With more than 30 million small and medium-sized businesses competing for customers, every business owner must look for any opportunity to snap up a bit more market share. For example, the pandemic pushed many businesses to adopt e-commerce models to bolster their revenue as foot traffic bottomed out. In turn, they also adopted digital marketing strategies.
Yet, while these tactics can prove effective, they aren’t the only way you boost your overall sales. Handled correctly, a catalog can also prove a powerful marketing tool for your business.
Of course, creating a catalog is often new ground for business owners. If you’re interested in the possibility of creating a catalog but don’t know where to start, keep reading for the basics of how to make a catalog.
Types of Catalogs
There are two main types of product catalogs that businesses can adopt. You can embrace the digital world and provide a digital catalog online. The other main option is a physical product catalog that you mail directly to subscribers.
Of course, that is a bit of a false either-or. Since you’ll design your catalog on a computer, there is little value in only providing a physical catalog. On the other hand, there are some benefits to only providing a digital version.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each type.
The most obvious benefit of a digital catalog is a reduction in cost. Since you eliminate the printing process, you also eliminate printing costs. You also avoid the costs of mailing the catalog out to subscribers.
The catalog remains available to anyone who can reach your website, which means your catalog works for your business 24/7.
The downside of a digital catalog is that it goes down any time your website goes down. While most hosting services provide fairly solid uptime, no hosting service is flawless. If your website goes down, so does your catalog.
That downtime can cost you money if someone either can’t access your website or the site goes down while they’re perusing the catalog. One way you can sidestep this issue is by offering a PDF version of the catalog, although no links in the PDF will work while your site is down.
If you decide to make a catalog that you mail out to people, it does come with its own benefits. Topping the list of benefits is that people can peruse the catalog at their leisure. For example, someone can flip through the catalog while they eat breakfast.
Paper catalogs also benefit from the fact that comprehension goes up when people interact with the information they read on paper. In other words, people will retain more of what they read about your products in the physical catalog than they will from what they read on a screen.
As an added bonus, physical catalogs don’t rely on an internet connection to remain accessible.
If you create a catalog on paper, though, it has downsides. There is the higher cost of printing and mailing. Catalogs can also get damaged in the mail. You need a relatively high-quality printing process to get the best effects.
With the pros and cons of each type of catalog out of the way, let’s look at the creation process.
As a general rule, most businesses want a catalog with pictures. That calls for some kind of desktop publishing software to help you assemble all of the elements of the catalog.
There are a number of desktop publishing applications out there that come in at several price points. Some of the more options that businesses use include:
- Adobe Spark
- Catalog Maker
The software option you pick will hinge on several factors. Some catalog software specializes in only one catalog format, such as digital catalogs, physical catalogs, or PDF catalogs. Others support multiple formats.
You must also weigh the costs of the software. Most catalog software operates on a subscription model. If you plan on issuing multiple catalogs per year or even revising your catalog annually, you’ll need to maintain the subscription indefinitely.
While that’s a small matter for some businesses, adding an annual subscription isn’t always in the budget. Regardless, you will need some kind of software to create and maintain the catalog.
Product List and Descriptions
Most catalogs don’t include a full list of the products the business sells. Instead, it features a cross-section of products that range from inexpensive to very expensive.
You must narrow down your product list to a size that is manageable for your target audience. While some catalogs run hundreds of pages, most catalogs are much more modest.
When in doubt, trim the list. Remember, you can always add products later.
Beyond the simple list of products, you also need a product description for everything in the catalog. The depth of the description will vary depending on your target audience and the product type.
For example, mechanical parts often include very specific product information because the parts must fit specific machines or work within specific tolerances.
Consumer products on the other hand tend to have less demanding descriptions that focus more on the product benefits. Use other catalogs from your industry as a guide for crafting product descriptions.
The use of photographs will also vary from industry to industry. For a car parts manufacturer, a catalog might only include a smattering of photographs among lists of part numbers.
For a catalog aimed at the general public, however, you will need photographs for virtually every product, if not every single product.
Just as importantly, you will need high-quality photographs. This is often tricky for those making their first catalog. While you can photograph your own products, it’s often difficult for amateurs to capture the kind of high-quality images you need for a catalog.
You have a few options here.
Option one is that you invest a lot of time and effort into taking the pictures yourself or having your marketing team do it. Then, you accept whatever image quality they produce.
This is often the best and only way that smaller businesses can make it happen. It’s time-intensive but can save you a lot of money.
Another option is that you hire a professional to come in and take pictures of your products. This can prove an expensive option, particularly if you need to get it done all at once. The upside is that your catalog gets excellent images.
A final option is a hybrid approach. You hire a pro photographer for a small selection of products you want to highlight. The rest you photograph yourself.
This approach aims for the best of both worlds. You save some money but still get some high-end images.
Picking between these options often depends on your budget, your in-house team, and the number of products you plan to feature.
Once you have your product list, product descriptions, and images, you must consider how you will organize the catalog. Your industry will dictate some of this, but it typically boils down to category or type.
For manufacturers, the catalog will often break down the list into types of products. A tool manufacturer might break down its catalog into areas such as:
- Hand tools
A consumer product catalog will typically break things down into general categories. Some of the more common categories include:
- Household essentials
While you can organize your catalog any way that you want, adopting an organizational strategy like others in your industry is your best bet. People like the familiar. Using familiar categories helps them navigate your catalog and find what they want.
Once you settle on the organizational elements, you can turn your attention to the visual design of the catalog. This is more complicated than most people realize, so it’s worth giving it a fair amount of attention.
First things first, you should settle on the typography. It sounds a little trivial, but have you ever visited a website where the font changes around? It looks strange and unprofessional.
There is no absolute right typography for catalogs. Different typefaces give different impressions. Look for a typeface that dovetails with your brand.
When in doubt, adopt the typeface you use on your website. If nothing else, it will provide a consistent look across touchpoints.
Some commonly used fonts for catalogs include:
Try them out in your desktop publishing software and see which one looks the best.
Next up, you must decide how much space you will allocate per page to most of your products. Yes, you will likely dedicate a few pages to larger pictures that highlight products you would really like to sell. On the whole, though, most pages will feature the same number of products with the same amount of space.
Don’t gloss over this element. If you plan on doing a print catalog, the more space you allocate, the more pages your catalog will run. That will drive up costs.
For your first catalog, expect some trial and error in determining the optimal amount of space. You need enough space per product to have an image and the product description. Just as importantly, you need the product descriptions in an easy-to-read font size.
You should also give some thought to the appropriate amount of white space you want to use in the catalog. For parts manufacturers that are selling hundreds or even thousands of parts, the white space will likely prove minimal.
For consumer catalogs, you will want a bit more white space around the product images and descriptions. That white space helps the person reading the catalog to separate and examine the listings.
Without that white space, the products and descriptions bleed together on a visual level. That makes the reader work harder, which encourages them to abandon the catalog in favor of something easier to read.
A final element of visual design to consider is your branding. At the very least, you want your logo and business name on the front cover of the catalog. It’s a simple way for you to let people know where it came from.
Assuming you’re sending the catalog to subscribers, it also encourages them to hang on to the catalog.
Ideally, you’ll also want your brand colors used liberally throughout the catalog. Again, this is a kind of visual continuity from places like your website or social media profiles.
Once you completely assemble the catalog in the software, it’s time for some outputs in the form of a digital, PDF, or physical catalog.
If you’re opting for a digital catalog, you can often export the catalog directly from the software as a web-friendly file that you can attach to your website.
Most software packages will also let you export the catalog as a PDF, which you can make available as a downloadable file on your website. Always double-check that the file or new web pages display or download correctly.
If you’re going with a print catalog, you will send the file off to the printer. Depending on the printing service you use, they may send the catalogs back to you or ship them out based on a mailing list you provide.
Always make sure you get a copy of the catalog for review before you approve mass printing.
Building a Catalog
Building a catalog, especially for the first time, isn’t a short-term process. You should allocate several months to complete all the tasks.
Always start with the core essentials like product list creation, description writing, and product image creation. Once you have those things in hand, you can move on to areas like organization and visual design.
When it comes to the outputs, always, always double-check that they look and behave the way you expect.
Looking for more tips to help you boost your business revenue? Head over to our Business section for more marketing and management posts.