Catalogs Connect with Customers During Pandemic

As the pandemic slowdown crawls along, a catalog remains one of the most effective ways for a brand to engage with customers.

Prior to COVID-19, research had noted a resurgence in catalogs as a marketing tool. Once written off as expensive dinosaurs unsuited for a mobile age, catalogs demonstrated an uncanny survival instinct. Some analysts believe that customers see a catalog as a welcome change of pace from today’s barrage of email and text marketing.

When the world shut down, in-store shopping temporarily vanished. Telecommuting made in-person sales calls problematic. B2B and B2C marketers had to switch tactics to reach their consumers and business buyers stuck at home. Newfound idle time shifted behaviors. A survey by Royal Mail showed that 88% of respondents paid more attention to the mail during the shutdown. The venerable catalog was an obvious answer, but with a few new twists.

B2C catalogs: Lifestyle immersion

Port Hawkesbury research states that B2C customers spend about 15 minutes looking at a printed catalog. This is 69 times longer than the average email view of 13 seconds. Catalogs offer a tactile experience — a mini journey of the mind — that immerses the reader in the brand. Often B2C catalogs are as much about a lifestyle or a statement as the products. The look and feel of the catalog need to sweep the customer into the brand’s world and create or strengthen that bond.

Automakers understand this. For example, the Subaru magazine I receive is a quarterly invitation to enticing adventures and getaways on and off beaten paths all over North America. Of course, Subaru is subtly pitching the latest sensible, versatile, reliable Subaru models, accessories and swag — but that’s beside the point. With each issue, the manufacturer reinforces why I bought a Subaru in the first place: because they make sensible, versatile, reliable cars.

B2B catalogs: Digital reaches buyers anywhere

For typical B2B marketers such as manufacturers and distributors, print catalogs have long carried a sense of brand gravitas, often with considerable physical heft. Signature catalogs of 1000+ pages remain a staple for some brands, but they do command longer production cycles and, if to be printed, firm deadlines. One drawback to print in a pandemic is the unknown of the intended recipient’s whereabouts. A catalog delivered to an empty cubicle is no use to a buyer marooned at home.

To counter this logistics problem, many companies have digitized their catalogs. Digital versions eliminate the need both for a precise page count and any printer costs. The digital catalog can be accessed by a web address in an email, and catalog “flip book” versions with navigation and website links can be downloaded by the recipient. The digital edition “meets” the customer wherever they are. Digital is a cost-effective alternative that has been widely embraced by online-savvy customers.

Tips for catalogs today

Whether a business sells to B2C or B2B customers, these catalog ideas are trending.

Smaller and targeted. Specialty catalogs center on specific market segments or customer groups. One client of ours split its 1000-page science education print catalog into seven small digital editions targeting different scientific disciplines. The idea was to make it easier for teachers to learn about the new products of interest to their individual classrooms.

Magalogs. Many firms incorporate magazine-like elements into 8-to-48-page catalogs. Called magalogs, they offer products plus editorial content to create a contextualized experience for the reader. Instead of a stream of block-by-block product pages, magalogs incorporate blog-like articles, tips and techniques, user stories and similar material. The content serves as a value add to the products featured in each issue. Web links and QR codes provide access to more content.

Make it creative. In line with the magalog concept, marketers are moving away from bland catalogs. Layout and graphics should be clean but attractive and memorable. Again, the idea is to grab the attention of the captive readers and get them to spend time with the book. We devised a travel-themed magalog as the primary communication for one client’s distributor sales incentive program. Winners who achieve a certain level of sales earn a place in a group vacation at an exotic locale. The magalog encouraged their efforts, enticed them with details about the destination, and featured key branded products from sponsoring manufacturers to aid their dales efforts.

Digital or print, a catalog keeps your brand front and center with your customers. To learn more, or to start a catalog project for your brand, give JP Enterprises a call at 800-538-5743.

Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services for JP Enterprises Unlimited. The Carnegie Mellon graduate and his wife dote on their cats. Dan collects old comic books and lives and dies with his Pitt Panthers.

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