Digital Catalogs – The best product marketing and sales tool for small businesses and online stores.

Why is a digital catalog one of the best marketing ideas for small businesses?

Competition is immense for small and online businesses. Every entrepreneur and owner spends their days looking for the advantage, the best tool, the unique selling point, the way to reach and convert their customers better and quicker than their competition.

Well we think we’ve found it and if you read on you’ll realize why digital catalogs are one of the best product marketing and sales tools for business and eCommerce.

It’s a magic bullet – you reach millions of people instantly, create an amazing reader experience for your product or service and can quickly update, customize, and tune on the fly to sell more and more to different groups on different channels.

There are endless benefits to employing a digital catalog as a superior product marketing tool that doesn’t require a large outlay or specialist design skills. Just keep on reading…

Only a short few decades ago, home shopping was through printed brochures and mail order catalogs. Online shopping changed retail almost unrecognizably. The high streets changed, the top brands adapted or vanished and many small e-commerce businesses were born, some of them now as large as their historical competitors.  Online shops have become a cheap, flexible way for a small business to sell product or services.

However the product catalog hasn’t vanished. Indeed it’s experiencing a revival.

Print catalogs were a dominant marketing tool only a few years ago, the benefit of the product catalog is undeniable.

The use of product catalogs is growing NOW

Digital catalogs are the modern alternative, offering distinct benefits when compared to, and used alongside websites and social media networks.

They are today’s must have marketing tool.



In print the number of catalogs mailed in the US actually increased in 2013 to 11.9 billion and major retailer J C Penney, who withdrew their mail order home goods catalog three years ago, has decided to relaunch this avenue of marketing. Their chosen focus, interestingly is to gain orders from existing customers rather than new; ease of conversion perhaps or seeking larger repeat orders as trust is gained.

About 90 million Americans make purchases from catalogs, according to the Direct Marketing Association; nearly 60 percent of them are women. Consumers who receive catalogs spend an average of $850 annually on catalog purchases, according to the American Catalog Mailers Association.

Consumers tend to choose items they wish to buy and then go online to buy later. The emerging trend is that customers are more likely to buy products online if they have received a printed catalog first and their total basket spend is also higher.

Print catalogs are “interruptive”, they arrive in physical form and have to be handled and dealt with, hopefully read! Print catalogs can be expensive to design, produce and mail, however there are two clear trends emerging:

  1. Ecommerce firms are seeing a higher rate of conversion and a greater shopping basket value from customers who have had a chance to browse a print catalog over breakfast or otherwise at their leisure.
  2. Online catalog creation software and digital catalog production can enable the creation of a simply and cost effectively designed brochure which can be printed on demand. Traditional print costs of product catalogs are greatly reduced.

Digital catalog creation apps have been re energising the catalog marketplace, coupled with group catalog sites where users can browse brochures from a number of different retailers at once, and the use of tablet devices to read and browse in comfort has given the catalog a renaissance.

Small businesses and online stores can use this revival to their advantage, adding what is now a cost effective AND powerful product marketing tool to their portfolio of sales collateral to REACH and CONVERT the masses.

The benefits in summary:

Of course a marketing idea is only good if it works. We look here at the benefits of using a Digital Catalog as a marketing and sales tool in more detail, classified in four key and very important areas for any business. Reach, Efficiency, Presentation and Control.

REACHING your customers…


Online distribution and marketing of a digital catalog has many channels available – social media, search engines, SEO and paid advertising, catalog websites, email marketing, own website, forums, blogger outreach, online PR and more! Cost effective reach can be thousands on thousands of potential customers with the right strategy and application.

Quick Sharing

A digital catalog is a quick and easy way to share product information and respond to inbound customer enquiries for more information, combine this with well-timed website links, for quick purchase turnaround.

Integrate with other channels

A digital product catalog can easily be assimilated with an online store or selling site like Amazon, Ebay and Etsy. Good digital catalog creation software will integrate so that products can quickly be imported into an online brochure saving precious time and resources.

Available 24/7

An online brochure or catalog is online 24/7, can be sited in numerous locations or sites and can then be accessed on any device at any time. It can even be used instead of a website when created through a standalone digital catalog creation app which offers a URL or link in situ.

The “halo” effect

Good marketing collateral which can be delivered to enquiring customers quickly and in the medium they desire can make a small or new company easily comparable to larger firms and indeed make a small firm or start-up appear much larger by doing just that.

Nisa Donnelly, Mary Jane’s Friends, Digital Catalog User
We have a small group of sales representatives and brick-and-mortar retail clients. We’ve found it’s tremendously helpful to be able to create a catalog with the sales rep’s contact information on the catalog–it gives them instant credibility. And the retail clients love it because they can have a catalog with their name on it for their customers, so they can email a link to someone who might ask about our products or who may want to know more about them. The catalog enables links to websites so that clients can easily find additional information, so it’s tremendously flexible. We use it all the time!


Catalog-EfficiencyCost effectiveness

An online or digital catalog produced in-house can be very cost effective, design costs are minimized and print and distribution can be little or none. If distribution is solely online, the cost is in time and advertising. A frequently updated digital catalog can be printed on demand, not in costly one off print runs.

Brian, Rock Tunes, Digital Catalog User,
Offering a downloadable and professional-looking catalog to prospective customers helps make us unique in the (small record label) marketplace. We update our catalog every week to highlight our newest release.
What I can state (unequivocally) is that Facebook engagement / Twitter followers / SoundCloud traffic and overall interest in our mix CDs has easily doubled over the last 3-6 months and our catalog is a crucial element of our promotional mix.
Concise marketing approach

A digital catalog can be a cohesive self-contained marketing package which includes product information, pricing, order form and information and plenty of brand building. It can be used as a standalone marketing tool across multiple channels or part of a campaign of different marketing tools to drive customer conversions.

No experience required

You don’t have to be a web developer, graphic designer or marketing expert to create and distribute a digital catalog. Indeed it’s a good way to save money and time on all three!

Vartan Horigian, BHX Brands, Digital Catalog User
We used to have our catalog in PowerPoint presentation, then we moved to a Photoshop version which exported to PDF. Any modification of pictures, descriptions, or pricing had to be done by one of our designers. That would usually take days and some back and forth changes until it could be sent to customers. Today, we do everything with Catalog Machine ourselves, the publishing is instant. The fact that we don’t send emails with PDFs anymore has also helped, as we always use one link where the latest version of our catalog is published. The customer decides if he wants to view the catalog online, or to download a PDF copy. We also have control of how many times our catalog has been viewed or downloaded. The latest feature which we loved, was the showroom that was added to the Catalog Machine. We can now send a link to the showroom to our customers, and they can select the products they are interested in and request for pricing without trouble.


Catalog-PresentationCustomer experience

A digital catalog can not only feature products and services but include case studies, in depth information, company history and other brand building tactics to up sell or increase sales.  Products can be emotionally described, effectively grouped, themed and otherwise to stress brand values and aid product selection.

Erik Brown, Browns Equipment, Digital Catalog User
Catalog Machine enabled me to create a good looking parts catalog customers could browse through easily. I’ve had customers contact me from all over the United States to order parts, which has been a nice surprise. I use this catalog as a teaching tool for my customers. It enables their employees to look at pictures of various parts, so they can identify components on machinery that failed over the phone.
Selective updates

Perform quick updates to selected brochures without having a complete collateral changeover or total reprint.


Quite literally, a digital catalog can be available in every medium – online, PDF, a link for social networks or email marketing and printed on demand. Print on demand also means that print size and quality can be adjusted to when needed.


Catalog-ControlEase of customer or seasonal targeting

A digital catalog is not only faster and simpler to produce, it can be easily changed and updated or issued at a higher frequency without leaving warehouses full of out of date print catalogs when printed on demand. Customers can respond positively to a constant stream of up to date, seasonal and relevant product information in their up to date digital catalogs. Online catalog versions can be re distributed through social media, email marketing and websites to an engaged audience following and gain kudos as a powerful tool with this approach. Niche customers or different target customer groups can be engaged with a subtly altered digital catalog which better meets their needs and wants. Brochures can be produced with detailed information for new customers, or simpler order sheets to encourage existing customers to repeat order quickly and easily.

Mark Burnham, John Woods Motorcare, Digital Catalog User
We have approx 15 MG Dealerships that use the catalog to show their potential customers the add-ons available on the new MG Cars.
As a marketing tool they are invaluable. Before I found Catalog Machine I was producing a PDF and emailing it out to the dealers. CM can be worked on live (behind the scenes) without the dealers knowing about it.
Protect privacy

Having a product or service which needs to be restricted, for example sales of alcohol, digital brochures can be targeted to and restricted to only those who need access. Password protection can be easily applied. Share only necessary information for specific groups of customers, price tiers and business authorization levels.

Analysis and optimization

Digital catalogs receipt and use can be tracked just like website analytics, the information gathered can be used to test and improve catalog content, targeting and distribution across marketing channels.

Offline and online marketing tools quickly compared:

Digital catalogs versus websites or online stores

There are some great targeting and niche opportunities for using digital catalogs. They can be shared quickly and saved or used for offline viewing by the customer. They can have additional privacy protection or guide the user in a specific pattern of reading whereas with a website, browsing is very much under user control.  The user can view as much or as little information as they wish. It’s hard to “save” a website to browse later. Of course digital catalogs can miss the interactive browsing ability, and the funnelling to purchase that an ecommerce store has. Good digital catalog production software and using an online digital catalog can, however, overcome this issue.

Digital catalogs versus print catalogs

The pros and cons of digital catalogs versus print catalogs are a little easier to compare.  We talked about the benefits of digital catalogs above; the cost effectiveness, reach, targeting, and flexibility and so on. The biggest downside of print catalogs being the cost, time and waste when old issues are suddenly defunct with a new season or product change. Digital catalogs have some major benefits for the environment as well as the small business. In a marketing sense though, some people just still like to read the physically printed word, to browse a glossy brochure, even if they order online later on. Others however will take or receive a brochure or printed catalog and never pick it up to read it, which is both environmentally wasteful and a wasted sales opportunity that may have been converted using another medium.

Digital catalogs versus emails and social media

Like a webstore, email marketing and social media marketing can be very fluid, and serve to channel a customer to click through and browse, purchase and checkout quickly and easily. Both can be updated or posts and bulletins re-issued at will. Again the benefits we talked about earlier in the article come into play, some people do like to browse a comprehensive brochure that concisely guides them through a brand, product or service, features, benefits and answers everything they need to know in a sensible order. This is in opposition to either browsing a site at their own volition or being too quickly guided by a smaller email article or social media post.

Product marketing solved? – Do digital catalogs increase product sales and website traffic?

As we’ve discussed, some online retailers are reporting trends of higher conversions and higher value orders. Group catalog listing or sharing sites are aiding sales and traffic alongside good online marketing of digital catalogs. Traditional retailers are also benefiting from the use of digital catalogs, either in complement, or in addition to their existing print catalogs. Other traditional retailers, maybe due to size or decision, who have never tried to produce a print catalog are finding benefits from producing a digital brochure.

Used correctly and marketed well, for the right products applied to their correct target market, it seems digital catalogs can only do well.

However best practices should be applied and digital catalog creators should be prepared to spend time marketing, to analyze and review results and to make adjustments if required.

Measuring results can be a simple process with a digital catalog creation software allowing the addition of analytics tracking codes so that use can be monitored in the same way as an online store or website.

Digital catalogs should be part of a wider marketing strategy, one that assesses the need for every marketing tool available and chooses the right ones for the product and marketplace. Where digital catalogs are used, a strategy for the correct production, frequency of update, distribution and analysis and review should be developed.

Best practices for using digital catalogs

Of course the overall success of a digital catalog depends on its correct utilization, or maximization as a marketing tool. Here are a few tips to follow:

Keep current

A digital catalog should be up to date and reflect the correct product and stock information. With an online brochure there really is no excuse not to be current. Out of date digital catalogs will quickly work against a brand as customers become frustrated.

Target to your customer

Although reaching hundreds of thousands of people online through social media, your website SEO, or advertising may seem like an amazing prospect, if these people are not relevant they will not buy. Your digital catalog should be targeted and distributed to those who are potentially your customer and be tailored to their needs and wants. The use of multiple versions for many marketplaces or customer groups is a worthwhile application for a flexible digital catalog design.

Make it good

If you are going to invest the time in creating a digital catalog, make it good. It can be an incredibly cost effective tool but it should be credible in the marketplace, that is, of a high standard and quality to assure your customers and convince them to buy.  Write excellent copy, use high quality images, consider well designed feature pages and carefully plan the layout.

The following article is a good resource for creating an online product catalog that sells:

Distribute it well

Plan your digital catalog marketing campaign and distribute it well. Make sure it’s strategized, well implemented, targeted and then analyzed and reviewed as required. Cross-selling between a website and a digital catalog can also be effective in attracting and maintaining customer interest. Link to your brochure on your website and your website from your brochure throughout.

Test, analyze and optimize

Use analytics and tracking to constantly monitor results, test different approaches, review your results, analyze effectively then change and optimize to maximize results.

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