10 Tips on Designing Brochures

With Mel Fernandez

Even with the prevalence of digital marketing, brochures are common marketing materials, used in both printed and electronic form. We use them to present our company and its products and services in an interesting way that grabs readers’ attention and makes them want to buy from us or work with us. To be effective, a brochure must have solid branding, strong visuals, clear and concise messaging, and effective page layout and design.

When we recently re-wrote and re-designed an Affinity Express trade show brochure (for print) and some posters to display in our booth, we took the time to document the process. Mel and I have worked together on dozens of brochures and come at it from two perspectives: strategy and content for me and design and branding for Mel.

Together, we came up with the following tips that will help you create effective brochures.

Affinity Express graphic services brochure

1. Determine the focus of the brochure.

Knowing the purpose will determine which elements should be incorporated.

  • Capabilities: a general overview of the company and services (i.e., a corporate brochure for sales or recruiting purposes)
  • Features: specific elements of an offering (for example, we have brochures on our order management systems and for each of our production locations)
  • Products: more detailed information on specific products that includes pricing and specifications (we have different ones for our interactive and print pre-media services)
  • Vertical markets: products and expertise in a category (e.g., news publishers, retailers, marketing services companies, etc.); these often include testimonials and case studies
  • Programs: events such as conferences or major meetings, charitable efforts, rewards and recognition for employees and so on (remember our annual strategy meeting brochure?).
  • Informational: covering specific topics of interest to the target audience (such as business continuity planning).

2.  Establish the goals of the brochure.

You can’t develop an effective brochure without understanding the purpose it should serve. Most often, we marketers want to sell something. If so, the copy should provide all the facts needed for prospects to make decisions and there should be attractive and eye-catching visuals.

Sometimes we want a brochure to establish credibility leading up to a sale. In these cases, we should include client references and testimonials.

If you are attempting to overcome objections, a clear and compelling case has to be made point-by-point. In our business, we’ve used brochures on our Pune and Manila locations to dispel misconceptions that you can’t establish a state-of-the-art design production operation in India or the Philippines.

Brochures can also serve as reminders of capabilities for those prospects not making immediate decisions.

Once you understand the goal of the brochure, you can move on to develop a call to action or what you want the reader to do: buy now, call for more information, schedule a visit, file away for the future, etc. Be sure to include the call to action in your brochure so readers don’t ask, “what now?”

3.  Decide the format.

Will you print the brochure to hand out or will it be distributed electronically? We use hard copies for trade shows but email to prospects and clients most of the time. You want high-resolution images for print and lower-resolution to keep files sizes reasonable for those documents you’ll send electronically or post on your website.

If you are printing, you should determine the budget before committing to a size, number of pages, folding, use of bleeds and paper stock. All of these decisions will impact the final cost and a good relationship with a printer who provides advice can be invaluable. Sometimes you have to sacrifice some detail to avoid the cost of extra pages. Other times, you want to stand out with an odd shape or size and are willing to invest the extra money.

4.  Build on your branding.

Your new brochure should be part of the same family as your website, business card, invoice and other documents. Keeping a common look will allow you to use your logo, colors, fonts and other telltale elements to reinforce and advance your brand.

5.  Confirm the target audience.

You might be targeting the buyer or decision-maker but exactly who is that? It is different writing for a small business owner, a corporate CFO and a vice president of sales, so you have to adjust the tone and details for the title and the vertical market, while incorporating relevant industry terms. Something else to keep in mind is that brochures are often used to sell another person who didn’t attend the meeting. In other words, after you’ve left the building, your contact will share the document rather than recite your pitch verbatim. Make sure it communicates even better than you would in a conversation.

6.  Outline the critical information.

Depending on your products and services, there is always must-have information. Often this means the features and benefits of what you are selling. In addition, a retail store would want to list location, hours of operation and type of merchandise. A law firm would want to list specialties and credentials. A restaurant would have to communicate the style of food offered.

As Affinity Express is a B2B company, we need to talk about our services and the value proposition of scale, savings and speed for our clients. Fast turn times and high quality are also important to our prospects and clients.

7.  Incorporate your competitive positioning

Make it clear to readers what sets you apart. It would be terrible to miss an opportunity to highlight why you are the better choice in the market. If you are the only tailor who provides 24-hour alterations in the area, that would be something to tout.

In our case, our workflow technology increases the productivity of our clients and enables their sales teams to have more time with customers. Plus, it requires no capital expenditure from them. That is hard for our clients and competitors to replicate.

8.  Spend time on the layout and design.

Whether you design yourself or hire a professional, here are some points to consider from Mel, our expert.

  • Each page should have enough white space and margins for easy reading and a clean look.
  • Text or headlines do not need to span the spread but can be broken into columns. Using a layout grid (columns and rows) helps determine the placement of text and graphic elements and gives order to the composition.
  • Selecting the appropriate typeface makes a big difference. For example, when dealing with a heavy copy, serifs like Garamond can make reading easier since they have a well-proportioned width. Also, adjusting suitable kerning, leading and justification can help but may vary depending on the amount of text and space available.
  • Widows are lines of text containing only one word, whereas orphans occur when one to two lines jump to the next column. Both of these should be avoided. Adjusting the kerning of a paragraph can solve this.
  • To properly showcase your product or service it is critical that your images are the right resolution , are staged properly, and do not look stretched. Would you order a blurry pizza? In addition, low quality implies a low price. If you expect a premium rate from your customers, invest in good photography and high resolution. The 72 dpi (dots per inch) that works for an e-brochure is very inadequate for printed brochures. The images should be at least 300 dpi to print well.
  • Do not use images with low resolution, bad lighting, and/or lack of compositional techniques. With so many stock images easily available, there’s no excuse for a bad image in your brochure.

9.  Provide contact details.

It may seem obvious, but I’ve reviewed brochures that leave me guessing how to ask questions or request more details. You should include both a telephone number and an email address. Ideally, the number should be for a person versus a mail box and the email should also be a name. This conveys the idea that the reader will get a live person and fast response (even more important the higher the cost of your products or services). Don’t forget your website and social media URLs.

10.  Include special offers.

This is related to the call to action and doesn’t necessarily apply to every business. But your response rate will increase if you provide a discount, coupon, promotional code, or limited time deal.

Apparently, we hit all the right notes with our trade show brochure because we got rave reviews from our two internal customers and are moving on to the printing stage. All the credit goes to Mel and his ability to freshen up the design while remaining true to the branding. And thanks go to Unmana too for making great content suggestions.

Of course, the real measurement of our team’s success will be the volume of new clients and orders once the show takes place in January. After all, grabbing the attention of your target audience and getting them to both read and act is the ultimate proof you have an effective brochure.

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

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