How To Design And Write A Basic Brochure

by Tom Egelhoff

The company brochure is by far the most used and mis-used tool in business today. In this article I want to explore, with you, some common mistakes in brochure design and writing and how to avoid them.

To begin, you need a clear understanding of how to use the finished product. There are two, and only two, functions of brochures.The brochure design will depend on which of the two you select.


The Two Types Of Basic Brochure Design

Function Number One: This brochure is designed to attract attention. It plays on the emotions of the customer. When they see it in a display rack they must pick it up and see what it says. It has an attention getting headline. See: "Ads That Sell - It All Starts With The Headline."

It is designed to spend all its time, on public display, exposed to as much of your target market as possible. It will contain lots of white space and short thoughts rather than long paragraphs. It contains a "call to action" that requires or asks the customer to make a phone call, come on down, clip a coupon, mail a reply card or some other action that puts you and the customer in contact.

Think of this brochure as the appetizer of your business. Something to tickle the pallet but still leave them hungry.

Function Number Two: Think of this brochure as the main course. This brochure is designed for the customer who has learned of your company and has requested more information. He/she may have seen your "Type One" brochure I described above. Unlike Type One, Type Two can be crammed with information. Customers who request information want to know everything. They become insatiable for product knowledge. No matter what you send, it may not be enough to satisfy some customers.

This style of brochure should never be used in display racks or laid out for the curious passerby. A casual customer who is unfamiliar with your business will be "turned off" by the thought of wadding through this mountain of information just to see what you do.



The Most Common Mistake Of Brochure Use

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 the subject of the brochure and encourage that customer to get in contact with you. There are some small ticket items however, that can be sold with a direct mail brochure. These brochures are almost always Type One. They are usually more successful with some supporting documentation.

Remember the two points above: A call to action and to educate in detail. The brochure should get you the appointment with the customer, but you must make the sale.



Basic Brochure Design: Where To Start

For nine out of ten businesses you will want to develop the copy (words) first. Why, because you only have a certain amount of space to tell your story. You can always select graphics and pictures that will re-enforce your message later on.

Write your copy from the customers point of view, not yours. It's not what the business wants to say, it's what the customer wants to know.

Once the copy is completed work on 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." Paint descriptive word pictures wherever possible. A picture is retained in the mind much longer than mere words. Did you ever tell someone a story beginning with the words, "Picture yourself..." We do that because it's powerful.

If you or your designer have created a visual look to your advertising, by all means, continue it in your brochure. The "family resemblance" will be more comfortable to the reader.



How To Talk To Your Customers In Your Brochure

Ask your employees to write the brochure copy. Or, better yet, ask some of your better customers to help write it. You may be surprised at what you get.

Try to eliminate as many decisions as possible. Always assume 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.

Never ask open-ended questions in a brochure. Make sure you phrase any questions in such a way that the answer can only be "YES".

Companies always want to list the many important features of their products. The problem is that customers could care less about any feature unless there is a clear benefit to them. A "feature" is what a product has. A "benefit" is what a product does. The more the product does, the more attractive it becomes. "This car has four doors." So what? Compare that to: "I notice you have three children." "You'll love the convenience of having four doors when the children are with you."

You want your brochure to sound and look professional. You can accomplish this without using "stiff phrasing" or a formal tone. To most readers, "professional" is just plain boring. Pick your best customer and pretend you are speaking only to him/her. Get a tape recorder and tape a conversation telling them the points you want to cover in the brochure. Your brochure shouldn't be a textbook, it should be a conversation between friends.



How To Structure Your Brochure

Notice in the paragraph above, the words on the left line up evenly and the words on the right do not. This is called a "ragged right." This format is easier to read than "justified" type which lines up evenly on both sides. Why?

Consider this: Do you enjoy repeating the same task over and over again exactly the same way? How long before monotony takes over and you need a break?

Your eyes are no different than you. In justified text, each line of type is exactly the same length, over and over, with no break, and your eyes get tired and you get bored. The ragged edge gives the eyes variety and a break from the monotony of justified type. Use ragged right whenever possible.



A Few Brochure Do Not's

Do not use more than nine or ten lines of type per paragraph.
Do not average more than two or three sentences per paragraph.
Do not indent paragraphs that have a space between them.
Do not start senten
ces with numbers. Such as, "20% of all policemen prefer powdered donuts." Correct: Twenty percent of all policemen prefer powdered donuts."
Do not put two spaces after periods if using a computer. Page layout and word processing programs put the proper spacing after periods automatically.
Do not use underline or all caps as a way to stress a point. These are leftovers from the typewriter age. Use bold or italics instead.
Do not use italics on your web site or they will look like the italics in the previous sentence.



What Are The Strengths Of A Brochure?

You have total control over what is said and how, including the visuals.
You control the selectivity of where your brochure is placed and who gets it.
Brochures are flexible. You can design the brochure in color, print it in black and white, until you can afford the expense of color printing.

You can do it yourself. Although I would recommend professionals as soon as you can.



What Are The Weaknesses Of A Brochure?

You should give your brochure to all qualified customers. However, using it for mass audiences may be cost prohibitive. Other media may be more economical for reaching a larger audience.
If your business changes your brochures are outdated and money is wasted.

Trying to match the competition can be expensive if you are forced to go into special designs, and/or full-color before your budget can handle it.



How To Get Started Tomorrow Morning

Go to your local Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Office or a major hotel and look for a large rack of brochures. Stand back and look at the rack. Which brochures catch your eye? Which ones do you want to pick up? Is it because of the ink color, typeface, headline, paper color or visual design?

Now, look again. Take out some of the brochures you didn't select and ask the following:

• Why didn't you look at them?
• Can you find something specific that made you skip right over them?
• Was it the lack of an eye-catching graphic?
• Was it a hard to read type-face?
• Did the headline lack sales appeal? Was it a label instead of a call to action?
• Was it because the design of the rack hid the real message?
• Was it because it was printed on a blah color or paper?



The Most Important Rule Of All

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Whenever emotion and logic come into conflict, emotion always wins! We make emotional decisions and then create a logical argument to justify the decision. Have you ever bought a music CD just to get one song. Did you tell yourself you'd learn to love the other songs? Or the song is sooooo good, its worth it and besides, you deserve it.

This is a very important message to keep in mind in all your advertising. If you present a logical argument in your brochure and your competitor presents an emotional argument for a similar product, you may have a problem.

Get as much competitive information as you can. If you are a small company competing against a public company, buy a share of their stock. You'll receive all the reports of any stockholder including their annual report.



Some Final Thoughts On Brochures

Your brochure displays your business image when you aren't there. It tells customers how badly you want or don't want their business. It tells them that you are proud of your company or it tells them you are a corner cutter. If you don't take pride in your image what makes me think you'll take pride in your work?

Show your customers who you really are.

For More On Brochures See:

How To Make A Super Brochure Or Mailing Piece

How To Market Your Business With Your Brochure


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