It’s tempting to think that, in our highly digitalised age of marketing through websites, email and social media, distributing print catalogues would be a dead-and-buried promotional practice by now. However, certain recent developments in marketing tell a very different story.

More and more brands – even including some weaned online, like Amazon and Wayfair – have started dabbling in print catalogues. Furthermore, Harvard Business Review reports that, from 2004 to 2018, catalogue-spurred response rates soared by 170%.

Catalogues: a print novelty in a digital world

It would seem rational to assume that customers of relatively old generations are sparking the catalogue renaissance by falling back in love with the old way of doing things. However, studies from the Data & Marketing Association run counter to such a theory.

“Millennials stand out a bit higher than other generations in terms of engaging with mail,” Neil O’Keefe, the association’s senior vice president of marketing and content, told CNBC. “It’s unique to the generation that hasn’t experienced the amount of mail of past generations.”

He added: “Millennials are very engaged by imagery, and the catalogue really allows that to stand out.” He noted that catalogues attracted a “very different” response rate to display ads and emails, adding: “The response rate for a printed piece has been on the rise as of late.”

Catalogues deliver an experience, not merely advertising

“While we use online sites to search for products, the typical consumer won’t scroll past the first page of results,” Greg Portell, lead partner in the consumer and retail practice of Chicago-based management consulting firm Kearney, has pointed out.

“That creates an efficient shopping transaction but not necessarily a good experience. While not a perfect analogue, catalogues get closer to an experience.”

His observations are seemingly backed in findings of research conducted by Colorado State University’s marketing department. The study found that participating businesses combining email and catalogues in their marketing mix saw 15% better sales and 27% more inquiries compared to other businesses that resorted just to email marketing.

The same research revealed that, of the catalogue recipients who had also made product inquiries, over 90% had perused the catalogues and kept them for, on average, seven days.

Can catalogues work better for certain companies than others?

Various studies indicate that the power of a print catalogue lies in its tangibility. As it is a physical product, it is harder to ignore than an email – and, by flicking through it and seeing the products displayed within, customers can more easily visualise and imagine using them.

In essence, catalogues can help companies to portray their products more vividly. This vividness can particularly drive purchases of products intended primarily for enjoyment and pleasure rather than utilitarian purposes, but whether the latter can still benefit from the catalogue effect is debatable.

Luxury brands, therefore, could especially benefit from approaching a seller of printing technology, such as Duplo International, to source the equipment they would need to print the catalogues that could help these brands to significantly enhance their returns from marketing.