Marchand--Questioning the Capabilities Brochure
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?
Secondly, the brochure is a glorious example of the printer's trade—often lavishly illustrated, manufactured in attention-getting formats, color, multiple varnishes, etc.
A brochure may be a source of great pride for the owner of some companies—a mark of the prestige conferred by success in business. The marketing utility may be considerable, but the brochure also serves a purpose that requires no further pretext.
Finally, the vagaries of branding also serve to justify a well-conceived and effectively executed capabilities package. What better way to reinforce unique market positioning than a distinctive brochure that conveys the company's special qualities?
Compelling arguments, these. Who would challenge such indisputable reasons to develop a capabilities package?
Perhaps companies that seek to maximize the return on their marketing dollars.
Marketers inclined to explore alternatives are well-advised to review several issues before the hefty expenditure of a brochure is allowed to absorb an often disproportionate share of the budget.
Responding to the following questions may lead to expected answers and the decision to develop a capabilities package—or may lead elsewhere.
- What are the objectives? What purposes will be served by the brochure?
- Exactly how will the capabilities package be used? By whom? Under what circumstances?
- Does the expected unit cost permit the brochure to be used as intended?
This last question leads to the too often overlooked discipline. What is the budget? Break it out in hard and soft dollars. Not only cash spent on design and copy, but also staff time, including manufacturing costs. If you decide to trade with a design firm that owes you money, the trade is nevertheless a cost, and it must be counted if the budget is to be meaningful.
- How will the return on investment be measured?
- What are alternative marketing uses for the dollars?
The answers should not be given in vague terms like the following: The brochure will be a qualifying piece. We'll mail it to prospects, use it as a leave-behind after meetings with print buyers.
We are a printer. How can we not have an outstanding brochure?
Don't get me wrong. Brochures can be effective marketing tools. But not when statements like these provide the rationale for their creation and the plans for their use. My plea is a simple one: Do the homework; evaluate alternatives. I admit to harboring a secret prejudice. Other marketing activities may provide a greater return for your dollars; direct mail, publicity and focus groups are three examples.
Look closely at what you can expect from your marketing choices before committing the dollars. If you decide to develop a capabilities package, plan carefully, manage its use and evaluate results. The outcome—increased sales—is much more likely to justify the cost.
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. E-mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Web site, www.marchand.com.
REMEMBERING THE OBVIOUS:
What's It All About?
Your brochure should focus on customers' needs and how you meet them, not on your manufacturing process. It's about the solutions you provide, not about the bells and whistles on your equipment.
Remember a second obvious, but too often overlooked, fact. A brochure that costs $20 a unit to print and finish may make you proud, but it will end up under lock and key, treated as a piece of fine art, not a marketing tool.
And a third point: A picture is indeed worth 1,000 words. But beautiful photography and lush printing accompanied by clumsy text hardly accomplish your objectives. Make certain your copywriter is equal to the task.
Don't settle for less than crisp, elegant copy to deliver a clear message to prospects and customers alike. You hire skilled designers and professional photographers. Find an equally skilled and professional copywriter.