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Customers will judge your catalog by its cover

August 16, 2006
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I know the idea that your customers will judge your catalog by its cover is in direct conflict to the life lesson your mother spent so many years trying to instill into you — you can’t judge a book by its cover, right?

Still, chances are she was not overly concerned about your catalog’s ROI or marketing strategies for boosting your bottom line.

The customers who recognize your name and may even look forward to receiving your catalog are few and far between. The vast majority of your customers and prospects are probably receiving two to three catalogs — on any given day. Some are competitive and others are not. But the sheer volume can cause anyone to become desensitized and disinterested.

Even though your catalog may offer the most comprehensive product selection or some irresistible deals, if your customer doesn’t see anything noteworthy about your catalog, they’ll never open it. This is why the cover plays such an crucial role in the overall success of your catalog.

Heavy burden

The front cover must communicate a message that is clear, concise and, most importantly, a call-to-action. After all, you want your catalog to be treated as a resource tool needed to make purchasing decisions — not just another catalog on the shelf. Some information or ideas to consider utilizing the layout of your catalog’s cover to help communicate your message include:
  • Company name – should be clearly identified; do not sacrifice the function of the catalog cover for a purely creative idea.
  • Unique selling proposition – this is what sets you apart (e.g., orders ship same day, special discounts, product guarantees, etc.).
  • Effective date – announcing when your published prices become effective/expire.
  • Hero/feature product – select a product with appeal to the vast majority of your customer base to help steer traffic inside the catalog for more information.
  • Contact information – clearly identify the best ways to contact you (e.g., toll-free number, Web site, etc.).

These key communication points must be determined before the design/layout of the cover is started. It will be much easier, and more effective, if you begin your creative endeavor with a set list of items you wish to communicate — as opposed to trying to shoe-horn your key communication points into a great design/layout.

Think of your catalog cover much the same way you would a billboard, display ad or storefront — you have but a brief moment to intrigue a prospect and initiate a call-to-action. You want to make sure the most important facts are easily gleaned.

First impressions

After you’ve nailed down the “who, what, where and when” facts for your cover, take a moment to research how you want to present yourself to your customers through your catalog. When your customer, or a prospect, picks up your catalog and looks at it for the first time, what do you want to convey to them? Will they understand that you are:
  • A complete source for all of their safety equipment needs?
  • Positioned to meet the needs of their specific work environment or industry?
  • Able to sell, service and train the customer how to properly use their new purchase?
  • A low-cost leader, a wholesaler, an on-site provider, a contract supplier, etc.?

Don’t allow a great design or layout idea to undermine your key communication points. If both the design and communication elements of your catalog’s cover are not working together, then you run the risk of them working against each other. Your catalog cover must carry the synergy and momentum to not only catch your customer’s eye, but also encourage them to purchase. Be sure your customers are reading and seeing the same message when they pick up your catalog.

If your catalog’s cover design is not helping you to sell the products listed inside your book, maybe you should consider using that sort of design for a promotional poster. Then create an effective design for your catalog’s cover. Remember, your cover plays a major role in the overall effectiveness of your catalog. It’s important to research and design a catalog cover that works for you and promotes the content inside.

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