In an age of digital distraction and ever-shorter consumer attention spans, the catalog is reemerging as a powerful way to engage customers to interact with brands on a deeper level—and it’s not in the traditional format you expect. It’s smarter, smaller, and less expensive to produce. It can deliver big impact by supporting digital experiences while still giving your customers the physical, tactile experience they crave in the virtual world. Experiences that can help your brand cut through all the digital clutter and stand out from the crowd.
Traditional catalogs have a reputation for being time consuming and costly to create. That’s why retailers and e-tailers are now turning to shorter, lifestyle catalogs. This new generation of catalog is timely and relevant. And it’s helping marketers in business of all shapes and sizes bridge the gap between offline and online communication, giving their customers the best of both worlds.
New catalogs are:
- Smarter. They are driven by consumer data gathered through multiple marketing channels, helping you target the right customers at the right time.
- More economical. New production and printing capabilities have taken the cost and complexity out of tailoring versions of a catalog to individual customer segments.
“Catalogs may seem old school, but their increased capabilities and the brand-building potential suggest they’ll remain a staple in retailers’ toolboxes – and consumers’ mailboxes.”Denise Lee Yohn, Harvard Business Review 
New Catalog Formats: Inventive, Inexpensive, and Easy to Produce
When your budget for direct mail is limited, using a bi-fold or tri-fold postcard mailer as a type of catalog is a great way to start experimenting with direct mail. That way, you can see if it’s an effective marketing effort worth growing and investing more in. By including personalized URLs (PURLS) or QR codes in your mailpieces, you can more easily track results. Micro-catalogs are also a perfect vehicle for featuring a specific selection of your products that you want to promote.
A compelling mix of magazine and catalog, magalogs combine product information with editorial content. This innovative concept is taking the traditional catalog to a new level while helping to reduce production costs. Magalogs have become popular because they allow retailers to express their brand personality through storytelling about their product alongside compelling images—without sacrificing informational content. All of these factors are making the magalog an attractive option for marketers.
The mini-catalog delivers big impact in a smaller package. Many marketers are finding that supplementing full-sized catalogs with this new category of “mini-catalogs” can help them do business more economically while improving key metrics such as response rate. Mini-catalogs mail at approximately the same cost of a standard automated letter and can provide up to ten pages to promote products which can help cut mailing and production costs. At the same time, they can be as effective as larger catalogs in driving customers to company websites.
“Traditional” catalogs with a digital twist
For businesses with a larger budget or extensive product line, the classic catalog style is still a viable option. However, these aren’t your grandmother’s catalogs. Today’s longer-form catalog has evolved from mainly being a direct sales tool, to being a mobile, website, and in-store traffic driver. They have become digital enablers—supporting innovative technologies such as augmented reality (AR) which bridges the gap between our physical and digital worlds. For example, a popular catalog created by a major furniture company uses AR to bring their pages to life; customers simply hover over the page with their smartphones to place a 3D image of the product in their space.
Catalogs add value to the omni-channel experience
Marketers who take advantage of the full range of marketing channels available are better positioned to enhance brand awareness and reach their target audiences. Leveraging more than one marketing channel helps deliver a diversified, connected, customer-centric strategy that increases the chances for successful customer acquisition. With their ability to bridge physical and digital channels, catalogs can play an important role as part of an omni-channel campaign.
Today’s smarter catalogs can deliver big impact because they:
- Cut through the digital noise yet enable digital experiences.
- Enable personalized messaging and targeted outreach.
- Support storytelling, the new gold marketing standard.
- Offer a platform for bold visual images.
- Can cost less to produce and are easier to create.
- Denise Lee Yohn, Harvard Business Review, February 2015.