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The Marketing Retrofit Company For Manufacturers

Do you actually know why you use a catalog to sell your products? It’s a visual representation of all of your products in one place, right?! It’s easy for sales people to distribute and for customers to order from. It’s your product playground.

That’s what Benjamin Franklin thought when he created the first catalog in 1744 to sell scientific and academic books. Another catalog pioneer you are familiar with (unless you are under 40) is Aaron Montgomery Ward, who produced his first catalogue for his Montgomery Ward mail order business in 1872. (Or, as it was affectionately known to many in Iowa, as “Monkey” Wards) His first catalogue was a single sheet of paper with a price list, 8 by 12 inches, showing the merchandise for sale and ordering instructions. Montgomery Ward identified a market of merchant-wary farmers in the Midwest. Within two decades, his single-page list of products grew into a 540-page illustrated book selling over 20,000 items. And I know you’re familiar with the ever-popular Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, established by Alfred Hammacher in New York City in 1848. Offering mechanic’s tools and builder’s hardware, its first catalogue was published in 1881.

Do you think any of these innovators could ever imagine that some day they could also sell all of their products online? Well, probably not, since that word wasn’t even invented yet. How they would marvel at this idea of selling off a computer. Would they abandon their printed “Wish” books and just offer their wares electronically? Wouldn’t that be cheaper?

With the growth of online “everything” some of you may be considering scrapping your printed catalog and putting it all online. Take a look at some fascinating statistics on print and catalogs, provided recently by our friends at the USPS:

“More than 12 billion catalogs were mailed in 2010.” (that’s billion with a b)

“55.6% of respondents found catalogs “useful”, while only 21.5% found catalogs “interesting”. (Useful, meaning worth using)

“52.4% of consumers read direct mail from merchants. More than 53% found merchant mail “useful” and nearly 17% responded to offers.”

These numbers are telling. People still read. Customers like a tangible catalog. They find them useful, not wasteful. The benefit now is that you can have it all. You can offer customers that meaty printed book they love and also offer even more information about those same products on your website. Databases allow you to manage, layer and tier this information like never before. In real time. You can be more succinct and brief in print and layer the more elaborate details online. The catalog helps drive traffic to your site and to direct sales. A creative catalog can inspire and motivate. It can inform and excite. The combination of print and online, for customers, is like having their cake and eating it too. They get your current product info and images all laid out in an easy-to-read book they keep at their desk, or under their pillow. They can also go to your site and search anything and everything for more in-depth information, images and even video. It’s like “Candyland” for them.

Scrap your catalog in favor of a line of oragami childrens toys? I don’t think so.

No way. Not now. And give up the 1-2 punch?! I know some of you have been doing the same book the same way for years. It feels comfortable. You don’t think you have the budget to consider changing it. How about saving some money? Ever thought of printing a smaller book and release it seasonally instead of once every year or two or even three? Think Hammacher Schlemmer. Highlight your most popular products and new products and send them to the website for the whole kit and kaboodle. The content is always fresh and more timely and you spend less on a smaller book. Your price book can be the “big kahuna” of detailed pricing and info, but the seasonal catalog becomes more of a show piece. Attention-getting. Inspirational. Vehicle that drives customers to the site, to make the call, to want more.

Believe me, if your competitors have scrapped their books or if they aren’t staying current this is the perfect time to gain the upper hand. Make your move. Offer customers something different. Instead of scrapping your catalog, consider a face-lift and a little lipo. (think Suzanne Sommers, not Joan Rivers) Make sure it works in tandem with your online and social marketing vehicles. Think of it as the 1-2-3 punch. Customers won’t know what hit ’em, but it’ll sure feel good.

Have you scrapped your print catalog? Are you already moving full speed ahead with the 1-2-3? What’s your opinion? I’m all ears.



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