Best Practices for Using Catalogs in Direct-Mail Campaigns

Best Practices for Using Catalogs in Direct-Mail Campaigns

As digital marketing costs increase, privacy and copyright issues cloud AI’s future, and placement concerns dog digital advertising, retailers are turning back to catalogs.

Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Ikea – and even digital natives like Wayfair and Amazon – have rediscovered the power of catalogs to engage customers and boost ROI.

Suppose you want to join their ranks. How can you use the power of catalogs to boost your business?

Consider The Catalog

If you’re of a certain age, you remember when the Sears catalog was called “The Wish Book.”

That appellation still holds for catalogs. A properly produced catalog has an unmatched ability to whet consumers’ appetites for your product.

A catalog with high-quality photography and content that complements product listings has the power to stick for months in a consumer’s household. It can live by a nightstand or in a bathroom reading rack, and it can receive undivided attention in an era when such attention is one of the most valuable human commodities.

People can take their time with a catalog, as opposed to the digital realm, where the emphasis is on rushing through this website to get to the next one.

Furthermore, catalogs can be multisensory experiences, stimulating sight, touch, and in some cases, smell and hearing as well.

On the production-and-delivery side, catalogs can be delivered with great precision to current and lapsed customers and lookalike audiences, enhancing your chances of connecting the right people to your products.

In addition, content within catalogs can be personalized, showing products or making recommendations that are most likely to appeal to the recipient.

Finally, QR codes or other links in your catalog can be used to drive traffic to your website or store.

If you want your brand’s products to be considered, understood, and loved, a catalog is a great place to deliver all three.

The Resurgence of Catalogs

There’s also scholarly research that shows that catalogs work.

Jonathan Z. Zhang, a business professor at Colorado State University, found that individuals who received catalogs and emails purchased 24% more products than those who only received emails, resulting in an impressive 870% return on investment.

Zhang also found that catalogs are especially effective for promoting luxury items or “splurges.” Catalogs featuring products like cashmere throws, luxury watches, or high-end candies outperformed catalogs focused on utilitarian items like hammers, with a 120% higher ROI.

In addition, a recent study from RRD, a company specializing in print solutions, revealed that almost half of retail businesses surveyed have reallocated their budgets to put greater emphasis on print channels like direct mail and catalogs.

While there may be some built-in bias in a survey from a printer asking businesses if they’re using more print, independent research confirms this trend.

Finding The Audience

The days of “spray-and-pray” catalog mailing are long gone. Not everyone needs to receive your catalog, and in fact, you don’t want everyone to receive your catalog. Part of the new appeal of catalogs comes from their perceived exclusivity.

(There’s also the environmental aspect to consider. The carbon footprint of a catalog is not only more overt than that of digital advertising, it’s also larger in many cases. That’s why the U.S. Postal Service, among other entities, is researching catalog effectiveness with a goal of making and sending only as many catalogs as are absolutely necessary.)

Best Practices for Using Catalogs

If you’re considering using catalogs as part of your direct-mail campaign, here are a few best practices to follow:

Know your target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your catalog? What are their interests and needs?

This is more than direct-marketing boilerplate. If a catalog costs you $5 or more per pop before it’s mailed, you need to know exactly who you want to target and exactly how much you expect them to spend. And you’d better have the catalog content to support that.

Use high-quality images. The images in your catalog should make you want to hoover up whatever you’re showing on the page right then and there – eat that bacon or wear that dress.

Remember that a picture in a catalog has to be the equivalent of a YouTube video plus a webpage, so don’t skimp on the photo budget.

Make your catalog easy to read. Use a large font and plenty of white space. It’s better to show fewer high-margin items than to cram everything into eight pages.

Include calls to action. Tell people what you want them to do after they read your catalog. Be specific, and understand how your CTAs affect the desired ROI from your catalog. Everything’s a factor in one big equation.

Understand the customer journey. What are the actions you want people to take when they receive your catalog, and what does that journey look like?

It’s important that the process of ordering from a catalog not be any more involved than the process of shopping and ordering online. If people ordering from a catalog have to enter a long URL and dive through multiple sub-menus to get to a product online customers can access with a click, your spend on a catalog is largely wasted.

Using personalized URLs to deliver personalized product suggestions based on demographics and past order history can go a long way toward eliminating friction from the catalog ordering process.

Remember that the people ordering from a catalog may be your best customers. They deserve the best customer experience.

Track your results. Use a unique customer number, QR code, coupon code, or URL in your catalog so you can track how many people ordered from this catalog.

While the holiday catalog window has largely closed for this year, it’s just the right time to start planning for 2024, and a year’s worth of seasonal catalog mailings.

By Dan Topel – 12/11/23

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.

Copyright by JHL Digital Direct. All rights reserved.