The importance and application of the paper product catalog has been slowly marching towards a total revamping. By Mark Okun

Before the digital revolution in catalogs, we would share product and technical information with customers. Recently there has been a lot of conversation about replacing the paper catalog with an online, digital format.

There are many reasons why this hallowed tool of communication as we know it needs refreshing. The root causes for this transformation is not the digital device itself, but rather the constraints on the client’s time, an overwhelming amount of non-pertinent information unique to the customer, and the increased cost of production in both money and natural resources.

While this tactile tool is far from extinct, a generic manufacturer catalog loaded with items that are not part of the products a client is looking for is distracting at best, and at worst it can leak sales dollars as it is not specific to your brand.

New Customer Journey —
Better Customer Experience

The customer who comes into your showroom in 2017 is further advanced in the research and discovery portion of the buyer’s journey than the customer who came in less than 10 years ago. 

Historically when clients came to visit your showroom, it may have been their first time looking at lighting to purchase and to say the least, they were overwhelmed. After your customers got their feet wet looking around, they would leave the store with their heads spinning from the vast selection of items and unknown options.  They were sent home with a library of catalogs to peruse with the hopes that they would return to the store to make a purchase — and often they would. The technological advancements have changed this part of the buying process and showrooms, reps, and vendors must adapt.

Catalogs Provided the Map to the Maze

In 2010, as our clients became more comfortable over time with the digital shopping experience through buying books, CDs, and DVDs online, their confidence was built in this new way of commerce and the digital disruption took hold.

So when we send the smart consumer home with catalogs in 2017, we send them back with all the information they need so they can verify what we have shown them and the pricing they have seen on the Web.

What do clients shop online for? Honesty, information, transparency, and options. In our minds, these customer actions have manifested into only one focus: seeking the lowest common denominator in shopping and price comparison. Nobody wants to pay too much for any product. And, in a short time with consumers armed with vendor names and model numbers, showrooms were now in a price war with the Internet.

“A Consumer Experience Index’ Survey Reveals 86 Percent of Buyers Will Pay More for a Better Experience.”  (Based on a survey commissioned by RightNow, owned by Oracle)

The New Power of Print

Today when customers walk into your showroom, they are most likely in the trial-and-test phase of their journey. They have a refined idea of the look, finish, and possibly the brand they want to have in their homes.

The way catalogs are used must adapt and integrate harmoniously into the marketing, selling, and buying process we are confronted with now. There is a need to have printed materials that the customer can have and hold, but the role of these tools has shifted from being an encyclopedia of available items, details, and specifications, to an instrument of brand building, education, and TOMA (Top of the Mind Awareness).

The takeaway here is that it requires more than great Web sites, outbound email campaigns, and slick marketing to grab and hold your customers’ attention. Then, of course, we want that attentiveness from the client followed up by converting it into a sale.

Source Book, Inspiration Guide

Customers like tactile items that, when properly produced, spawn emotion – one of the most powerful feelings we can arouse in our buyers’ journey. The principle of reciprocation is unleashed when a sales team provides their clients with “take home” items, and sales teams also need props to assist them in creative customer engagement. The re-versioned publication I am referring to is that tool. It requires a significant shift in your thinking of what a catalog is and the results you want from it.

You must put the same effort into the appearance of a curated “showroom” marketing piece as you would put into your showroom’s display space. This means a unified representation that connects the customer to your store and the brand you represent.

Think of it as a client information guide: A publication worth keeping that features the products, services, and ideas that can be purchased from you. The goal of this piece is marketing, retention, and drawing your client into your digital ecosystem of products and services and keeping them there. Printed material is just one of the omni-channel tools that can be used to build your brand.

My Store, My Brand, My Catalog

One of the marketing benefits that the digital age ushered in is the personalization of the tools and resources we use. With the advancements in technology and the reduction of costs, we can now be our own production companies in a variety of mediums. It takes investing in some digital knowledge and a few tools, but with some time we can have our own personal catalogs.

Clients want to feel special at every point in their buying journey. It is up to you to continually foster that feeling at every touchpoint.

An easy way to personalize a product presentation for a client is to use the “Wish List” feature of your omni-channel product catalog. You could just print out the list of suggested fixtures and hand it to the client, but that provides no connection, no bond, and it is not very special. However, with a few quick hacks, you can take a list of products –
or just one item – and turn that into a personalized marketing piece that customers can take with them, or you can use it as a follow-up tool that you can send in email or by snail mail.

With basic computer skills paired with good note-taking, you can make a professional and personal marketing piece very quickly. Create a template that is easy to replicate. Think of the impression that this personalized piece will have when you hand it to customers or they receive it in the mail. If you want to go above and beyond and make a significant impression, splurge on some high-quality paper and a unique envelope. This is not the place to cheap out; you are getting double-duty from the cost of this customer acquisition and retention tool. Every marketing tool has its place, and this one works any time a client needs follow-up information that is not immediate. When you want to build your brand or fuel a potential sale, this type of marketing process demonstrates that you are different from the crowd and that you care.

Catalog Application

The original catalog in the form we have grown to love still has a place in our industry. When market ends, every rep agency expects, and they should, to have their new catalogs immediately available to distribute to clients who attended market as well as deliver to those who did not.

The function of a catalog today is best as a guide or technical reference for your store’s sales team or to be used by one of the professional channels we want to do business with that have a need for that level of detail and breadth of selection.

For the retail customer, I feel these huge catalogs cause information overload. Even if you flag 10 pages of potential selections for the customer, you have left them with hundreds of pages of clutter and, at some level, confusion.

The catalogs that most lighting showrooms use today are supplied by the vendors and vary in quality of production, layout, or content. Some are beautiful, high-quality publications with well-thought-out presentations and others are not. In each case, they are not produced to build your showroom’s brand or unique qualities.

Printed Marketing Materials Drive Traffic

Both your store and Web site can benefit from a well-designed, store-specific publication that acts as a sales tool. In your desire to increase sales, personalized printed catalogs, brochures, or other material will enhance your omni-channel marketing efforts and are a tangible way to offer your clients more than they can get from a digital-only interaction.

It’s All Strategy

When we think of strategy, we rarely if ever think of how it applies to catalogs or as Susy Korb, chief marketing officer of Anthropologie was quoted in The New York Times, “We don’t call it a catalog; we call it a journal. Of course we’re trying to sell clothes and accessories, but it’s more to inspire and engage.” <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/business/media/catalogs-after-years-of-declin>.

As a modern lighting retailer, we need to look at the items we sell and the services we offer in the same way any retailer in the fashion industry would to inspire and engage.