Think twice before you price: Whether you put a price on your building product catalog depends on its reference value, and whether you intend to sell it.

Can I charge designers and builders for my building products catalog? Even if I don’t intend to collect money from them, should I put a price tag on my materials so that customers attach greater value to them?—R.G., general manager

Most product catalogs are costly to produce and distribute. A custom imprinted, three-ring notebook with tabbed dividers, printing, assembly, packaging, and postage can readily cost $50 or more. Samples would add to that cost.

Many marketers wish they could offset this cost by charging for their literature. But as in all marketing decisions, you must consider your customers, their expectations, and your competitive environment.

Design and construction professionals are accustomed to receiving sales literature at no charge; they would resent being asked to pay for yours. Their attitude is: “We’re doing you a favor just by considering your product. You’ll make money when we specify or buy the product, so why should we pay for your advertising, too?” Plus, the cost and time required for them to order and pay for your literature could derail a fast-moving sales opportunity. Charging for your literature may be enough to motivate them to look for a more accommodating supplier.

In general, you should not put a price tag on your literature unless you intend to sell it somewhere. Trade associations, for example, typically charge for their reference manuals. And after many years of free distribution, Sweet’s now charges for its catalog files.

Individual manufacturers can also charge for publications that are a design resource or an industry reference guide, not just self-serving product presentations. For example, United States Gypsum Co.’s Gypsum Construction Handbook is an industry best seller sold at building material yards and trade bookstores. Another consideration—if you plan to sell the publication directly to customers— is the cost of order entry, collection of sales tax, and other administrative expenses.

There is a corollary to the general principle that you should not put a price tag on your literature unless you intend to sell it somewhere: You may want to put a price tag on your literature precisely because it will dissuade distribution. If you advertise your products directly to consumers or end users, for example, charging for a catalog can help separate serious buyers from dreamers.

In other situations, a price on the catalog can be helpful to design professionals or dealers. In the interior decorating business, for example, clients often ask designers and dealers to lend them catalogs or sample books. A price tag on the book gives designers and dealers a way to control such requests; they can either charge their customer for the book or explain that it is part of their professional library instead of mere manufacturer’s literature.

But charging for catalogs is not recommended as a way to prequalify trade or professional prospects. Instead, ask them to fax a request for the catalog on their business stationery, or use telemarketing to screen inquiries.

One final observation is that computerized product literature may present new opportunities to charge for your literature. Computer users are used to paying for software. They may be willing to pay if you can demonstrate that your computer program will increase their productivity (by reducing engineering or drafting time, for example), enable them to offer new services (like energy audits or lifecycle cost studies), or compete more effectively (by preparing faster and more accurate takeoffs, or generating computerized presentation drawings). Online building product databases are gradually emerging in our industry and some day they may also have an impact on how the industry pays for product information.

During a sales call to an architect, I noticed that an attractive poster on her office wall was actually an ad for a construction material. What’s the best way for me to use posters in my marketing?—O.W., marketing coordinator

Posters are a highly effective but underutilized means of reaching architects. They can make a big impact, are reasonably affordable, and most architects like receiving and displaying them. Maybe architects’ appreciation stems from their visual orientation. Perhaps they relate to the size of posters because they are similar to the large sheets on which they draw. Or perhaps it’s because few architectural firms bother to decorate their offices with fine art. A big poster provides a good visual focus for a draftsman looking up from hours of drawing very detailed work. Whatever the reason, posters are often the only thing hung on walls in architectural offices besides diplomas, licenses, and pictures of the architect’s own work.

During my years in practice, I displayed a poster promoting WilsonArt plastic laminates. It had a surrealistic, jazzy illustration that captured the shades and mood of a new color line. A poster series from curtainwall manufacturer Kawneer celebrated Wright, Sullivan, and Mies, displaying the portraits of these heroes of American architecture against a background of buildings tracing the evolution of curtainwall design. And a wall calendar, a variation on the poster theme, displayed beautiful buildings throughout the year, courtesy of the Indiana Limestone Institute.

Posters are also effective as direct mail. Who could resist the temptation to open a mailing tube and unroll its contents? But even if a poster is folded and mailed in an envelope, the process of opening a poster engages the reader in a powerful way. As it unfurls, the poster gradually exposes more and more of your advertising message, until the viewer is standing at attention with arms spread—an open and receptive posture. Also, posters make a great premium offer when tied into a magazine advertising campaign. What works for beer advertisers—running an appealing advertisement and offering a poster-sized enlargement to build brand loyalty—works for construction advertisers, too.

Posters can do double-duty when you use the back side for product information; the back of a 22x34-inch poster contains as much space as an eight-page 81⁄2x11-inch brochure. Another benefit of posters is their long retention period, providing your product with daily exposure right in the environment where specifying decisions will be made. And when someone hangs a poster in his work area, everyone else in the office also sees your message.

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By Michael Chusid
Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1995