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How to develop creative brochures

By: Avinash Narula

Brochures are printed information on the company and its products and services. Brochures are one of the most important marketing tools that give your potential client or customer a brief glimpse of your business, products and services. Brochures are probably the most common form of advertising and promotional material prepared by a company. Not only that, it is probably the first piece of advertising and promotional material that a company prepares to market its products. Brochure also projects your business image in your absence.

It is important for the customers to see the brochure of the product that they are interested in buying. Customers usually ask for the brochure before buying a product. It seems that a brochure somehow gives a feeling of confidence to the prospective customers for a number of reasons. One, after getting the brochure they feel that they have all the necessary information they need to make an informed decision. They are not interested in reading lengthy details about your company and products but are interested to know your story quickly. They achieve this by scanning the key points or the sub-headings to get a fair understanding of the story of your business and offering. Two, the brochure converts the intangible into tangible. Third, a brochure establishes the credibility of the seller in the eyes of the customer.

A brochure is absolutely essential for most businesses, including yours. Apart from giving confidence to the customer to deal with your company, it also serves as a standard presentation tool. Instead of writing a separate presentation for a new customer, you can just send the brochure with a personalized letter.

A good way to visualize the brochure's role in a direct mail package is to think in terms of retail selling. Here's how each component contributes to the total sell:

1. The outer envelope takes the place of the signboard of your company or your store.
2. The letter takes the place of the sales person.
3. The order card is the cashier.
4. The brochure is the product itself.

Since the brochure is replacing actual physical contact with the product, it must contain all the information the prospect needs to know before buying.

Advantages and disadvantages of brochures

Brochures have certain advantages as an advertising and promotional material which is why a large number of companies develop them. These are:

1. You have total control over what is said and how it is said.
2. You control where your brochure is placed as well as who gets it.
3. Brochures are flexible as you can choose the type of printing, paper and size to fit your budget and marketing needs.

However, there are certain disadvantages of brochures which are as follows:

1. Distribution of brochures to a small target audience is economical but the cost would be prohibitive when used to target a mass audience. Other types of advertising and promotional material and media may be more economical for reaching a large audience.

2. If there is a change in information related to your business, the brochure will become outdated resulting in waste of money.

Factors which determine what information to include in a brochure

Just as in the case of any kind of advertising and promotional material, one of the key question that comes up while developing brochures is what all information should be included in it. The volume and type of information you include in a brochure will depend on the following factors:

1. Promotional structure:
The promotional structure will guide you in terms of what and how much information should be included in a brochure. For instance, in the case of Escorts Tractor Division, we discussed that we will need a Corporate, Product Line/Brand as well as Product brochures for the various models of tractors. In the Product line/Brand brochure, detailed specifications of the various products / models will not be given whereas in the specific Product (model) brochures detailed product specifications will be given. On the other hand, a tractor company which is small and has only one tractor model can prepare just one brochure which serves as a Corporate, Product Line and Product brochure. As mentioned before, the type of information we include in a brochure as we go down the promotional structure shifts from macro to micro level and from brief to detailed information.

2. Costs:
It is obvious that the more informative and detailed brochure you make, the more costly it becomes. The cost increase is not only in terms of designing and printing cost but also in terms of mailing cost. Somehow whenever we think of the cost of brochures, most of us do not think of the mailing cost. You will be surprised to note that the cost of postage can at times be higher than the cost of printing a brochure. One of my clients was so conscious of the mailing cost that he took the decision on the size of the brochure as well as the type of paper to use based on the applicable mailing cost. He made sure that the complete mailing package fell within the weight slab for minimum postage. If the weight of the mailing package would have fallen in the next slab, the mailing cost would have gone up by 60%.

You have also to look at costs from another perspective. Let us suppose you have sent a mailer with minimal information in order to save costs. Now the interested customer asks for more information. Now again you will be spending money on postage, another brochure and an envelope. So when you think of costs you need to keep in mind the complete marketing and sales process as well as the communication process with your customer. You cannot think in isolation about just one piece of advertising and promotional material that you are preparing.

3. Target market: The amount and type of information that you would include in a brochure would also depend on your target audience. Technical people are more detail oriented while the general public and general management executives are more concept oriented. So if you are trying to sell a technical product to the CEO of a company, the information that you include in the brochure would be brief and presented in a conceptual form. On the other hand, when you approach the technical people in the same company you will have no choice but to give more detailed technical information.

As mentioned before, the promotional structure helps in developing a range of advertising and promotional material that meets the requirements of the different segments of the target audience. The Corporate and the Product Line brochure will be less detailed and will deal with products and services in a conceptual manner. These will be ideal for the CEOs, financial and general management audience in the company. On the other hand, the detailed Product brochures will address the need of the technical people for more details.

4. Awareness Level: If the awareness of your company, brand and products is high, the need for giving detailed information is reduced. This is because most people are aware of your company, brands and products. In such cases, you are advertising more for reminder purposes than for convincing people to buy your products.

5. Distribution Method:
How will the brochure be distributed? Whether the brochure will be mailed or placed at the point of sale for customers to pick up will also determine the amount of information to be included in the brochure. Usually, a mailer which is mailed at the home of the prospective customer can have more information as he is expected to have more time at home to read the same. However, if the mailer is being sent to a customer in his office, the information needs to be brief. While in office, an executive is very busy and does not have much time to read brochures. Also, if the brochure is placed at the point-of-sale, the information has to be brief as the customer is on the move and does not have much time to read a lengthy brochure.

6. Objective:
What do you want to achieve? What is the objective of your brochure? What do you want the customer to do? Do you want him to make a purchase decision or you just want him to get interested in your product and ask for more information? Do you want to increase awareness level? Do you want the customer to try your product? The amount and type of information you include in a brochure will depend on what your objective is. If you want the customer to make a purchase decision, you will need to give him as detailed information as possible. If you want to generate enquiries, you need to give as little information as possible but be sure to present the same in an interesting manner.

7. Type of product / services:
Simple FMCG products do not require too much information to be given. However, as products and services become more and more technical, generally the amount of information that needs to be given to the customer increases.

8. Changing information:
Developing and printing brochures is expensive. As such, you have to take steps to ensure that the "shelf-life" of the brochure is long by not including information that is expected to change in the short-term. The following information will shorten the "shelf-life" of the brochure:

(a) Prices: Unless the brochure is designed to promote a specific promotional offer or it's an Order Generation Brochure, you are advised not to include prices in the brochure. For instance, prices should not be mentioned in the Corporate Brochure.

(b) Special offers and schemes: You can discuss the special offer if it's a brochure to promote the special offer. Details of the special offer should not be mentioned in the Corporate or Product Line / Brand Brochures.

(c) Names: Names of employees except maybe the names of the promoters of the company should not be mentioned in the brochures. Employees move around a lot but the probability that a promoter of the company will move in the short-term is low.

Types of Brochure

The following are the major types of brochures:

1. Group Brochure
This brochure gives information about the group as a whole. It typically contains information regarding the key people behind the organisation, business activities, major brands, philosophy, vision and history. Information in this brochure is general and at the macro level. This establishes the credibility of the group of companies and provides the lineage to the various companies, products and brands under the group. It is somewhat similar to what is popularly known as the Corporate Brochure.

2. Corporate Brochure
A Corporate Brochure is like the Group Brochure except that it gives information regarding the individual company rather than the group as a whole.

3. Brand / Product Line Brochure
This brochure contains information about the brand or the product line. This type of brochure is usually made when a brand has a number of products or models. We have already discussed earlier that the FarmTrac range of tractors of Escorts has a number of models and as such, a Brand/Product Line Brochure can be prepared for the same.

4. Product Brochure
As the name implies, this type of brochure has very detailed and specific information about the product or service so as to convince the customer to buy the same. It focuses on the benefits and features of the product, how it works and its various applications.

We have already discussed the above types of brochures in detail in the chapter on Promotional Structure. We had also suggested the type information that can be included in each type of the above mentioned brochures. These are just suggestions and serve as a guide for you to decide on the content of your brochure. You should modify them to suit the needs of your company, your product, your target audience as well as the sales objectives of your organization.

5. Fulfillment Brochure
This type of brochures is sent after the customers ask for more information after the initial contact.

6. Leave-behind Brochure
These brochures are left behind by the salesperson after making the presentation to the customer. These brochures reinforce what the salesperson has already presented to the customer as well as gives additional information.

7. Take-one or Point-of-sale Brochure
These are usually placed on a display rack for the customer to take one with him and read it at a convenient time and place.

Brochures have also been classified according to the action they are expected to achieve. These are:

1. Lead Generation Brochure
Expected to generate leads for your sales team.

2. Order Generation Brochure
These are expected to sell the product and generate orders. Discussion on the types of brochures cannot be complete without mentioning what I call the Flexible Brochure with a Pocket (Folder). This type of brochure is suitable in the following circumstances:
(a) The company has a wide range of products serving different target markets.
(b) The company is regularly introducing new products and services.
(c) If the business of the company is dynamic and changes in the products keep taking place on a regular basis.

In the above circumstances, it is recommended that a Flexible Brochure with a Pocket (Folder) be developed. In this type of brochure, the non-changing information is printed in the brochure while changing information is printed on separate sheets and put into the pocket which is either on the inside front cover or inside back cover or both. Such a format allows you the flexibility to add, update or subtract sheets as needed without reprinting the complete brochure. In case of a change, you will only have to reprint the sheet on which the information has changed and not the complete set of advertising material. In addition, this type of brochure enables you to include only the information on the specific products that a customer desires instead of overloading him with information about products in which he has no interest. Such a brochure will not only be effective in communicating with your target audience but it will also reduce your advertising and printing costs.

It would be appropriate to point out here that the lines distinguishing one type of brochure from another are not very clear since each brochure is expected to be complete by itself. I think one would be able to see the distinction between the various types of brochures if you looked at all the brochures of the company or the group together.

How to go about developing a brochure?

If you would like to develop an effective well designed brochure quickly, follow the following steps:
1.Decide on what is the objective of the brochure

This decision will enable you to decide various aspects of the copy like the type and amount of information to be included as well as the tone of the copy. The objective will help you establish your budget which will assist you in deciding the number of colour printing, size, paper and the format of the brochure.

2. Establish how the brochure will be used

This will assist in visualising the format / layout of the brochure as well as the amount of the copy to be used.

3. Develop the headline and the copy

A good headline is very important for any advertising and promotional material including a brochure. The headline serves the following purposes:
(i) It gives direction to your copy. The copy has to be in line with the headline.
(ii) The headline attracts the attention of the reader and motivates him to read the complete brochure. It should be remembered that only a few of your prospective customers who come across your brochure are really eager to read it. It becomes the job of the headline to attract, amuse and/or shock the prospective customer into reading your brochure.

As mentioned earlier, the development of the copy is a very important step in the development of the brochure. The design of the brochure is based on the headline and the copy of the brochure. The layout of the brochure will depend on the volume of the copy. Selection of graphics and pictures which will reinforce your message will also depend on your headline and copy. As mentioned earlier, make sure that the copy is written from the customer's point of view, not yours.

Development of the copy takes the longest time and rightly so. When you put anything in writing, it has to be not only factually correct but should also project the image of the company correctly. It is because of this reason that practically everybody gets involved in whetting the copy of the brochure.

Once the copy is completed, gear yourself to making it shorter and more descriptive. Mark Twain was supposed to have said, "I'd have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have the time."

(iii) Develop alternative designs of the cover page

I have seen that practically everybody prepares the design of the complete brochure with all the pages. This not only increases the cost but also increases the time involved in developing a brochure. What if you don't like any of the two designs presented by your advertising agency? Designing the complete brochure and making color dummies involves a lot of time, effort and money for the advertising agency. That is why you will observe that the advertising agencies are hesitant to give you more design options. They make all their effort to convince you to accept one of the designs that they have submitted to you. This is because they have used quite a bit of their resources on developing the same. More design options will cost more money.

However, there is a way out of this dilemma. I have successfully adopted the method that I am going to suggest. Usually, the design of the cover of the brochure plays a critical role in deciding which brochure design to accept. Also, the design of the inside pages of the brochure depends on the cover design. As such, I suggest that first design options for the brochure cover should be made. Once the cover design is finalised, then the inside pages should be designed. The colour and the concept of the inside pages will depend on the colour and concept used on the cover. As such, first ask your advertising agency to prepare the cover design options. Out of the various cover design options, select one or two. Suggest modifications, if any, in the cover designs before finalising the same.

(iv) Develop Inside pages
After the cover designs have been selected (maximum of 2), ask your advertising agency to develop the inside pages and to finally develop a dummy to see how the brochure will finally look. Each of the inside pages should reinforce the concept of the cover. We have gone step by step to finalize all the elements of a brochure design: headline, copy, cover design and inside pages. Now out of the two complete dummies that you have received, you can select one. Of course, subject to some minor changes.

(v) Review
Once you have zeroed in on the brochure design, it is now time to go through every aspect of the brochure with a fine tooth comb. You should review every aspect/element of the brochure as follows:

* Review the story and make sure it is logical and in proper sequence.
* Are all the facts correct? It is better to avoid stating anything in writing that you are not sure of. If you have picked any information from any particular source, make sure that you have mentioned the same in the brochure.
* Spell check is very critical.
* Check the contact information, that is, address, telephone numbers, emails and website addresses. I have come across a number of times when the client does not check the contact information and it turns out that some or all of the telephone numbers are incorrect.
* If technical information has been given in the brochure, make sure that your technical department has reviewed the same.
* Make sure that the customer will be able to easily understand the information and relate it to the products in questions.
* You have not made any claims for which you can be hauled up in a court of law.

* Make sure that the visuals used are not only appropriate but are also used at the right place or page in the brochure.
* Sometimes different products cannot be easily identified in a composite photograph used in the brochure. Sometime back we had developed a brochure for a client in which we had used a composite picture of the company's various products. For each product, we had given technical information in the brochure. We realised that the customer may not be able to identify the different products in the composite photograph. As such, we had to name the products in the picture to help in easy identification.
* Check on the quality of the photograph(s). Be sure to assess the quality of the photograph if the same has been downloaded from the internet.
* Make sure that the photographs represent the latest model of your product, that is, the picture is not of an earlier model. Also, the color of the product as shown in the photograph should also be available in case the customer wants to purchase the same. Quite a few times, customers will ask you for the same color that you have shown in the photograph. If you tell the customer that you are not selling the product in the color shown in your catalogue, the customer will walk away dissatisfied.

* Make sure that if your corporate color has been used in the brochure, it has the proper CMYK combination.

* Make sure that the logo used in the brochure is as per your corporate identification program in terms of the color, size and proportion.

It would be appropriate to point out here that development of a brochure is not a smooth process. You may not like the copy when it is presented to you for the first time or you may not like the designs. Don't get disappointed or fire the advertising agency. Coming up with the right concept, copy and design usually requires a number of iterations between the agency and the client. The key here is that both sides should talk to each other. You as the client should guide the agency in terms of what you like or dislike as well as what is correct and what is incorrect. You should give your suggestions and feedback to the agency so that they can make the necessary changes. You have to remember that you know your product, company and the industry better than the advertising agency. Also, the advertising agency should keep an open mind and listen to what the client is saying. As mentioned earlier, we have done some of the best work when the client has given us his suggestions.

Another key decision in developing a brochure is deciding on the format of the brochure. There are innumerable ways in which one can fold a piece of paper to decide on a format for a brochure. The first decision is to decide whether you would like to pick one of the standard formats or you would like to use a custom format. Standard formats turn out to be cheaper than the custom formats. The custom formats are a little expensive but you can create interesting and creative formats to generate interest amongst the target audience. However, before you decide to create a format of your own, it would be advisable to check with the printer not only to determine whether it can be done but also if the cost would fall within your budget or that of your client. Also, please note that any gluing, inserting, die cutting and additional folding will cost more.

A brochure is typically (but not always) a two- or three-fold, double-sided paper designed to give information about your company to whoever looks at it. Deciding between a two- or three-fold brochure layout depends upon how much information you want to convey.

One of the ways to think about the layout of the brochure is to follow the same pattern that people adopt while selecting a book at the bookstore. The cover and the title of the book, if interesting, motivates a person to open the book and flip through the first few pages to see if it is interesting. He also looks at the contents page to establish his interest in buying the book. Finally, he skips to the back page. You can layout your brochure keeping this behavior of the customer in mind. The cover page design and the headline of your brochure should be interesting to attract the reader to open the brochure and read on. The sub-headings in the inside pages should tell your story to the reader as he scans through. A gist of the points on the back page should summarize your story. You have to assume that the reader of your brochure is not going to read it word for word but will scan through. While developing the copy as well as the layout, we should make it easy for the reader to read and scan through.

Though not always possible, try to organize the layout in a manner such that the major sections of your copy get a separate page or section. This will make your brochure not only more readable but also easily scannable.

Time Required to Develop a Brochure
This is one question that I have been asked a number of times by my clients. It is a very difficult question to answer because the completion of a brochure depends on a number of factors. Some of the factors are under the control of the advertising agency while others are under the control of the client. For instance, how fast the advertising agency prepares the copy and design will depend on its workload at that point of time. On the other hand, advertising agencies are dependent on the clients in terms of how fast they can get approvals at various stages of the brochure development process to enable them to take the next step. We have taken weeks as well as months to develop a brochure. We have also done it in a couple of days. A few times we have even developed the brochure in 4-5 hours.

There are too many variables involved in the development of a brochure for anyone to predict the time required to design and print a brochure. I feel that you should allow at least 4-5 weeks to develop a brochure. However, in this book I have tried to suggest a procedure for the different steps involved in the development of the advertising and promotional material, which if adopted, will reduce the time involved in the development of the advertising and promotional material including brochures. For instance, in the chapter titled "Body Copy," I have suggested how to get the copy developed and approved in the shortest possible time.

Some Tips

1. Don't expect the moon : Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't send a boy to do a man's job?" Well, don't expect your brochure alone to make the sale for you. The purpose of a brochure is to educate the customer about your company and products. It's objective is also to encourage the customer to get in contact with you if he has interest in doing business with you. There are some small ticket items that can be sold with a direct mail brochure. However, don't try to achieve everything with the brochure.

2. Make it simple and direct: I have mentioned a number of times in this book that keeping the communication with the target audience simple and direct is critical as time is in short supply. If the brochure is too long or it is not clear, the prospective customer will avoid reading it.

3. Use positive words: Always assume that the customer will eventually buy the product or service. Don't use the words "if" and "maybe" which invite the possibility of a negative response from the customer.

4. Use "You" often: Use the word "you" rather than "our customers." You have to assume that the brochure is being read by your prospective customer. It is better to address him in a personal manner.

5. No open-ended questions: Never ask open-ended questions in a brochure. Make sure you phrase all questions in such a way that the answer can only be "YES".

6. Use friendly tone: You want your brochure to sound and look professional. You can accomplish this without using "stiff phrasing" or a formal tone. While developing your brochure, pretend that you are talking to your customer as his friend. The copy in your brochure should represent a dialogue between friends. Your brochure shouldn't read like a textbook.

7. Keep the paragraphs short: The thumb rule if you are writing an essay or a book is that the height of the paragraph should not be more than the width of the paragraph. However, in a brochure the paragraphs should be as short as possible.

8. Do not indent paragraphs that have a space between them: You only need one design indicator to indicate the beginning of a new paragraph.

9. Do not start sentences with numbers: "20% of all policemen are from north India is not the correct way. Correct way of stating the same thing would be, "Twenty percent of all policemen are from north India."

10. Underline / Uppercase: Do not use underline or all caps as a way to stress a point. Use bold or italics instead.

11. Standalone document: Always prepare your brochures so that they contain enough information to function as a stand alone document. Even if you routinely mail your brochures with a covering letter, chances are that they will part company. So don''t rely on details in the letter to cover for details you've omitted from your brochure.

12. Contact details: Always, I repeat always, include your organization's name, telephone numbers, postal and email addresses prominently in your brochures so that people interested in your products and services can easily contact you.

13. A basic rule of design is repetition: Repeating elements throughout a brochure gives it strength and style. A quick way to use repetition is to reduce the number of fonts to one or two or use same column size throughout the document. Also, format every headings and sub-headings the same way.

14. Heading Space: Add some additional space before each heading and close up the space between the heading and the following paragraph. This makes a visual connection between the heading and the paragraph it relates to.

15. Ensure smooth flow: In general, people read left to right and top to bottom. So make sure that the information in your brochure follows this flow. In a typical two-fold brochure, the reader expects to view the cover first, and then the three inside panels. Finally, they'll turn the brochure over and read the fifth and sixth panels. Include the basic information you want to get across to your reader on the first three panels inside the cover. Relegate contact information and other information to the two back panels.

16. Date: If you include time-sensitive data (prices, for example), make sure you let the reader know the applicable date(s).

17. Visuals: Visuals work wonderfully in brochures. Visuals should be related to the information inside and/or to your concept or idea. Make sure that your visuals are clear and really convey the meaning you are trying to get across. The type of visuals you use will be influenced by the way the brochure is going to be distributed. Visuals need to be bold and eye-catching to attract the attention of the reader if the brochure is going to be placed in a display rack as a Point-of-sale Brochure. On the other hand, a Leave Behind Brochure can use subtle visuals.

18. Logo : Your company logo should appear on the brochure at the appropriate places. Apart from the back page where the name and address of the company appears, most brochures have the company logo on the cover page also.

19. Proofing : Check, double-check and triple-check your brochure for any errors–be it fonts, grammar or punctuation before sending it for printing.

20. Bullets : Use bullets to convey the most important information. Long wordy descriptions bore people and they will stop reading your brochure.

21. Contents : Include only relevant information.

22. Special Offers : It is better to assign the task of making the actual offer to the "salesperson" or the covering letter. Otherwise, if the offer changes, you will have to make changes to the brochure resulting in unnecessary additional expense.

23. Quick Read : The brochure should be easy to read. This can be achieved by keeping the written matter to the minimum to effectively convey your story. Include only absolutely essential technical information.

24. Captions : Always use captions under the photographs in your brochure. Research has shown that after the headlines, readers like reading the captions first before going on to read or scan the rest of the brochure.

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