Several months back, The Atlantic published a story on the success of Restoration Hardware’s Source Books – extravagant catalogs that serve as both selling tools and coffee table books. You can read the entire story here, but we’re going to summarize some of the key points in this blog post.

According to The Atlantic, Restoration Hardware Source Books – some as large as 730 pages–have contributed to one of the most incredible comeback stories of the last decade.

In 2001, the company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, but executives decided to turn the brand’s selling strategy on its head – to project abundance and engage wealthy customers with opulent showrooms, exclusive memberships and swanky source books.

Since then, Restoration Hardware’s sales have increased dramatically, and in December 2019, its stock price hit an all-time high.

It’s so Analog, it Almost Feels Wholesome

Despite the prevalence of digital media resources and new technology, Restoration Hardware decided to go even bigger and more extravagant with the print portion of its marketing mix.

Why – especially when catalogs are so often regarded as outdated?

According to director of the American Catalog Mailers Association Hamilton Davison, that’s exactly why.

”It’s so analog, it almost feels wholesome,” he says in the article. “The internet is great if you know what you’re looking for, but it’s a lousy browsing vehicle. Instead of being followed around online for days by ads for a product you already ordered (or considered and ruled out), you can peruse catalogs at your leisure and disengage fully when you’re done.”

He also asserts that research suggests that “even though catalogs typically arrive unbidden, consumers find them less presumptuous and irritating than marketing emails.”

Push vs Pull Marketing

Unlike email, which users can refuse to open, catalogs demand at least one touch point.

Davison states, “You can’t make me open your email, you can’t make me open your website, you can’t make me go to your retail store, but you can send a large-format mail piece I have to pick up,” Davison says. “It’s invasive, but it’s welcome.”

Matt Krepsik, the global head of analytics for Nielsen’s marketing-effectiveness arm explains that “you can think about a catalog as a push versus a pull. On the internet, I just have to hope that Matt discovers my website. When I send Matt a catalog, I’m reaching out to him one-to-one.”

Push marketing focuses on taking the product directly to the customer. This type of marketing strategy aims to minimize the amount of time between a customer discovering a product and purchasing it.

Classic marketing strategies like primetime television advertisements, buy one get one free coupons, and direct mail catalogs are all examples of push marketing. This marketing strategy casts a wide net in the hopes of grabbing as many potential customers as possible.

Unlike email-marketing services which require retailers to gain consent from recipients, catalog mailers can “prospect” by sending catalogs to whomever they choose.

More Bang for Your Buck

With the rise of, and excitement around, e-commerce, the number of catalogs mailed in the US fell by more than half between 2007 and 2017, to 9.4 billion, according to the Association of National Advertisers.

But in the last few years, there’s been a rebound as online brands see mailings as a lower-cost alternative to advertising on search engines and social media, where costs have risen as more companies look for new customers online.

According to Colin Nagy, head of strategy at creative agency FF New York, “digital communications are starting to overwhelm people, and a well-designed piece of print advertisement can be an unexpected touchpoint.”

According to world-renowned marketer and influencer Neil Patel, direct mail gives you more bang for your buck than paid search and online display ads.

You can use this free tool to calculate your ROI with direct mail:

Patel also asserts that the impressive ROI of direct mail says nothing of its response rate, which is 5.3% for mail sent to house lists and 2.9% for prospect lists. Compare that number to email, which has an average click-through rate of about 2% or 3%, and a response rate of only 0.6%.

According to Krepsik, catalogs are also more effective at prompting large purchases (up to twice as expensive as those made by non-catalog shoppers) and luring back customers after first purchases.

An Integral Part of the Marketing Mix

Startups, in particular, are turning to catalogs to round out their media strategies. Many of these companies have thrived on direct-to-consumer websites and social media advertising, but now need fresh strategies to make a more complete case for their business.

According to an article by CNBC entitled, Millennials are More Interested in Catalogs Than Your Grandmother Is, millennials engage more with mail than other generations because they’ve received less of it over their lifetimes.

Read: Marketing to the Largest Living Generation: Reaching Millennials

Neil O’Keefe, the Data & Marketing Association’s senior vice president of marketing and content says, “Millennials are very engaged by imagery, and the catalog really allows that to stand out. So the response rate there is very different than what you would experience with a display ad, even an email. The response rate for a printed piece has been on the rise as of late.”

Catalogs with engaging stories and imagery are a welcome vehicle for presenting products directly to consumers. They provide a higher return on investment and are exceptionally effective with Millennials.

The case is clear. The catalog is here to stay.

If you’re thinking of starting a catalog to complement your online marketing efforts, contact The Dingley Press to see how catalogs can take your campaigns to the next level.