Is Anybody Reading Your Brochure?
Creating engaging content and effective marketing materials.
It never fails to amaze me how often marketing materials, such as brochures, newsletters and even company websites are created without giving much thought to the message. They seem pulled together from random facts and bullet points, with a couple of calls to action thrown in.
Yet, in many cases, these very brochures are the main tools small and medium businesses have for presenting themselves to their customers.
Then why isn’t more thought put in them?
Maybe because we’re all convinced from the beginning that nobody will read them, and go through the motion of creating the content just so we can say yes, we do have a brochure. Just like everybody else. It’s not that difficult after all. Just study a few competitors, come up with similar bullet points and throw them together in a quick template.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Your brochure, your newsletter, your website don’t have to be boring.
It doesn’t have to be like everybody else’s.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to look and feel like a brochure or website.
It can be a comic strip or a postcard instead.
Or anything else you want it to be.
Stop thinking like everybody else.
You are unique. You offer something that nobody else does. You can shine.
Does this sound familiar?
“Communication will never be the same again.”
“People don’t read anymore.”
“There is just too much competition.”
“What may have worked this morning, is already outdated.”
Don’t believe all that you heard.
The basic principles of being noticed haven’t changed.
Yes, there is an information overload.
Yes, people read less and scan more.
Yes, you have to work much harder to be noticed.
But the main idea is still the same:
Interesting ideas get noticed. Heartfelt stories are listened to.
Standing for something you believe in works.
Secret strategies? There aren’t any. No magic bullet. No instant gratification.
There is one thing you can do though. Something that worked 50 years ago. Something that will still work 50 years from now. Enough with the sales pitches, enough with clever words just for the sake of being clever. We have heard it all before.
As we daily scan the blog posts, go through the emails, glance at the posters and flyers, we all want something worth stopping for. Something worth reading and sharing. Something relevant and exciting. Something more than a sales pitch in disguise.
Something interesting. Exciting. Relevant.
Could that be your message?
When everyone is saying the same thing.
If you look through several brochures or websites in the same industry, take away most of the industry terms and adjectives, what are you left with?
Is there something that hasn’t been said?
People are funny. When overwhelmed with seemingly similar choices, we tend to abandon logic and go with the instinct.
Yes, materials such as brochures and websites can accomodate more information.
You can tell your story.
Show a bigger picture.
But, like a book without a clear plot line, a brochure made up of strung-together facts and stories, without a clear point, is rather difficult to follow.
Why should we read it? Give us a reason to care.
What is the core message?
Benefit. Unique Selling Point. Objective resolution.
Call it what you want.
Just don’t use marketing or industry terms to define it.
It should be clear even to a first-grader. Or your grandma.
Why should people want your product?
Why are you the best choice for your service?
Why should they all line up at your door, right now,
and demand to pay you for whatever it is you provide?
Keep asking why, until the answer makes perfect sense.
Until you can explain it and defend it without referring to pie charts.
Until comparing yourself to others isn’t necessary to show why you shine.
Until you are left with nothing but one message.
Clear, concise, single-minded.
Not bullet points, not strings of meaningless adjectives.
Not tech jargon, not expert approval, not celebrity endorsement.
One message. What’s yours?
Is it something we can care about?
Most campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of objectives, and try to reconcile the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting to cover too many things, they achieve nothing. Their advertisements look like the minutes of a committee.
Who are you talking to?
Keep this clear in your mind, at all times.
Do they care about your single-minded proposition?
Does it solve a problem for them?
What kind of language do they commonly speak?
Talk to this person. Level with them. Solve their problem.
No hype, no nonsense.
Pretend you are talking to a friend.
You, the individual — not you the company or you the building.
What do you say to her?
Are you talking to someone who doesn’t necessarily know much about your product or service? That’s even more reason to keep it simple and clear. Don’t tell her about your certifications and field achievements.
Tell her what you can do for her.
In terms she can understand.
Speak her language. You really don’t need research to tell you how.
You already know this, instinctively. Trust that knowledge.
Don’t overcomplicate this, don’t try to appeal to different types of customers, don’t try to please everyone.
If you can capture the attention of that one person, intrigue her, inspire his trust, you will intrigue and inspire others as well.
Say it with style.
This doesn’t mean using a gimmick, it doesn’t refer to design, or to overall shape of your marketing piece. It refers to a bigger picture, the meaning that is instantly obvious, the impression you leave, the emotion you inspire.
The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you are saying, and they can’t know what you are saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you are not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you
say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”
The execution idea is simply a way of communicating your benefit; the objective proposition. Sometimes this benefit is so strong, so revolutionary, that it only requires a minimal touch.
But often, what seems important to those close to the problem, is not quite that obvious to potential clients.*
This is where outside perspective can be helpful.
Talk to someone who isn’t directly involved in your business, someone who isn’t already a customer. Ask if the benefit is clear to them. If it isn’t, there is work to do.
The execution is simply translating that benefit into something your customers can relate to. Something they can be excited about. Something they never realized that makes a difference to them.
There is no formula for getting this translation just right. No recipe, no rules. Just some helpful suggestions:
Keep an open mind. Be playful. Don’t discard something just because it sounds outrageous.
It just might be the thing that works.
A local flower shop could have focused on their vast assortment, or on special promotions around the holidays — as many others are apt to do. Instead, they chose to focus on something they knew very well — the various meanings associated with flowers, and best ways to match them. A simple campaign of postcards and brochures using concrete examples of these meanings, with matching store displays, known not only in their neighborhood, but all around the city, as the store to go to when you don’t have a clue about flowers but want to make an excellent impression.
So what makes a campaign effective?
The best known effective advertising campaigns are those that we have seen in print and television. But it’s not the massive exposure that makes them effective. Well-known, yes. But not effective.
They could have worked just as well on a smaller scale. In brochures, postcards, newsletters and blog posts.
The fact that they are built around a relevant, interesting, original message is what makes them memorable and effective — and that can work in any media, in any execution, any style.
Consistency of the message throughout all your communication materials will bring a campaign feel to even the most modest marketing efforts. This is especially true for image-based messages. Nike demonstrates this very well, with their “Just do it” message that has not changed in many years. Every single spot, every single print ad, the labels on their products, the events they sponsor — everything reinforces this theme.
You don’t have to have Nike’s budget, or even aim to become as big as they are.
But of course, in order to keep the customers, the product has to deliver. And in this case, it really does. Every single time. You have to believe in it first. Then prove it. And keep proving it.
Speaking of style,
There is no rule that says your brochure must be a trifold. Yet a lot of them are.
The only reason for your marketing materials to appear just as they are expected to appear is to have them instantly recognized as marketing materials.
Or say you sell books. How about sending out some bookmarks instead of postcards? That might not be a common solution, but it will instantly be linked to books.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. This is supposed to be fun!
The shape and form your piece takes works best if inspired by the benefit.
For example, a brochure doesn’t have to be a tri-fold.
It can be a photo book.
Or a magazine.
Or a set of postcards.
It can have a bite taken out of it.
Or a zipper that closes it.
It can take on any shape or form.
As long as you don’t start from the shape and the medium (e.g. brochure), but from the message.
But if there is one thing that can help you put together decent-looking materials yourself, it’s this:
• Keep it to one main message
• Use one image rather than many
• Leave plenty of white space
• Stick to one or two fonts
• Use small paragraphs and clear headings
• Make every page have one main point
Yes, rules are meant to be broken. But in order to do that effectively, you have to know them first. To have experience working with them. To have a thorough understanding of why they exist in the first place. To know exactly the effect you are trying to achieve by deviating from them.
So yes, by all means, break the mold, stand out, be loud and different. But, even though I believe that design is less important than your message, an amateurish piece can destroy your credibility before you had time to build it.