The Brochure Checklist
  © RR

How well does your brochure communicate? How well does it sell? Every situation is different, but any brochure will benefit from a quick run through this checklist.

Another way to improve your next brochure is simply to call or write an experienced copywriter.

Is it the right kind of brochure?
Having a clear sense of your objective will affect many of the decisions you make. Is it...
      • Product? • Catalog? • Corporate Image? • Capabilities? • Simple leave-behind? • Live presentation talking piece? • Pass-along? • Spec sheet? • Centerpiece of a flexible package? • Also a self-mailer? • It's-not-true-that-we're-short-on-cash-and-here's-a-5-color-embossed-oversize-brochure-just-to-prove-it?
      All these are valid except the last one (the deciding word there was "just").

Does your cover include a headline and/or intriguing position statement?
So many brochures have only a product name and the logo. What a waste of the first impression! Express your key benefit in a very few words, and be sure it's something only you can say.
      But don't get carried away -- this is a cover, not an ad. It's great if the headline and visual work synergistically (rather than parrot each other), but if your cover needs body copy to explain the relationship, that's confusing. Dangerous in an ad. Even worse on a cover.

Is your big bang in the very first sentence?
Most people won't read the whole brochure at first glance. But they should get your main message that quickly. The first sentence isn't always the first thing they notice, so see the next checkpoints, too.

Is your message distributed throughout the brochure?
Have an effective headline for every section, page or spread. Don't just repeat, but expose various facets. As with any good show, make your message build on itself.

Do you have subheads?
People scan before they read. Make scanning easier by including kickers, subheads or what most copywriters call subheads — small heads embedded in the column of text. Iconic copywriter David Ogilvy more correctly called these crossheads (as do newspaper editors). You can have a mix. Readers should get your gist simply by reading these. And, although you can make crossheads simply topical (mere navigational aids like "Our services" or "Delivery"), you'll get more people into the copy if you make these heads fresh, intriguing and benefit-oriented.

Can the reader scan quickly?
This is the other side of the subheads thing. Remember, they're headlines. Keep them clear and readable at a glance.

Is it just plain written well?
At the risk of being self-serving, this is crucial. Don't grab their attention just to bore them in the body copy. This means more having the right tone, pacing, words and all that. That should go without saying. This means a take on your subject that's fresh, engaging and full of meaningful information. How much information? As much as required to make your case, no less, no more. As someone once said, "Proceed till you come to the end, then stop."

Have you taken advantage of captions?
They're also among the first things people read. If your visuals will support captions, reprise all your key copy points there. It's also another way of spreading your message throughout the piece.

Are you following proven typographic design principles?
There are too many principles to list all of them here. But here are some basics:
      • Make the body type big enough (10 or 11 point minimum with most fonts) • Use enough leading (the smaller the type, the more you may need) • Don't make the lines too long -- use columns instead • Don't print body copy in reverse (white on dark) -- and don't surprint over a photo or pattern unless you really know what you're doing (even then, it's safer not to) • Use eye-catching devices like large initial caps, of course with a good sense of design • For your body copy, use a face specifically designed for readability • Don't print all in italic or slanted -- studies show they're much less readable than normal text.
      And if you're under 35, show the typeset copy to somebody who needs reading glasses. Preferably a presbyope who doesn't own a pair yet (or do you have no 40-something customers?).

Do the visuals pay for the space they take?
Visuals add white space. That's good. But they should also further the sales message and be, well, visually appealing (no pointing allowed!). Photos just for the sake of photos almost might as well be real white space.
      Try to avoid those sappy corporate stock photos we've all seen (and are thus bored by them, if not outright suspicious), but be careful about showing employees, and get photo releases from all of them. Suppose you feature your star salesperson, then next year he or she moves to your competitor.

Are you using the center spread?
Here, alignment between the pages won't be an issue. So you can run pictures, charts and headlines across the fold more easily. Don't let this wag the dog, but sometimes it presents an opportunity.

Can layout or organizational problems be solved with unusual formats?
For example, there is such a thing as a 10-page brochure. Or consider a gatefold. Thinking about options may not reduce your costs, but it does expand your creative capabilities, and may be cheaper than the next whole-step up.

Do you talk about features and benefits?
You've probably heard the advice, "talk benefits, not features." Not entirely true. A "benefits" orientation is essential and primary. Speak to your reader's interest. But features are more than the other side of the coin. They build the story, and aid credibility. And some audiences, such as enthusiasts and engineers, especially want to know about features and "reasons why."

Do you show a picture of your factory -- NOT?
Showing the factory is the classic joke about bad advertising. Actually, I don't necessarily mind it, as long as it's an attractive photo and not a main visual. Maybe it says something about your housekeeping or your resources, or helps visitors recognize your building. But otherwise, it's b-o-r-i-n-g and may be less impressive than your readers imagined. The reader's imagination instantly shifts from your heavenly product, down to the mud (as in "brick-and-mortar"). Unless you're selling the building, remember that your factory is about you. Your brochure should be about the reader.

Is it really saying something?
If a competitor could put their name on your brochure and it would still be largely true, what does that say?

Does it tell more than your ads do?
Nothing is more frustrating than to request a product brochure, and then when it comes, learn nothing more from it than you already know about the product. Ditto for visiting a website, by the way.

Fewer pages? More pages? Smaller? Larger?
I never lightly suggest making the brochure more expensive than planned, but sometimes the need for expansion becomes obvious. Even so, there may be another solution. Working together, a copywriter and art director can do some miraculous things.
      People rarely wind up making a brochure shorter than they intended, but sometimes it's worth considering. For example, maybe what you really need is two brochures, or a shorter brochure with inserts.

Can you "say it" shorter?
Whatever the length of your brochure, write it efficiently. I don't mean you need short copy. Or even short words. But wordiness is never impressive, just boring....
          Instead of: "This is engineered for the purpose of..."
          Say: "This is to..."
For help, find yourself a conscientious copywriter. (Ahem.)

Does it lead to your website?
Some people prefer the Web. Some like things they can read on the train. Make your media synergistic. Know how your website can take the brochure content yet further, and maybe even close the sale. (And while you're at it, make your website printable.)

Do your inserts work?
The back-pocket pages should have headlines as compelling as the rest of the brochure. They should be graphically compatible. And if they're really carefully integrated, consider what happens if a salesman sticks a bunch of other stuff in there, too. Or if you want to add another insert later.

Will they unfold it all the way?
Pages may stick or be cut so the reader thinks he or she has seen all there is to see. "Peekaboo" visuals, lead-on phrases or an unfinished sentence reminds the reader to read on.

If unusually folded, does it unfold the way people read?
There's the trifold, the barndoor, the roll-out, the inverse-double-Wilhelm (naw, I made that up). But as you're thinking outside the box, don't make your reader do the same mental gymnastics. If you wind up with a page unto itself, make the copy fit logically within it — not "continued at left, inside". If unfolding reveals more than one page, the reader should instantly see where to go next, if it matters. (Ideally, it shouldn't matter; the text should work logically wherever the reader picks it up.)
      And don't expect people to navigate by page numbers, no matter how big you make them.

Will they unfold it all the way?
Pages may stick or be cut so the reader thinks he or she has seen all there is to see. "Peekaboo" visuals, a lead-on phrase or an unfinished sentence reminds the reader to unfold and read on. No need to be pushy about it; the smallest visual clue will do. Your copy should already have them wanting to know more.

Are you using the back cover wisely?
Back-cover text should be self-contained, not continued from the inside. It should also be important but "nonessential" to your presentation. On the other hand, be sure your logo and tag line are there (as a reminder, and because people do sometimes lay a brochure face-down!). This is another place where the copywriter and art director can work together to use the space logically and efficiently, opening up more space inside.

What is your call-to-action?
Don't just say "contact your representative." Tell the reader what he or she will get next. A demonstration? A sample kit? Immediate delivery? A customized proposal? A customer profile?

Will it do double-duty as a self-mailer?
I'm not suggesting that you necessarily want this, but these are often similar pieces that with planning can be adapted, particularly when mailing to your customer base.
      However, these pieces are not the same. You'll need part of the brochure's back cover for the address; that's a relatively small concern. The big thing to realize is that a requested brochure or a leave-behind is received and used differently than a cold self-mailing.
      Don't expect the mail recipient to know what you're selling, let alone go to back pages for your call-to-action and contact information. Even more than with a brochure, the mailer needs to be immediately intriguing and get the reader up-to-speed from a dead-stop, with your benefit, offer and call-to-action unmissable, all in a sensible way.

Are you planning to include a letter?
The brochure is a confidence-builder. It tells people why you're credible. But the letter is where you really sell. Customize it, vary it for testing, and above all, make a specific offer. Often many more people will act on the accompanying personalized cover letter than will act on the brochure alone. And if you're not yet sure what your brochure goal is, test with some letters first.

Are you being too picky?
I promise you, nobody is going to read every word of your brochure as closely as you do. Of course your spelling and grammar need to be impeccable, and your message technically correct while also simple and clear. But there will be a point where further revision isn't cost effective... it could even be counterproductive.
      In addition to driving your copywriter crazy (smiley face goes here), there is another reason to recognize this: reading something word-by-word for the umpteenth time doesn't work the same as quickly reading something you've never seen before.
      Your customers will be reading fast. Maybe way too fast for your taste. But as with everything else here, seeing your brochure as they will is the key to the entire job.

I'm only dealing with the creative aspects here. In addition, there are questions of quantity, distribution, printing costs, quality, etc. that will also be affected by your creative decisions. To arrange a detailed critique of your brochure, existing or planned, please write me or give me a call.

copyright ©2003 Randall Rensch All Rights Reserved



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