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Direct Marketing, Brand Association and Revenue: Why a Catalog Might be Your Next Best Marketing Bet

Megan Conley / 2 min read

True omnichannel dominance within the retail industry means your brand is absolutely everywhere the consumer is. To accomplish this, brands must have a presence throughout the various multichannel locations online, as well as at least one brick-and-mortar store, likely with seasonal pop-up shops and events that push consumers to purchase.

For big box stores and well-known up-and-comers, there is one unlikely channel serving as a huge revenue driver for all omnichannel operations: a print catalog.

In 2014, consumers who received catalogs spent an average of $850 per year on catalog purchases. What’s more is that, according to retail consultancy Kurt Salmon, 31% of shoppers have a catalog with them when they make an online purchase.

Among the brands resurrecting their mailing lists are J.Crew, Patagonia, Restoration Hardware, Anthropologie, Athleta, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney, Bonobos, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Chico’s, to name only a few. But, this big investment in print is about more than that $850 extra revenue per mailing address per year. Catalogs ferret out the best customers, and push them to utilize omnichannel outlets, increasing both brand loyalty and awareness.

“We found that the catalog allowed us to tell a fuller narrative about the brand and our products in a way that we were struggling to do online, ” said Craig Elbert, Bonobos’s vice president of marketing. “In all, our catalog customers tend to spend more. And our catalog customers who make purchases at our brick-and-mortar stores are our best customers overall.”

Of course, modern catalogs are no longer simply photos of products. They have upgraded to full-grade lifestyle publications, including profiles of designers and photo spreads equivalent to those found in some of the most high-end fashion magazines.

“We don’t call it a catalog; we call it a journal,” Susy Korb, chief marketing officer of Anthropologie, said in an interview with the New York Times. “Of course we’re trying to sell clothes and accessories, but it’s more to inspire and engage.”

In all, about 90 million Americans make purchases from catalogs, according to the Direct Marketing Association; nearly 60% of them women. And, the number of catalogs mailed in the U.S. increased 60% from 2007. Yet, in order to remain relevant, it is essential brands avoid gimmicks in favor of aesthetics, or risk going the way of Sky Mall, which filed for bankruptcy in January. In other words, consumers can see right through salesy language. They want to be inspired, not sold.

For smaller brands looking to reap the benefits of catalog production, but without the budget for print, there is an online option that may work just as well. Interactive PDF displays allow customers to flip through catalogs online as if they had a copy in their hands. For example, Loren Hope, an online jewelry retailer, posts their biannual lookbook on their website, complete with high-quality imagery and typography which favors storytelling over selling.

Indeed, an online catalog can reduce mail waste for consumers, while still allowing them to see your products styled in an inspirational and aspirational way. These efforts are about brand creativity, which fosters loyalty among millennials –– a generation almost all brands are looking to attract, though only 22% are confident they offer this generation the desired shopping experience.

With “so much clutter and information overload,” said Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, “just getting attention is the hardest thing to do right now for brands. It’s conceivable that trying catalogs again is a way to do it. The issue has always been: What do we have to do in order to get mindshare and not bore people? Or, worse, turn them off?”

Have something to add to this story? Let us know in the comments below!


Megan Conley

Megan Conley

Megan Conley is a staff writer at Bigcommerce, where she covers ecommerce news and strategy. She is a graduate of Miami University with degrees in journalism and professional writing.

View all posts by Megan Conley
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