Real catalogs versus ideal catalogs

I remember debating the difference between real and ideal in a college philosophy class many moons ago. It really made me think about the pros and cons of each. Looking at the costs and benefits of real and ideal still comes in handy, because balancing real and ideal is a big part of my job as a creative director.

The ideal catalog versus the real catalog

The ideal catalog, is the catalog we’d like to create if there was a bigger budget and more time, versus the one we can get done with what we have, before the files to printer deadline. The real catalog is all about compromise and opportunity costs. Will replacing the old images that desperately need updating outweigh fresh covers or new brand copy? Which will get noticed and which will increase sales? No matter how big the budget, the ideal catalog for a cheap customer is still a low cost look with lots of price callouts. The ideal catalog for a chic customer can get very pricy. There’s a tipping point where, no mater how much you spend it won’t move the needle, and it may make customers question what they’re paying for. That balance is different for each catalog.

The real customer versus the ideal customer

They aren’t the same. Are you losing your prospecting edge by designing for the real customer? Are you overspending by designing for the ideal customer and not the real customer? The most important question is “Does everyone agree on who is the real customer and who is the ideal customer?” That’s a discussion that should be the start of every new catalog conversation.

Real builds wisdom. Ideal creates innovation

Finding ways to do more with less is baked into a successful cataloger’s DNA. You can’t survive the early years if you aren’t frugal, the catalog math just isn’t in your favor. Over time, as the house file increases and the cost/book goes down, there’s room for ideal. Peel off cards, gatefolds, wraps, branding, photography and a myriad of other cool things that can create excitement and engagement. The wisdom learned by making due with less is invaluable. The innovation created by trying new things increases demand.

Ideal is usually more expensive than real

One of my clients complained that their print contract requires a month between when the files are due at the printer and when the catalog actually gets printed. He said, “It happens every year so why don’t the printers increase capacity?” The answers is that printers only need that extra capacity once a year, and the best price comes from giving the printer the time to leverage their production. Ideal would be quick turn around without additional cost. Real is better pricing and early deadlines.

Real versus ideal is a great discussion to have with merchandising, marketing and creative. Go for it. I bet it will spark a great conversation.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher
President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios
Co-founder Catalog University

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