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Copywriter Randall Rensch
The Brochure Checklist
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
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
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.
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 than 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.
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."
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. Instead of "Delivery",
say, "Have it tomorrow morning."
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.
Do you use lists??
A list makes visual scanning easier. Some topics lend themselves to lists,
others benefit more from flowing rhetoric. Mix it up. It's okay to
say it again, more briefly in an introductory or closing list, wording it
in a different way. It's like the old saleperson's saw: Tell them what you'll tell them,
tell them, then tell them what you told them. Don't waste the reader's time or precious
space, but do make your key points inescapable.
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
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.
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
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.
Does it lead
to your website?
Brochures and "brochureware" websites each have their place. It depends on the reader, the situation, what you're selling
and how you sell it. 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
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
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
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 clues the reader to
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
What is your
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.
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
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
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
your brochure, existing or planned, please
write me or give me a call.