The New Era of Print Catalog Relevance

August 3, 2018

Using data to sell and inspire works offline, too

When Tiffany & Co. mailed the first North American print catalog in 1845, their goals were the same as they are for brands today: sell product. What’s changed tremendously, though, is how consumers decide to buy. The resulting challenge for some retailers, is they haven’t evolved in the way they think about how catalogs work. This antiquated mindset means missed opportunities — opportunities to remain top of mind, to inspire and to ultimately sell product. All it takes is an openness to new possibilities in print.

Regardless of perception, catalogs are effective by any measure. Surveys and studies indicate 107.1 million U.S. shoppers purchased from print catalogs in 2016. Their “open rate” is 80 percent, roughly three times that of email. More than one in five Americans spends upwards of $500 annually on print catalog purchases. Print catalogs work, so it’s worth exploring why, and how to get the most value from the channel.

Print’s unheralded return

Print never went away — but its return on investment is greater than ever before, with positive outcomes regardless of the customer. The important consideration for marketers is to make sure catalogs are strategically incorporated into multichannel planning. Print and digital can work closely together for more than three times greater results than each on its own.

Today’s most effective catalogs look more like travel journals, photo albums or scrapbooks — beautiful pieces of photojournalism supplemented with copy reinforcing the brand’s personality and promise. This is why in the past 30 days, 56.7 million people have visited a website because they received a catalog in the mail (Quad/Graphics Customer Focus Research Study, 2016). Along with that, 25 percent of consumers saying catalogs led to online visits, and 33 percent to a brick-and-mortar shopping trip.

These catalogs are serving a new purpose: to inspire shoppers. Cultivating an emotional connection is more likely with ink-on-paper, showing brands care enough about what they’re selling to put effort into creating a physical piece. Psychologically this doesn’t go unnoticed by audiences, and they’ll put in the time to consider a catalog’s future promise of a better tomorrow. This connection is not so easily fostered digitally.

Now it’s personal

But inspiration isn’t much good to a marketer if it’s not actionable. Brands can help ensure action with relevant catalog content. Demographic and psychographic data, typically used to retarget and serve up ads digitally, can have an impact offline, as well.

Catalogs have evolved to meet consumer expectations for content. With the right content and tools, creative marketers will appeal to the tech-savvy audiences quickly becoming the vast majority in purchase power. These consumers don’t simply see a sponsored social media post then immediately add products to their carts. In fact, 86 percent of U.S. consumers shop across at least two channels. Catalogs are key to consideration, and can in turn directly convert those audiences.

Printing unique QR codes on mailing labels to trigger an augmented reality experience will get undivided attention. Mining online data to include only content relevant to a recipient will demonstrate how a brand is exactly what she or he might need right now. The trick is to clearly articulate a program’s goals, which will dictate the ideal marketing formula for a particular brand and product, opening new avenues for persuasive storytelling.

Hitting home

In the end any planning must consider the consumer. The catalog is one way for them to learn about a brand. It’s an option that many continue to prefer, regardless of generation.

The Gen Z demographic spends more uninterrupted time with print magazines and newspapers than with digital media. It’s a matter of trust, and earning credibility. The simplicity with which young consumers can put content online helps them appreciate the deliberate action brands take in creating assets, retouching, printing, personalizing and mailing catalogs.

Still, catalogs are anything but a novelty. On the contrary — catalogs are evolving to become more effective and relevant. Sending a physical catalog into the home will garner much more attention than a flashing banner ad on a screen that disappears upon scrolling. But only if the marketers fully tap into its creative and personalization potential.

Value and vitality

Tiffany’s “Catalogue of Useful and Fancy Articles” was a necessity in 1845 — the retailer had no way to sell jewelry to those outside their physical location, and customers had no way to buy it without visiting a store. Catalogs should not be relegated to history, though. What was once mandatory and expected is now a welcome addition to a consumer’s mailbox. Catalogs serve as invitations recipients can take up at leisure, unlike more unwelcome messages.

Variable four-color printing makes personalization simpler and more fiscally well-founded than ever before — the more personalized the catalog the greater the return on any investment. Smart marketers will make room for catalogs in the multichannel mix in a way that makes sense for them, and for their customers.