Are Print Catalogs Still Relevant in Today’s Marketplace?

With an ever-growing ecommerce industry resulting in marketing tactics focusing on the digital realm, some may wonder how pertinent the print catalog remains. In order to shed some insight on the matter, we asked Paul Brierly, JPE’s President & CEO and Dan Skantar, Director of Content Services

Are catalogs still relevant for businesses today?

Paul: Catalogs carry brand equity. A large percentage of buyers still prefer to shop by catalog or use the print book as a reference before buying online. In addition, a printed catalog has perceived value and a physical presence. You can hold it in your hands. You have to make a conscious effort to dispose of one.

Dan: I agree! If deployed correctly, and measured accurately, a printed catalog is a valuable part of a multichannel strategy.

It’s about knowing your customers, both established and prospective. A targeted catalog with mindful distribution can increase its efficacy, while building a stronger, personalized connection with your customers. For a lot of customers, catalogs serve as the step before they place their order through another channel.

Physical media, like catalogs, are more influential in garnering sales than their digital counterparts. USPS’s Catalogs: Trends and Updates details studies that have shown that physical ads inspire deeper emotional connections and stronger brand association for longer periods of time. According to MarketingProfs, direct mail has a response rate of 3.7%, overwhelming compared to Email’s 0.2% and Social Media’s 0.1%. Paid search and Internet display rank even lower, coming in at 0.01 % and 0.02%, respectively.

Which industries can particularly benefit from print catalogs?

Paul: Much of our catalog business comes from B2B distributors in the industrial segment. The major distributors in that segment still produce printed books that remain go-to references for customers. Many of the prospects that our clients target are machinists or those working in a large plant. I think that they like to look through the catalog and order online. We do great e-catalogs for the majority of our catalogs as well. These include hyperlinks that drive the buyer to that particular section of the website for easy purchasing. 

Dan: Any industry that is in tune with its end user market. For example, Toys “R” Us left a sales void that Amazon quickly filled. Historically, the timing of TRU’s Christmas catalog accounted for the largest portion of their annual revenues.

Amazon had a prime opportunity to capitalize on the absence of Toys “R” Us during the 2018 holiday season. By printing their first toy catalog, they were now accessible to the children of millions of their customers. Social media became littered with posts of children thumbing through the catalog, eagerly circling which toys they wanted Santa to bring.

One of the ways to maximize a catalog’s impact (both in print and digital) is to fill product descriptions with key words in order to increase the company’s SEO. View the catalog as an integrated cog in your marketing machine, working simultaneously with the other components to form a comprehensive outreach strategy. The Inclusion of QR codes®, infographics, and social media call-to-actions can also contribute to a more immersive consumer experience.

How can a business benefit from promoting through multiple channels?

Paul: You have to adapt to the changing customer preferences. The younger generation of managers and buyers grew up with mobile devices and expect to be able to purchase what they need from the palm of their hands. A business that ignores this trend does so at their own peril.

Dan: Higher sales revenue and less wasted time.  

It’s not just Amazon taking advantage of the multichannel approach. Dan mentions, “Kohl’s and many retail giants utilize small catalogs to drive brick-and-mortar sales, while others drive sales to their ecommerce.” In addition, previously online-only home goods brand Wayfair has expanded its promotion to include catalogs and direct-mail materials.

What advantages does print marketing have over digital?

Paul: The catalog on your shelf creates a visible presence for your brand. Often times a printed catalog is easier to use to make product comparisons quickly. There is practicality in being able to see products from different vendors on one page.

Dan: In some cases, shelf life. I have a favorite brick-and-mortar store that I shop at every month. I get emails about specials on a daily basis, with different products being highlighted. That same retailer also sends me a catalog that sits on my coffee table until the specials expire. Several years ago, JCPenny discontinued their coupon mailers. While not a catalog, this decision burned through their cash reserves in months. The new CEO and marketing team did not understand their end user market.

There’s no denying the importance for a business to have a digital presence. Instead of viewing print and digital as competing mediums, businesses should view them as companions. Why else would Amazon, one of the leading online retailers, produce a toy catalog for the 2018 holiday season?

One of the ways digital-only marketing suffers is the sheer number of competitors vying for consumers’ attention. Constantly inundated with numerous ads, consumers are increasingly likely to delete the unopened email blasts or skip the 30-second Youtube commercials. As both Paul and Dan mention, catalogs take up physical space. Catalogs are tangible. A consumer has to physically engage with them in the disposal process, inadvertently increasing brand recognition.

The catalog industry is very much alive and well, adapting to new industry standards and trends. The potential success of a prospective catalog boils down to analytics and customer relations. It’s imperative that you know and connect with your customer base. In Dan’s words, “Business segments that have a good grasp on their end user personas are able to target specific groups with printed matter, rather than sending out a catalog to everyone.

Tyisha Wrice is a Catalog Designer for JP Enterprises. In pursuit of the elusive work-life balance, she enjoys live music and kickboxing in her spare time.

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