11/07/11

How to get yours fighting fit and winning more sales! — By Ian Simpson, MD at Catalogues 4 Business

Business to business catalogues have a hard life and are often regarded as the poor relation of the catalogue world. Many businesses are failing to appreciate the value catalogues can bring as both a sales and marketing tool.

Catalogues can improve customer loyalty, build brand awareness and also increase customer lifetime value. They can also help deliver online sales, but only if the right techniques are implemented.

Catalogue expert Ian Simpson offers his ten top tips to make your B2B catalogue work for you…

1 Covers

Without doubt the cover is the most important page in the catalogue. It quickly has to tell the reader everything about your company, your products and your proposition. It has to communicate relevancy to your target audience and draw the reader in. To use a retail parallel, it is your catalogue ‘shop window’. Walk down your local high street and see what shops attract your attention, and more importantly why. It will inevitably be a mix of brand, relevancy and desire/need; this is exactly how your cover should work.

2 Pace and Eyeflow

Pace is the art of engaging your reader’s attention. In their most basic form, catalogues are listings; set simply as a body of type; extremely boring and monotonous. Good typography and pictures break the rhythm, directing the reader around the page and through the catalogue. Prudent use of graphic devices can attract attention and ‘pull out’ products. Eyeflow is vitally important; catalogues are ‘read’ in predictable ways. Research by Seigfried Voegle highlighted how a reader enters a spread top right, tracks across to the middle left and finally exits bottom right; this creates exploitable hotspots and dead areas.

3 Positioning and brand image

As a brand led society, we strive to be identified with the products we buy and whom we buy them from. One of the first steps to creating great catalogue is to define and record your positioning statement and whenever you create a catalogue ensure that its execution supports and enhances this statement. This will create an instantly recognisable sales vehicle.

4 Clear Typography

Typography is a silent partner to design — yet it has the power to have a great effect on the communication of your message. Good typography lubricates the message and relays information smoothly and seamlessly. Key areas are: the choice of font, type on a background (type is much harder to read on a coloured background and is often ignored, blocks of type should never be run over pictures or reversed out), line lengths (short line lengths are easier to read), and coloured type (avoid using coloured type, except in heading or for impact).

5 Use of icons

Catalogues rely on their ease-of-use for success. Icons are a great way to highlight simple, recurring messages throughout a catalogue. They are best used to reinforce guarantees, service items (delivery, availability etc), price changes, new etc. Well-designed icons become familiar to readers and they respond to them unconsciously. Ideally the icons should be explained on page 2 or (on bigger catalogues) highlighted at regular intervals.

6 Clear, benefit-led copy

With B2B catalogues the purpose of copy is to create a desire/demand for product. The dialogues and tone has to be appropriate to the target audience and this is sometimes difficult to judge. Humour should be approached with caution and you should never talk down to your readers. Copy should be benefit led and reinforce the features accordingly; for example, colour is not a benefit (unless you are selling camouflage clothing) but strength, ease of use, performance etc are. It should also include all the information necessary to complete the purchase, remember any barrier to completing a sale results in a lost sale.

7 Easy to Use Order Forms

Order forms are not a necessary evil, they are the last chance to market to your customers and they reinforce the purpose of your catalogue — to sell! It is one of the most frequently used pages in your catalogue, get it wrong and you could lose the sale! Give readers enough space to complete all the details. Include an impulse buy, free gift or offer - this is the last chance to sell to your customer.

8 Good Organisation

Plan your catalogue carefully with a logical journey through the sections and product groupings. You can afford to take far more risks with your buyers than with prospects. Always start with the products you are best known for at the front of prospecting catalogues — this reinforces your proposition very early; with your buyers file, new or different products can be tested. Remember also, that readers start from the back of the catalogue as well as the front — the back cover is a powerful page for offers.

9 Clear Photography

With catalogue photography - product is king. Style the photography appropriately for your audience and make it very clear what you are selling. With B2B it is often appropriate to pull out smaller shots to explain how a product functions. Don’t let the background or models subordinate the product.

10 Sell off the page

It sounds obvious but selling off the page is often misunderstood, it is not just a matter of shouting ‘buy me!’ at every opportunity, you have to create desire and expectation. Products have to be placed in a marketing context and the reader given the opportunity and information to make the purchase. Don’t put barriers between the sale and order placement, make it very clear what the buyers have to do.


The B2B catalogue has to be strong and focussed. The B2B reader needs to be reassured that the products he is buying are fit for purpose and that you have the authority to sell them. He also has to be able to find them in the catalogue and understand how to order them. Any help you give the reader in reaching a buying decision will score you points. Back that with good service and you can go for the knockout.

About The Author

Ian Simpson is managing director at design, print and marketing company Catalogues 4 Business, the UK’s leading specialists in catalogue design. For more information visit www.catalogues4business.co.uk or phone 0845 2300 258.