How To Write Catalog Copy That Sells

by Robert W. Bly



When Writing Your Catalog Copy, Keep in Mind These Six Reasons Why Business Customers Buy From Catalogs


Catalogs are sales tools, designed to generate either leads or direct sales.  But the copy in most business-to-business catalogs doesn’t sell.  It merely gives straightforward technical descriptions of the products - no advantages, no benefits, no motivation for the reader to call a sales rep, mail a reply card or place an order.


To write catalog copy that sells, you have to understand the reasons why business customers buy from catalogs.  Surprisingly, business customers buy for many of the same reasons that consumers do.  Below are six of the most powerful reasons managers, engineers, purchasing agents and executives turn to your business catalog:


1.      To save money.  Saving money is the number one motivation for a buyer to order your product instead of your competitor’s.  Your catalog should stress cost savings - on the cover, on the order form, on every page.


In Radio Shack’s catalogs, every item is on sale!  Each item description lists three things: the price off (in dollars or percentage, the regular price and the saleprice).


A catalog from Boardroom Books shows a markdown on every book in the catalog; the original price is crossed out with an X and the new price is printed next to it in red type.


An office supply catalog from Business Envelope Manufacturers, Inc. announces “Lowest Prices in the Industry” right on the front cover.


2.      To be right.  The business buyer wants to be sure he is buying the right product from the right vendor.  If he makes the right purchase decision, he is a hero; if he makes a wrong decision, he’s in the doghouse.


How do you assure the buyer that he’s making the right decision?  Here are a few specific techniques:


·        List well-known firms that have done business with you.


·        Use testimonials.  Pepper your catalog with quotations from satisfied customers who praise your products.


·        Make a guarantee.  Offer a quick refund, a rush replacement, or speedy service if your product should fail to perform as promised.


Give facts that demonstrate the stability of your company: years in the business, number of employees, number of locations, annual sales.


3.      To make money.  Business customers buy products for one of two end uses: to resell the products at a profit or to use them to operate their business more efficiently and profitably.


Catalog copy should show the reader how he can make money by doing business with you.  For example, “Telephone selling skills that increase sales” is a better headline than “Fundamentals of Telephone Sales.”  The first headline promises wealth; the second is merely descriptive.


4.      To get something for nothing.  Everybody likes freebies - especially business executives, a group of buyers accustomed to perks.  Your catalog could offer the buyer a free gift in exchange or his order.  And it should be a personal gift for the buyer, not a discount or gift of merchandise to the company.


Popular gift items for business executives include pen and pencil sets, clocks, calculators, mugs, ties, golf balls, T-shirts and watches.  (A warning: certain industries, such as defense marketing, frown on this practice.)


5.      To fulfill a need.  To the purchasing agent, whose job it is to buy things for his company, a good catalog is a valuable source-book of much-needed merchandise.  The more the catalog and its contents fulfill his needs, the more likely the purchasing agent is to order from it - again and again.


How do you create a catalog that fulfills the buyer’s needs?  First, find out what those needs are and fill the catalog with products that satisfy them.  Next, make sure your product list is broad enough.  Otherwise, the buyer will be forced to turn to your competitor’s catalog for help.  Be sure to include a wide variety of models, sizes, colors and styles.  Also, feature your most popular or hard-to-get items near the front of the book.


6.      To solve problems.  Often, the business buyer isn’t looking for a specific product.  Rather, he’s looking for a solution to a problem.  If your catalog shows how your product solves the problem, you’ll make the sale.


For example, a shop steward might not be thinking of ultrafiltration.  He might not even know what it is.  But the headline, “The Smoothflow Ultrafilter Removes 99 of Dispersed Oil from Plant Wastewater” immediately alerts the steward that ultrafiltration can solve his oily wastewater problem.



Other reasons why businesspeople buy from catalogs: to save time, for convenience, to feel important, to gratify curiosity, to take advantage of opportunities, to avoid effort, to make work easier, to avoid embarrassment, to be the first to try a new product or service, to be exclusive, to avoid salespeople.  Keep these reasons in mind and gear your catalog in their fulfillment.  It’s a good way to make sure the purchasing agent picks up your book instead of your competitor’s.


A Good Catalog Tells and Sells With Copy Basics


But most business-to-business catalogs don’t do nearly enough selling.  Leaf through some industrial catalogs.  Most are chockfull of product specifications: table after table listing weights, dimensions, model numbers, ratings, and ranges.  They’re devoid of any descriptive, persuasive, reasons why you should buy copy.  Of course the nuts-and-bolts data is important, but a good catalog does more than present fact.  It shows the business buyer how the products can solve his problem, why he should buy your product instead of another, and how it is to order the product from your catalog.


These fundamentals of catalog copywriting can add to the pulling power of your next mailing:


1.      Use colorful, descriptive language.  Product spec and tech talk don’t move buyers to action.  Persuasive language does.  It’s colorful and descriptive, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of what the product can do for him.  For example:


Tech-talk: “The XYZ mixer is devoid of pinch-points or dead spots where viscous material might accumulate.”


Persuasive language: “Our mixer is free of sharp edges, nooks and crannies where gunk might get stuck and clog up your pipeline.”


2.      Use precise language.  Beware of language that is overly colloquial or general.  You want your writing to be conversational enough to win the reader over without becoming so vague that it doesn’t communicate your meaning.


An ad for a microwave relay system began with the headline, “If you thought microwaves are too rich for your blood, look again.”  At first glance, one might think the ad has something to do with the danger of microwave radiation and blood poisoning.  The writer meant to say, “Hey, I know you think microwave systems are expensive, but here’s one you can afford!”  More precise language is needed here, something like, “At affordable microwave system for cable TV operators.”


3.      Use specific language.  Recently, a Hollywood screenwriter spoke about the secret to her success in writing major feature films.  “Specifics sell.  When you are abstract, no one pays attention.”  And so it is with the catalog writer, specifics sell.  Generalities don’t.


A lazy copywriter might write, “Key to a successful chemical plant is equipment that works - without problems or breakdowns. And our gear drive works and works and works - a long, long time.  Put it in place, turn it on, and forget about it.  It’s that simple.


Sounds nice, but empty.  Exactly how reliable is the gear drive?  How long can it go without maintenance?  What proof do you offer for your claims of superior reliability?  This is what the buyer wants to know.  So the skilled copywriter fills his catalog copy with specifics that give the answers:


“Continuous internal lubricating sprays keep our gear drives well oiled and virtually friction free.  As a result, there’s no wear and tear, and service life is greatly increased.  In laboratory tests, our system has operated 25,000 hours nonstop.  In the field, we have more than 25,000 units installed and not a single failure.”


4.      Descriptive heads and breakers.  Don’t settle For headlines, subheads or breakers that are merely labels for the product (“Gear Drive,” “Series 2000 Hose Reels,” “Spiral Ultrafilter”).  Instead, put some sell in your headlines.  State a benefit.  Promise to solve a problem.  Mention the industries that can use the product.  Tell its applications.  Describe the range of sizes, colors or models available.  Give news about the product.  Or stress the ease of product evaluation and selection in your catalog. Some examples:


·        A Quick and Easy Guide to Hose Selection.


·        Widest Selection of Laboratory Stoppers from 1/4" to 1 foot in diameter - rubber, plastic, glass and cork.


·        Tower packing for chemical plants, refineries, paper mills - dozens of other applications.


·        Color-coded Floppy diskettes Save Time And Make your Life Easy!  Here’s the Full Story:


5.      Make it easy to order.  If your catalog is one of those monsters jammed with tables of product specs, be sure to explain these tables to your readers up front.  Tell what’s in the tables and how to use them to select the product.  Give simple procedures and formulas to aid in product selection.  Illustrate with a few examples.  Also, make sure your reader knows who to call for assistance or order placement.


6.      Make it easy to read.  Use short, familiar words.  Short sentences.  Short paragraphs with space between each.  Stick in underlines, bullets, boldface type and breakers for emphasis.  A catalog crammed with technical date and tiny type is a bore and a strain on the eyes.  You can make your business catalog effective and yet fun and easy to read.


7.      Stress benefits, benefits, benefits.  What the product does for the reader is more important than how it works, how you made it, who invented it, how long you’ve been making it, or how well it has sold.



10 Ways to Organize Your Catalog


Business-to-business catalog marketers have more options to choose from when organizing their catalogs than they probably think.  Here are 10 methods, along with the pros and cons of each.


1.      By product demand.  You can organize your catalog by the sales each product generate.  Put your best-seller up front and give them a full or half-page each.  Slower-moving merchandise appears at the back of the book with a quarter-page or less.  Dead items are dropped altogether.


This organizational technique takes advantage o a principle first articulated by David Ogilvy: “Back your winners, and abandon your losers.”  It puts your promotional dollars where they’ll do the most good; BUT in large or highly technical product catalogs, it may cause some confusion.


2.      By application.  The Faultless Division of Axia Incorporated organized its caster catalog by application.  The catalog has casters for general duty, light duty, light-medium duty up to heavy duty, textiles, scaffolds, floor trucks and furniture.


Organizing according to application makes it easy for your customer to find the product that solves his problem.  The disadvantage of this scheme is redundancy: many products handle multiple applications and must be listed (or cross-referenced) in more than one section.


3.      By function.  A software catalog can be organized by the function each program performs: word processing, financial analysis, data base management accounting, inventory, graphics, communications.  Obviously, this scheme won’t work in a catalog where all the equipment performs the same task (e.g., a catalog of pollution-control equipment or safety valves).


4.      By type of equipment.  Radio Shack’s consumer electronics catalogs are organized by product group: stereos on one page, car radios on the next, followed by VCRs, computers, and tape recorders.  This scheme is a natural for companies that carry multiple product lines.


5.      By “system hierarchy.”  This technique organizes by the level at which each component fits into the overall system.  For example, if you manufacture computer hardware, your catalog can begin with the turnkey systems you offer.  Next come the major components: terminals, printers, plotters, disk drives, keyboards, processors.  Then you get to the board level, showing the various optional circuit boards you offer for memory expansion, interfaces, communications, instrument control, and other functions.  Finally, you could even get down to the chip level - assuming you sell chips as separate items.  Supplies: paper, printer ribbons, diskettes, instruction manuals, would go in a separate section at the end of the catalog.  This unit/sub unit/sub-sub unit approach is ideal for manufacturers who sell both complete systems and component parts.


6.      By price.  If you sell similar products that vary mainly in quality and price, you can organize your catalog by selling price.  I your customers are concerned with savings, start with the cheapest items and work up.  If you’re selling to an upscale group willing to pay a premium for the deluxe model, start with high-priced versions and work down.


This technique is excellent for organizing a catalog of premiums and incentives.  After all, an ad manager searching for a premium has a price range in mind, not necessarily a specific product.


7.      By scarcity.  If your catalog features hard-to-get items, consider putting them up front, even on the cover.  This makes your catalog more valuable by offering the buyer products he needs but can’t get anywhere else.  Don’t worry that these hard-to-find items aren’t big sellers.  When the customer knows your catalog has a stock of rare merchandise (and pulls your catalog to order it), he’ll be more inclined to do his other business with you, too.


8.      By size.  If you make one product and the basic selection criterion is size, it’s natural to organize your catalog by size (dimensions, weight, horsepower, BTUs, or whatever).  This is handy for catalogs with boilers, motors, shipping drums, envelopes, light bulbs, air conditioners, and other equipment selected mainly on a size basis.


9.      By model number.  If you’ve worked out a sensible numbering system for your product line, organize your catalog by model number.  If there’s a simple meaning to your numbering system, explain it at the start of the catalog.  And don’t rely solely on the model numbers to describe your products; include headings and descriptive text, as well.


10. Alphabetically.  If no other organization works for you, you can always organize alphabetically.  A large tool catalog can start with adjustable strap clamps and angle plates and end with wing nuts and wrenches.  Or a vitamin catalog can start with Vitamin A and end with Zinc.



Tricks of the Trade: 5 Ways to Make Your Catalog Pull

    More Orders


Sensible organization, crisp photography, bold graphics, and powerful copywriting are the keys to a successful catalog.  But experienced catalog marketers also use dozens of sales-boosting gimmicks that have little to do with the basics of salesmanship or good copywriting.  All we know is that these tricks of the trade work - and that’s reason enough to use them.  Here are five that may be helpful to you:


1.      Include a letter.  To add a personal touch to your product catalog, write a “personal letter” to your customers from the president of your firm.  The letter can be printed inside the front cover or run off on letterhead and bound into the catalog.  You can use this type of letter to introduce the catalog, explain your ordering system, state a company “philosophy,” stress your dedication to service and quality, or alert the reader to new, discounted, and other special offerings.  Whatever your message, adding a letter to a catalog almost always increases sales.


2.      Bursts.  Often used by cereal-makers to alert children to the prize inside the box, the “burst” (a star-shaped graphic with a copy line inside) also can draw a reader to special items within a catalog.  Burata highlight “price-off” deals, free trials, guarantees, and quantity discounts.  Use bursts and other special graphic techniques (such as underlining, colored or boldface type, fake handwriting) sparingly.  Overuse dilutes their effect.


3.      Last-minute specials.  Insert into your catalog a separate sheet featuring items added to your product line or discounted at the last minute.  Tell the customer these bargains were included just in time for mailing, but too late to print in the catalog.  This insert generates additional sales because people like to be “in” on the latest developments.


4.      Give technical information and tips of a general nature.  The usefulness of this information will encourage buyers to keep your catalog.  And the longer they have it, the more often they’ll order from it.  For instance, a hardware catalog might include an article or table titled, “A Guide to Screw Selection.”  A filtration catalog could include tips on “How to Clean and Care for Filters.”


5.      Put your catalog in a three-ring binder.  Expensive, but people won’t throw out a hardback binder as readily as they would an ordinary paperback catalog.  Your customer also is more likely to keep your binder on his shelf because it’s too bulky for the filing cabinet.


Tricks of the Trade: 5 More Sales Boosters For Your Catalog.


In addition to using good photography, clear copywriting and sensible catalog organization, throw in a few sales-boosting gimmicks to pull in more orders.  The prior issue of B/BCM gave you five of them.  Here are five more.


1.      Include product samples.  You get two advantages.  First, mailings which have three-dimensional objects inside are more likely to be opened than flat envelopes.  Second, engineers and other technical buyers often like to play with product samples, keeping them handy on their desks or shelves.


A fine example of this technique was used in a brochure for Gore-Tex, a sealant that prevents leaks in pipe sections when you bolt them together.  The sample sealant was stuck to a photo of a pipe flange in the exact position it would be used in real life.  The copy told the reader to remove the sample and put it through a series of simple tests (accomplished in 5 minutes at his desk) to demonstrate its effectiveness.


2.      List Your Customers.  Include a complete list of all the firms that have bought from you, whether you have 300 or 3,000 names.  Seeing such a list in print makes a powerful impression on your customers.  They’ll think, “How can I go wrong buying from these guys?  Everybody in the world does business with them.”


3.      Include an order form.  Make it easy to fill out.  Leave enough space for customers to write in needed information.  Bind it into the catalog so it won’t be lost/misplaced.


If your products can’t be ordered by mail, include a “spec sheet.”  The spec sheet asks the prospect to provide key information on his applications (such as, size of plant, hours of operation, type of process, and so on).  With this information in hand, you can specify the equipment the prospect needs and tell him what it will cost.


4.      Include a business reply envelope (BRE).  The BRE is a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope the prospect can use to mail the order form or spec sheet back to you.  Practically every consumer catalog has a BRE.


Most business catalogs don’t.  Business-to-business marketers think, “My prospect works in an office; he has a supply of envelopes and a postage meter handy.  He doesn’t care about the cost of postage, and he can have his secretary take care of addressing the envelope.”  This may be true, but a BRE still boosts the response rate in business catalogs.  Why?  Not because they save the buyer 20 cents, but because they flag readers to notice you’d like them to respond to your catalog.


In the same way, a coupon in an ad increases the number of people who phone or write letters.  The coupon says, “This is a direct-response ad.  A response is the appropriate next step if you’re interested in the product.”


5.      Make it an event.  Industrial buyers get a lot of catalogs in the mail, so the boredom factor is high.  Anything you can do to make your catalog mailing special, to stand out from the crowd, will boost sales and inquiries.


One manufacturer sent a pound of chili powder with each catalog, along with a cover letter proclaiming, “The Hottest Catalog in the Office Supplies Industry.”  With a little imagination, you’ll come up with an approach that fits your catalog and customers.



How To Prepare To Write Your Catalog Copy.


Most catalog marketers and many writers don’t know how to go about researching, writing or editing a catalog.  Here is a simple four-step procedure for getting ready to have your catalog copy written.  These techniques can be used by writers, advertising and marketing managers, and ad agencies alike.


Step #1: Collect background information.  Writing catalog copy seldom requires original research.  Usually the products to be included in the catalog have already been described in previous brochures, flyers, ads and data sheets.  Collecting and organizing this printed material is the first and most crucial step in getting ready to write the catalog copy.


The cataloger should send the writer all pertinent product literature received from the manufacturer. (And if the catalog house doesn’t have it, it must be solicited.)  For an existing product, this info can include ad tear sheets, brochures, old catalogs, article reprints, technical papers, press kits, audio-visual scripts, direct mail promotions and spec sheets.


If the product is new or manufactured by the catalog company itself, these publications may not exist.  But the birth of any new product is accompanied by mounds of paperwork which can be sent to the writer, including internal memos, letters of technical information, product specifications, engineering drawings, photos of prototypes, business and marketing plans, reports and sales proposals.


If the catalog house is supplying the copywriter with information on many products, file folders should be used to separate source material by product.  Include a brief note with each folder indicating whether the enclosed background material is complete and up-to-date and, if not, who the writer can call to fill in the gaps.


Be sure to mark the source material to indicate what information should be included in the catalog and what should not.  Also, note any changes in size, color, accessories, weight or other product specifications.


Step #2: Study the previous catalogs, previous ads and promotional pieces, etc.  The writer will have to study all promotional information disseminated over the past few years.  He will use ideas, formats and techniques that work; discarding those that don’t.  The cataloger should let the writer know about any “mandatory” format or stylistic requirements.  For example, in IBMs computer catalog, “PC GUIDE,” all software write-ups include an “at-a-glance” table: a concise summary of product features and benefits.  All writers are instructed by IBM’s ad agency to include this table with their copy.


Step #3: Set a direction.  If the catalog house has instructions or suggestions it wants followed, they should be written down and shared with the writer.  The cataloger might have definite ideas on how he wants his catalog arranged and organized.  Or, he may prefer one style of copy to another.  But the copywriter can’t read his mind.  He must tell the writer his preferences. 


Some writers might object, “But isn’t it up to the writer to set the tone, style, content and organization?  Isn’t that what the marketer pays the writer for?”  Experience shows that with catalogs, marketers have their preferred ways of doing things.  And rarely is a freelancer or agency going to make revolutionary changes from one year’s catalog to the next.


A recent help-wanted ad placed by a catalog marketer said a freelance copywriter was needed to write about garden tools and products in a “homey” style.  If a homey style is what they want, the company is not going to change to a “high tech” or corporate, formal style because a freelancer comes along and prefers to write it that way.  Instead, they’ll get another freelancer.  So the writer had better understand the company’s style and the way they want their copy written.


Step #4: The catalog marketer must be available.  Once the writer has the background information and knows what the marketer wants, he is ready to write the copy.  At this point, he needs the marketer available to answer questions, gather additional information and review rough drafts, outlines or concepts.  If the cataloger is not available, the project will be held up until the writer gets the information, feedback or approval he needs.


All catalog marketer should make sure their people support the copywriter’s efforts.  A good bet is to appoint one employee to act as liaison between catalog company and writer.  It’s inefficient for a writer to have to track down the many people in a company who are involved with the catalog and its creation.


How To Write Catalog Copy and Avoid “Writer’s Block”


Copywriters who have no trouble dishing up a sales letter or ad suddenly “freeze” when faced with the task of producing 180 lines of 44 characters each for a catalog.  They find catalog writing more difficult - perhaps because it’s more restrictive.  In an ad or sales letter, the writer is pretty free to “let loose.”  But in a catalog he is limited in space and confined to following the catalog’s set tone, format and style.


Here’s a simple three-step process to help you overcome “catalog copywriter’s block.”


1.  In the first stage, you simply ignore the constraints of space, format, and style and just write.  Let the words flow.  Write whatever comes naturally.  Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is good or sensible or “right.”  You’ll have a chance to go back and fix it later.  Right now, just let the words pour out.


Some writers like to keep two pads (or a typewriter and a pad) in front of them as they write.  The first pad is used for composing the copy.  Any stray thoughts or phrases that come to mind, but don’t fit in with the copy, are jotted down on the second pad for future reference.

2.  In the second phase, you edit your rough first draft to make it better.  Editing consists of:

·Deleting unnecessary words and phrases,

·Adjusting the copy to the exact word length the specs call for,

·Rewriting awkward phrases,

·Making sure all necessary facts are included,

·Reordering copy points to make the organization more logical,

·Making copy conform to catalog format and style (adding tables, call-outs, charts, or special sections, as needed),

·Rewriting to fit the overall “tone” of the catalog.


3.  The third step is polishing.  Polishing means proofreading, checking for errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, and abbreviation.  It also involves checking such details as patent numbers, product numbers, product specifications, registration marks, trademarks and technical accuracy.


Every writer has a “creative” side and an “analytical” or “editing” side.  The creative side comes up with the ideas; the editing side holds the ideas up to the cold light of day and judges their effectiveness.  Both sides are needed in copywriting, but should be used in separate and distinct phases of the writing process, as outlined above.  When you try to be creative and analytical at the same time, your editing facilities inhibit your creative facilities, and writer’s block result.  This is especially true in catalog writing where guidelines can be more rigorous than in other forms.


How To Write Effective Catalog Copy


Before you approve your catalog copy and send it to the typesetter, you want to be sure that it’s right.  Getting it right involves more than the basics of spelling and punctuation.  It involves more than avoiding superlatives and generalities about your merchandise.  Here’s a handy checklist to help you review your present copy.  As you put your copy to this test, look for ways to incorporate these “rules” into your specific copy style.


1.      Is your copy in the right order?  Is there a logical scheme to the presentation of copy points about your merchandise?  And have you been faithful to this organizational principle throughout?  Is this the best way to organize your items in your catalog?  Or would another method make more sense?


2.      Is it persuasive?  Does your copy begin with a strong selling message?  Have you used copy to indicate your sales message on the catalog cover?  Do individual headlines promise solutions to reader problems and draw the readers into the product descriptions?  Does the body copy stress user benefits as well as technical features?


3.      Is it complete?  If the catalog is designed to generate direct sales, does it include all the information the reader needs to make a buying decision?  Does it make it easy for the customer to specify and order the product?  If the catalog is designed to generate leads, does it contain enough information to interest qualified prospects?  Does it encourage them to take the next step in the buying process?  Have you described products fully?  Have you included all important details such as size, operating efficiency, model numbers, equipment compatibility, materials of construction, accessories, and options?


4.      Is it clear?  Is the copy understandable and easy to read?  Are all technical terms defined, all abbreviations spelled out?  Is it written at the reader’s level of technical understanding?


5.      Is it consistent?  Have you been consistent in your use of logos, trademarks, spellings, abbreviations, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, units of measure, table and chart formats, layouts, copy style, visuals?


6.      Is it accurate?  Is the copy technically accurate?  Has an engineer checked all numbers, specifications, and calculations to make sure they are correct?  Have you carefully proofread tables, lists, and other “fine print?”  Do the photos show the current models or versions of your product?  Have you matched the right photo to each item description?


7.      Is it interesting?  Is your catalog attractive to look at, lively and informative to read?  Or is it boring?  The typeface you choose for your copy, and the style of layout in which you print it, encourage the viewer’s desire to read the copy.


8.      Is it believable?  Is the copy sincere or full of ballyhoo?  Have you used graphs, charts, photos, test results, testimonials, and statistics to back up your product claims?


9.      Have you included all necessary “boilerplate” copy?  This includes areas such as: effective and expiration dates of prices, “how-to-order” info, notification of possible price changes, payment terms and methods, shipping and handling information, returns policy, quantity discounts, credit terms, sales tax, trademark information, copyright line, disclaimers, guarantees, warranties, limits of vendor liability.


10. Is it easy to place an order?  Does your copy explain how to order?  Is there an order form?  Is the order form easy to fill out?  And is there enough space to write in the required information?  Is a business reply envelope enclosed or attached to the order form?  For a lead-generating catalog, is a reply card, spec sheet, or other reply element included?  Have you made clear to the reader what the next step is in the buying process?  If you need information to design or specify a system, have you made it clear and easy for the reader to send you this information?  If you want the reader to request more literature, have you described the literature and made it easy to send for these brochures?


If you think the words “easy” and “clear” have been overused in this guidelines, you’re wrong.  Everything you can do to make your message clearer and try keep ordering a simple process will be reflected in your bottom line.


In Catalog Copywriting, the Selling Starts on the Cover


Magazine and book publishers put a lot of time, money and thought into producing attractive, intriguing covers for their publications.  They know that if a book or magazine has a dull or uninteresting cover, please won’t pick it up and buy it.  And so it is with your catalog.  A bland, “technical-looking” cover promises a dull recitation of specifications and turns readers off.  A cover with an enticing illustration and a strong selling message arouses curiosity and prods readers to open the catalog.


Here are three suggestions for spicing up your catalog cover:


(1) Sell the Product line.  A catalog is really a “store in a mailbox.”  The more complete the store, the more likely the customer will return to do all his shopping - again and again.  A comprehensive product line is a big selling point.  Why not stress it on the cover?


Example: Let’s say you sell fasteners and have 3,200 product variations.  Your catalog shows only 1,250 models.  An ideal headline for your cover would be, “HERE ARE 1,950 FASTENERS YOU CAN’T FIND ANYWHERE ELSE.”  Underneath would be a photo of the fasteners which you have and your competitors don’t.  Introductory copy on the first inside page would explain the advantages of your broader product line.


(2) Sell solutions.  Sometimes, buyers aren’t looking for specific products; they’re looking for solutions to problems.  You’ll win them over if you show how your product solves the problem.


Example: The records administrator at a busy hospital has a problem organizing paper files, finding space to fit all the files, and being able to quickly pull a record when a doctor needs it.  This administrator is swamped with paper, but doesn’t know what to do.


Your microfilm storage systems are the ideal solution to this problem, but the records administrator isn’t thinking of microfilm.  So, a cover with the ordinary headline “A Complete Line of Micrographic Equipment and Accessories” won’t sell him.  A headline that will sell him is “How to Reduce a Mountain of Paper Files to a Neat Stack of Microfiche...and Find Any File in as Little as 15 Seconds.”  This headline sells a solution, not a product.


(3) Sell service.  Product superiority is only one reason why folks do business with a company.  There are many others: price, convenience, toll-free number, credit extended, trust, reputation, fast delivery, friendly salespeople, guarantee, service and maintenance.  You can generate interest in your catalog by selling these services and intangibles - rather than the products - on the cover.


Example: Stress service and maintenance when keeping the product running is as important as the quality of the product itself.  Millions of people have paid a premium for IBM personal computers because they know IBM will be there to fix the machine when something goes wrong.  Stressing your guarantee is another way of selling service commitment.


Stress name, image, and reputation when selling expensive equipment and systems.  Buyers want to know that you have the resources to support your system for years to come, and that you’ll be around at least as long as the product lasts.


Start Selling On Your Catalog Cover: Three More Ways To Generate Sales


Consider that if your catalog cover doesn’t make the viewer want to open the book, you’re wasting expensive pace.  Here are a few ways to ensure that reader will look through your catalog, before they reach for your competitor’s.


(4) Start the catalog on the cover.  Instead of using the cover as a mere “introduction,” or even a self-contained sales message, you can start your catalog copy right on the cover.  This is an effective way to draw the reader inside the book.  Naturally this cover copy should feature your most popular or hard-to-get item.


(5) Put a letter on the cover.  Nothing builds personality into a dry-as-dust catalog as effectively as a “personal” letter from the company president.  If getting people to warm up to you is your problem - and it might be with new customers or with customers who have been “burned” by your products in the past - you can address the reader directly with a letter right on the cover.  The letter should be written in a warm, friendly, personal style.  And it should be set in typewriter type, not phototype.


(6) Add a wrapper.  Wrappers are used to “shout” a sales message.  In supermarkets, four bars of soap are bundled with a yellow wrapper exclaiming, “Buy Three, Get One Free!”  And this technique is even working its way into bookstores: Stephen Fox’s new book on the history of advertising (The Mirror Makers) was wrapped with a banner singing its praises from David Ogilvy and Rosser Reeves.


The same technique can be applied to catalog covers.  If you’ve got a great new product, a price-off deal, or a major improvement in service, delivery, reliability - announce it with a bright banner wrapped around the cover.




How To Select the Right Writer for Your Catalog


Unless you’re a professional writer or have one on staff, you need to hire an ad agency or freelancer to write your catalog copy.  The first step in hiring a writer is to find a writer.  And one of the best ways is through referrals.


Ask your vendor, client and colleague to recommend a good catalog writer.  People likely to know the name of a writer include printers, graphic designers, list brokers, magazine space reps, ad agencies, PR firms, and advertising or marketing managers of local firms.  Ask them all.


Other sources of names are directories and trade journals.  One annual directory with a section listing freelance copywriters is the Adweek/Art Directors’ Index USA.  Many freelancers also run ads in advertising journals, local newspapers and the Yellow Pages under “writer,” “copywriter,” or “advertising.”  An alternative is to run your own “help-wanted” ad.  A small classified ad is likely to yield dozens of replies.


Once you’ve found writers, decide who’s right for you.  Qualifications to look for include:


1.      Catalog experience.  Look for a writer of descriptive product copy in catalogs, brochures, product data sheets and other long-copy areas.  Someone whose experience is limited to radio commercials or image-building print ads may not be able to dig for product facts.  They may not have the expertise to write the type of sustained selling copy that works so well in catalogs.


2.      Experience in your industry.  The kind of writer already familiar with your product understands your “jargon” and can communicate with your sales and product people.  Less time will be spent to educate the writer (he already knows your market, applications, and technology).  You’re also more likely to get copy that’s on target the first time written.  Hiring a bra and lingerie writer to produce an electronics catalog may be a “learning experience” for the writer, but it’s a risk for the marketer.


3.      Check samples.  Ask the writer to send you his two or three best writing samples.  Read the copy carefully.  Are you excited to find exactly the kind of writing you want?  Or are you wondering how you’ll get the writer to write the way you think it should be done?  Hire the writer whose idea of how to write copy is in “sync” with your own.  Don’t hire the opposite and hope you’ll force him to change.  It will be a disaster for both of you.


4.      Check out the writer.  Meet the writer or have a chat over the phone.  Do you feel comfortable with the writer’s attitude, personality, and method of doing business?  Or do you think the two of you would butt heads at every step?  Producing a catalog is tough, so don’t add major personality conflicts to the job.  Pick the writer with whom you feel most comfortable.  And don’t spend too much time weighing pros and cons. Go with instinct, especially your first impression.


5.      Discuss fees up front.  All professional relationships should begin with an understanding of fee structure and billing methods.  If this isn’t settled now, it may be later - in court.  Ask what the writer charges, and how.  Catalog writers are compensated in many ways: by the item, by the page, by the project, by the hour, by the day, by the week.  Payment varies widely by writer, region, and type of product.  A page of copy can cost anywhere from $100 to $800 and up.


6.      Put it in writing.  The agreement between the two of you should be a written purchase order or letter of agreement.  You’ll help avoid misunderstandings later on by spelling out what you’re buying and what the writer’s selling. Cover all possibilities.  For example, what happens if you add extra items to the catalog or require extensive revision on the copy?


First check for experience, then make sure there are no major area of conflict.  Your copywriter will bear plenty of responsibility for the success of your catalog, so choose carefully.


Where Will You Get Your Next Great Idea?  It’s in Your Mailbox


Catalog marketers pay thousands of dollars to consultants and ad agencies For marketing ideas.  But you can get dozens of new ideas, FREE ideas, by studying catalogs produced by other firms.  And getting these catalogs is easy.  Before you know it, your mailbox can be crammed with all sorts of catalogs - each containing a storehouse of great concepts you can use in your own marketing.


First, get hold of a stack of trade journals.  Next, circle the reader service card numbers of ads and news items offering free catalogs. 








Here, for example, is just a sampling of the kinds of ideas, techniques and tips you can find in catalogs you could receive this month:


1.      Use product photos that demonstrate the product.  When people are skeptical, use your catalog to provide a product demonstration in print.  Take computer paper, for example.  With cheap brands, it’s hard to tear off the perforated edges and sometimes the printed document rips in the process. 


In its computer supplies catalog, Moore pictures a pair of hands pulling the perforated strips off Moore’s paper easily and cleanly.  Kudos to Moore - not many others have thought of a way to demonstrate a piece of paper in a photo.


2.      Add value to the product.  Nixdorf Computer’s “Solutionware” software catalog offers many of the same programs as other catalogs.  The difference?  Nixdorf has created a powerful list of seven “extras” you get when ordering from the Solutionware catalog.  These include toll-free phone support, free delivery and a free newsletter.  This list of goodies appears at the beginning of the book with a repeat on the order form.  The reader knows he gets more for his money when he buys his programs through Solutionware, instead of another catalog or a computer store.

3.      Give the buyer free information.  Thomson’s 83-page catalog of ball bearings and shafts includes 17 pages on how to select, size and install the equipment.  Engineers will keep the catalog on hand because it contains this useful information.  By adding tips on maintenance, repair, troubleshooting, applications and operation, you can increase demand for - and readership of - your catalog.  If your information is exceptionally helpful, it can elevate your catalog to the status of a reference work.  Customers will keep it on their shelves for years.


4.      Help the reader shop.  Compatibility is a big problem when selling computers and computer-related equipment and supplies.  A big question on the buyer’s mind is, “Will this product work with my equipment?”


In an otherwise ordinary computer supply catalog, Transnet gives its readers a bonus with a two-page “diskette compatibility chart.”  The chart lists the major brands and models of microcomputers alphabetically, along with the specific make of floppy disk designed for each machine.  Uncertainty and confusion are eliminated.  The buyer can place his order with confidence.


5.      Show the Results of using the product, not just the product itself.  Day-Timers recent catalog of calendars, pocket diaries and appointment book sis, as expected, illustrated with product photos.  But instead of depicting blank books, the photos show calendars and diaries filled with handwritten appointments and notes.  This adds realism and believability to the catalog.  It also shows how the calendar or diary could help organize the reader’s life and schedule.


6.      Turn your catalog into a “shopping system.”  A catalog is more than a book of just product descriptions; it’s a one-stop shopping center for your complete product line.  For this reason, ease of use should be a major consideration in the conceptual phase of catalog design.


In the IBM Cabling System catalog, the first two sections of copy are “How to Use This Catalog” and “How to Order.”  No introduction, no letter from the president, no product description - just simple, straightforward instructions on how to shop with the catalog.  Another nice touch is that the price list is printed opposite the order form, so the buyer doesn’t have to search through the catalog to find prices for the items being ordered.


How To Determine Your Proper Copy “Tone.”


“Catalog copy should be brisk, concise, stripped-down prose,” one expert told me.  “Cram as many facts as you can.  Use bullets, sentence fragments, word lists.  Don’t waste time with fancy sales talk; just pile on the description.”


“Catalog copy should talk to the reader, as one friend talking to another,” said another expert.  “Use conversational copy to build sales arguments that compel the reader to buy the product.  The sales pitch - not a pile of technical specifications - is what counts.”

Should catalog copy be in prose form or bullet form?  Should it be clipped and concise or leisurely and conversational?  Crammed with facts or written to entertain as well as educate?  Though no two experts agree, here are some factors to help you determine the tone and style of your catalog copy:


1.      Space is obviously the greatest limitation.  If you have only one column-inch per item, you’ve got to write lean, bare-bones, telegraphic copy.  Write the basic facts, and nothing more.  If you have a full-page per item, you have the luxury of writing a conversational, ad-style sales pitch on each product.  Keep in mind, however, that length alone does not make copy better.  Waffling on and saying nothing is not good selling copy.  Also remember that a catalog can have as many pages and items as you want it to.  So, if the product can’t be adequately described in the space available, you should consider adding more pages.


2.      The product.  The copy style varies according to the type of product being sold.  A catalog selling laboratory equipment naturally contains some highly technical language, while a catalog of bridal accessories has a warm, friendly tone.  The complexity of the product also affects the length of the copy; you can say more about a microprocessor than you can about a stick of chewing gum.


3.      Purpose.  A catalog from which the customer can order directly must have complete product information and technical specifications.  Copy has to be clear, comprehensive, and to-the-point.  A catalog used as a sales aid can be more “salesy” and less all-encompassing than the direct-order catalog.  A promotional catalog geared to whetting the customer’s appetite will contain benefit-oriented headlines and subheads, highly sales-oriented copy, and sophisticated graphics to engage the reader’s attention.  Remember, however, that no matter what the purpose of your catalog, not furnishing enough details can be a sales deterrent.  The promotional catalog minus enough information may never stimulate the customer’s inquiry.


4.      The buyer.  How sophisticated is the buyer?  How much does he already know about the product and its uses?  How much more does he want to know?  A paint catalog aimed at professional painters need only describe the color, composition, and other features of the various paints.  A catalog selling paint to the consumer would have to provide more of an education in the basics: types of paints available, pros and cons of each, applications best suited to each kind of paint, plus tips on how to apply paint.


5.      Buyer/seller relationship.  If your buyers are already sold on your firm and have a tradition of doing business with you, your catalog can be a simple, straightforward description of your latest offerings.  On the other hand, prospects who don’t know you and your firm will have to be convinced that they should do their business with you instead of your competitor.  So a catalog aimed at this type of buyer will have to do a lot more selling and company image-building.  The type of relationship you wish to have with your customers will also affect the tone you use (warm and friendly, formal and highly professional, etc).


6.      Past experience.  Measure catalog results to your best ability and try to learn from past experience.  If cutting copy from a full-page of hard-selling prose to a terse quarter-page entry doesn’t reduce sales, cut the copy and get more items per page.  If increasing each item from a quarter-page to a full-page boosts sales 500 percent, consider expanding all entries to a full-page and increasing the size of the catalog.  Remember, every situation is different.


In the final analysis, the best way to set the tone and length of your copy is to know what works with your market and your customer.


Should Catalog Copy Tell the Truth?


The public is skeptical of the claims made in consumer ads and TV commercials.  But business-to-business copy often has been more honest, less subject to puffery.  The reason is that the business buyer is considered more sophisticated.  If repeat business is wanted, it doesn’t pay to lie to make one quick sale.  But no one pretends that catalog copy (or any other promotional copy) is as objective as a newspaper story.  Everyone knows copy is written to get people to buy the product.  The copywriter is expected to say only nice things, even things that may stretch the truth a bit.  But how far should one go in order to make the sale?  Here are some guidelines:


1.      Stress the Positive.  You don’t need to lie to sell.  Every product has its good features.  Dig to find them and highlight these points in copy.  If you can’t find enough positives, re-evaluate carrying the product.


2.      Omit negatives.  Never bad-mouth your own product in catalog copy.  Stress the positive features; leave out the negatives.  Don’t feel compelled to discuss your product’s problems.  The competition will be glad to do that for you.  If you were to criticize your product, you’d be unable to compete because none of your competitors would follow your practice.  Buyers would hear the negatives of your product, but not of others.  So they’d buy the other product.


There are three exceptions to this rule.


The first is when everybody knows about a problem.  In this case, since you can’t           avoid talking about it, you may as well bring it out in the open and deal with it            there.


Second is when you’ve eliminated a problem.  Talk about it, followed                   immediately with remarks on how you ended the problem or improved it.  This        tactic turns a negative into a positive.


Third is when the negative aspect is offset by an even greater positive.  For       example, a negative of your outdoor tool shed is that it’s made of a cheap-            looking aluminum instead of the attractive redwood used by the competition.  But      the positive is that the aluminum is lightweight, easy to install, never needs painting or other maintenance, won’t rot and lasts a lifetime - unlike the wood.


3.      Be specific. Many catalog marketers describe their product as “the fastest,” “the lowest cost,” “the most efficient,” or “the best performer” when they don’t really know how their product compares to others on the market.  Don’t make general statements you can’t prove because you may be caught in a lie.  Even if you aren’t, buyers distrust general statements.  Be specific.  Say “loads the program in 2.5 seconds” or “price reduced to $495.95" or “detects moisture down to 3 parts per million.”  Make specific, true claims, and people will believe you.


4.      Be honest, but err on the side of optimism.  Let’s say you tested the reliability of your product.  In 85 out of 100 tests, the product lasted 16 months before breaking down.  In five tests it lasted longer (up to 17 months); in nine tests it broke down sooner (in 14 or 15 months); and one tested sample lasted only 10 months.  You can feel comfortable claiming “lasts up to 16 months.”  Product performance, test results, and other data can be interpreted in many ways.  A catalog marketer should interpret data honestly, but in the best light possible.


5.      If you must weasel, be straightforward.  Your goal is to ship all orders within 48 hours, and usually you do.  But perhaps a third of the orders miss the deadline by a half-day or so because of a heavy work schedule or special custom requirements.  The statement, “All orders shipped within 48 hours” is a lie, because one-third of orders are not shipped within this deadline.  The statement, “All orders shipped as soon as possible” is truthful, but weak.  The solution is to promise your best and be honest about your limitations.


For example: “We do our best to ship your order within 48 hours.  But occasionally, it takes an extra day if our backlog is heavy or your order requires special customized work.  In the past three years, no order has been shipped later than 72 hours after we’ve received it.”


6.      Make promises you can keep.  Then keep them.  One function of promotional copy is to motivate the company to live up to its advertising.  In your copy it’s okay to make promises you intend to keep.  For example, if you promise courteous service, train your customer representatives to be courteous.  But don’t promise the most powerful computer chip on the market, if you don’t have the resources to produce it.


7.      Never lie.  If you make a claim that is clearly a lie, you’ll be caught.  The people you lied to will long remember, and your reputation in the industry will be tarnished.


8.      Check the truth of your statements.  Does your catalog copy claim, “Ordering is as easy as picking up the phone?”  Then try picking up the phone and ordering from your catalog.  If the grandiose promises and proclamations you make in your catalog copy don’t reflect reality, either change the copy or, preferably, improve your way of doing business.


It Pays to Become a Student of Marketing


Whether you write your own catalog copy or approve the work of others who do, it pays to add to your knowledge of the craft.  Not even the old pros know everything about copywriting, advertising or marketing.  That’s what makes the business so exciting.  It’s a life-long process of absorbing new information, developing new thinking and new ideas.  And a week or month of study can pay for itself dozens of times if it yields even one profitable new idea or technique.


It pays to become a student of catalog marketing and copywriting.  Here are a few ways to do it:


1.      Study catalogs.  Subscribe to trade journals in your field.  Peruse newspapers, magazines, card decks.  Keep the reader-service cards handy and circle the number for every ad offering a catalog.  Clip coupons; write for catalogs.  A steady stream will come pouring into your mailbox.


Read these catalogs both for competitive information on your rivals’ products and to pick up new techniques in catalog writing and design.  Keep an organized file of catalogs that catch your fancy.  Dip into this file for inspiration or a new idea.  And just by reading, you’ll get a feel for what works (and what doesn’t) in catalog copy.


2.      Books.  Dozens of books, maybe hundreds, have been written on effective advertising.  Many of the best hold treasures for the catalog marketer.  Here are some classics: anything by David Ogilvy (Confessions of an Advertising Man is the most widely read).  Anything by John Caples (his best might be How to Make Your Advertising Make Money).  Claude Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising.  Ed McLean’s monograph The Basics of Copy.  Howard G. Sawyer’s book Business-to-Business Advertising.  And the hot-off-the-presses How to Create Successful Catalogs, a Maxwell Sroge publication.  Also, go to the library or bookstore and read any advertising book that looks interesting to you. 


3.      Trade Magazines.  The advertising journals print many helpful articles both on advertising in general and catalog marketing in particular.  Adweek had a recent article on improving your order form.  Advertising Age ran an article on catalog marketing some time ago.  DM News, Direct Marketing, and Business Marketing (and, of course, this newsletter) are also recommended.  Clip all relevant articles and save them in a file organized by subject.


4.      Booklets.  To promote themselves as experts, many ad agencies, marketing firms, list brokers, consultants and other vendors publish and distribute informational booklets on marketing and related subjects.  Best of all, the booklets are usually free.  Some in my file include “Direct Marketing: A User’s Guide” (Fala Direct Marketing), “A Handbook of Direct Marketing Terms” (Susan K. Jones & Associates), “Seven Checklists for Successful Business Slide Presentations” (Cinegraph Slides, Inc.), “Workbook for Estimating Your Advertising Budget” (Cahners Publishing).

5.      Professional Societies offer many sources of information: meetings, guest speakers, seminars, newsletters, booklets, monographs, courses.  You also have the opportunity to meet people from whom you can learn, including your competition, other catalog marketers, ad agency people, consultants, freelancers, printers and other vendors.  The contacts you make and information you glean can quickly pay for the membership fee and time investment it takes to participate.


6.      Seminars.  Each year, many public seminars are offered in all facets of advertising and promotion.  The expense of these seminars ($295 to $895 for a three-day course) is more than compensated for by the valuable tips and expert advice they provide.  Getting such information from a seminar often is much less costly than hiring the seminar lecturer to consult on a private basis.


7.      Classes.  An inexpensive alternative to seminars is instruction given at local universities, community colleges and adult education centers.  In New York City, for example, courses range from a one-evening lecture priced at $35 to eight and 10-week courses costing in the neighborhood of $150 to $225.  Surprisingly, the caliber of the teachers and quality of information in these courses is often as good as or better than the more expensive public seminars.


8.      Brain picking.  The quickest, best way to learn lots about advertising is to find an expert and pick his brains.  Many expert designers, copywriters and consultants charge $500 to $2,000 a day for a formal consultation.  If you meet one of these experts informally, at a party, a luncheon or a local advertising club, you might be able to get some advice over cocktails or a game of golf.  Experts love to talk shop, and if they’re relaxed and at leisure, the talk is free.


Use “Different Guidelines” For Insert Copy


Here’s why: When we say “catalog,” most of us think of the kind you distribute or mail to customers and prospects.  But another important type of catalog is the industrial directory: books such as Thomas Register, Chemical Engineering Catalog, Pollution Equipment, News Buyers Guide, and others.


Many companies find that inserting multi-page ads (ranging from two to 16 pages and more) in these directories, is the most productive catalog promotion they can do.  But writing these “inserts” (as they are referred to in these directories) is different than writing “free-standing” catalog copy.  These tips will help you produce effective inserts.


1.      Space is at a premium.  You pay for your insert as you would for space advertising:  each additional page increases the cost of the space by the directory’s page rate.  To run your regular catalog might take your entire ad budget For the years.  So you’ve got to condense your catalog to an affordable number of pages.


Rarely is there space to solicit direct order by mail.  Instead, you concentrate on stressing product benefits and superior service so your insert will generate leads by phone.  Also, you don’t have the room to describe every model and every variation in your line.  Instead, you highlight your best products in abbreviated fashion.


2.      Generate leads.  This type of “insert,” like a yellow-pages ad, is primarily designed to get the prospect to respond with a phone call and say, “This looks like it might meet my needs.  Tell me more.”


Make it easy for the prospect to respond.  Highlight your toll-free number throughout the copy, at least once on every page. List regional offices and sales reps and their phone numbers (many people prefer to call locally).  Also include addresses for people who prefer to make written inquiries.  Give more than one phone extension so the reader won’t get a busy signal.  Label products clearly so the reader knows what to ask for.  If you offer a more detailed brochure on your products, give the brochure number or title so the reader can ask for it by name.


3.      Skip the “cover.”  Though brochures and other kinds of inserts use the front cover as a graphic and image-building device (and sometimes leave the back cover bare except for a logo), such a design tactic is a waste of money in a bound-in directory insert.  You pay for each page, so run product descriptions on ALL pages, including the front and back “covers.”  Don’t waste a single inch of costly space.  You’ll have plenty o competition in these directories.  More details and tips on how your “insert” can get the jump on them in the next issue.


Guidelines For “Insert” Copy: How to Handle the Competition


You have to play by different rules when you run an “insert” in industrial directories such as Thomas Register, Chemical Engineering Catalog, Pollution Equipment, News Buyers Guide, and others.  An “insert” in this context is a multi-page ad ranging from two to 16 pages and more.


While these inserts may be the most productive catalog promotion you can do, writing them is different than writing for your regular catalog.  In the last issue, we discussed several differences: space is at a premium; the “lead” is what you go after (not the direct sale); and an introductory page (cover) to your insert is wasted space.


Here we continue with more tips to help you produce effective inserts.


4.      Consider the competition.  Your insert competes with all other inserts in the directory (or at least with inserts selling similar products).  So it pays to make yours stand out.


The best way to do this is with headlines and subheads that speak directly of the benefits of the products, what those products can do for the reader.  Most directory inserts are poorly written: they consist of dry recitations of technical specifications and grainy black-and-white photos of the products against drop-cloth backgrounds.  Make yours exciting.  Show how the reader will come out ahead by doing business with you.  Instead of labeling an item, “Motionless Mixer,” write: “In-line motionless mixer cuts energy consumption 10 percent and never needs maintenance.”


5.      Grab their eyes.  The layout should be simple but also bold, crisp, and attractive.  Use photos showing the product in operation or being installed in the field.  Big headlines and subheads help tell the story and move the reader’s eye along the page. Short paragraphs and a clean typeface make the copy more readable.  Make your page a pleasure to look at and to read.


6.      Write in “directory” style.  A “Yellow-page” or other directory ad is different than a magazine ad.  The magazine ad must rely on a clever headline and visual to stop a reader who may not be thinking of the product.  In a directory, the reader is actively looking for what your ad is selling.  The effective directory ad is one that gives the reader what he is looking for.


So it is with the insert.  When the reader picks up the industrial directory, he has a specific need in mind.  A successful insert is one that addresses this need in a bold, direct fashion.


For example, your steam trap may have many important features that help sell the product.  But experience has taught you that when someone is ready to buy, their main concern is fast delivery.  Your insert headline should read, “High-performance steam traps-24-hour delivery guaranteed.”


7.      Focus on product features, not catalog utility.  Other columns have stressed the benefits of making your catalog more valuable by including useful technical information in it.  This turns your catalog into a technical reference work that the reader is inclined to keep around.


But this doesn’t apply to the directory insert.  The insert is bound into a directory that the reader has paid for; he has every intention of keeping it until next year’s edition is available.  So including general advice and information is a waste of space.  Instead, concentrate on describing and selling your products.


8.      The insert on its own.  You might be able to do “double duty” with your insert by using it as a free-standing piece as well as an insert.  If you plan on doing this, think about how this affects design and copy.  Can the insert stand on its own as is?  Will you need to add a cover, additional copy or an order form?  How expensive will these changes be?  Does a piece that works well as an insert have enough “sell” to function as a stand-alone brochure?


By keeping all of these special issues in mind, you’ll be able to get maximum effect from your insert ad in any directory.



Advertising In Industrial Directories Pays Off


In the last two issues we talked about multi-page ads in industrial directories and the special requirements of writing them.  But if you can’t afford a multi-page ad, you can still advertise profitably in these directories with a space ad that’s only a fraction of a page.  Here are some pointers to keep in mind when planning these ads.


1.      Bigger is better.  According to a study by the Thomas Publishing Company, the biggest ad on the page in Thomas Register pulls 40 times more response than a standard listing.  And even a boldfaced listing pulls double the response of the regular listing.  So the bigger the ad, the better.


2.      Is one big ad better than many small ones?  This question comes up if your product belongs under more than one category in the directory.  The answer is to have the biggest ad you can in the category where people are most likely to look for your product.  Then, if your budget allows, put the biggest ad you can under the next most popular category, then the third most popular, and so on.


Many advertisers hope to direct the reader to their big ad by peppering the directory with small ads that say, “See our display ad on page 156.”  Unfortunately, readers are lazy and seldom bother to turn to page 156.  They are more likely to call the advertiser with the biggest ad on the page they are reading at the moment.


3.      Be first.  Ads in the front of a particular section of the directory are more likely to be read than ads in the middle or the back.  So it pays to put your ad up front.  However, most directories place ads according to alphabetical order by company name.  Unless you’re willing to change your company name from Zenon Tubing to A-Plus Tubes, you’ll be stuck at the back.  (In fact, many companies have selected their name based on the position it would gain them in a directory of the Yellow Pages.)  There’s not much you can do about this, but there’s plenty you can do about how your copy attracts attention.  Next issue we’ll point up the actual writing techniques.


Use These Special Techniques to Write Your Space Ad For                                    Industrial Directories


Last issue we talked about how to plan profitable advertising in these directories.  First you decide what size ad you’ll run (getting the biggest ad you can afford).  Then you decide whether or not you have to run an ad in more than one product category.  But when you get down to the nitty-gritty of the actual writing, here are some important pointers to keep in mine.


1.      Telegraph the headline.  In a magazine ad, you must rely on a clever, attention-getting headline to stop a reader who’s not necessarily looking for what you are selling.  You make him get interested.  But when a reader turns to an industrial directory, he’s actively looking for a specific product or for a solution to his problem.  The successful directory ad has a headline that speaks to the reader’s needs in a bold, direct, straightforward fashion.  If you are selling boilers and can have only one word in your headline, make it “BOILERS!” in 72-point type.


2.      Highlight the reader’s immediate concern.  Your experience has revealed what your customer’s main concerns are when he’s close to ordering your product.  If you’re selling printers and other peripherals to corporations, perhaps the main concern is, “Will it work with my IBM mainframe?”  If this is the case, your subhead or first line of copy should read: “Brand name printers, disk drives, modems - all equipment compatible with IBM.”


3.      Make secondary features immediately clear.  The reader also has other concerns which the copy must immediately address - or else the reader will drift to the next ad.


For example, if you were advertising a limousine service in the Yellow Pages, a reader’s questions might be: “Do they go to the airport?”  “How much do they cost?”  “Can you reserve a ride in advance?”  “Do they have 24-hour service?”  “What kind of car do they send?”  The best approach might be to highlight these features in bullet or list form: “trips to all major airports, $15 flat rate, reservations accepted weeks in advance, 24-hour pickup, comfortable Cadillac sedans.”


4.      Complete information can help sell.  Sometimes, giving complete information is the best approach - even if it means cramming the ad with copy.  One insurance agent reasoned that people looking for insurance would be most likely to respond to an ad mentioning the specific type of insurance they want: homeowners, life, motorcycle, mobile home, yacht.  Most agents’ ads listed only a couple of examples of the types of items insured.  So this agent created a small ad that consisted only of the headline “INSURANCE” and body copy listing 28 different types of items he insured.  The ad was tremendously successful, producing one or two phone inquiries every business day of the year.


5.      Highlight the fine print.  Some features that seem minor at the start of the sales cycle become major concerns when you’re close to the sale.  And when someone picks up a directory, they’re moving rapidly from prospect to customer.  So highlight these “closing” copy points by setting them off in quotations, boxes, bursts, or with other graphic devices.  Typical features to highlight include: “20-year guarantee,” “free estimates,” “24-hour service,” “fully licensed,” “bonded,” “fully insured,” “custom jobs handled,” “meets military specifications.”


6.      Make it easy to respond by phone or mail.  Print the phone number in larger type so it leaps out at the reader.  Don’t make the reader search or the phone number or address.  Use a toll-free number if you have one.  Include more than one extension so the reader won’t get a busy signal.  But don’t design the ads as a coupon.  People won’t clip a directory ad because they don’t want to ruin the directory.




Freelance Or In-House Copy: How To Decide


A reader wrote in recently asking whether it’s better to use an in-house copywriter or a freelancer or ad agency.  Here, we give a thorough answer.


Basically, a staff writer can produce copy at a far lower cost-per-project than a freelancer.  Also, the staff writer has the luxury of becoming familiar with and knowledgeable about your company, your products, and your market over a long period of time.  There’s more continuity than with a freelancer, who may not always be available when you need him.


Before you hire a staff writer, ask yourself two questions.  The first is, “Can we keep him busy?”  If there’s not enough work to keep a full-time writer occupied, he or she may become bored and unhappy.  And you’ll just be wasting a good part of the salary you pay to the writer.


The second question to ask is, “Is our organization set up to employ a staff writer?”  Is there a place in your organization for a writer and a career path for him to follow?  Who will the writer report to?  Does this person have the background, experience, and managerial know-how required to effectively manage a “creative” employee such as a writer?  Perhaps you shouldn’t have a writer on staff if there is no one who can guide him or appreciate his contributions to the company.


Without a writer on staff, of course, you must go to outside resources for copy.  Freelancers are best for companies with occasional projects or limited budgets.  Ad agencies provide a more complete package, but you need a larger budget and a heavier workload to justify the cost and attract agencies to work on your account.


Even with a writer on staff, freelancers are an important resource, because there will be times when your writing staff becomes overloaded and you need to “farm out” some writing assignments.  Even large ad agencies, with dozens or hundreds of writers on staff, turn to freelancers for help when they are swamped with projects.


Some marketers use freelancers to supplement their staff writers.  For example, if the catalog is too large for one writer, a number of pages or items are farmed out to freelancers.


Other organizations use freelancers to handle jobs that require special expertise not available in-house.  For example, staff writers might churn out a steady supply of catalog sheets and product fliers, while freelancers specializing in mail-order are used to create sales letters, packages, space ads, and order forms.  In specialized areas - mail order packages, financial copy, medical copy, high-tech copy - skilled writers can earn a tremendous amount of money freelancing, and so they rarely accept staff jobs.  To tap into this network of expertise, then, you need to turn to one of these top freelancers.