Call me goofy, but where’s the love?

After flipping through the most recent stack of catalogs that came through my mail slot I have to say felt bored. Pretty images, some interesting typography but none of them did more than display items and I got bored.

Those catalogs didn’t sell me anything, and most of them didn’t even try. They showed me stuff, lots of stuff, but that’s all they did. Creative teams confuse displaying with selling. (I’m not going to get into high-end versus low-end selling right now. There is a difference, but let’s not lose the forest for the trees.) Selling is different than displaying. Let’s say I have a product page with two pencils on it. One is a Dixon Ticonderoga, the best selling pencil in the world, the other is a Leningrad, from the Ukraine, that no one has ever heard of. If I simply display both, then the Dixon Ticonderoga will outsell the Leningrad. If I add a callout to the Leningrad pencil that says “Preferred by Cosmonauts and ideal for meetings with zero gravity.” depending on the audience, it could outsell the Dixon Ticonderoga. I may actually be able to get people who were not shopping for pencils to buy some Lenigrads because they were amused and want to own a piece of the Russian Space Program. That is selling versus displaying. Creatives are usually good at displaying things, they have a harder time selling them.

There is a simple change in perspective that can transform an ordinary person into a great salesperson and that is selling from the heart. (A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.) I can sell you anything if I care about you. But I have to really care, and you have to actively feel that connection. That’s why recommendations are so effective. If you don’t believe that I am trying to help you, you will shy away. If you think I am trying to sell you something just so that I can get things sold, you will run away.

Here’s what I need to do to make that connection with you:

  1. Listen to your needs
  2. Offer helpful advice and steer you in the right direction
  3. Validate your choice

Where the most recent batch of catalogs I received lost me was step 1, they weren’t listening to my needs, they were just showing me their wares. BUT WAIT how can a catalog listen to my needs if it is a one way conversation? Catalogs can’t talk to me, I’m just a name on a mailing list. Right. Exactly. Catalogers needed to see me as more than just a name on a mailing list. I’m a unique individual (who shares characteristics with others on the same list), and catalogers have to imagine what my needs are in order to connect with me. Now before you panic, let me remind you that catalogers are ideally suited to this since catalogers know who their customers are, and many catalogers are niche marketers who can further identify customers needs and wants. Let me give you an example: Duluth Trading Long Tail Tee Shirts.

Duluth Trading sells to carpenters, plumbers, and handymen and women. Their merchants came up with a tee shirt that stays tucked in because it is 3″ longer than a regular tee. The Long Tail Tee could have been sold as a line list on the existing tee shirts, think how many “tall” tee’s are sold that way—most of them. Instead Duluth connected with one of their customers’ challenges, which was that it covered up butt crack when guys leaned over. They showed a picture of a guy fixing a sink and the shocked woman who just got an eyeful when she walked into the kitchen. Duluth SOLD that tee shirt instead of displaying it with a pin shot and a line list, and they did it with heart and a sense of humor.

How do you make someone buy something? You can’t without putting a gun to their head. You can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do, so stop asking yourself “How do I get them to buy this?” Instead ask yourself “How would this help my customers?” Answer that question and customers will feel like you are listening to them.

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The Catalog Blog covers opinions and information on all things catalog. Have something to add? Leave a comment below. Catalog University is devoted to helping you get ahead in the fun and fascinating world of catalogs. If you want even more information about cataloging, including FREE Pub Talks, be sure to sign up for the Cat-U mailing list. We will never share your name with 3rd parties.

Sarah Fletcher
Co-Founder, Catalog University
Creative Director, Catalog Design Studios Inc.