Have you noticed more catalogs in your mailbox this year? Well it turns out catalogs have been making a comeback.

A combination of the Great Recession, postal rate increases and the move towards digital marketing lead many businesses to cut back or end their catalog marketing efforts. Websites were needed and that’s where the marketing dollars flowed.

The decline and fall of the catalog empire

It appeared grim for the humble catalog. Catalogs reached their peak of 19.6 billion in 2007 and declined over 50% to 9.8 billion in 2016. However an estimated 11.5 billion were mailed in 2018 according to the American Catalog Mailers Association, an increase of over 17%.

Those catalogs filling mailboxes this past holiday season indicate that the decline has leveled off and begun to grow. Big guns such as Amazon and Walmart are making larger, nicer print catalogs. And the big surprise is all the new, previously digitally-native companies adding catalogs to their marketing.

Why back to catalogs?

Two words: Digital Clutter. Digital marketing has become saturated. Consumers are being bombarded with emails, texts and social media advertising. Many websites are overtly riddled with ads. All of this clutter is tuning out the consumer, and many are feeling overloaded.

According to an article by Fisher, Inc. titled 5 Reasons Print is Making a Comeback, “71% of U.S. consumers don’t pay attention to online advertisements, 63% do their best to block online ads and 69% say they find online ads annoying.” But in contrast 63% of consumers read printed advertising mail that’s address to them and delivered to their homes.

As digital advertising has matured, it has become more expensive and crowded. Facebook, Google and others are using their near monopolies to increase their ad revenue, driving down ROI. Fisher Inc. reports that return on investment for online advertising and social media is 12% and 14% respectively while catalogs and flyers enjoy a 62% return, the highest of all media expenditures including TV and radio.

Catalogs provide a more immersive shopping experience. While websites are excellent at transacting the sale, the internet is not great for browsing. Catalogs on the other hand provide “a recreational shopping experience that many people find very pleasurable” reports Hamilton Davison, president and executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association in a story by Jack Pointer for WTOP.

Who is shopping with catalogs?

As CNBC reports, millennials happen to like catalogs more than other age groups. David Sharp of the Associated Press reports, “a catalog-industry rebound appears in the works, fueled in part by what might seem an unlikely group: younger shoppers who find it’s sometimes easier, more satisfying and even nostalgic, flipping pages rather than clicking links.”

Catalogs are more immersive and inspire shoppers to pick up their mobile phones, tablets or laptops and do some quick shopping – more than social media does. “Shoppers tend to spend more online after browsing through lavish print spreads” writes Elizabeth Holmes of the Wall Street Journal.

Print catalogs are more of a novelty with millennial shoppers who grew up with smartphones. They provide a break from the constant digital clutter, a moment of relaxation and solitude, while inspiring desire and brand loyalty. A quality catalog can provide a tactile, focused experience that is unattainable on a screen.

Catalogs boost other marketing channels

Catalogs can boost online marketing. Wall Street Journal reports that “Bonobos showed 20% of first-time buyers placed their orders after receiving a catalog, and they spent 1.5 times more than first-time buyers who did not receive a catalog.”

Amazon, in their holiday print catalog, eliminated prices and added product codes to use in finding the products online. They also added a holiday wishlist and stickers to entice children to peruse for holiday gifts.

Using QR codes in print catalogs taking users to unique landing pages which provide immediate, measurable results.

4 tips for effective modern print catalogs:

1. Consistent multichannel branding

Maximize brand awareness by having consistent colors, fonts, icons and other visual cues across all your marketing channels, especially your website, catalog, and physical location if you receive customers at your place of business.

2. Use data to increase effectiveness and reduce cost

Postage is half the cost of a typical catalog. Your house list will have the highest payback, easily 2-3 times targeted marketing to non-customers. The key is to increase your house list over time, and reach those people frequently and consistently.

3. Tie-ins with website and social media

Use a catalog to acquaint your customers with what you have to offer, and make it easy for them to locate specific products, product groups, or information on your website. Likewise, have tie-ins with your social media, with not only “find us on Facebook and Instagram” but by encouraging customers to engage.

4. Use great photographs that inspire an emotional connection

While photos must clearly show and illustrate your products to help customers make buying decisions, use lifestyle images of your products in use in your print catalog. You want to make that emotional connection with your customer and how this product can be part of their life. Use your website to show several clear product views.