Sell the Whole Story
How to sell products: It's more than just a pretty picture.
By Lois Boyle
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it rarely tells the whole story. Consider a photograph on a catalog page.
You can make it as attractive as possible, with beautiful lighting and extravagant propping, but there are drawbacks—a photograph alone won't give the full experience the product has to offer. You can't touch it, taste it, smell it or try it on. A multifaceted product is reduced to one simple dimension. Often that isn't enough.
Catalogers must work hard to establish a perceived value with their audiences. Buyers must understand what they're getting and why they should be willing to risk a purchase on an unknown.
To give your products the best chance of selling, paint an elaborate landscape of words and pictures within a limited space, conveying as much information about each product as succinctly as possible.
Before discussing best practices of selling products on the printed page, keep the following points in mind:
- Understand the role of catalog creative. It must grab attention, explain the product, make it easy for customers to make a decision and even easier for them to follow through with a purchase.
Remember that a visual has less than a second to grab the reader's attention. In that fleeting moment, the reader—with little more than a glance—must be able to understand a product's major benefit.
- Take into account how readers will process a page. The photo catches the eye first, followed by an intrusive violator (whether it's copy or a graphic) then the price, headline and body copy. And if they've gotten into the copy block, it's a safe bet that they're seriously considering purchasing your product, or at least comparing it to others.
- Consider that creative (including photography), usually represents between 10 percent and 20 percent of your overall advertising budget. When you compare that to your print and postage budgets, it doesn't amount to much. But when you realize customers are basing their decisions on a printed collection of images and copy, you realize your creative costs should be one of the first budgets scrutinized.
- Pay attention to eyeflow, and remember how the eye typically travels across a spread—from the upper right-hand corner, across the top of the spread, down the far left column, and across the bottom of the spread. The gutter is the last place the eye rests. Place photos facing into the page and either above or facing the copy.
Also, pay attention to the way gravity pulls the eye down. If you place an
attention-grabber in the middle of the page, the eye will tend to journey further down the page from that point.
Get the Picture
So, how do you make your products sell off the page? Use photography as a foundation and build around it.
- Getting an appropriate photograph is not as easy as snapping a Polaroid. Give careful thought to each shot. Show the product in a suitable situation. Highlight features, benefits and other necessary aspects.
- Define the product and its position in the overall merchandise concept. Why has the merchandiser chosen that item? What are its unique features? Ask the merchandiser to communicate to the rest of the creative team this product's "reason for being." If your key employees don't understand why the product is in the catalog, your customers surely won't.
Artists need ample time to familiarize themselves with products, even though production schedules and other complications can make that difficult. The artist should become intimately involved with the product as early as possible, allowing necessary time to present the product in the best light by understanding exactly what makes the product unique. Giving advance notice ensures that photos will be taken accurately and effectively, with necessary attention placed on the most important and unique features and benefits.
- With photography, determine the method that best suits the product you're shooting. Spend the amount of money that correlates with the product's projected profit. Obviously, some items don't need elaborate, heavily propped photography if a quick silhouetted shot will suffice. Give each product the attention it deserves.
- Remember, the product always should be the hero. The model and the background can enhance the visual, but they also detract attention and hurt sales. If ancillary items are too intriguing, the eye won't settle on the product.
Case in point: A catalog was selling a matching holiday cup and plate set. Similar sets in the catalog performed well, but this particular combination was heavily propped with beautifully decorated cookies and extraneous detail. The image may have been vibrant, but the performance was dull.
The lesson: Let the reader see as much of the product as possible, even if you have to crop tighter to eliminate that eye-catching background. The product must be the spotlight in every shot.
- Sometimes it takes more than one picture to tell a product's story accurately and completely. If the primary reason your product is unique can't be captured in one photograph, present a second shot that tells the rest of the story. Try shots that show the product in-use, before and after, close-up and at different angles, or whatever works best to bring attention to the benefits that aren't always evident at first glance.
- If photography can't get the point across, "shout" the benefits in another way. Add attention-getters such as captions, word violators, endorsements and call-outs to convey the message.
Case in point: In a catalog that sells form-flattering swimsuits, models always make the product look good. So the catalog creatives filled in the gaps with an arrow pointing to the model's stomach and added a call-out that said, "Flattens Tummy!" Another said, "Lengthens Waist" while yet another touted, "Increases Bust."
Eddie Bauer splashed a large copy violator across a shirt, proclaiming that the fabric "defies wrinkles." Another example is a pen that includes a built-in voice recorder. You can't photograph sound emanating from the pen, but you can use copy and visuals to "hear" the recorder in action.
The lesson: These important benefits wouldn't have been apparent without the helpful violators.
Putting products in appropriate positions on the page also can help maximize their performance.
- Never arbitrarily drop something on a page. Pay attention to past results and successes to help determine where to place the product and how large to present it. Artists always should be given this information in advance, so they can design pages with all relevant information at their disposal. Best sellers always should receive "hero status" on a spread.
- When placing products, strategically consider price points. The temptation is to give the most amount of space to the most-expensive product.
While this makes sense some of the time, your customers already told you they're interested in a specific price point, which we call the "average price sold." If your average price sold is $75, make sure products within that range are featured often. People tend to shop with a set sum in their heads and will buy only within specific price ranges. If your merchandise assortment is perceived as being more than their budgets, you could lose sales.
- If you present similar products to the reader, guide them through the decision-making process with comparative information, charts, copy or graphs. Focus on those features and benefits that make the products stand apart—and clarify why each product is uniquely priced. A good/better/best value system works only if you explain the differences. Anything you do to make decision-making easier for customers will help sell products.
Of course all of this takes time and planning. The payoff, however, can be extraordinary. -
Lois Boyle is partner and chief creative officer at J. Schmid & Associates, Shawnee Mission, KS. You can reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.