Catalog Design Handbook

1. Styles and types of catalogs

Catalogs differ from leaflets and brochures in several important functional and philosophical ways. First, pamphlet-style literature typically is designed to use a constrained space to convey a moderate amount of information about one product or a superficial level of detail about several related products. Because they contain more pages than simple single-sheet brochures, catalogs can give a well-rounded picture of individual products and excel at presenting entire product lines.

Second, customers are less likely to retain brochures than they are to keep a catalog on a shelf or in a drawer. The substantial nature of a catalog, its heft in the hand and its ability to engage the reader in extended contemplation, elevates it to become a resource rather than simply a piece of promotional literature.

Although the mindset you use to create short leaflets involves some of the same marketing strategy that goes into catalog development, the catalog requires additional thought because of the depth and breadth of information it can convey.

Positioning your products

The first and most important consideration in creating a catalog lies in positioning what you sell in a way that appeals to the prospective customers who look through the pages of your project.

Matching the catalog’s style to your selling needs holds the key to developing a successful way to showcase your products.

If you’re not sure what makes your products appeal to purchasers and how to use that information to increase conversion rates, consider some research to quantify who buys from you and why. With your customers’ concerns identified, you can create text that addresses their motivations.

Lifestyle-oriented catalogs show readers how products match up with their dreams, desires, and motivations. Just-the-facts catalog text can tell the story of practical products. Some catalogs devote large amounts of page space to individual products. Others display only small photos and bullet-point copy. Legal considerations or regulations can apply to many types of goods, potentially limiting the messages you can convey, or requiring you to include specific disclaimers for compliance. Among these considerations lies a large range of options to evaluate.

The type of catalog you create has everything to do with the types of products or services you sell and the attributes that define your typical customers.

  • For example, a catalog for a high-end, designer-oriented line of kitchen appliances may devote more text to conjuring up the lifestyle that the company’s target consumers want to lead than to providing nuts-and-bolts descriptions of dimensions and specifications. These critically important facts don’t interest most purchasers before they make a buying decision. Instead of trying to attach these dry details to the atmospheric romance of a lifestyle vignette, the appliance company may restrict these factual statistics to a back-of-the-book specification section or to a separate installation brochure.
  • A catalog of wholesale electronics parts may require exactly the opposite form of content from the foodie romance of recipes, ranges, and refrigerators. A just-the-facts recitation of features and specifications may do a better job of positioning these types of purely functional products, with no need for lifestyle “aroma” to make the sale. Between these two opposing philosophies lie many alternatives that blend them together in varying ratios.

The unique selling proposition

Before you can put together an effective catalog that gets your target consumers’ attention and positions what you sell in the best possible light, you need a close understanding of what will motivate your prospects to buy from you.

What do you offer that your competition does not?

The answer to that question defines your unique selling proposition, or USP, the essence of the answer to the consumer question, “What makes you different, and why should I buy from you instead of from someone else?”

Once you know what your customers want, you have a better idea of how to position your offerings so they attract buying interest. To clarify and refine your USP, you may need to conduct some additional competitive research beyond the level of identifying companies that can attract the same customers. If these competitors issue catalogs, examine their offerings and analyze how they position themselves. Your catalog, and how it depicts you and your products, can help you differentiate yourself, rising above these competitive pressures to provide compelling marketing messages.

Appealing to your specific customers

With your USP in mind, and an understanding of the demographics that define your typical customers, think about the circumstances under which they’re motivated to make a purchase.

If you sell big-ticket items, look closely at the catalogs from the manufacturers of high-end kitchen appliances. The person who buys kitchen appliances does so once every decade or two, and may spend several thousands of dollars or more on a durable purchase. This buyer’s concerns center around how the appliances will enable him or her to prepare food and enjoy spending time in the kitchen.

If your big-ticket items fulfill comparable needs and desires, identify them and write them out so you can focus your catalog messaging toward meeting those needs.

Conversely, if you sell products that don’t benefit from conveying lifestyle factors to influence buying decisions, you may need a catalog that relies on straightforward bullet-point text and charts of specifications. These types of presentations work well for items that sell based on performance factors that enable them to compete with other products on the basis of price and performance.

The purchasing manager for an electronics firm or a construction company wants to know basic facts about capacitor behavior or fastener use, not an atmospheric description designed to conjure up visions of life enhancement. Again, writing out a description of the needs your typical customers seek to address can help you create positioning messages that resonate with those customers.

Catalogs also differ in the extent to which they rely on visual material and the types of material they use.

  • The lifestyle-oriented catalog that sells home furnishings typically uses an abundance of high-quality studio photography captured on sets that look like real home interiors, or even in the homes of actual customers.
  • The nuts-and-bolts catalog may include small thumbnail images of parts or packaging, or it may rely entirely on black-and-white line art to show part configuration and align with specification guides.

 

Tip: Plan your catalog to include the types of visual information that give your customers the information they need.

Tip: To maximize the success of your catalog project, match the style of catalog you create to the types of products you sell.

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