Five Secrets to Successful Catalog Automation



Five Secrets to Successful Catalog Automation

Printed catalogs are experiencing new levels of popularity. Nothing induces customer confidence like the feel of paper based catalogs. Research from the Data & Marketing Association shows that younger generations are even more responsive to printed catalogs than retirees. However, the production of catalogs and price lists has a reputation of being too time-consuming. Indeed, manually entering data onto pages, proofreading, and error corrections are expensive and slow. Last-minute updates are dreadful.


With catalog automation catalog automation, organizations can not only significantly reduce cost but also their time-to-market.


Learning about these five simple secrets will help pave the path to success:


Secret 1: Data is Key

Most organizations have their product data electronically stored in one form or another. Some use word processing files or simple spreadsheets, while others rely on databases or product information systems (PIM). Often, data collection suffers from incompatible supplier data or from incomplete information. Frequently, matching images to product data seems daunting.


The quality of the source data is key to a successful catalog automation, regardless of its file format. It seems odd that some organizations opt to rely on cumbersome, manual processes rather than sorting the underlying data issues out. It may turn out to be well worth its efforts.


Check with your supplier for catalog automation on how they can help with data and image acquisition:
- What data formats can be imported?
- Does your supplier understand the syntax of your data?
- Can data with variations in the format and/or syntax be imported
- Does your supplier offer import logic such that missing data can be filled in automatically?
- Can your supplier offer intelligence in combining data and images?
- Can images be imported from external sources?
- Does your supplier support multiple languages, indexes, and tables of contents?

A successful implementation requires teamwork to create a workflow that remains simple. Users of DIY software more often than not end up frustrated about the level of attention to detail and time that their setup requires. It ends up to be dreadful. Experienced suppliers can help in combining data from multiple, even inconsistent sources and apply intelligence to merge data with images. For example, absent of a file naming standard, most suppliers name their product image files differently, based on proprietary in-house logic. How do you unify such data into a  unified master file? In cases where unique product identifiers are missing, tools can help to create them automatically during the import process. They can also assist with importing your existing file format and data syntax or with getting your system to exchange data directly with supplier systems.


While data is key for a successful automatic catalog production, system intelligence and supplier support can greatly enhance and expedite the experience for clients, whether small or large.

In short, relying on the assistance of an experienced supplier for the establishment of intelligent data workflows will, in most cases, end up costing you less than DIY and will greatly enhance your experience in automating your catalog.

Secret 2: Maximize Efficiency

Perhaps the first and also biggest benefit of catalog automation is to end the abuse of designers. Keying in data is not the smartest use of creative talent.

Many organizations, in particular smaller ones, buy themselves catalog automation software in the hopes to achieve good results in a cheap manner. After months of trial and error, most give up, and many end up frustrated about the complexity of setting up catalogs as well as the time requirements for running automated catalogs.

It turns out that seasoned professionals can perform some tasks better and cheaper than DIY, such as setting up templates for catalog automation, implementing a specific logic, or figuring out the most efficient workflow, for example. They can also tell you which parts of an automation project may turn out to be too much of a trade-off with design flexibility. Your return will not necessarily be higher the more you automate. While suppliers’ price estimates can put a quick end to over-ambitions, the DIY approach can easily end up in bottom-less pits that have no dollar value attached.

Yet, automation can go quite far. If your organization wants to produce localized product brochures or catalogs, you may be confronted with different local logos, contact information, the number and size of images, or the length of text in different languages. Some markets may even require alterations in corporate color styles. Some of your local affiliates may lack localized imagery. Based on such variations, advanced catalog automation systems can intelligently re-arrange pages according to the number and size of image and text elements, down to target groups or even individual prospects.

Automated catalogs do not need to appear uniform. They can retain a high level of human touch.

While the possibilities are only limited by your structure and imagination, professionals are able to take the worries of implementing complex rules out of your hands. They know what is needed and when they need it. And they have a stake in your success rather than selling a software and leaving it all up to you.

Secret 3: Plan for Output Flexibility

While catalog automation provides impressive results, some organizations want to retain full design flexibility. They intend to enhance automated pages and use white spaces to their advantage.

Advanced catalog automation systems offer a variation of output formats: web-ready PDF with a small footprint, high resolution PDF for desktop printers in the office, print quality PDF output for print shops, and/or the Adobe InDesign output format. While the PDF output is a final format, the InDesign format can be further edited. Now, the graphics department is in command to add all the bells and whistles that define compelling designs and targeted marketing.

Secret 4: Creating Automated Catalogs Must Be Easy

Seeing an automated output of your data in your organization’s design is where the greatest return in satisfaction lies. However, you do not want to end up in a situation where the output is good but just not quite right. The point of satisfaction is also where the greatest frustration lies. You just wanted to move the SKU from below the image to below the text? Seemingly small changes can lead to substantial modifications in the initial project. It takes skill and experience to translate little adjustments into a perfect output.

While some like to tinker with catalog automation software and fine-tune layouts on their own, most clients, small or large, let professionals take care of such changes. It reduces re-runs, saves an enormous amount of time, and is surprisingly inexpensive.

However, creating final catalogs must be so easy that the user can almost get the task done while blindfolded. The catalog automation software needs to do the job all on its own: import the file, fill in missing data from the master, merge related images, and create a preview. The user should be able to verify the output in the catalog preview and make last-minute changes, such as updating text and prices, or changing images.

Secret 5: Make Last Minute Changes in the Master Data

One of the major benefits in catalog automation come through last-minute changes. If done right, this creates huge competitive advantages in time-to-market. Done wrong creates task duplications and a potential data disaster.

For catalog creators who strictly rely on updating the data and updating the automation process, this is a no-brainer. As long as data is in the driver-seat, everything checks out just fine. When proofreading leads to making edits or updates in the data, then simply refreshing the catalog automation ensures that all the data remains in sync. The new catalog output will automatically contain the latest data and imagery. 

However, users who utilize catalog automation as raw input to their final design process need to be more cautious. Is the last-minute price-change required to flow back into the master data or is it just a temporary adjustment? How are proof errors corrected in both, the final output document and the master data? Organizations need to put solid processes in place in order to ensure data integrity on every step along the workflow.

Product Catalogs are Mission Critical

Online hype and junk mail have led to a period of reduced focus on printed catalogs. In the last five years, catalogs have been rediscovered by many retailers as a mission critical tool for customer acquisition and retention. Nothing instills confidence in a business like a printed catalog. Indeed, half of Americans order from printed catalogs, and they are also among the most loyal customer segments. However, pre-press costs for catalogs are notoriously expensive. Catalog automation can largely eliminate these expenses and create massive competitive advantages in time-to-market and last-minute flexibility.

Following the five secrets of successful catalog automation will ensure that retailers can achieve their goals with confidence.


More Info

Learn more about Onison's catalog automation 



The Company

Onison Corporation is a leading global provider of branding tools that assist companies to manage their digital assets and contents for various media outputs.

Products & Services

Onison's scalable enterprise brand management platform provides a smart approach to manage brand and marketing workflows.

ImageDirector Media Asset Management
Preeon Web-to-Print Publisher
Automatic Catalogue Production
Product Information Management

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