMAGEsource plugin, you have a direct window to ALL associated images for that selected SKU or Family, allowing you to easily drag and drop images (such as “optional views” or “alternate shots” that weren’t part of the main template). This tool allows you to quickly hammer home that “final 20%” that can’t possibly be automated.

All of these pieces of the puzzle, when combined, allow for a catalog that is fully styled and an individual artwork in its own right-while at the same time having most of the leg work automated with databased content, built-in Digital Asset Management, and stylized templates.