Catalogues 4 Business MD Ian Simpson doles out some tips for retailers

By Ian Simpson

In this digital world retailers could be forgiven for thinking paper catalogues obsolete, but this traditional marketing method still has a place in the market according to Catalogues 4 Business managing director Ian Simpson. He explains why and gives his tips for creating the perfect catalogue.


About 12 years ago I was introduced to the concept of multichannel marketing. I was sitting with a prospective jewellery client reviewing what to do with his catalogue, and as we chatted I began to understand a little bit more about his business and recognised that a new way of marketing and ultimately selling was emerging.

Back in the late 1990s true web marketing was in its infancy. Yes people, and indeed jewellers, were making money from the web but customers were not really able or willing to understand its implications. At that time we created a catalogue, mailed it and received the order by phone or post and if we had done something really clever, we might have got an e-mail order.

The prospective client that I recall here explained to me the way his customers were then starting to shop. As well as the mail order catalogue he had retail shops and a transactional website. He relayed to me how many of his customers would receive the catalogue and then perhaps visit the shop to look at the products, then go home and order on the web. Or alternatively they would go to the shop, pick up a catalogue or brochure, then place an order by phone. At the time, this activity gave birth to the concept of clicks-and-mortar and then later 360° marketing. Already recognised by our cousins over the water in the US, it placed the customer in the centre of a large circle of marketing channels; it didn’t matter how many channels you attacked him with just so long as he responded to one of them and the core to this was presence and activity.

The more astute marketers recognised this very early on and became very clever at integrating all channels successfully. As we all know the situation has now changed beyond all recognition and 360° marketing has metamorphosed into multichannel marketing; put simply, the same beast just with a new suit of clothes.

Well, 12 years down the line what has changed? And more importantly, what have we learned? The biggest single factor is that the web has grown beyond all expectations and the relentless drive of technology has meant quicker, cheaper access to the internet. There is no doubt that internet-only entrepreneurs have thrived and built substantial businesses, but initially many shunned, and even ridiculed, the continuation of paper-based marketing. And you can see the attraction; no print costs, no mailing or postage costs, order processing is simpler and the web is a far more dynamic medium.

But as the web has grown, competition for a place within it has become ferocious. Ad word and affiliate programs have developed into an industry in their own right and, combined with all the other e-based marketing activity, represent a potential significant marketing spend, yet still the single biggest thing you can do to drive traffic to your website is targeted direct marketing, through mailing catalogues, brochures, leaflets and so forth.

I recently sat with a client looking at his web traffic figures. We were reviewing his web spend on click-throughs and traffic against online sales. There were two lovely peaks rising above a fairly level track of activity and these coincided exactly with the date his targeted catalogues landed on doorsteps. If the activity had risen on the web, it was safe to assume that there had been similar rise in activity with the retail outlets.

Ours is a data-driven industry and to analyse information, in order to drive the next activity, is second nature to us. By pooling the data from all the channels it gives a much clearer picture of buyer activity, which allows us to refine and customise marketing strategies.

Without doubt, many, including those within the jewellery industry, saw the relentless rise of the web and internet marketing as the death knell for paper catalogues and mailings. In truth, they should lie as uneasy bedfellows — they are at opposite ends of the technological scale; the old dependable versus the whizz kid. But it is clear they each have their place and they can learn from each other.

To be a true multichannel marketer you have to exploit every weapon in your arsenal. Catalogues can reach prospective customers in a way that no other channel can; they build brand, drive web traffic, capture sales and enrich the buying experience. Remember: multichannel marketing is all about presence and, at every opportunity, getting your products in front of your prospects. Mailings are unique in that they search out your prospects and not the other way round; they are very proactive and when supported with the dynamic web and email channels, the effect can be outstanding.


1. Covers
Without doubt the cover is the most important page in the catalogue. It quickly has to tell the reader everything about your company, your products and your proposition. It has to communicate relevancy to your target audience and draw the reader in. To use a retail parallel, your catalogue is like a shop window. Walk down your local high street and see what shops attract your attention, and more importantly why. It will inevitably be a mix of brand, relevancy, desire and need; this is exactly how your cover should work.

2. Pace and Eyeflow
Pace is the art of engaging your reader’s attention. In their most basic form, catalogues are listings set simply as a body of type, extremely boring and monotonous. Good typography and pictures break the rhythm, directing the reader around the page and through the catalogue. Prudent use of graphic devices can attract attention and pull-out products. Eyeflow is vitally important; catalogues are read in predictable ways. Research by Seigfried Voegle highlighted how a reader enters a spread top right, tracks across to the middle left and finally exits bottom right; this creates exploitable hotspots and dead areas.

3. Positioning and Brand Image
As a brand led society, we strive to be identified with the products we buy and whom we buy them from. One of the first steps to creating great catalogue is to define and record your positioning statement and whenever you create a catalogue ensure that its execution supports and enhances this statement. This will create an instantly recognisable sales vehicle.

4. Clear Typography
Typography is a silent partner to design – yet it has the power to have a great effect on the communication of your message. Good typography lubricates the message and relays information smoothly and seamlessly. Key areas are: the choice of font, type on a background (type is much harder to read on a coloured background and is often ignored, blocks of type should never be run over pictures or reversed out), line lengths (short line lengths are easier to read), and coloured type (avoid coloured type, except in heading or for impact).

5. Use of icons
Catalogues rely on their ease-of-use for success. Icons are a great way to highlight simple, recurring messages throughout a catalogue. They are best used to reinforce guarantees, service items such as delivery, price changes and new products. Well-designed icons become familiar to readers and they respond to them unconsciously. Ideally the icons should be explained on page 2 or, in bigger catalogues, highlighted at regular intervals.

6. Clear, Benefit-led Copy
With retail catalogues the purpose of copy is to create a desire and demand for products. The dialogues and tone has to be appropriate to the target audience and this is sometimes difficult to judge. Humour should be approached with caution and you should never talk down to your readers. Copy should be benefit-led and reinforce the features accordingly; for example, colour is not a benefit, but strength, ease of use and performance are. It should also include all the information necessary to complete the purchase. Any barrier to completing a sale can result in a lost sale.

7. Easy to Use Order Forms
Order forms are not a necessary evil, they are the last chance to market to your customers and they reinforce the purpose of your catalogue – which is to sell. The order form will be one of the most frequently used pages in a catalogue; get it wrong and you could lose the sale. Give readers enough space to complete all the details. Include an impulse buy, free gift or offer — this is the last chance to sell to your customer.

8. Good Organisation
Plan your catalogue carefully with a logical journey through the sections and product groupings. You can afford to take far more risks with your buyers than with prospects. Always start with the products you are best known for at the front of prospecting catalogues — this reinforces your proposition very early. Your can also try out a favourites page to promote new or different products. Don’t forget that readers can also start from the back of the catalogue as well as the front. The back cover is a powerful page for offers.

9. Clear Photography
With catalogue photography product is king. Style the photography appropriately for your intended audience to make it very clear what you are selling.

10. Sell off the page
It sounds obvious but selling off the page is often misunderstood, it is not just a matter of shouting "buy me!" at every opportunity; instead you have to create desire and expectation. Products have to be placed in a marketing context and the reader given the opportunity and information to make the purchase. Don’t put barriers between the sale and order placement, make it very clear what the buyers have to do.


This article was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.