5 Insights from the Return of the Print Catalog

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We recently came across an article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that highlighted how the print catalog is in style again with major retailers. Once a staple of product marketing, print catalogs seemed to disappear after the recession of 2008. Companies were forced to slash marketing budgets and print was an easy target. As this HBR article points out, however, retailers like JC Penney, Anthropologie, J. Crew and Restoration Hardware are either re-launching their print catalog or enhancing the catalogs they’ve always mailed. Even online-only retailers like Bonobos and Birchbox have started mailing a print catalog.

This HBR article points out that Direct Marketing Association (DMA) data indicates catalog mailings grew to 11.9 billion in 2013. This was up from 2012, when catalog mailings dropped to their lowest point since the DMA started collecting catalog data in 2001.

As a company with a 30-year history in print and direct mail, this trend was interesting to us. However, not all of our clients are large retailers doing mass catalog mailings. And not all of the companies and non-profit organizations we interact with have “product” to sell. So, what does this trend mean for us and customers not in retail? The uptick in catalog mailings tells us a few important things we need to keep in mind when marketing:

Print is Alive

Print has not gone away. In fact, print is experiencing a resurgence in value as a key part of the marketing mix.

We Must Differentiate Our Brands

Being able to differentiate your brand is becoming more important, while simultaneously growing more difficult to accomplish. It is getting tougher to stand out against the noise. Print can help differentiate your brand and sustain relationships. High-touch, high-quality print pieces are a great way to express your brand, make connections and spur customers to action. We’ve recently seen clients spend more on creative finishing techniques (coatings, embossing, stamping, diecuts) to enhance their printed pieces.

Segment, Segment, Segment

Segmenting customers in all marketing efforts is critical. We must identify and understand our customer segments. We have to appeal directly to their wants and needs when communicating with them.

Provide Value

Any marketing effort, especially direct marketing, must provide the customer with something of value to be effective. Like the recipes in the Williams Sonoma catalog that the HBR article mentions, the best marketing communications provide customers content they can use.

It Has to be Integrated

The best marketing is integrated. It leverages and relies on multiple channels to reach customers—print, e-mail, online, social media. Each channel supports the other in our quest to achieve our marketing objectives.

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