Can digital catalogs really enhance your business?

The heads of the marketing and advertising departments of retailers are faced with the challenge of investing their budget in the development of the most profitable channel every time they plan a campaign. Precise tracking and effective planning of advertising measures is therefore an absolute necessity in everyday marketing.

As our previous articles have made clear, the intrinsic value of printed catalogs to retail has risen, not fallen, in recent years. The Wall Street Journal, Retail Dive, and others have documented the resurgence in print catalog use. This increasing value is driven in part by the tactile nature of print products and the fact that consumers still spend an average of $850 per year on catalogue purchases. However, it is not a zero-sum equation between print and digital. On the contrary, both printed and digital catalogues increase sales, especially when they are aligned.

What is a digital catalog?

Digital catalogues come in different forms, already due to different electronic end devices. Early on, digital catalogs were digital facsimiles of their printed counterparts (think PDFs or fixed-format eBooks), with hyperlinks to purchase the items. On larger screen devices such as tablets, these can be a positive user experience, much as many digital magazines have become. But on smartphones, print facsimiles are less than ideal.

A more effective solution for devices of all sizes is a fully responsive display of the retailer’s products and special offers. Each element dynamically assumes the size and proportions suitable to a device’s screen size and user navigation habits. This responsiveness is, of course, much easier said than done. Effective, responsive web design can be anything but “automatic” and is complicated by the retailer’s need to maintain brand and content design parity with a catalog’s printed counterpart.

What also makes digital catalogs challenging to describe is their function. Like their print siblings, they are complex vehicles usually integrated with overall marketing campaigns designed to elevate sales of high-value, high-margin product lines. But, as recently outlined by retail consultancy MicroD, digital catalogs can extend customer reach, improve lead generation, and immediately connect users to e-commerce. They are also highly customizable – down to individuals and their shopping preferences. It should be noted that print catalogs are also highly customizable, thanks to Comosoft’s advances in data-based versioning and the widespread use of high-speed digital printing.

Data, data everywhere

As it turns out, the problem is not a lack of potential. Both print and digital catalogs can fulfill a retailer’s many needs – potentially – and often in ways that complement one another. The problem is that it’s tough to manage each channel’s complex data and to do so with two parallel channels without incurring unacceptable labor costs for manual design and production.

Catalogs are not just randomly-selected product images, prices, and descriptions. Instead, featured product information is stored in massive Product Information Management (PIM) systems, supplemented by SKU-specific (and frequently updated or modified) images and text descriptions stored in equally huge Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems. For fun, the data may also be supplemented by separate databases for product pricing, inventory, and regional availability. So much data, so little time (and money).

The challenge for retail marketing and advertising directors and their people is to select the right product(s), with all their associated data intact and current, and create an executable, trackable plan for well-designed print and digital catalog campaigns. This process must be done repeatedly, always maintaining the retailer’s brand image, and it must be done without spending the marketing equivalent of a lunar probe mission.

The best of both worlds

Fortunately, there is a data-centric, design-friendly way to accomplish this and produce compelling digital catalogs without detracting from the proven benefits of print. Comosoft’s LAGO system is an effective bridge between PIM, DAM, and other data sources and the world of page design. It allows marketing, advertising, and product line managers to prioritize and plan the products to be featured, using whiteboarding and other visualization tools connected to the retailer’s many data sources.

LAGO Whiteboard is the central module for the efficient and effective production of print advertising media, with which pages can be quickly designed and populated even without layout knowledge. The results are made available to the creative staff (graphics department), whether internal or external, in InDesign as a layout document. Here, the pages can then be professionally prepared for printing. In addition, the whiteboard is also the connecting element for involving or integrating product or category management in the marketing production process.

From that decision process, a series of page templates are created for the designer, who is freed to focus on visual impact without being burdened with searching for bits of related SKU product data. If the underlying data is altered or updated during the process, such as a new product image, the designer’s layout is automatically updated.

Once the page layout is created, multiple regional versions can also be generated, each customized to the retailer’s regional or demographic.

But the benefits of a data-driven design workflow do not stop there. Digital catalogs of any kind can be generated automatically, using the campaign data exported from the final catalog layout(s). Each product in the catalog retains its connection to the related PIM and DAM data, allowing the campaign contents to be displayed in a digital catalog – from facsimiles of the printed page to responsive elements that can populate mobile shopping apps, emails, and website catalogs.

There is no question that properly managed and designed digital catalogs improve sales and simplify the process of discovering, selecting, and purchasing retail products. With LAGO, retailers can assure product and brand consistency between their print and digital channels – both of which are essential to survival in the multichannel world.