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Marchand--Questioning the Capabilities Brochure

August 1998
The capabilities brochure is a familiar standby of marketing. Intended to provide sales support, the brochure accomplishes its mission by positioning the company effectively and by describing its capabilities clearly. Sounds simple. So simple that a capabilities piece is often the first marketing communications tool developed by printing companies—often at considerable cost with modest attention paid to its use and less to its value.

The brochure is the great unexamined marketing expenditure in many a printing company. The time and dollars that go into the brochure's development and use are seldom examined closely. Its purpose—presenting the company in a favorable light, making its capabilities better understood by existing customers and providing prospects with a clear overview—seems self-evidently worthwhile. Questioning such an expenditure of marketing dollars seems almost perverse.

A Familiar Answer
Here's how capability packages are too-often born. A president, an owner or a vice president of sales decides the company must increase sales via marketing. The expenditure is justified by a convincing argument that emphasis has been placed on manufacturing operations and financial management, at the expense of sales. The company must become more customer-focused.

And it must learn to market. Increase its visibility. Communicate better with customers and prospects. The capabilities brochure offers an easy, familiar answer, the path of least resistance.

If the company prints for a good design firm, the customer may agree to trade work on the brochure for printing credits. Someone who writes well agrees to provide copy. And so is born a package with hard dollar and soft costs that range from mid five to low six figures. Exactly how it is to be used is often an afterthought.

Marketers for large printing companies take for granted the importance of a capabilities package—presentation folder, brochure, equipment list and pieces for special services. Their counterparts in midsize companies also devote considerable resources to development of the package, seldom with a prior cost-justification process. For smaller companies, the brochure is frequently their first marketing communications piece, created when annual sales hit $3 million or so.

Other circumstances also conspire to make the brochure and its elements an easy marketing choice. There is the simple fact that this is what the commercial printer provides for customers—advertising and sales literature. What does it say about our faith in the effectiveness of the medium if we do not produce such materials for ourselves?

 

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