Do Digital Brands Need Print Catalogs?

If you’re planning to use social media or e-commerce to sell your products and services then what you’re selling is just the tip of the iceberg. 

What you’re actually day-trading on is attention — namely, your consumer’s attention. And it’s more than just mere novelty that captures your customers’ attention. As we’ll see, it takes a unique blend of creativity, personalization and quality — features that are also key to the effectiveness of the print catalog. 

To say the digital space is saturated now is to acknowledge that water is wet. But the most effective retailers are the ones who can view this saturation as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. They’re the retailers that know and see:

–> That catalogs drive online buying: 70% of shoppers agree that a quality catalog triggers online purchases and coaxes consumers to remain browsing on the site longer

–> That catalogs increase brand awareness: 86% of those who received catalogs are more likely to keep it displayed on a coffee table or shelf

–> How catalogs contribute to the increase in sales: E-commerce companies choosing to integrate both print and digital experience 50% of their targeted audience purchasing more over time

–> That customers still prefer physical experiences: 63% of consumers surveyed mention that they find it easier and more pleasurable to browse products in today’s highly-editorial and quality print catalogs rather than online or even in-store

Source: Royal Mail Market Reach, ‘Growing Your Business With Catalogues’

That’s the “how”. But what about the “why”? Why are an increasing number of digital brands adding print catalogs?

Speaking of Millennials…

It’s not just that there’s simply less(read: smarter) mailings inundating millennials (as compared to previous generations), it’s also that, as a group, millennial spending power and purchasing habits are deeply visually motivated. 

Source: Quad/Graphics Customer Focus 2014, “Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse

According to research done by the The Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, millennials respond with deeper motivation to printed material as “the brain perceives physical material to be more genuine”. 

Besides this, 50% of millennials use catalogs to help them place orders online. 

catalog infographic

Source: Quad/Graphics Customer Focus 2014

And when it comes to the response to catalogs, not every offer is created equally: Coupons and discount promo codes reign supreme, with 54% of the millennials responding positively, compared to just 17% responding to scratch-off offer cards. 

Source: Quad/Graphics Customer Focus 2014

Digital brands looking to harness print catalogs for their millennial customers should plan to meet them where they are while still adhering to the advantages of the form:

–> Use print catalogs as one part of multi-channel campaigns and make these mobile-friendly

–> Incorporate a conscious ethic of social “good” through cause-related marketing

–> Harness historical data on loyalty, through print and digital, to create even more personalized and custom offers

–> Combine physical and digital elements with in-store displays

Storytelling for the Ad-Averse

While they’re not ad-averse, it seems that millennials are certainly less prone to absorb information through digital means simply because there’s so much coming in so quickly and it’s difficult to verify it all at once. Overall, it takes many more interactions online to motivate any sort of action, let alone conversion.

Print catalogs are primed for creating an impact, rather than providing multiple, micro-moments of decision-making for consumers. They’re also less about nurturing trust and more about grabbing the “reader’s” attention via storytelling.

When you log on to an e-commerce site, it’s easy to see that product listings are functional. They’re poised to provide transparency and visibility while descriptions are intended to tell a story about its use. 

Here, it’s product first, story optional. 

Print catalogs give brands the chance to flip that script: With the printed medium, it becomes, “story first, product second”. 

Rather than simply displaying the features and details of the product (a function reserved for the online shopping experience, as executed by a brand’s e-commerce platform), the printed catalog gives digital brands a real and authentic way for consumers to connect with their customers. 

Source: Publitas Blog (from Nature Baby and Filson)

Printed catalogs afford brands the chance to situate their product offerings in a story about the lives of people who choose this brand every day. 

As reported in an article in the L.A. Times, Natalie Montoya Farrow attests to this current consumer tendency and expectation: One of her favorite ways to relax, as a mother of two, is to kick back with a glass of wine and leisurely browse through the Anthropologie catalog of clothing and decor. 

Retail brands expert Denise Lee Yohn backs up the observation with her own first-hand industry experience. Catalogs, to her, help, “differentiate brands and sustain existing customer relationships.”

Ms. Montoya Farrow describes this penchant for storytelling in layman’s terms: “It’s colorful and inspiring, not just shot in a studio, but on location…They use very thick paper, so it’s tactile. Something real in a world that seems to be becoming less so.”

Improved Catalog Efficiency

Digital brands already have the data in their hands. Through myriad email marketing campaigns, social media analytics, Facebook funnels and AdWords campaigns, e-commerce companies can build their lists, create new leads and coach customers to a conversion. 

But they can also use this data together with deliberate, specific and highly targeted print catalogs to increase the impact as well as the cost for each mailed catalog. 

Rather than having mailings come into homes unwelcome, brands can use digital lists and a process of matchback analysis to essentially tailor offers and send out a printed catalog to recipients most likely to take action. 

According to CNBC, retailers are using demographics, spending data and online interactions to zero in on when to send catalogs and whom to send these to. It’s this robust data that makes the cost of distributing print catalogs “worth it”, especially when these are sent to loyal customers. 

Catalog ROI

Source: CNBC, “Millennials are more interested in catalogs than your grandmother is

Digital-first brands can seek to improve catalog cost efficiency by 10% to 15% by limiting this distribution to key customers during peak periods. Says AlixPartners, targeted marketing gives an average return of $3 for every $1 spent and $9 for every $1 spent on top customers. 

So while email engagement and reach is cheaper and wider, respectively, catalogs are more effective than paid search and more impactful, than email and social media, for spending effectiveness. 

Brands like San Francisco-based Cuyana, Lunya and Bonobos are all examples of digital-first, online retailers that harness the power of focused campaigns together with targeted customer lists in order to generate this same cost benefit. 

“There is something special and intimate about receiving something in the mail, especially when it comes from a digital-first brand that’s not sending out a catalog every two or three weeks, like the mall brands of the past…” — Dana Schwartz, ‘Digital-first brands are turning to print catalogs to boost holiday sales

Forerunner Ventures founder Kirsten Green acknowledges that the printed catalog represents a significant investment, a fact that co-founder of Cuyana, Shilpa Shah agrees with, citing the medium is the brand’s single biggest marketing expense. 

However, both Ms. Green and Ms. Shah follow that fact up with rave reviews. At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in September, Ms. Green mentions that the choice to use printed catalogs is an ROI consideration. “The best companies understand the spend and the productivity that results.” 

Certainly, Bonobos co-president and former CMO Micky Onvural understands this “spend” and “resulting productivity” well. For him, ROI is calculated not only in returns to show but also the quality of a new customer brought in: he cites that, for Bonobos, new customers obtained through the catalog spend 15% more than those who don’t. 

As for Cuyana’s experience, Ms. Shah has sent out four print catalogs per year for the past three years. The majority (80%) of these catalogs go to prospective customers and 20% go to current shoppers of the brand.  

So successful were these mailings that, in 2017, Ms. Shah and her team increased the total circulation of the Cuyana catalog by 50-65%, leading to a 200% increase in revenue from first-time customers.

A digital-first brand’s experience aside, the success of printed catalogs comes down to this, what Hamilton Davison, president of the American Catalog Mailers Association says is trust and visibility. “Companies that have started off as e-commerce pure plays find increasingly that publishing gets them known, gets them trusted, allows them to get new product offerings out that they might not otherwise have been as visible for the consumer.”

We couldn’t agree more. Contact us today if you need assistance managing your print campaigns. We support both digital and catalog brands in the areas of direct mail campaign management & execution, catalog circulation planning, strategic testing & evaluation, and catalog audits.