by Cassandra Balentine
The evolution of catalogs is an excellent example of what the power of print brings to an increasingly digital world. In a changing retail landscape, brick and mortars and online retailers alike drive business to sites and stores with tactical, high-value printed marketing pieces.
Above: Canon offers a few production inkjet solutions primed for the catalog printing market, including the Canon ProStream and the Canon ColorStream.
Catalogs don’t look the way they used to—perfect bound with hundreds of pages. Today’s catalogs typically peak at 16 pages, are nearly always saddle stitched, and packed with quick response (QR) codes to drive readers online.
“When catalogs are printed, they are usually designed to be specific to a particular topic or target group. Today, they are a customer loyalty tool intended to give consumers the impetus to buy online again and again. As a result, print runs have decreased and catalogs today are significantly thinner and often smaller in format than in earlier years,” offers Jeff Zellmer, VP, global sales & strategy, Kodak.
Digital print and finishing technologies are well suited for this evolution, simply due to the fact that the scope is shrinking with more versioning and personalization solutions.
The Catalog Evolution
Advancements in digital print quality influence all areas of print, including catalog printing. Bob Flinn, director, business development, Standard Finishing Systems, points out that to differentiate from online catalogs, print catalogs shift away from long print runs to shorter run lengths that can better take advantage of advances in targeted marketing and personalization to deliver, in many cases, more successful print campaigns. “This can be seen in a range of catalog markets including real estate, cosmetics, automobiles, clothing, and healthcare.”
The relevance and effectiveness of printed catalogs compared with digital media advertising was the subject of a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review, How Paper Catalogs Remain Relevant in a Digital Age, by Jonathan Z. Zhang.
According to the study, while the costs of digital advertising are increasing, returns are decreasing along with changes in privacy policies that make it more difficult to target consumers. This is all while “high-quality physical catalogs with stunning imagery combined with compelling narratives can create the sensory awe that would be hard to replicate on a digital screen. These sensory experiences can then lead to long-lasting impressions and stronger relationships with customers, and translate to a competitive advantage for the company.”
When it comes to modern catalog production, several notable trends come to mind. One is the combination of a magazine and catalog to form the ‘magalog,’ which takes elements from both applications to present readers with a valuable marketing tool and informational resource.
Ed Jansen, VP of marketing, Canon Solutions America, Production Print Solutions, describes magalogs as a unique blend of content and editorial, “similar to a standard magazine but featuring products and services with simple call-to-actions like a catalog. It is essentially a catalog with magazine features.”
Jansen says this trend encourages end users to interact with a catalog, spend more time with it, and get pulled into the content for a richer experience than traditional catalog would offer.
Traditional catalogs are also experiencing a resurgence. “Many major brands are returning to print catalogs, especially during the holidays as a way to drive online traffic and purchases. More of these companies are focused on high-quality design and printing at an economical price,” comments Jansen.
Higher value pieces typically come with a higher cost per piece, and therefore benefit from a more targeted audience. “We are seeing increasing demands for short runs and personalized catalogs and have been experiencing this growth for a couple of years now,” says Carlos Martins, solutions manager, Muller Martini.
The use of interactive print adds value to catalogs. With a simple quick response code, big brands like Amazon and Target have upped the ante on holiday shopping.
“Users are able to scan the catalog from their smartphone, which then launches a product listing directly to their phone’s applications (i.e. Amazon and Target) or phone browser to shop immediately from the pages of the catalog,” explains Jansen.
Zellmer points out that the production of printed catalogs is made easier by the use of Product Information Management (PIM) systems. “These systems automate the creation of print files for specific catalogs on demand from existing digital content. Linking the physical catalog with online stores or virtual product showcases via printed QR codes or other coding is now almost a matter of course.”
When it comes to print production, Marc Johnson, senior global market development manager, PageWide Industrial, HP, sees a benefit to a hybrid printing model, where the bulk of a catalog may be printed offset with a smaller digital supplement, which can include localization as well as trackable coupons. “Catalogs don’t have to be all offset or digital, there is a happy medium ground,” he offers.
In addition to the traditional size and binding techniques, companies test out new options as well. For example, Slim Jims are smaller size catalogs meant to lower postage costs compared with traditional catalog sizing.
“For the most part, demand remains in traditional letterhead size paper with saddle-stitch binding. However, some brands—particularly luxury brands—are testing the boundaries here including producing oversized format sizes and heavyweight/luxury paper stocks,” explains Jansen.
In terms of sizing, Flinn is seeing that landscape format—11×8.5 inches—has become increasingly popular for high-end catalogs, especially for industries like automobiles and travel.
With paper supply challenges, shrinking down the size of a catalog can get more use out of a page.
Zellmer says catalogs today have smaller page counts, are printed on lighter, thinner papers, and are smaller in size. “This affects print finishing and binding, since, for example, catalogs with fewer pages consist of fewer signatures that need to be folded and bound.”
Room to Grow
Catalogs, magazines, Slim Jims, magalogs, and everything in between are poised for great success in the next few years.
Overall, it is safe to say that this type of application is growing in digital print. “Digitally printed catalogs are still relatively new. And they are definitely growing,” says Johnson. He explains that with a decline of longer run, larger books you’re seeing an uptick in localized, 16- to 32-page books with localized content. “Every campaign has a target, which is based on how many dollars are coming back in sales. With the latest versions of catalogs, the metrics are available through key codes and trade shows that track the person with the catalog, confirming a campaign generated that sale.”
Jansen agrees, noting that “between 2020 and 2025, catalogs and magazines are expected to experience some of the highest growth rates in terms of impressions. Their strength in digital print can be attributed primarily to shifts away from traditional offset manufacturing.”
He points to a Keypoint Intelligence report, Business Development Strategies: A Road Map for 2022, which predicts catalog page volume in the U.S. will more than double from 2020 to 2025 going from around eight billion impressions in 2022 to 20 billion in 2025.
“Although catalog printing in traditional analog printing processes like offset and gravure is declining sharply overall, it offers growth opportunities for digital printing. Digital printing is perfect for the fast production of highly targeted and personalized catalogs with short lead times, while also easily integrating those augmented reality or connected components,” comments Zellmer.
“Consumers who do most of their shopping online still like receiving catalogs so they can see a retailer’s offerings and get ideas about things they might like to purchase. Printed catalogs—like other forms of direct mail—are a great way to reach consumers in their own homes. They are also a perfect vehicle to drive consumers to physical retail locations or online stores as retailers can use them to communicate in-store offers or promotions, highlight popular options like pickup and/or delivery, and position the online purchasing experience as a viable alternative to an in-store visit,” shares Jansen.
Further, the Harvard Business Review article reveals that catalog mailings have been increasing steadily since 2015. “It’s not just the older shoppers who are using these catalogs; Millennials and Generation Z consumers are actively seeking ways to unplug from technology. The old-fashioned printed catalog provides a break from all of the screen time, even if it’s only for a moment before consumers rush back online to buy those must-have items,” comments Jansen.
While printed catalogs maintain their relevance, Jansen admits that many retailers have cut the production of mega-sized printed catalogs in favor of mailing a larger volume of smaller, more customized catalogs to consumers to stimulate buying and visits to physical and online venues. In addition to reducing postal costs, this provides the consumer with catalogs that are more relevant to their known or suspected interests.
“The advancements in digital print quality have influenced all areas of print, and catalog printing is no exception. With the introduction of targeted marketing into catalog printing, there is increasing demand for shorter run catalog print and finishing production solutions. Customized, shorter runs allow companies to be nimbler, reacting to changing market trends and buying habits in record time,” comments Flinn.
Martins sees a trend for longer runs being reduced in total volume, however the ability to do shorter runs, and new titles with the new digital print equipment can have improved profitability with shorter runs.
Don’t discount a hybrid model, suggests Johnson. “The economics of a hybrid solution are brilliant and compelling because it is the best of both worlds—the benefits of digital with the economics of offset.”
Print is a powerful tool that helps the biggest and smallest stand out in a competitive market. Savvy marketers take advantage of the latest solutions to drive innovative, catalog-based purchases in an increasingly ecommerce-driven world.
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Nov2022, DPS Magazine