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Diversity of the Modern Day Catalog

stack of different types of catalogs

As we’ve already established, direct mail is definitely not dead. With the advertising industry’s migration toward digital, direct mail efforts now offer less competition and have a better chance of turning heads.

One Compu-Mail study showed that direct mail yielded a 5.1% household response rate compared to just 0.6% for email and 0.2% for online display. From clothing brands to food specialists, companies across the board are still cranking out catalogs and mailers. Why? Because they still convert.

But that doesn’t mean we have to stick with the old standard, either. These same brands are consistently pushing the envelope on catalog design to keep things fresh and engaging for the user. From layout to content, the catalog is getting reimagined—and thriving in a digital world.


Let’s take a look at its evolution, and explore what these changes mean for business:

Mail Order Publications

The classic catalog lives on, albeit with a facelift. Rather than pack a bunch of products into a tiny grid, modern catalogs opt for clean, product-focused layouts designed to catch the eye. Whether it’s photo-centric or illustrative, these catalogs are better at keeping the user’s attention while demonstrating the value of the product.

These mailers are typically the most expensive form to ship and produce as they’re the largest option. But they’re also able to get more products in front of the consumer at once. Not to mention, many people tend to hold onto well-made catalogs rather than tossing them. Hello, shelf life!

Seasonal Lookbooks

The “lookbook” is an abbreviated form of the full-sized catalog that pulls back on the selling function to feature more photography and content related to what the product offers. These mini zines of sorts show minimal product information interspersed between double-page image spreads and article spotlights on artists, athletes and more.

Lifestyle brands like Patagonia have really helped define the lookbook in terms of style and content, with stories and photos of adventurers using the products in extreme landscapes.

The benefit? These shortened, lifestyle-focused catalogs keep the recipient’s attention by opting for a super high photo-to-copy ratio. Most of the written content is focused on storytelling aspects that may capture the right consumer’s attention better than a simple product description and price box.

Teaser Mailers

These are the smallest of the catalog variants (more closely related to direct mailers), but they still pack a punch. Taster or teaser mailers typically have very little copy and emphasize only a handful of products.

Clothing brands are most frequently associated with these as they are able to hype up products before a new season kicks off. While they may have a much shorter shelf life than their larger catalog counterparts, teaser mailers cost less to produce and can help jumpstart your brand’s next product—or give your bottom line a boost in the slower months.

Jump Right In

My advice to companies who may be interested in producing their first catalog: start small. Catalog production (and I mean quality catalog production) is a big investment, so work your way up.

Test out teaser mailers to get a sense of what aesthetic works best for your audience before going all-in on a full catalog. Once you know what to shoot for, you’ll knock it out of the park.

Comments? Concerns? Need to jump on the catalog bandwagon ASAP? Contact us here.