7 Signs You Are Ready to Publish a Print Catalog

Right before the “Great Recession” hit, 2007 saw catalog mailings hit their peak. Almost immediately, however, retailers feeling the pinch decided that there was little need to waste money on print when digital was much cheaper to publish. It made sense, too, because the industry was heading that way anyway: web catalogs and digital catalogs were the wave of the future anyway, so the recession seemed to merely serve as an accelerant of those plans.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Print Catalog’s funeral, however. As we slowly climbed out of the recession, print catalogs started to get mailed again. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), all catalog mailings grew to 11.9 billion units in 2013. This matches the high level seen pre-recession, in 2007. Also in 2013, a different DMA study showed that 59% of multichannel marketers had increased their catalog circulation from the year before. So what does it all mean? More importantly, what are you going to do about it? The following are 7 Signs why you are ready to publish a catalog (again).

Sign #7: Your Customers Are Requesting One

There’s a lot of confusing statistics out there that can blur the lines when we say “your customers are requesting print catalogs”. One study shows 44% of consumers want to receive fewer mailed catalogs while only 13% want more. However, step back from the surface view and look at it with finer detail: that same study showed that 58% of online shoppers browse catalogs for “ideas and inspiration”, while 31% of them have a retail print catalog with them as they make a purchase online. Another 45% say that catalogs stimulated their interest in the retailer’s products, and here’s the kicker: 86% have bought an item after first seeing it in a print catalog.

So, yes, people in general want less junk mail which can be read as “catalogs that weren’t properly targeted for them”. However, if the catalog is directed towards actual consumers of these products-or consumers who have established a brand relationship with you-then it’s overwhelmingly beneficial to get a print catalog in their hands because they use it as a guide when shopping. They see the print catalog as a muse, if you will. The print version inspires them, and even if the final order doesn’t come from the mail order or phone-in number on the printed catalog, it’s the kicking-off point.

Sign #6: You Want to Extend Your Marketing Reach

Any business can benefit greatly from introducing products that have had success into new geographic locations. Typically, when a product meets the needs of consumers in one place, city, state, or region, it stands to reason that this product line can be extended to meet the needs of consumers in a different area (albeit one that has similar backgrounds).

Likewise, publishing a print catalog where you had been exclusively online can work in much the same way. For those who were not already familiar with your products, a print catalog can lend an air of “special-ness” that a web URL simply doesn’t these days. Picking up a print catalog and rifling through its pages, consumers have the opportunity to instantly fall in love with your products. This emotional tug will then drive further interest in similar offerings or product lines once they have some “brand trust” with you. This, in turn, will drive them back to your website.

Sign #5: You Want to Extend Your Products to a New Demographic

A product line that shows that it meets the needs of a particular group of customers can be extended to meet the same or similar needs of another group. One example of this is Dove, which is known for making beauty products for women. By releasing new products as part of a “Dove for Men” line, they made a clear attempt to go after a completely different demographic while at the same time retaining the trust they had built up in their brand name, over the years.

Similarly, if your products are pretty much available exclusively in an online form, they can be made visible to a completely new demographic just by releasing them as part of a print catalog campaign. Sure, there will be some overlap, but the print catalog will also net you consumers who either don’t shop online primarily, or tend to browse at their own leisurely pace before moving on to the online ordering portion.

Sign #4: Get Rid of Excess Inventory

Having a backlog of inventory is one of the biggest no-no’s of the retail industry. Besides taking up precious shelf or warehouse space, excess stock ties up your capital and actually prevents you from re-investing in your business. The most common thing retailers do when detailing with excess stock or items that aren’t moving well, is to put it on sale or clearance. While that strategy often solves the immediate problem, it’s not always the best or most profitable way to do it. Also, if you cater to an upmarket demographic, then you need to be concerned about the image a “Clearance” projects.

A more creative way of handling extra inventory is by refreshing your marketing approach. If we’re talking about a physical storefront, then you could put the items in a different area or change the shelf arrangements to give the impression that these items are new, exciting, and special. One idea in particular has caught our imagination, however: certain retailers are offering excess stock as specials ONLY available in their print catalogs. The idea of an exclusive for print seems counter-intuitive, but think about it: everyone expects the specials to be advertised online only. By putting these overstocked items as a special within the print edition, you retain the feeling of exclusivity while at the same time imparting “value” to the product. After all, print is typically reserved for top sellers, so seeing these items in print may entice your customers.

Sign #3: You Want to Make Use of a Mailing List

The obvious reason you want to mount a direct mail campaign is that it’s very lucrative. In 2012 the mail order and online retail industry grew by over 15% from 2011’s numbers, to the tune of a total $282 billion industry. The numbers continue on the upswing, which means it is also a growing market. Based on these facts along with what you’ve already seen with print’s ability to dovetail nicely into online sales, you should be asking yourself how quickly you can get your direct mail campaign underway. If you’re waiting on doing this, just realize that your competition is not.

Sign #2: You Wish to Increase Brand Presence

Whether the economy continues to stabilize or takes another downward turn, there is a need to engage customers beyond the basic level of “here’s some stuff you should buy”. Clever retailers are realizing that not only should the print catalog not be treated as an afterthought, but it gives a unique opportunity to increase Brand presence using high quality content marketing.

Some of these unique methods include:

Celebrity endorser profiles – Rather than a simple photo of a smiling paid endorser holding your product, why not offer an in-depth profile that touches on the everyday impact the product has on their life? This has the effect of humanizing the celebrity as opposed to simply flaunting their star power and relying on that alone to sway customers into buying the products in question. It has an additional benefit of drawing the consumer in on a more personal and relatable level, and lessens the feeling of “being sold to”.

Example room layouts – When selling furniture or other household items, simply listing those products out one by one with individual photos and captions can rob them of context. Namely, it fails to capture the consumer imagination because they aren’t able to visualize how this product will impact their lives or household. Showing a number of products together on the page as part of a thought-out and designed room layout gives the proper context. These aren’t just a bunch of individual products for sale, these products exist to complement one another. It fires the consumer imagination because suddenly they’re thinking, “This piece would go GREAT with my.”

Magazine-quality stories – Similar in concept to the endorser profiles, in that a cataloger is trying to add some value for the consumer. Whether it’s based on products for sale or not, the idea is that you’re giving them something informational and interesting to read along with a listing of products. While we ultimately care the most about selling those products, how we get there is ever-evolving. In a high-tech environment where everyone is buried in their phones for 90% of the day, people sift for good content and brush off fluff or filler. By including a story or article that grabs their attention, it is keeping them engaged with the print catalog itself, so the sales will come indirectly from that.

Recipe inclusion – Recipe sites are exceedingly popular on the internet, with Foodies constantly searching for new and interesting ways to excite their palates. At first glance you might think this makes sense only if you’re in the grocery business, but think again. Williams Sonoma has received rave reviews for their recipes, and quite cleverly they’ve included them next to the products needed to cook them. So while they aren’t trying to get you to buy the chocolate chips or the brown sugar, they are trying to get you to buy the Mixer Station and the ceramic bakeware. It all comes down to providing value and taking different-angled approaches than the tried and true conventions.

Sign #1: You Saw JC Penney Bringing Back Their Print Catalog and How Successful It Was

No matter how many of these signs you feel may or may not apply to you, or fire up some ideas for your own print catalog, ultimately we love real-life success stories so we can validate our ideas. There is no better example in the print catalog industry than JC Penney. One of the powerhouses of print cataloging for decades, they dropped their “Big Book” in 2009 and subsequently phased out their 70 or so specialized, smaller catalogs. Within the span of a year, this giant had completely turned out the lights on its print catalog operations. It was easy, at the time, to hold them up as an example of “Why Print Is Dead”.

Fast forward five years, to January 2015. The retail giant announced to the world that it was bringing back its print catalog, albeit a slimmed down version of its original 1,000+ page “Big Book”. The reason, according to JC Penney spokeswoman Kate Coultas: “Our research has shown that our customers, particularly when it comes to looking at home merchandise, still prefer to browse a traditional print piece but then go online to order the item or go into our store.”

In other words, they’ve moved away from the mindset that Print & Online were competitors-and instead realized that they worked hand in hand as teammates all along. In the digital world we live in, data overload can run rampant, even when searching for specific products. While a seemingly endless chain of search results and near matches can be helpful for price comparisons, it’s not always the best option when you just want to purchase a comforter that would go well with your existing bedroom set.

The advantage of a print catalog software in this scenario is that its more streamlined and pared-back approach helps to focus the consumer-setting them down a path that is driven more by the emotional response to the artwork on the page and the imagination it fires. You see a comforter you want-and now you can move directly to the ordering phase or, if you wish, you can go to the website for more details and options. If JC Penney can realize the value of print catalogs again, while marketers are coming up with new and interesting ways to use print to help focus and drive online sales, then you can as well.