8 Catalog Mistakes That Industrial Brands Make and How to Fix Them
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You spend months preparing the perfect product catalog. Pages of beautiful product shots, detailed tech specs, comparison charts – you’ve got it all.
The catalog looks sharp, no doubt about it. You’re proud of the final result and excited to get it out into the world. You put together a mailing list, hit send, and wait for those leads to come pouring in.
The response is lukewarm at best. That catalog you worked so hard on barely made a ripple. What gives?
Here’s the thing: even the most beautiful catalog falls flat if it is difficult to navigate. No matter how eye-catching, a generic catalog just won’t cut it anymore because, unlike the regular consumer, B2B buyers have high expectations and specific needs. If your catalog doesn’t check all their boxes, they’ll quickly move on to the next option.
So where do industrial brands usually go wrong when preparing product catalogs? The mistakes range from not targeting personas to neglecting optimization for search engines. But don’t worry – every mistake can be fixed.
This article explores the top eight industrial catalog fails that stand in the way of results. More importantly, you’ll learn helpful tips to avoid each one. Let’s dive in and make sure your next catalog gets the results it deserves…
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1. Not Knowing Or Targeting Your Audience
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking your catalog is for everyone who fits the description of an industrial buyer. But that scattershot approach won’t get you far.
You see, business-to-business (B2B) buyers are not a monolith. Their needs and priorities can vary greatly depending on factors like:
- Industry – Manufacturing has different needs than sectors like construction or energy.
- Company size – Large enterprises operate differently than small businesses.
- Role – Engineers, operations managers, and procurement specialists approach buying differently.
- Current initiatives – A company rolling out a new product line has different priorities than one focused on efficiency.
- The stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.
For example, a small contracting business will use your catalog differently than a prominent commercial developer. Or, a foreman at a building project will look for durable, heavy-duty tools and equipment, while project managers care about budget and timelines. On the other hand, safety officers prioritize compliance and training.
To create a catalog that genuinely speaks to your customers, you must first get to know them and their pain points intimately. No more guessing!
The best approach to avoid the guessing game is to segment your audience and speak directly to each subgroup. You could run surveys and interviews to learn how each stakeholder prefers researching and buying tools or materials.
A Harvard Business Review (HBR) analysis offers an excellent suggestion for how to tailor your product catalogs when sending them out. According to the research, a typical B2B buyer starts their buying journey by assembling a three-tiered committee: Ultimate approvers who own the decision; a core buying committee that does the research and runs the process; and internal influencers, including end users, who provide comments on vendors and products.
Each tier sways the purchase decision differently based on the stage of the buying process. So, your first task should be to identify members of the buying circle in each of the three tiers. Then, understand their main priorities.
This upfront work is the key to creating targeted catalog content that grabs attention and guides readers to the right products. Now, your catalog becomes a trusted advisor, not just a product brochure.
The more insight you have into your audience, the better you can meet their needs at each stage. And that’s what transforms a catalog from a generic sales document into a robust customer acquisition and retention tool.
2. Not Providing Enough or Relevant Product Information
It’s not enough to simply list your products in a catalog because industrial buyers need detailed information to make a purchasing decision. B2B buyers follow a series of predefined steps in the buying process. They will quickly wander away if they do not get all the information they need for each step.
A typical B2B buying process involves six phases, and believe it or not, the final decision to purchase from a particular supplier or manufacturer happens at the very end. Here is a quick breakdown of the process:
- Need: The first phase begins with recognizing the need for a product or service. The need could arise from internal demands within the buyer’s company or external factors such as market trends or regulatory requirements.
- Research: The buyer begins researching potential solutions once the need is identified. This could involve online searches, attending trade shows, or reaching out to peers in their industry.
- Consideration: After researching, the buyer begins considering specific products, services, or suppliers. They might compare options based on price, quality, delivery times, and after-sales service.
- Evaluation: In this phase, the buyer evaluates their top choices more thoroughly. They might request proposals, arrange meetings with suppliers, or visit facilities to understand better what each option can offer.
- Negotiation: Once the buyer has a shortlist of potential suppliers, they enter the negotiation phase. This involves discussing terms like price, delivery schedules, and payment terms to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement.
- Purchase: The final phase is when the purchase happens. The buyer places an order with the chosen supplier, and the supplier delivers the product or service as per the agreed terms.
Each phase requires different types of information and interactions, and understanding these phases can help suppliers better meet the needs of their B2B buyers.
For example, buyers in the need phase want to understand their needs. While most of the information they need at this stage is internal (such as data about the company’s performance), external information like regulatory requirements and new market trends could be illuminating.
As the buyer advances through the stages, external information becomes more crucial. For instance, a broad range of information about potential solutions (including product specifications, supplier capabilities, and pricing information) is essential in the research phase.
Technical specifications, delivery times, and after-sales service details are helpful at the consideration stage, while customer reviews – which should be available on product detail pages (PDPs) – help expedite evaluation, and detailed pricing breakdown supports the buyer’s negotiation process.
The main idea here is that the B2B buying process is complex, and brands must understand the information needed at each stage and tailor the product catalog accordingly if they want to meet buyer needs better.
However, it is easy to succumb to the broad range of information needed and quickly overwhelm the audience. For instance, consider an industrial equipment manufacturer creating a product catalog. It must consider engineers who need CAD drawings, certifications, technical manuals, and safety ratings upfront. On the other hand, supply chain managers will want delivery timeframes, inventory availability, and logistics details like weight and dimensions. How does the manufacturer ensure that each group in the decision-making chain receives relevant information?
Furthermore, the manufacturer must pay attention to the format of the information in the catalog. They may need to mix technical specs, bullet points, charts, icons, and other visual elements to make the catalog easy to scan or break up dense text with callouts, graphics, and white space.
Any marketer who’s had to manage product information will know how challenging it can be to cater to competing needs while maintaining accuracy and completeness. However, the marketer may also be aware of a product information management (PIM) system, which centralizes product data management.
PIM systems ingest data from various sources, including spreadsheets and ERP platforms, to create a central hub. Brands have complete control over the database – they decide quality standards of data, accuracy, and completeness. This gives them a single source of truth to feed catalogs, websites, and other channels. With the tool, keeping information organized and up-to-date across channels is a breeze.
What about digital assets like CAD drawings and PDFs of technical manuals? The correct tool for this job is Digital Asset Management (DAM) software. Like PIM, DAM consolidates product-related visual assets in one place. So, you do not have to deal with scenarios like having CAD drawings in a folder on a PC, icons in Google Drive, and technical manuals in OneDrive.
DAM also allows you to enrich digital assets with alt-text and metadata, enhancing searchability and categorization. When you pair PIM and DAM, you create a robust product information management system capable of delivering accurate and up-to-date product content to catalogs.
Some vendors like Catsy offer PIM and DAM as a single platform, such that users do not have to go back into the market to acquire a DAM after purchasing a PIM platform. This means users enjoy the most seamless cross-platform functionalities, such as mapping product descriptions to assets.
3. Not Using Engaging or Interactive Product Images
A DeepImage analysis concluded that high-quality images are critical for improved eCommerce sales. It details that buyers expect and need different types of product information, such as technical specifications, customer reviews, and real-world applications. High-quality images complement and reinforce this information, making it easier for buyers to understand and evaluate products.
The good news is that some modern digital catalogs support high-resolution images and high-quality videos. You can also incorporate interactive elements, such as zooming, 3D models, and animations, enabling prospects to digitally explore and engage with your products.
However, creating and optimizing visuals for hundreds of products will be an exacting task. Plus, you’ll need to ensure each asset meets specific quality standards before publishing. If done manually, chances are high that the quality standards won’t be achieved.
You can leverage a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to ensure that each asset published on the product catalog meets your brand’s standards. A DAM tool centralizes and organizes your library of images, 3D models, videos, and other visual assets, making managing and sharing them easy.
In addition, DAM systems allow users to enrich assets with metadata and alt-text, and some platforms like Catsy incorporate AI to enhance productivity. With DAM, you not only enforce visual consistency across all product catalogs but also enhance searchability and optimize the content for search engines.
4. Not Optimizing Your Catalog for SEO or Mobile Devices
Now, be honest – have you put in the work to make it easy for search engines to find and index your product catalog? If not, you already get the point because your products are invisible to many potential customers. Ouch.
See, most buyers – whether B2B or consumer – discover and research products through search engines like Google. And many of us are on our phones looking stuff up throughout the day.
You don’t believe this? See what research says: A 2022 survey by Weidert Group found that web searches informed 52% of business buyers. The findings emphasize the importance of ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).
So, what can you do to prevent your catalogs from floating around in the abyss of the internet, waiting to be found? For starters, use target keywords throughout your catalog copy – you can leverage free-to-use SEO tools like Ahrefs Webmasters to audit the catalog for hundreds of technical SEO issues.
Furthermore, ensure your catalog is responsive on any screen size and super-fast to load. Otherwise, one in four customers will bail after four seconds if it’s clunky.
There are tons of tools and best practices to master here. But it’s worth investing the time to get your catalog found. Just imagine your customers actually being able to discover your fantastic catalog when they search for your products. It will boost engagement across the board.
5. Not Promoting or Distributing Your Catalog Effectively
Are you unknowingly keeping your catalog a secret? Creating an optimized and high-quality catalog is just the first step. If you want it to generate leads, there are extra steps you can take to ensure your target audience is effectively reached.
Don’t just toss descriptions and glossy images on your website and expect customers to find them. For the product catalog to achieve set goals, you need to play matchmaker and actively connect it with customers.
Here are some ideas:
- Email it directly to your subscriber list and existing customers.
- Highlight it in social media posts, paid ads, and website banners.
- Send print copies to prospective buyers.
- Partner with distributors (if you are a manufacturer) to co-promote the catalog.
- Run retargeting ads to catalog pages so visitors stay engaged.
- Offer exclusive promos for downloading the catalog.
- Get your sales team onboard to educate prospects and customers about the catalog. Equip them with co-branded print copies for meetings.
The goal is to promote the catalog far and wide to reach your target audience.
6. Focusing Too Much on Features Over Benefits
It’s tempting to fill your catalog with technical feature lists and product specs – you have every right to do it because technical specifications are the most important part of the catalog. If the feature list does not match the buyer’s needs, it doesn’t matter how good the benefits are. And yet, it is best practice to allow buyers to learn how your products will improve their workflows.
On the one hand, features describe what a product is or does, and on the other hand, benefits explain how it will make the customer’s life easier, better, faster, more profitable, etc.
For example, an oscillating saw’s most significant features may be its cutting speed, blade angles, and motor power. But the benefits focus on what the buyer gains: Faster demolition, precision curved cuts, and less fatigue for all-day use.
Since the ultimate goal of the catalog is to connect with the audience, no matter their designation or role in the buying process, the copy and visuals must emphasize the meaningful benefits.
You can focus on the customer by telling a story of how your products solve real problems and improve outcomes. Here are a few helpful tactics on how to tell the story:
- Highlight unique selling points (USPs): This could include superior quality, innovative technology, cost-effectiveness, or exceptional customer service.
- Showcase real-world applications: You can include testimonials from other businesses that have benefited from using the products. This provides concrete examples of how the products can solve specific business problems or improve operations.
This customer-centric approach helps buyers understand why your products are worthwhile investments. Naturally, buyers choose the option that delivers the most relevant benefits.
7. Being Inconsistent Across Channels
Customers expect a seamless experience when engaging with your brand across channels; this is not an opinion. According to an Omnisend study, most customers (90%) expect their interactions to be consistent across all channels. So, an inconsistent catalog undermines that omni-channel journey.
Buyers may experience frustrations if, for example, a product page on your website has different photos, pricing, or details than the print or digital catalog.
Preventing the inconsistencies is easy – all you need is a single source of truth for your organization’s product content. We learned earlier that PIM and DAM are the best tools for this job.
While PIM ensures you can find all product details in one place, DAM centralizes, enriches, and simplifies the sharing of digital assets related to the products. You can connect the systems to facilitate the mapping of assets to products and syndicating them to channels, including catalogs.
Now, the catalog and broader customer experience stay in sync. This consistency builds trust and reinforces your brand identity. It also enables customers to transition smoothly from the catalog to purchase.
8. Not Testing and Improving Your Catalog
Be honest, after finally publishing your catalog, your first instinct was to kick back and call it done, right?
Here’s the hard truth: a catalog is NEVER done. To stay effective, it needs ongoing testing and optimization. You wouldn’t create a website and never touch it again, would you? Treat your catalog the same way. It requires constant monitoring, measurement, and improvement.
How can you approach this? You could use A/B testing to see which version of the catalog performs better. Watch metrics like downloads and click-throughs to spot issues.
Alternatively, ask customers directly through surveys and interviews what they like and don’t like about the experience. Then, tap into those insights to level up the catalog. Refine the content, visuals, navigation, offers – whatever needs a boost.
You must market and optimize your catalog like a living, breathing campaign because stagnation means missed opportunities.
In addition, continuously enriching product content to remain robust and relevant is essential. Keeping your product catalogs up-to-date with product updates and new product releases is a pivotal strategy to stay relevant compared to competitors.
By this point, you’re probably feeling ready to overhaul your own catalog – the good news is that you can do it. If you apply the suggested fixes appropriately, the catalog can start pulling its weight.
But don’t forget – an improved catalog is only the beginning. Promoting it is just as crucial. You need to play matchmaker and actively connect it with your audience across channels. Send email drip campaigns, highlight the catalog in social media posts, and equip your sales team with print copies. The more touchpoints, the better.
It takes work, but effective distribution is essential to results.
Optimized catalogs are invaluable sales tools because they inform and guide B2B buyers through every stage of their complex decision journey. Avoiding common mistakes helps catalogs better resonate with target audiences.
Thoroughly research buyer personas, conduct surveys, and interview existing customers about their preferences. Identify the roles involved in purchasing decisions and understand each one’s priorities.
Consider interactive elements like 3D models, zooming capability, animations, and video demos to enable prospects to digitally explore products. Also, optimize images for findability with alt text and metadata tagging.
Cross-channel promotion maximizes reach to connect the catalog with target audiences wherever they are. This includes email, social media, PPC ads, partner/distributor initiatives, and equipping the sales team.
Monitor metrics like downloads and conversions to identify issues. Run A/B tests on different catalog versions. Survey customers directly for feedback. Refine content, visuals, navigation, and offers based on insights.