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Writing Business Brochures: Whetting the Customer's Appetite

As a marketing and promotional tool business brochures carry key advantages.

Brochures offer total control over content and presentation and should be tailored to compliment other printed materials. Coherence of materials helps to create product and name branding.

Brochures can be selectively placed (or mailed) so that they reach a specific target audience. You can literally put your brochures where prospective customers can't help but see them.

Brochures offer a range of printing options (both in terms of processes and papers) and are suitable for both black and white and color designs.

There are, however, some drawbacks to brochures:

Color brochures may be too expensive to produce in quantities adequate to reach a mass audience.

As soon as the business changes, the brochure is out of date.

Designing brochures to keep up with what the competition is producing can force the businessman to exceed his brochure budget quickly.

Knowing these factors in advance, however, can help a businessman to decide exactly how a brochure will fit into his overall body of printed materials and what level of investment he's willing to put into its production. Basically, a brochure does only one of two things for the business it serves.

Two Basic Types of Brochures

Brochures are either designed to attract attention or to give information. Those that are meant to catch the eye are specifically created to be placed on public display or to be mailed to customers who will be effected by their emotional appeal. These brochures:

contain short thoughts not long paragraphs.

are visually appealing with plenty of white space

end with a call to action (telephoning, visiting the business, clipping a coupon, mailing a replay card)

Informational brochures, on the other hand, are sent to people who have already heard about the company and want to know more. They are literally crammed with information and are not intended to be placed on display racks. Frankly, they'd bore the casual browser to death.

Look at Available Brochures

As a litmus test for what does and does not work in brochure design, visit some place that has a rack of available brochures. A travel agency or even your local Chamber of Commerce will do fine. Based on nothing but visual appeal, select half a dozen or so brochures from the rack. Now, ask yourself why you picked those, but more over, why did you leave the others untouched? Remember, brochures intended for public display or mail outs work on the emotions. What chord did these brochures strike with you and how can you use that to your own advantage in designing your brochure?

Write First, Then Design

By looking at the brochures you've collected you'll have some idea of how much copy you'll need for your own project. Before you begin to write you should know the answers to these questions.

How will the brochure be used?
Where does it fit in the overall sales/advertising/marketing process?
How will it be distributed or made available?
Who is expected to read it?
What action do you want the reader to take next?

Write your copy from the customer's point of view not your own.

Benefit Verses Features

Features are characteristics possessed by products. Benefits are what a product does. Customers are interested in benefits. How will your product or service help them address their problems or needs? When you talk to you customers:

don't use words like "if" or "maybe," be positive

don't use open ended questions; your questions should have only one possible answer -- "yes"

start with the person not the product

make the reader feel that the brochure contains an answer or a solution

concentrate on persuasion

have a conversation

Conversational Tone

Don't make the mistake of assuming that you can listen with the ears of your target audience. Copywriting requires feedback. Ask one of your employees -- or even one of your better customers -- to go over the copy. You want brochures that sound and look professional but that are personable in tone, not stiff and awkward. If nothing else, read your copy into a recording device and play it back. Keep working until the "voice" is natural and the content concise and crisp.

Do not:

use more than 9 or 10 lines of type per paragraph

average more than 2 or 3 sentence per paragraph

speak in the passive voice ("our widget solves problems" not "our widget has solved problems")

Don't Waste the Cover

Far too many brochures display nothing but the business name or logo on the cover. That's the first thing your potential customer will see - make the cover about them. Use that space to feature an intriguing idea or to ask a question that speaks so directly to the customer's needs they will not be able to keep themselves from looking inside.

Once you have them past the front cover, lead the reader through a progressive series of brief, persuasive "sound bites" that emphasize benefits and lead them to the logical conclusion of your copy -- the call to action. Don't be afraid to tell the reader what to do next. If you've made them want to do it, they're just waiting for that final nudge to dial your number, request more information, or drop by the business in person.

Visual Considerations

Be careful not to make your brochure visually overwhelming. Break up the text with graphics or bullet lists.

Do not:

indent paragraphs that have a space between them

Start sentences with numerals ("First in your consideration" not "1st in your consideration.")

put two spaces after periods

use underlining or capital letters (readers prefer and react better to bold type and italics)

use more than two typefaces

allow the graphics to override the copy

Like any project involving the correct combination of words and images, the name of the game is "balance."

While a brochure cannot carry your sales effort on its own, it can be a powerful compliment to other sales and marketing materials and if well designed to serve its function, will lead potential clients to answer the call to action and request more information. In that sense a well-written brochure is rather like an appetizer before a meal -- designed to be irresistible and intended to prime a desire with a promise of satisfaction.

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