HOW TO MAKE A CATALOG IN 10 STEPS

Direct mail cataloging is an exciting and proven direct marketing channel to grow your business. We’ve created this list from our many catalog customers using their experiences with launching their own catalogs in order to share the basics of how to make a catalog in an effort to help you on your own journey of launching a catalog.

1) PRODUCT DETERMINATION

Deciding what not to put in your catalog is sometimes more important than what you do put into it, as not all your products will appeal to all your customers. Additionally, you may be targeting a specific demographic with your catalog and the products need to satisfy a found need or want to be effective.

Determining which products to include can be extrapolated from your data metrics with input from key individuals from Purchasing, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Senior Executives.

2) DATA MODELING / MAILING LIST

mailing list screenA single catalog can cost as much as $2.00-$3.00 for each consumer you reach, so targeting the right audience is important to secure a successful return on investment.

Targeting Existing Customers: If your catalog is going to target your existing customers (commonly referred to as a “house list”), then you have a starting point mailing list, and you’ll next need to have it “pre-sorted” for postal delivery. Pre-sorting is a necessity, as it will save you money on your mailing costs.

If your printer is also going to be handling the mailing along with the printing they can help you with the pre-sorting of your list, otherwise, the “mail house” you choose can help you with this task.

Targeting New Customers: If your catalog is going to target new customers (commonly referred to as a “prospect list”), then you will need to obtain a list from a list company, list broker, or pick a geographic location to target. If you’re using a list company/broker then you can create your data model with filters such as age, estimated income, marital status, gender, home value/new homeowners, presence of children, ethnicity, hobbies/interests, city, county, state and zip code. If your catalog is targeted to a specific geographic location, then your list company/broker can create a list based on your specific location criteria including city, zip code, or community.

Targeting by Geographic Location: If you’re targeting a very specific geographical location, such as a store location or grand opening, then you can use a service from the United States Post Office called EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail), The EDDM Service lets you pick the actual postal carrier routes you want using their graphical mapping tool, to target the exact locations around and in your target area, and they will deliver to “every door” on every route you choose.

LIST COMPANIES OR LIST BROKERS WE RECOMMEND:

3) CATALOG DESIGN

Having a beautiful catalog that showcases your products, is a direct representation of your company brand, and crucial to the success of your catalog getting noticed and opened.

Your catalog should be considered a salesperson for your business that will get “past the front door”, into your customers’ hands, and entice them on each of your products.

Considering all the choices that have to be made designing your catalog, creative aesthetics, textile feel, and important catalog attributes can be the most debated and influential decision you make in the entire catalog process. Take your time with the choices, and plan out the artistic representation of your brand’s catalog. Your catalog should tell a story with its careful placement of products and how the pages “flow” from one to the next as your audience engages and turns each page to discover the next item.

Magazine Style Catalog: If you’re wanting a “Magazine” feel to your catalog (like Patagonia has successfully done for years), then you will want to add lifestyle pages and stories sprinkled throughout the catalog to define the “chapters” of your product lines. This style of catalog benefits your customers by offering them more than just a product to buy, as it also provides them with a lifestyle to connect with their own needs.

Editorial Style Magazine: If you are aiming for a “Beautiful Editorial” feel from your catalog (like Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma Home both do), create and design your catalog with big beautiful images on your pages (sometimes stretching across both pages) that show the products in their finished spaces, along with beautify written product descriptions extolling each unique and warming detail. This style of catalog has a look, feel, and flow that is instantly welcoming to view and browse and has proven to be extremely successful for the brands reflecting this style.

Sale Style Catalog: When creating a “Sale” catalog, follow your existing catalog design, and keep your product images as large as possible (tiny print images just don’t have any appeal). Hi-light your sale prices by showing the original price next to the reduced price of each product and call out special savings items with even larger images and colored prices. This style of catalog benefits the customer by providing them “at a glance” the savings they will accumulate when they purchase from you.

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Catalog Production Best Practices Guidelines Cover

CATALOG PRINTING BEST PRACTICES

We’ve created a catalog layout & production guidelines white paper to help you prepare your catalog design files for the catalog printing process.
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Three points to keep in mind when designing your catalog, as they will greatly affect your printing and mailing costs:

  1. Paper Choice:
    High-quality paper gives your catalog a premium feel that people will subconsciously notice, and the tactile quality will also print extremely well, in-turn showing off the beauty of your products much more elegantly. Yet premium paper costs more (and usually weighs more too!), again adding cost to the project.
  2. Page Count:
    Very dense/thick catalogs, or as Restoration Hardware calls their behemoth, “Source Books”, are such an oddity that the consumer can not easily part with them, so they hang onto these catalogs until the next one arrives. As you can guess, the more pages you have, the heavier your catalog will be and thus will be more expensive to print and to mail.
  3. Page Size:
    A larger than normal catalog (or a unique size like a catalog with square pages), will help your catalog stand out in a mailbox crowd and get a better viewing/pass along rate that a standard size catalog would. An over-sided catalog of this type will be more expensive to print and to mail, but it can help you get a better response from your mailing. There are “standard” catalog page sizes you can choose to help minimize paper waste during printing, but at the cost of your catalog being similar to the other ones your customers and prospects are already receiving.
example of a standard size catalog

Standard Size
Common
8.25″ x 10.5″
Qualifies as a “Flat” postage priced item.

examples of Slim Jim and Digest catalog sizes

Alternative Sizes
Slim Jim Catalog:
5.5″ x 10.5″
Digest Catalog:
5.25″ x 8.25″
Both qualify as “Letter” postage priced items.

If you don’t possess an “in-house” design team that’s familiar with print design, then you will want to utilize a designer or creative agency to help you with your catalog design. Regardless, make sure whomever you hire for your catalog creative is familiar with catalog design and catalog print production.

4) PRODUCT PHOTOGRAPHY

Hasselblad H4D CameraTasteful product photography can invoke a need or desire within your customers, improving the chances for a sale (or multiple sales!). The photography should be consistent and representative of your product’s finer details. A lifestyle shot of your product (where you see the product in action or on a model), can instill an emotional response in your customer pushing them to make a purchase.

Catalog Images: Photoshoot Tips

To maximize the results of your photography during photo shoots, careful planning and timing are crucial because you typically pay by the day in the form of a “day rate” or you pay “by the shot”. If you are shooting “on location” it is even more critical that coordination and timing be accurate so that you don’t end up with the photographer ready to shoot, but the product still “in transit” to the location. Supporting elements that can help a photoshoot go smoother, especially if you are doing lifestyle shots, like having sketches/mockups available to the photographer so they can see your vision of what will be in the shot, and what should be in the background also. A model wearing a floral dress evokes a different response if she’s in front of a palm tree-lined beach versus in front of a parking lot! The importance of good photography is why so many catalogers hire a professional creative director who often know their way around a photoshoot.

Photo Selection: What You Need to Know

After the photos are shot you will need to make your “Selects”. This process involves rejecting all but the perfect shot (or shots) from the photoshoot. Imagine someone modeling a dress on a “breezy day” and you can foresee how many photos it could take to get the perfect shot of her smiling, eyes wide open, and hair flowing “just right”. Odd but true, even though you’re selling the dress, you’re also selling how the dress can make your customer feel when wearing it. Once you or your team has decided on your selects (yes, sometimes it takes a committee to choose the selects), you’ll send those files to your “prepress” provider for correction. At this time, you will also begin designing the layout of the catalog by placing the low-resolution versions of those images into your catalog page design to get a feel for your catalog’s “flow”.

cgi stages
Did You Know?

Instead of hiring construction crews, building stages & sets, and shipping products around, some catalogers are opting to use CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), to build “virtual rooms” to generate their lifestyle shots.

These CGI rooms are virtually indistinguishable from actual photographs and the products are shot in the studio and then “merged” into the CGI room image. Using this technology provides a substantial savings versus the cost of traditional “location based” photoshoots.

5) CATALOG PRODUCTION / VERSIONING / PROSPECTING

catalog versioningYou cannot always predict what the market will react to, so you may want to “test” the market with a concept with “versioning”—printing and mailing your catalog in smaller batches and across multiple dates. This process is commonly referred to as “Drops”, with each catalog drop having the pages and products “shuffled around” to move the top-selling items to the front of the catalog, and sometimes, removing items from the catalog that sell out or become back-ordered.

Catalog Mailing Strategy 101

Splitting your mailing list into several smaller mailings allows you to strategize your catalog drop dates to create windows where you analyze your sales, identify trends, and make adjustments according to market conditions. This process is often a very fast-paced and hectic one, as these “windows” between drops are sometimes as short as one to two weeks where you have to scramble to coordinate all the changes and approvals before the next drop hits. Having an experienced catalog production staff (and a world-class prepress provider like Artisan Colour) can help alleviate the chaos and stress.

6) PREPRESS

The single biggest factor in a customer’s purchasing decision comes down to one variable: color. Color shouldn’t just be close—it needs to be exact to minimize customer returns. Your catalog’s product images also need to be accurate and void of any flaws that could potentially detract from a purchase. “Prepress” is the process of correcting the original photography color for the printing process, retouching the photos to improve the product’s appearance, and prepping (“prep”) the files for the printing process.

CMYK vs. RGB: What’s the Big Deal? The printing process uses 4 ink colors to recreate images (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), commonly referred to as “CMYK” which is a subtractive color model. Computers, televisions and digital cameras use 3 colors to recreate images (Red, Green and Blue), commonly referred to as “RGB” which is an additive color model. Since these two color spaces are so very different, the colors in your photos do not translate consistently between the two, so color correction (i.e: prepress) is required to adjust for these color differences.

How Prepress Can Save You Money: Additionally, printing paper is not always bright white, so the images can look dull and lack the contrast your photography captured when originally shot. Having a prepress company fix or adjust your images minimizes the chances that your customers return their purchased products because “the color didn’t match”. Additionally, having a prepress company inspect, correct and prepare your files for the printing process will help to avoid costly “downtime” on your press run.

What’s with the Name? Artisan Colour has been providing the highest level of prepress services to the world’s most distinguished catalog brands since 1998 – after all, color is in our name. We take color seriously and choose the best artisans to give our clients the best results. You’ve most likely already seen our best work right in your very own living room. Many catalog retailers trust our company to produce their catalogs with meticulously crafted work and confident execution. Here are just a few of the catalogs that we routinely provide our catalog services for…

7) PRINTING AND MAILING

If your catalog circulation is 10,000 or more for your entire mailing, or your “drops” are each 10,000 or more, then you will want to print your catalog with a “web-offset printer” because these quantities are most cost-effective at this scale and above.

For circulations less than 10,000, or if you are running test mailings, catalogs for special customers/stores, or variable data catalogs, then you will want to utilize the capabilities of digital printing because of the flexibility of print runs, quicker turnaround times, variable data capabilities, and lower total cost.

On-Press: A Critical Step in The Catalog Printing Process

The scale at which an offset printing facility operates is a manufacturing marvel, complete with multi-story tall printing presses and football-field-sized departments for collating, binding, shipping, and mailing. When working with an offset printer such as Arandell, you will need to purchase your paper and “book” your press date months in advance, and have your catalog files absolutely ready for printing before your booked press date. Large catalog print runs can stretch across several days and your printer provides you the opportunity to be “on-site” for the press run to verify your catalog’s color accuracy during the print run. Artisan Colour can help with “on-press” representative there with you to help guarantee you the most accurate color for your catalog.

Keep in mind that the press date you book with your offset printer is fixed and typically not flexible. You may be charged for the press time whether you print your catalog or not!

offset vs digital printing for catalogs

Digitally printed catalogs offer unique marketing opportunities to your business and the recipients of your catalog with features such as variable data/variable images, personalization, quicker turnaround, better time to market, better engagement with 1-to-1 output and short-run “test” catalogs. Your files are prepared the same way as offset printing, and the results are as equal to, if not better than traditional offset printing. Artisan Colour offers a full range of digital printing services to accommodate your cataloging and mailing needs.

Whether you print digital, offset or both, having a printer that can also handle your mailing for you, will provide you huge savings in both time and cost due to their knowledge and experience with the many facets of the USPS.

8) GEOLOCATION, PERSONALIZATION AND INDIVIDUALIZATION

By presenting the right product at the right time to the right person, you can be assured that you are doing everything possible to maximize sales and garner new customers.

Geolocation catalogs: have products tailored to the area of the country where the customers spend their time. For instance, in the winter months, most would be thinking about stoking the fire, curling up in a warm cozy blanket on a large plush couch with their favorite warm beverage, while those is the desert Southwest would be interested in outdoor furniture, cool drinks and short sleeve clothing.

Personalized catalogs: have products tailored to the personal traits of your customer such as gender, race, age, ethnicity, etc. With personalization, you can create a fashion catalog for your female customers with women’s wear on the cover and featured in the first section of your catalog, and vise versa for your male customers.

Individualization of catalogs: is the process of determining the factors that define your customer (or potential customer) exactly who they see themselves as including their job, hobbies, lifestyle, etc. Creating a catalog of specific products that uniquely matches each individual and their own uniqueness, is the most challenging, yet also the best way to immediately engage customers and create brand loyalty. These individualized catalogs are the most highly tailored and can only be achieved through automation and digital printing, but lucky for you, Artisan Colour offers exactly this catalog service.

9) TRACKING RESULTS

Understanding how your catalog impacts your sales is a key metric for the success of your campaign, yet it can be quite challenging to obtain an accurate “matchback” on sales vs. catalog views.

Since the printed catalog does not offer a way for you to individualize the response, it can be a bit of a guessing game, however, there are techniques one can use to gauge the success of your catalog. Custom URLs are one method, though you wouldn’t want to have your customers type in a custom URL for each and every product, but you can create a custom entry window for your e-commerce site and provide its url in your catalog (i.e: www.mystore.com/catalog). Another common method is to put a custom offer code in your catalog mailing label to track how many people use it at checkout time.

Possibly the easiest and most accurate method of all is to ask your customer during checkout: “How did you hear about us?” or “Did you like our recent catalog?”

10) REFINE AND REPEAT

The cataloging process is a continually evolving practice of testing, analysis, refinement, and repetition, yet the impact of adding catalogs to augment your website’s sales can not be disputed. We’ve been doing this since 1998 and we would be delighted with the opportunity to provide you with our experience and knowledge to help you reach your cataloging goals.

WELCOME TO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CATALOGING!

If you have any questions about launching your catalog or how we can help, use the comment form below or contact us.