Susan J. McIntyre, Founder
PATIENT: "Our boss said 'make the catalog more scannable'. But I'm the copywriter, so I get a pass, right? That's the designer's job, right?"
CATALOG DOCTOR: "Wrong. As a copywriter, you have copy tools at your disposal to increase copy scannability. More scannable copy means more folks read...and buy. Try these tips..."
Visualize your reader flipping pages of the catalog, their eyes roaming quickly, unconsciously, over each page (at flipping speed). They won't stop until something (your copy) grabs their attention.
Each product block offers you 3 basic elements to work with. Each can grab attention from the customer's scanning eye...or be overlooked:
Let's look at product headlines first.
Many style guides dictate "Name of Product" for the headline, which is about the most boring approach possible. If your style guide additionally dictates "no subhead", then what can you do to help grab the attention of a quickly-scanning reader?
You can pack interest into the product name. Example:
So our third example head clearly names the product (so adheres to the style guide, thus suiting management). Plus for the reader it instantly evokes a strong (steel, not cheap pot metal), comfortable (you sit on canvas, not metal), compact (it folds) camp stool...in one quick scan.
Suddenly one quick scan makes your reader interested enough to stop and read more...which is your goal.
If your style guide allows longer headlines, you can pack major benefits right into the head. Vermont Country Store is a master at this type of head:
If your style guide doesn't require the product name (and if your reader can tell what the product is from the photo), turning the major benefit into the entire product head will garner max interest at scanning speed.
Like the Chef® Tool catalog does:
And the Footsmart® catalog:
If your headline is a "plain" product name, and your style guide mandates a subhead, then put the primary benefit and/or differentiator right into the subhead to catch the most interest at scanning speeds.
The Hotter® shoe catalog has short names and short but effective subheads:
J. Jill's longer heads and longer subs for featured products are scannable and interest-evoking:
Your reader will scan the (#1) head, (#2) sub and (#3) first few words of body copy. Make sure those first few words of body copy are snappy. What to avoid:
Don't begin the first line with "the" "this" "these". Borrrring. Also avoid "our" if you can.
Do not repeat the product name in the first line if it's already in the headline—that wastes your interest-grabbing opportunity. Example of bad:
Good example from the National Geographic catalog:
Now you're on your way to improving your catalog's scannability. Best of all, your readers will start reading more of your copy.
First published on RetailOnlineIntegration.com blog October 2013 © 2013 Susan J. McIntyre