Direct mail catalogs are a hot marketing item. Response rates are up 170% and over 90% of merchants still list catalogs as an essential part of their marketing strategy. Whether you’re already a believer or you’re thinking about sending a catalog to your customers, here’s how you can optimize your print catalog mailings to get the results you want.


Direct Mail Catalogs: A Brief History


Direct mail catalogs began before the United States was a country. In fact, garden and seed catalogs first appeared in the American colonies as far back as the 18th century—before the Revolutionary War! In 1872, American entrepreneur Aaron Montgomery Ward started his retail empire, Montgomery Ward and Company. What transpired was the first true mail-order business and he made a fortune through retail sales of general merchandise. It all began with a simple one-page “catalog” that featured more than 150 products. By the early 1900s, Montgomery Ward was mailing these catalogs to over three million customers—an important part of the history of direct mail marketing.


Yet there’s nothing particularly new about the direct mail catalog as a marketing tool. Yet despite the advances of other marketing channels—including other types of direct mail—catalogs remain a popular and very successful marketing option.


Direct Mail Catalogs: Believe the Data


catalog marketingAccording to the American Marketing Association (AMA), response rates from catalogs were up 170% between 2004 and 2018. Brands such as Amazon, Wayfair, Birchbox, Patagonia, Restoration Hardware, and many others have added direct mail catalogs to their marketing strategies. Maybe each one discovered that their marketing emails weren’t living up to expectations—that they were being quickly deleted by consumers. So they turned to a tried-and-true marketing channel.


We know that print catalogs offer a “shelf life” of multiple days or more likely weeks (or longer). They’re often looked at as magazines, especially if they’re beautifully written and designed. Recipients will keep them for future reading and reference. Plus, if the consumer feels a connection to your brand via the catalog, they’ll live vicariously through your presentation. That’s what you want.


Gallup Poll: Millennials Like Catalogs


It isn’t only marketing departments that love direct mail catalogs. People love receiving them, too—even millennials. Direct mail marketing statistics show that Generation Y also loves receiving something in their mailbox. Sure, they may be best known for tweets and texts, but in a Gallup study, a surprising 95% say they love getting direct mail. Over 90% of them consider it easier to read print marketing than the digital content they look at on their various screens. Plus, these same millennials respond to direct mail faster than any other age group—and more than half of them buy something from the direct mail they received within three months.


Harvard Study: Direct Mail Catalogs Work Better Than Email


The Harvard Business Review teamed up with a specialty e-commerce retailer to test the effectiveness of direct mail catalogs. This brand has no physical stores and is making a $12 million/year profit with roughly 28,000 customers. Since 75% of the brand’s business comes from repeat patrons, it’s important that they focus on retaining their customers. The management tool? You guessed it: direct mail catalogs. So, they chose a random group—which amounted to approximately 30% of their U.S. customers. You can read the entire study here for all the details, but the findings were impressive. The increase in sales and inquiries from their direct mail catalogs almost doubled those of their email marketing efforts. Plus, on average, most of the customers kept the catalogs for an entire week. In marketing circles, that promotes what’s known as “top-of-mind awareness.”


Select a Size for Your Direct Mail Catalogs


direct mail marketingThe first thing to establish when you’re creating your direct mail catalogs is the size of the finished product. You have three primary options: standard, digest, and extra-large. It equates to a small, medium, and large selection process, but you are by no means limited to these suggestions. Consider them only as a starting point from which you can branch out depending upon your budget and marketing goals.


Standard Format


The most common size of the direct mail catalogs is the standard 8.5″ x 11″ format. This is comparable to many magazines you’ll find on newsstands and many of the catalogs you find in your mailbox. It’s also the size of a typical sheet of paper. This format allows you to showcase your products with plenty of room for copy and photos of all sizes. Depending on how many pages you want to include, you can apply a saddle-stitch or perfect bound finish. If you have anything over 64 pages (that’s an impressive catalog BTW), we recommend using a perfect bind.


Digest Format


The primary idea behind the smaller digest format is cost savings. You’re looking at a letter-size postal rate for these half-size direct mail catalogs. That size is typically 5.5” x 8.5” so you’ll save on both the printing and mailing. You can design it like a standard size catalog, but the end result features smaller type and photos.


Extra-Large Format


XL catalogs are usually 12” x 12” or bigger, They’re a versatile way to not only present more information but also to stand out from the rest of the mail. With more space for content, you can add larger photos, and more copy, including reviews, stories, and other creative elements.


If you want to stretch out a bit and explore other possibilities, we encourage it. In fact, we’ll brainstorm ideas with you. Contact an MSP representative to discuss your options.


Personalize Your Content with Variable Data Printing


Marketing personalization is essential to your brand’s success. In fact, most consumers not only like it, they demand it. Approximately 90% of consumers surveyed said that personalized marketing influenced their buying habits. The more relevant you can make your direct mail catalogs, the more responses and sales you’ll receive.


Personalization should always be part of your direct mail marketing strategy—no matter what type of print marketing you’re using. You personalize your direct mail letters and postcards using variable data printing (VDP). So why not your catalogs, too? In fact, you can fill your product catalogs with precisely the items you know each individual customer will enjoy, based on your existing data. Personalization will give your response rates and ROI a boost using VDP. You can personalize the text, images, offers, etc. based on customer data.


Make Your Direct Mail Catalogs Look Good


direct mail catalog designIt probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that a beautifully-designed catalog will increase your brand’s chances of success. It does so for several reasons. In the aforementioned Harvard study, you can use “stunning imagery and creative presentation of products” to elicit emotion. Doing so allows the customer to live vicariously through the catalogs. Direct mail catalogs can be more than merely a collection of product photos and descriptions. They can show what the brand stands for, in words and images. Any brand that uses catalogs in this manner can achieve a distinct advantage over its competitors.


Vividness is a Thing


Vividness enhances a consumer’s ability to truly see your products and how to use them. This increases both involvement with and happiness in the buying process. It’s especially important with products and services that people buy for fun and entertainment. With direct mail catalogs, consumers can better visualize how they’re going to use a product or service. Direct mail catalogs are also a great option for e-commerce businesses (especially luxe ones) with no retail presence. It makes their products/services more tactile and memorable.


Omnichannel Marketing Using Direct Mail Catalogs


Do you feel like you need to make a decision when it comes to direct mail vs. digital marketing? On one hand, direct mail response rates are outstanding: almost 3% for prospect lists and over 5% for house lists. But digital marketing ROI is far better than any other marketing channel at roughly 30%. What to do? Don’t give it another thought. You need both because they work so well together—and direct mail catalogs give you the perfect opportunity to combine both. It’s what marketers call omnichannel marketing.


One of the best ways to combine direct mail and digital marketing is by using QR codes. Let’s look at an example. Amazon turned to direct mail catalogs to promote holiday shopping with a Holiday Kids Gift Book. So yes, their 100-page offering is for kids but it also targets the people who do the buying—parents. Amidst the colorful product photos, on-brand artwork, delightful stories, clever games, and even augmented reality (AR), there’s a plethora of short URLs and custom QR codes. It’s a perfect marriage of direct mail and digital marketing, and one that should serve as a near-perfect example of how to optimize your direct mail catalogs.


Optimize Your Direct Mail Catalogs with MSP


Direct mail catalogs give your brand a unique opportunity to not only promote your products and services but also to show consumers what your brand is all about. Use your creativity and a strategic approach to this growing direct mail channel and you’ll reap the rewards. Let’s talk about the possibilities. Contact an MSP representative today for more information and to discuss your marketing goals.

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