Designing and Distributing Your Digital Catalog

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Showcasing your product line in a well designed, even luxurious, printed piece and mailing it to your community has been a beloved marketing tool from the moment print became accessible to the masses. Who doesn’t have fond memories of pouring over the Sear’s Catalog? Our family’s copy was dog-eared and marked up – our version of the Amazon Wishlist.

Today, websites are the way to showcase products and e-commerce has become a necessity in some form for every retailer. But aesthetics don’t always command the same respect during the precise, efficient use of web space, nor, we could argue, should they, as we frequently know what we want, wish to see the product, maybe a brief description and where to click to send it on it’s way to our doorstep. But the desire to browse lazily through eye candy, to learn more about a company, and even to receive a surprise “knock on your door” from their product line now and again, is still there. Many of us really LIKE to receive “look books” from our favorite stores and I feel eliminating the need to recycle a print version is nothing but positive.

Enter your digital catalog.

Digital catalogs allow readers to have a very similar experience with beautiful design and fun pages but without a paper version to deal with afterwards. Believe it or not, they can actually make the viewing experience even more appealing – how about seeing some color options in a slideshow? Watching a video about the original craftsperson? Having instant access to that shopping cart if you find something you like? The experience becomes having a “best of” the company’s website delivered to a customer’s in-box, instead of their mail box.

Readers are finding digital look books to be a great way to stay in touch with their favorite retailers’ most current merchandise. Peeks into the usage statistics on the concept show readers happy to receive email catalogs and responding to them better than standard text emails or even html or video email blasts.

Retailers themselves are happy with the product for several reasons. Aside from the obvious savings over printing more catalogs (several continue with some quantity of printed catalogs for customers who prefer that), digital allows for viewing over many more channels – the catalogs now appear on Facebook, Pinterest pages, on blogs and partner sites, as well as in email blasts. The retailer also no longer has to worry about running out of their catalogs, always having digital as a backup. Marketing materials no longer have to be duplicated for use on the web – one well-executed design can serve as web content as well as an instant shopping portal with links to a much less dramatically designed shopping cart. Many of these double duty features allow for smaller retailers to consolidate their design spending into one very nice looking piece and then use more cookie-cutter options for other aspects of their marketing and presentation.

Publishing Your Catalog

In looking at digital catalog options, make sure that you work with a digital production company that can offer you customization and as much personal service as you need to create a spectacular catalog that readers will enjoy. Some things to watch out for are solutions that don’t resize well to small or very large screens, aren’t a quality resolution, do not include all the live links that you may want (including using your product photos as links for shopping) or are not readily available to search engines.

Avoid solutions that can become too crowded or busy on the screen.  Stick with designs that utilize great photography (even with groupings, items can be individually linked and “shopped”), a good type size for easy reading, good spacing and as a great added touch, perhaps some video tutorials or audio testimonials from happy customers.

Many companies have begun to include some editorial-style content about their products or services and that extra touch keeps customers opening your catalog to learn more about you each time they receive it.

Distributing Digitally

Once you have a great looking marketing piece, spread the word.

  1.  Don’t be shy about including new folks on your email lists but always use a service that allows for easy unsubscribing.
  2.  Point out, in either an introduction area or the initial pages of your catalog, that the viewer can easily pass the catalog along and give instructions for doing that, whether it means pointing out the Facebook Sharing Tool or talking about how to send to a friend.
  3.  Include html subscription forms or at minimum, links that will allow new viewers to be subscribed to your list.
  4.  If you don’t yet have a Facebook page for your business, consider starting one. And you can have those posts populate a Twitter account as well. If you’re selling beautiful product, take a look at Pinterest. You can upload a catalog cover there as well with a link to open it.
  5.  Consider creating a library of various catalogs, each around a theme or particular line of products or each containing new information about aspects of your production – the more pieces you have available, the more search engines have to find; not to mention, you can link to other catalogs from within each one and give readers more to view.
  6.  Check with your local news or commerce websites to see if they have a place to post links and consider running the cover as a button for banner advertising.

As you give your customers more options, you will likely find a good reception for your digital catalogs, especially with the more environmentally aware crowd who will appreciate your company’s green publishing efforts. I, for one, am looking forward to receiving more catalogs now than ever, going back to ones I’d declined as I didn’t want the paper, and having no guilt about indulging my “window” shopping.


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