Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Top tips for compiling a great catalogue, by Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
We’ve recently completed a revamp of our catalogue, which reminded us how crucial it is to get the production process of such documentation right. A catalogue is a visual representation of a company, its products, and services; it’s often handed to new contacts and forms the basis of the all-important first impressions. Further, it is reached for time and again when a need for a product or service arises. Whether it’s printed or digital doesn’t matter; a catalogue is a company’s chance to positively influence existing and prospective customers.
It’s remarkable, therefore, that often such little care is taken in putting them together, in our industry sector and others, as evidenced by the stack of such brochures we’ve got here in the office and continue to get through the door on a regular basis. It sometimes feels like they’ve been thrown together, as though someone has said a company needs a catalogue but don’t spend too much time over it because nobody will read it anyway. Thusly, one can tell a great deal about a firm’s literature.
Here are my 10 top tips for putting together a catalogue that crowns a company:
This is the starting point for a lot of things in business. What is it that one hopes a catalogue will achieve? Why is it worth putting it together? What is the desired response from recipients? What do we stand to gain and lose by producing one? Do we need a brochure at all? What are competitors sending out into the marketplace that we want to improve on or surpass? Answers to these questions will help a company set goals for the catalogue, which should be constantly revisited as the document takes shape.
In our case, we wanted to highlight our services more than our individual products. We felt it was important to keep the document short—it’s 12 pages—and categorise each section clearly so a reader can quickly assess what we offer and how those services might be able to help them in their work. We decided it made sense to separate our products and services so the new catalogue was more an overview.
It doesn’t really matter what the end goal of catalogue product is—as long as there is one. Failure to stick to a plan will result in a work of pulp fiction.
2. Cover conundrum
Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say. The trouble is, people do. The first page of any brochure has got to be clear, striking, and in keeping with the objectives of the contents and the offerings of a business. If only 5% of what a firm does is marine-based, it would be a mistake to put an offshore application on the cover, regardless of how good the picture might be. If the goal of the book is to address professionals in that sector, however, blow it up nice and big!
Make it relevant to the products and services inside; a recipient might not have the time or inclination to ponder a generic image or complex graphic. We went with something that showcases our core business as a lifting and rigging gear supplier but chose a challenging, nautical application that we hope portrays us as experts in our field who can meet the rigorous demands of one of our end user marketplaces.
We nearly took our welcome page out of the catalogue, just because we’ve seen too many self-serving, uninteresting introductions to such booklets, outlining why the publisher is the best thing since sliced bread. After much pontification, however, we decided to keep it in—and I’m glad we did. Instead of rambling on we took the opportunity to capture the essence of our business in about 15 words and included a photo of a key rigging product.
In a few seconds, a reader can digest the information and having already understood what we do from the striking cover image, by the time they get into the specific services we offer they’ve got a great idea of the wheelhouse in which we work. A reader thinks: these guys are lifting and rigging specialists; they’re diverse; they manufacture and supply product; and they’ve got some of their sector’s leading engineers on staff.
And they’re only on the second page!
4. Core competencies
Revisit the objective. We wanted to create a services-centric document that showcased our business. To achieve that it was necessary to focus on key areas and give a brief description of how each one can be applied to the markets we serve:
- Testing and inspection
Tell them like they are. There’s little point in dressing up areas of expertise to be something they’re not. We’re all for innovation and emerging from the crowd, but it would be fruitless to give a wheel, for example, a different name. Based on what an audience member knows about our business, supported by what they’ve garnered over the first few pages of our book, they can paint a clear picture of how our hire; sales; manufacture; testing and inspection; and training might work. In other words, they decipher we offer kit for short-term projects; long-term use; we make rigging gear; we test and inspect product; and we deliver relevant education.
5. Natural selection
There’s a reason a story starts at the beginning, meanders through its middle, and stops at the end. Catalogues to some extent should do the same. If a company offers a variety of vehicles, maybe order them in terms of size and type. Make a catalogue flow so the reader doesn’t have to work hard to understand it. Perhaps start with small components, then end up with the largest, most premium items of equipment; scale things up in between.
It doesn’t have to be completely linear. If one product is more relevant to a target audience than another, showcase it at the front. If something is a rarely required add-on, maybe put it at the back. The marketing team will have their own ideas but they can conduct independent campaigns; the catalogue should be as straightforward as possible. A reader will recognise the intent if a company puts thinly veiled advertisements for certain products throughout. What they want to see is the products and services on offer and how they help.
6. Image crisis
The importance of images is often overlooked, particularly in sectors where companies might not consider their work to be photogenic. I’m sure everyone reading this blog has thumbed through an industrial catalogue and squinted to look at an old, grainy image that’s supposed to serve as a case study or example of the product at use in the field. Put oneself in the shoes of a potential customer who might be looking at three or four similar catalogues. Bad design, poor photography, and dated graphics could be enough to prompt them to place an order elsewhere.
We’re constantly striving to improve our image. It’s important to be careful given General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but with cooperation from customers it’s worth taking the time to build up a current library of photos. I recommend application shots versus sterile product pictures too. End users in particular would rather see a roundsling on a crane than neatly folded on a workbench in the facility.
7. People development
Catalogues are inherently a compilation of words and pictures. To make a company further stand out, include references to continuing professional development (CPD). A customer will be reassured by knowledge that a supplier invests in their people and backs up a product or service with the best possible training and education. Given that we offer training courses, it was a natural inclusion for us but it’s worth considering even for a business that focuses exclusively on product provision. Industry accreditations help give a client peace of mind too.
Every recipient will treat a catalogue differently. Some might spend lots of time reading a printed version; others will quickly scan a digital or online copy. Think about that when putting it together. What will it look like on a smart phone? Will the font be readable when someone opens it on his or her laptop? How will it look if we give copies out at a trade show? Is there too much text in areas of a page that might be obscured by a fold?
It’s impossible to create the perfect layout, shape, and size for all purposes but it would be folly to assume nobody in this day and age is going to want a digital versus print version, even in a traditional industry like ours.
9. Special delivery
We always take great pride in our catalogue and encourage staff to hand it over as though it were a valuable, precious, document, only available to the privileged. Think about the impression it would give if it were tossed across a tearoom into a pile of dirty cups, or pulled out of the bottom of a laptop bag, creased, with reminders and mobile telephone numbers scrawled all over it. A recipient will only treat a catalogue as seriously as the person who hands it to them. Think about it: if someone carefully hands over a valuable object, it’s treated with care in turn.
Many Asian communities take this approach when handing over their business cards and it’s very powerful. They turn their card to face the person they’re meeting, hold each corner and present it as though it were sat on a cushion. It says a lot about the value they place on make new connections and it’s incredibly humbling. I’m not suggesting catalogues should be distributed in quite the same manner but it’s worth keeping in mind.
10. Back it all up with brilliant customer service!
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd