Before the web, marketers of business products relied on direct mail catalogs as their primary selling tools.
But now everyone shops online. In a web-based world, do B2B product marketers still need print catalogs?
I say yes – and judging by my mailbox, a lot of B2B marketers agree with me.
Here are seven reasons why direct mail catalogs continue to play an essential role in a smart marketing strategy for marketers of business products.
The Complexity of the Business Buying Decision
Computers, office supplies, business furniture, medical equipment, trade show displays, retail merchandising systems, industrial supplies, promotional premiums: Every business needs these kinds of products.
But every business buyer’s needs are different, so business product marketers tend to offer a vast number and variety of products. A single item could have 20 variations in color or size. To understand product nuances and make the right selection, business buyers require a great deal of information.
Catalogs traditionally have been ideal vehicles for this type of detailed sales communication. Then the Internet arrived, giving B2B product marketers the ability to create sophisticated e-commerce websites. Some marketers put all their product information online and began to cut catalogs out.
But catalogs didn’t disappear. In fact, direct mail catalogs remain a remarkably effective component of an integrated product marketing strategy, even in the age of web shopping and social media. BusinessWeek recently explored how consumer catalogs are driving web sales. Crain’s Cleveland Business interviewed me and other Cleveland-area marketers and concluded that B2B catalogs are thriving.
7 Advantages of Print Catalogs for B2B Product Marketers
Why are so many B2B marketers – many with comprehensive web marketplaces – still using direct mail catalogs? Here are seven reasons:
- Prospecting: Mailing catalogs to targeted prospects is a proven B2B customer acquisition strategy. You can pinpoint the exact prospects you want to reach by title, industry, geography, company size, annual revenue, and other criteria. If you make a compelling introductory offer, these prospects may be willing to give you a try.
- Getting attention: The physical presence of a catalog demands more attention and facilitates engagement more effectively than an easily-deleted email or an easily-ignored pay-per-click ad. An inviting cover design (with that compelling offer noted above) can get prospects to start browsing.
- Cross-selling: An e-commerce website can speed a customer to a specific product in seconds, but that efficiency comes with a cost: Limiting your opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell. Catalogs give you the ability to showcase and promote companion products, accessories, and services.
- Product comparisons: Business buyers need to study products and technical specs. Reviewing detailed product information is much easier in print than on a screen. Don’t believe me? Try comparing charts of product specs online without printing pages from a website. You probably can’t do it.
- Searchability: If you don’t know the exact search terms or product category you need, online searches for business products can be surprisingly frustrating. Which web page were you on? And what was that item number? Smart catalog marketers deploy user-friendly design features like tabs, color coding, and product groupings to make searching easier.
- Cost-effectiveness: Even with printing and postage, catalog marketing can be affordable. Work with your printer to plan an economical format, presort data to maximize postal discounts, and target your mailing carefully. You don’t have to mail your catalog to your entire list — and you probably shouldn’t.
- Visibility and branding: Business buyers like to keep catalogs, often as desktop references. A catalog makes sure your brand is visible and your company is top of mind when a buying decision is being made.
Engaging Catalog + Great Web Experience = Smart Marketing Strategy
Of course, many business buyers prefer to shop online. Others use print catalogs for research and place their orders on the web.
As a B2B marketing consultant, I advise business product marketers to capitalize on the strengths of both channels. Create a dynamic, engaging, attention-getting catalog and an efficient, easy-to-use, e-commerce website. Giving business buyers all the tools they need to browse and buy — however they’d like to do it — is a smart marketing strategy.