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Big Book – Marketing Still Delivers

Print has been counted out time and again, but it is still a mainstay of merchandise marketing. Here’s why:

It would be easy to read the runes and infer that the paper catalogue is on its last legs. We live in an increasingly digital age where information is available at the stroke of a few keys. Why should businesses bother with the time consuming, costly, and environmentally damaging production of the annual ‘big book’?

The signs are not good for traditional users of print. Last year, Argos, one of the biggest producers of a printed catalogue announced it was trialling going digital in a few stores. Next year, the Yellow Pages will print its final edition after 51 years.

In the world of business to business, catalogues have long been an effective form of push marketing, but for how much longer? In March, the Promotional Union Catalogue Group announced it had reached the difficult decision not to produce another catalogue after 18 years in the business. The current catalogue will be administered until the end of August 2018.

Still Relevant

However, elsewhere catalogue groups continue to do robust business and are emphatic that these paper tigers still have a job to do.

Richard Pettinger of Ignite Group says that even with 80% of marketers going online as the first port of call, there is still a long-term future for catalogues.

“Anyone can have a website these days. A catalogue gives credibility to the company, especially when it is a top-quality product, exclusively branded both on the outer cover and the inner end papers,” he says. “The catalogue can work hand in hand with the website – just take the Next clothing catalogue as an example of success and longevity. Catalogues use high resolution images whereas websites are invariably a poorer quality low resolution shot.”

Ignite, which represents 34 distributors, will print around 40,000 catalogues this year, a figure that has remained relatively static except for last year when there was a big increase in print run. This has now dropped back to the regular figure.

The Encore Group counts around 80 distributors as members and will print about 25,000 copies of its catalogue. Diane Jaggard of Encore says that although it offers an electronic version of the catalogue on the homepage of every skin site it supplies, people still refer to past catalogues and seem to like looking through a printed book. “A book is always to hand, although our new websites for 2018 will be more responsive and mobile friendly.”

Encore launches its catalogue in May. “We find that the timing is perfect,” says Jaggard. “It’s at the end of roadshows and exhibitions, in time to get all the new products and suppliers launched at PSI, and in time for new price lists so our data is always reliable, clear and correct.”

Collaborative Approach

PAGE Group, launches its book at the beginning of June. PAGE’s Brian Hayward says that with most suppliers introducing new products and prices in January, it takes until summer to print, by the time products have been selected, images collated, and data compiled.

The group ask its members what they want from the look and feel of the catalogue by way of a survey. “From that a design agency produces design concepts for our approval. Final designs are submitted to the steering group, made up of a selection of PAGE members, who decide the final format,” says Hayward.

All products featured in the PAGE catalogue are picked on merit. More than 8,000 products are compared to produce a catalogue with around 1,400 products. Once selected, suppliers are given the opportunity to purchase the best position on the page, ensuring an enhanced feature for their product.


Ignite offers a full colour bespoke cover as standard and up to six end papers that can be personalised in full colour in any way that the member requires.

“This really makes the catalogue their own property and not just an ‘over printed cover’,” says Pettinger.

With some of the bigger distributors now providing digital visualisations of products bespoke with logos, there is room for further development, he admits.

“There is always going to be a balance of financial viability with a catalogue, so to include all items in every colour would just not work. However, this year on our introductory page we are demonstrating choosing a product by colour, which is highly relevant to logo matching.”

Relationship Builder

Lawrence Angelow of Advantage Group says it should be remembered that the catalogue is just the door opener. “Catalogues are often a conversation piece, just the start of the story and relationship with buyers,” he says.

Advantage has 75 distributor members and has upped production by 9% to about 30,000 catalogues this year. Its launch will be in July and the catalogue will include feature shots on specific products as well as research and advice pages for the first time.

This is an approach that most catalogue companies seem to avoid, skipping value added content and focusing on the all-important products. Maybe a missed opportunity?

Looking Good

As a rule of thumb, the better your catalogue looks the less chance it will be thrown away, says Hayward, and catalogue companies work long and hard to ensure that their books present the best possible view of products.

Encore changes paper quality and feel on a regular basis as well as layout and order. “We work with suppliers to help them make the most of their products using brand names and highlight featured products,” says Jaggard.

Ignite produces the only hard back catalogue on the market, says Pettinger.“It’s square, so different to standard A4. This sets us apart from all other catalogues and the book is retained for many years, never discarded and usually returned if not required as it is too good to throw away or recycle.”

It’s About Business

But looks only matter to a degree. Ultimately catalogues continue because they work for clients and members of groups. A catalogue is part of the marketing mix that
can help distributors convert fickle customers to clients, says Hayward. Catalogues can demonstrate experience, quality and professionalism.

“More and more end-users, especially the bigger clients, look for security as part of the sales package they require. When I talk about security I mean certification ensuring quality and ethically produced merchandise.”

Pettinger adds one other point. “It is not just about the catalogue. The group provides a camaraderie for the members, both for business and pleasure. Avast experience to be shared in sourcing. A security of being part of something much bigger. More respect from the supply chain. One big happy family.”

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