Skip links

The Ultimate Guide to Catalog Mailers: Boost Your Marketing Strategy

Find out how catalog mailers can revolutionize your marketing efforts with insights and tips in our ultimate guide.

Catalog mailers can significantly enhance and add value to your marketing strategy by providing a tangible and engaging way to showcase your products or services to potential customers. They help provide detailed product descriptions, vibrant imagery, and personalized messaging tailored to specific target demographics.

By leveraging catalog mailers, businesses can reach customers directly, fostering a sense of trust. Additionally, catalog mailers provide a convenient reference point for customers to revisit products, making them more likely to convert into sales. Incorporating catalog mailers into your marketing strategy can help drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and ultimately, business growth.

The Catalog, Defined

Taking a look at the term “catalog” we can understand the original purpose of a catalog mailer:

Catalog (noun) [kat-lawg, -og] – a list of the contents of a library, according to any various systems [such as alphabetically, numerically, or chronologically]

For the intents of our mail format series, catalogs are a comprehensive collection of all a business’ products in one place according to a system that makes sense for the products (most commonly by category and product number). That being said, a catalog in the print world can take the form of really any size piece, as long as it’s a collection of a brand’s products. Here we will discuss the booklet format of a printed catalog. The can be can be perfect bound or saddle stitched, oblong in shape, or standard publication dimensions.

Some standard sizes include:

  • Multi-page 8.5 x 11″ – 9 x 12″
  • Multi-page 5.5 x 8.5″ (mails at letter postage rates)

A New Strategy Behind Print Cataloging

If we consider the history of catalogs it’s no wonder we’re in the midst of a shift in the medium. The first catalog was produced in 1498 in Venice; six centuries ago, a catalog might have been the ONLY means to display all your products for potential buyers, without actually getting them into your brick and mortar shop. Things only got easier for retailers with the invention of the telephone which allowed for quick ordering via catalogs.

But now we find ourselves in a time where all of a retailer’s items are cataloged in digital space, at the ready whenever a buyer beckons—and taking up no space when they don’t. So where does this leave print catalogs?

Although the catalog is often taking a back seat to other purchasing methods, it still can play a substantial role in the buyer’s decision making process.

Best Uses for Catalogs

Clearly a list of products or services are necessary to have need of a catalog, which is why the retail industry favors this print platform.

Many retailers are taking a fresh approach to cataloging to keep up with the rapidly changing retail landscape. The large trend we’ve seen, starting with big names like J.C. Penney’s and Patagonia, is a value-added, editorial approach.

So what once was an order-driving vehicle has now become a platform for thought-leadership in support of the decision making process. What extra value can a print catalog provide that a website cannot?

  • Catalogs show up on your buyers’ doorstep, whereas the buyer must actively seek out “digital catalogs.”
  • The physicality of print catalogs disrupts the recipient. They must decide what they want to do with it, which means they have to at least glance at it and register the brand name.
  • Print catalogs provide the space you need to guide your buyer on an emotional journey you’ve prepared for them through the flow of the pages. There is only so much you can do to lead a website viewer to the experience you want for them.
  • Print catalogs stick around for a while and reach whoever happens upon them. In fact 11% are read by more than one family member (DMA 2013 Statistical Fact Book).

Customized Direct Mail Catalog

A customized direct mail catalog refers to promotional materials that are specifically tailored to a recipient’s interests, preferences, or past purchasing behavior. This type of catalog is personalized to each individual or segment of customers, incorporating relevant products or services that are likely to resonate with them. The customization can involve using the recipient’s name, addressing their specific needs or preferences, and showcasing products or offers that are most likely to appeal to them. By personalizing the catalog’s content, businesses aim to increase engagement and response rates and ultimately drive sales.

Here are the popular direct mail catalog sizes and formats:

  1. Standard Catalogs

    Standard catalogs have dimensions of 8.5 inches by 11 inches, which allows you to include additional details about each product and display full-size images without overwhelming the reader. This format is ideal for offering customers a variety of options or showcasing more pictures.

  2. Slim Jim and Digest Catalogs

    Slim catalogs, which typically measure 5.5 inches by 10.5 inches, offer a convenient and cost-effective way to showcase your products to customers. By using this smaller format, you may also be able to save on postage costs by qualifying for letter package rates. This option is particularly beneficial for brands that prefer using smaller picture formats.

  3. Extra Large Catalogs

    Big catalogs, usually 12 inches by 12 inches or bigger, are great for brands that want to add more content or show off large, high-quality photos of their products. These catalogs are perfect when you have lots of reviews, customer testimonials, or inspiring pieces that wouldn’t fit well in a regular-sized catalog.

Catalog and Direct Mail

Catalogs and direct mail are both powerful marketing tools, but they serve different purposes and target audiences.



Direct Mail 

Definition A printed or digital listing of products or services offered by a business is often used for marketing and sales purposes. Sending promotional materials directly to potential customers via postal mail. 
Purpose To showcase products and services, provide information, and encourage purchases. To directly reach potential customers with promotional materials, such as brochures, flyers, or coupons. 
Distribution Can be distributed physically as printed catalogs or digitally through email or online platforms. Sent via postal mail to specific addresses or mailing lists. 
Target Audience 

Generally targeted towards existing customers and potential buyers interested in the products or services offered.    


Usually targeted towards specific demographics or customer segments based on demographics, behavior, or purchase history. 
Cost Costs associated with design, printing, and distribution. Can vary depending on the size and complexity of the catalog. Costs include design, printing, postage, and mailing list acquisition. 
Effectiveness Can be effective in generating sales and brand awareness, especially for certain industries or products. Can be effective in driving customer engagement and response rates, but response rates may vary. 

Steps to Create the Best Direct Mail Catalogs

Creating direct mail catalogs is a great way to market your business effectively. We, at Compu-Mail, have compiled this list based on the experiences of our successful catalog customers. It has the essential steps for launching your own catalog, so you can benefit from their insights and make your catalog launch a success:

  1. Choose the Right Products

    Deciding what items to include in your catalog is crucial, and sometimes it’s even more important to decide what not to include. This is because not every product will appeal to every customer, and you want to make sure your catalog is tailored to your target audience’s preferences. You may also have a specific group of people you are trying to reach with your catalog, so the products you choose should meet their needs or desires to be effective.

    To determine which products to include, you can analyze your data metrics and gather input from key individuals in different departments like purchasing, manufacturing, marketing, and senior executives. This way, you can make informed decisions about which items will best serve your customers and meet your business goals.

  2. Target the Right Mailing Lists Through Data Modeling

    Sending out catalogs to potential customers can be costly, ranging from $2.00 to $3.00 per catalog. It is crucial to target the right audience to ensure a good return on investment. Three main types of lists work well for direct mail catalogs: your current customers, new prospects, and specific geographic areas. Depending on your budget and objectives, you might use one or a combination of these lists.

    Although catalog mailings typically have a higher conversion rate of 3.9% compared to other types of direct mail, each list type offers different costs and revenue potential. Your mailing house can analyze data to help you determine which list type is best suited for your catalog campaign.

    a. Targeting Existing Customers

    If you’re sending catalogs to your current customers (also known as your “house list”), you’ll need to organize the mailing list for postal delivery to save money. If your printer is handling the mailing too, they can help with this sorting process. Otherwise, you can get assistance from a “mail house” service.

    b. Targeting New Customers

    If you want to attract new customers with your catalog, also known as a “prospect list,” you’ll need to get a list of potential customers. You can get this list from a company that specializes in lists, or a broker who sells lists, or you can choose a specific area to focus on. If you use a company or broker, you can customize your list by filtering it based on factors like age, income, marital status, gender, home value, presence of children, ethnicity, interests, and location (city, county, state, zip code). If your catalog is meant for a particular area, the company or broker can create a list based on the criteria you provide, such as specific cities, zip codes, or neighborhoods.

    c. Targeting by Geographic Location

    If you want to reach people in a specific area, like for a store opening, you can use a service called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) by the United States Post Office. With EDDM, you can select specific postal carrier routes using their mapping tool to target the exact locations you are interested in. They will deliver your mail to every address on those routes, ensuring you reach everyone in your target area.

  3. Create Superior Graphic Design

    A well-designed catalog represents your brand directly and is essential for grabbing attention and getting people to open it up. Think of your catalog to get past the front door and into the hands of your customers, enticing them with your products.

    When designing your catalog, the choices you make about its appearance, feel, and important features can be crucial. Take your time to make these decisions, as they will greatly influence how your brand is perceived. Your catalog should tell a story through its layout and the way products are presented, engaging your audience as they flip through the pages.

    When creating your catalog, remember three important factors that will impact your printing and mailing expenses:

    a. Paper Choice: Opting for high-quality paper enhances the overall feel of your catalog and makes your products look more appealing. However, premium paper comes with a higher cost due to its quality and weight.

    b. Paper Count: Thicker catalogs tend to be kept by customers for longer periods, increasing brand exposure. However, the more pages you have, the heavier your catalog becomes, leading to higher printing and mailing costs.

    c. Page Size: Choosing a larger or unique catalog can make it stand out in a mailbox, increasing the likelihood of it being noticed and passed along. However, these oversized catalogs are more expensive to produce and mail. Standard sizes may reduce costs but might make your catalog blend in with others.

  4. Use the Best Product Photography

    To get the best results from your photography sessions, it is important to plan carefully and time things right. This is especially true because you usually pay based on how long the photographer works or how many photos they take. If you are shooting on location, it is even more important to coordinate well so the photographer isn’t left waiting while your products or props are still on their way.

    There are some extra things you can do to make your photoshoots go smoothly, especially if you’re doing lifestyle shots. For example, having sketches or mockups ready can help the photographer understand your vision for the shot and what should be in the background. The setting can make a big difference in how people respond to your photos – a model in a floral dress looks different in front of a beach with palm trees than in front of a parking lot!

    Since good photography is so important, many companies hire professional creative directors who are experienced in managing photoshoots and getting great results.

  5. Plan Printing and Roll-out

    It’s hard to predict how the market will respond, so it’s a good idea to test it out with a strategy called “versioning.” This involves printing and sending your catalog in smaller batches on different dates. Each batch, or “drop,” rearranges the pages and products to highlight the best-selling items and remove those that are sold out.

    By dividing your mailing list into smaller groups and sending out catalogs at different times, you can analyze sales, spot trends, and adjust your strategy based on market conditions. This can be a hectic process, with short windows between drops where you need to coordinate changes and approvals quickly. Having an experienced catalog production team, along with a reliable prepress provider, can help manage the chaos and stress.

  6. Utilize Prepress Services

    The most important factor affecting whether a customer buys something is its color. The color must be exactly right to prevent customers from returning the product. Your catalog’s images should also be accurate and free of any flaws that might make people hesitate to buy. “Prepress” involves adjusting the color of the original photos for printing, touching up the photos to make the products look better, and preparing the files for printing.

  7. Plan Digital or Offset Printing with Mailing Services

    If you’re sending out 10,000 catalogs or more in a single mailing, or if each of your mailings goes out to 10,000 or more people, it’s best to use a “web-offset printer” because it’s the most cost-effective option for large quantities.

    But if your circulation is less than 10,000, or if you are doing test mailings, creating catalogs for specific customers or stores, or using variable data in your catalogs, then digital printing is a better choice. It offers more flexibility in print runs, faster turnaround times, the ability to customize each catalog, and lower overall costs.

  8. Use Geolocation and Personalization

    If you offer the perfect product to the right person at the right moment, you can boost sales and attract new customers. To do this effectively, you can divide your product catalog in three ways: by location, by personal preferences, and by individual interests.

  9. Track Results and Revenue

    Understanding how your catalog affects your sales is important for the success of your advertising campaign, but it can be difficult to accurately measure the impact. Since printed catalogs don’t allow for personalized responses, it can feel like guesswork. However, there are methods to gauge its effectiveness. One approach is to use custom URLs, though it’s not practical to have customers type in a new URL for every product. Instead, you can create a special entry page on your website and include its URL in the catalog. Another option is to include a unique offer code on the catalog mailing label to track usage at checkout. Alternatively, you can simply ask customers how they found out about your store during the checkout process to get direct feedback.

  10. Refine and Repeat

    Creating catalogs involves ongoing testing, analysis, refining, and repetition. However, the benefits of using catalogs to boost sales on your website are undeniable. At Compu-Mail, we would share our expertise to help achieve your cataloging objectives.

The Stats: How Catalogs are Used by Recipients

  • Generally larger and heavier than the rest of the mail in the mailbox, catalogs are perceived as valuable, proven by the reported percentage of people who hold onto them – 14.7%, according to the 2013 DMA Statistical Fact Book. That beats magazines and newspapers (10.3%), which recipients opt into
  • Catalogs were found to be almost as “useful” as, and more interesting than, newspapers and magazines (DMA 2013 Statistical Fact Book).
  • The average American spends $850 a year on purchases because of catalogs. (FGI Research, “Catalogs: The Consumers’ Point of View“)
  • 7% of catalog recipients surveyed said they would STOP doing business with a company altogether if they cancelled their print catalogs. 7% may seem small, but you know what they say – it’s easier to maintain a current customer than it is to acquire new ones. (FGI Research, “Catalogs: The Consumers’ Point of View“)

Top Takeaways

  • Catalogs are an orderly collection of all of a business’s products and services. If you’re selling commodities, catalogs are an effective option.
  • Catalogs are a supporting tool in a buyer’s decision making process. The buyer will likely take their research online after having their interest peaked by an item in a print catalog. For this reason, integrating your print catalog with other channels where the purchase is likely to take place is hugely important.
  • Print catalogs are making a comeback, but are taking on new formats (ex. magazine style articles, high emphasis on quality photos).

Finding the right format is about understanding your objective: if your buyer needs a little help imagining themselves using your product or your brand requires room to develop its story, the new kind of catalog—editorialized and chock full of inspiring photos—may be right for your marketing mix.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a direct mail catalog?

A: A direct mail catalog is a marketing tool that consists of a booklet or pamphlet showcasing a range of products or services, sent directly to individuals or households via postal mail. It aims to attract recipients’ attention, provide detailed information about offerings, and encourage them to make purchases.

Q: What size is a direct mail catalog?

A: A direct mail catalog typically comes in various sizes, but a common size is around 8.5 inches by 11 inches. This size allows for ample space to showcase products or services while still being manageable for mailing purposes.

Q: How can I mail a catalog?

A: To mail a catalog, first, ensure it is properly packaged and labeled. Then, address it to your intended recipients, affix the appropriate postage, and drop it off at a post office or arrange for pick-up with a postal carrier. Alternatively, you can use a third-party mailing service for added convenience and efficiency.

Q: What are clear catalog mailers?

A: Clear catalog mailers are transparent envelopes or packaging used to send catalogs through the mail. They provide a clear view of the contents inside, enticing recipients to open and explore the catalog. These mailers offer a professional presentation and increase the likelihood of engagement and potential sales.

Q: What are hard catalog mailers?

A: Hard catalog mailers are sturdy, durable packaging solutions used to protect and deliver catalogs through the mail. Made from rigid materials like cardboard or plastic, they provide enhanced protection against damage during transit, ensuring that the catalog arrives in pristine condition.