John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
(619) 465-6100
How to write a brochure: advice from an advertising copywriter

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The biggest and most-common mistake made when writing a brochure, is focusing on information instead of persuasion.

The job of persuasion doesnít end with your advertising. In fact, brochures typically offer a larger canvas on which to make your case persuasively and support it credibly. Use it!

Depending on your sales cycle, the marketing message you deliver in your brochure may outlive your current advertising campaign. That long shelf life means even your smallest product or service brochures can have a powerful cumulative effect on your corporate branding.

Yet, brochures are fundamentally sales pieces. Whether aimed at a trade or consumer audience, whether intended as a lead-generator or leave-behind, your brochure copy must help sweep your prospect toward a profitable sale. It must present information both clearly and convincingly, following a strategically sound persuasive structure.

This persuasive structure often reinforces or connects steps within the sales process itself. So, before starting to write, itís important to understand how the brochure will be used, including where the brochure fits in your sales process, how it will be distributed, who will read it, and what action you want the reader to take next.

Knowing the desired outcome helps define the content and structure for your brochure. The copy written for an effective lead-generating piece, for instance, is different from the copy written for an effective sales-closing piece. (Indeed, even the art direction, design, and production will likely differ because of differences in run quantities and distribution methods.)

Persuasive brochure copy starts on the cover. Many brochure writers miss a big opportunity here, by featuring most-prominently the company or product name instead of an intriguing idea that positions the company or product.

That positioning, by the way, could be internal or external. For instance, with a series of individual product brochures, it may be just as important to position each product within your own product line as to position it against competitive products.

Brochure copy should begin with your customer, not your product. That is, it should make the person reading your brochure feel that his or her key problems are understood before moving on to discuss the solution. Build rapport first, then sell. Thatís true on a sales call, and itís probably doubly true in print, where you donít have the advantage of meeting face-to-face.

There are pain points that your products or services relieve, if they are worthwhile products or services. These pain points need to be touched upon before they can be addressed persuasively.

Keep earning readership. Every page of your brochure presents the reader with an opportunity to stop going on to the next page. Thatís why each spread should contain elements that attract, intrigue, persuade Ö then intrigue further. Make your brochure a real page-turner. Entice the reader. Enchant the reader. Occasionally, surprise the reader. Thatís the only way you earn the chance to sell the reader.

Sell benefits, not features. Although brochures often exist to explain features, in copy itís best to sell those features through the benefits, citing real-world examples, cases, and applications.

Remember your customer. To potential buyers, the most-important thing about your product or service, is how it relates to themselves. So, your brochure copy must answer their questions and overcome their objections. You can integrate these in copy or pull them out as separate sections, but, either way, face up to common questions and objections in your brochure copy. This can dramatically shorten your sales cycle, especially with complex products and services or highly competitive marketplaces.

Donít lose readers on technical points. Many brochures overwhelm their readers with technical weight. Yes, the complete story must be told. But, technical information is often better presented in technical form, as a table, chart, or diagram, than injected ham-handedly into otherwise flowing brochure copy.

If technical information can be gracefully woven into a compelling story Ė and it can, just read the classic Rolls-Royce ads written by David Ogilvy as examples Ė thatís one thing. Otherwise, technical information may be most effective (and persuasive) placed in its own section, where it can be appreciated in depth by technically oriented customers and referred to as-needed by the rest.

Maintain a consistent voice. Companies often adopt a dry-as-dust corporate voice in their brochures. Why? The same person who responded to the ads is reading the brochure. The audience hasnít changed. The purpose hasnít changed. Why write a product brochure like itís an internal report?

Okay, one reason so much brochure copy is dull, is that brochures are often viewed as poor relations of advertising. So, the job of writing them gets foisted off on administrative assistants, junior writers, or, worse, committees. Thatís like using your best salesperson to generate leads, and an intern to close the deal.

Your brochure is a key marketing piece, and it must be written to take full advantage of that hard-won one-on-one time with your potential customer.

Establish credibility. This can be done through tone and content, providing expert answers in engaging language. Or, though visual proof, such as photographs or charts. Action item: research shows that captions are some of the most-read and remembered bits of copy, so use them and use them well. Drive home in words the competitive points illustrated by the pictures.

Credibility can also be established through third-party verification, whether itís customer testimonials, case studies, excerpts, or independent test results.

The key with this piece of the process, is to substantiate the idea that your brochure copy is not mere advertising puffery; itís truthful, useful information.

Should pricing information be included in your brochure? The answer depends on many factors, the first of which is your brochureís purpose. If itís to generate leads, then it probably would be premature to include prices, rates, or fees. If itís to close sales, then providing prices may be essential to moving your sales process forward.

If your prices are substantially lower than your competition, they may belong in your brochure, especially if your brochureís concept highlights value or savings. But, your brochure copy should strongly establish the value of your product or service beyond the cheaper price.

An important strategic factor is the length and complexity of your average sales cycle. If it tends to be shorter and simpler, that points to providing more-complete information including pricing. If it tends to be longer and more consultative, that points to pricing being put off until youíve gathered enough information about the potential customer and customer needs to provide a realistic estimate at the appropriate time.

Finally, if you include prices in your brochures, they may have a shorter shelf life than youíd like.

If you decide to include a price list in your brochure, I recommend that you have it quick-printed or laser-printed on a separate insert sheet. That way, itís easier to update, customize, and even test. Price lists often get separated from brochures, so make sure the copy on your pricing insert contains a summary of your competitive differentiators, the date and any expiration date, and all your company contact information.

Brochure copy should end by directing the customerís next step. Too many brochures end with a table of specifications, options, or a corporate overview. Talk about ending on a whimper!

This goes back to understanding where the brochure fits in your sales process, and knowing the next step in that process. The desired outcome must be clearly asked-for. It sounds obvious, but if the next step is to order, then your brochure should end by asking for the order.

A great brochure is a powerful sales tool. More than that, it is a durable corporate asset. Strategically oriented brochure copywriting, based on a sound persuasive structure, helps you make the most of your investment in advertising and marketing. And thatís what all your marketing communication should do. I can help! Just call me: (619) 465-6100.
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