Fit to Print

Legend has it that after the Bible, the second-most popular book found in homes around the world is the Ikea catalogue. This year, between Aug. 14 and Aug. 25, Ikea will distribute almost 7 million copies of its latest volume in Canada alone.

The Sweden-based furniture retailer's catalogue has been around since 1951, when the company was operating as a mail-order business. But do people still flip through it? After all, the average consumer's attention span is eight seconds, according to a 2015 white paper from Canada Post.

At a time when the smart phone is king and there's a mobile app for almost anything you could imagine (yes, even the Ikea catalogue), a print catalogue seems like a novelty, and yet, it continues to be a valuable marketing tool – so much so that companies that once gave up on the format are bringing it back.

"If you do a catalogue well it works – even in today's market, even to the millennials," says Derek Lackey, president of the Direct Marketing Association of Canada. He says that companies that saw email and social media as free direct marketing tools overused them to their detriment. "We thought it was going to be a panacea, but it's not. There are still things that catalogues do really well. So what we're experiencing now is a settling down of the shiny penny and getting back to the reality of producing good results with our marketing tools."

Indeed, in that same Canada Post study it was found that 40 per cent of those who receive catalogues keep them for at least a month, with 20 per cent of those surveyed indicating they keep catalogues for at least four months. This longevity is a reason why, beyond offering an inventory listing, catalogues are increasingly taking cues from lifestyle magazines and incorporating editorial content to inspire consumers....

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