Successful Branding with Brochures

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You're on vacation and see an attractive hotel. A literature box on its front door holds a multi-fold document picturing tasty foods, glorious views, and vivid descriptions of life within. On the counter of a local pet store is a document advertising specials, training tips, and store credits for referring new customers. You open your child's new box of LEGOs and there's a fold-out instruction booklet starting at a single piece next to the number 1 and ending with a pirate ship/dune buggy/X-Wing Fighter/space ship at step 11 or so.

What ties these disparate experiences together? The brochures. Every one of them tells a story designed to either woo a potential customer or strengthen the relationship between a business and an existing customer.

The intention of a brochure is different than a newspaper or magazine advertisement. An ad captures the attention of the reader, planting a seed of recognition to be built upon later. A brochure should assume that the seed has already been planted, and its mission is to water and fertilize that seed to achieve results. The best brochures promote a direct response, taking the reader from seed to flower, or turning the reader with a box of jumbled LEGOs to a customer ready to use a new toy.

I'll look at several examples of brochures that work, parsing their elements and going behind the design to reveal the foundations and motives. But first, let's talk about principles that apply to any brochure.

The Design Three-Step
When sitting down to design your brochure, step 1 is to take into account the client's needs. Find out what information they most wish to convey and the style in which they wish to convey it. If it's a pet-supply store doing a monthly newsletter, the content of the piece should be timely and assume a level of prior knowledge. If the subject is a high-end vacation getaway, the picture painted by the brochure should be more detailed, as the reader likely is reading about the place for the first time. You'll need a list of attributes to highlight, a list generated with the help and blessing of your client.

If the direction you think the project should go differs significantly from your client's, now's the time to get on the same page. It's a lot easier to find a new path before either one of you has invested a lot of time and effort going down a road that might turn out to be a dead end. Take careful notes during this step, as it will help you stay focused and remind your client what they asked for.

Step 2 is to think like the dog owner who wants that new squeaky toy or the frazzled urbanite contemplating the weekend in the country; in other words, the people from whom you want action of some sort. Consider these questions:

  • What does your audience need?
  • Who is the client? The reader needs to know name of the business. If the reader remembers the picture of the hotel but not how to make contact, you've failed. Feature the business name prominently in the design, or know why you don't need to and make a conscious decision to downplay it.
  • Where is the client? If you expect readers to do something with the information in the brochure, it must include the means, be it phone number, address, or URL (preferably all three).
  • Who is the audience? If you designed a brochure for a heavy metal rock band yesterday, you can't just drop in a few new pictures and contact information to make a brochure for an upscale hotel catering to the jet set. It might be cutting-edge design worthy of lighter-waving and fist-pumping, but it's not likely to fill the parking lot with BMWs.

Step 3 is to think about the big picture. You're going to design a piece that will become part of a broader whole. This might be the first marketing piece ever done by this company, or it might be the tenth. The tenets of modern branding state that we as designers should strive to build our clients a cohesive brand identity that carries across various marketing media.

Apple is a great example in this regard. Everything the company does sports what has become a familiar look and feel, which has grown to become as important to Apple's identity as the familiar silhouetted Apple logo. Apple's TV commercials look like its Web site, which looks like its marketing brochures, which share elements with its product packaging and manuals.

To maintain consistency, take into account ink choices (two vs. four color, flat vs. varnished), font selection, use of white space, image style (photography, vector art, illustration), size of the piece, paper type, and more.

If a client insists on confining the design process to one brochure, not a brand, you can tell him or her this: Customers have a better chance of making a positive association with various marketing materials when they're part of a whole, not a scattershot mishmash. When you consider the whole, you're leveraging the brochure you're designing today with the newspaper ad you'll design next week and the newsletter you'll produce next month.

Designing with branding in mind shows that you're thinking about your client's long-term future and that you have an investment in their business. This increases your opportunities for future business.

On to the examples.

Tables of Content
The Sylvia Beach Hotel (SBH) sits on a tranquil piece of the Oregon coast in a small town that's more than 100 miles from a major metropolitan area. The hotel management doesn't place radio, television, or newspaper ads, yet scoring a room without calling months in advance involves copious amounts of luck.

Each of the SBH's twenty rooms is styled after a different classic author, from Dr. Seuss to Lincoln Steffens to Hemingway. There are no in-room televisions or phones, but there is a shared library on the third floor that serves spiced wine every night at 10:00, and tea and coffee anytime.

The Sylvia Beach Hotel's primary marketing tool is a tri-fold 8.5 x 11" brochure with pencil sketches and romantic descriptions of each room (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. This brochure is purposefully low-tech. Click on the image for a larger version.

The SBH follows the Design Three-Step well. The client is a hotel, seeking to make itself known to potential visitors. The front of the brochure prominently features the hotel's name, address, and phone number. A Web address was added later. Contact information is also on the back of the brochure, and on the included price sheet.

As the theme of the hotel revolves around writers, the target audience for the brochure is one who would be attracted by a hotel with no television or phones but with a two-story library and a beach immediately out the back door. To that end, it's text-heavy, naming each room, describing its amenities, and dropping in a sprinkle of its character. The sketches are the kind you might find on pages heading the chapters in a hardback book. The brochure's typeface would be at home on the pages of Tom Sawyer or on the pages of the New York Times.

The straightforward, one-color design of the brochure is inexpensive to produce and serves to portray the hotel as a choice for "true" literary aficionados, rather than those looking for a novelty.

The brochure fits into the bigger picture nicely. It's simple, niche-y, and enticing to the right market, just like the hotel. The hotel is small and well-run, so the brochure serves more to augment the word-of-mouth advertising from previous guests than it does as a standalone tool. (In fact, hotel staff place the brochures only at the hotel itself and in the foyer of a hip coffee and dessert house in Portland, 130 miles away).

Inn at Occidental
In sharp contrast to the SBH is the Inn at Occidental, a high-end bed and breakfast in the wine country of California. It caters to a sophisticated clientele accustomed to living on Internet time in a region filled with competition. The brochure must quickly tell the story, planting the seed, watering it, and including pictures of what the flower might look like when it's grown.

The designers of The Inn's tri-fold brochure went after the audience with both barrels: The piece is packed with images of an elegant yet fully connected life. The text portrays a convenient destination that's rich in amenities (with twenty bullet points to prove it), yet far enough away from the mainstream to be relaxed, romantic, and cultured (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Designer and client went for a colorful, image-rich brochure to attract customers. Click on the image for a larger version.

The design features an entire panel devoted to contact information: a map, the address, phone and FAX numbers, email address, URL, and names of the proprietors.

The many pictures of The Inn include interior shots of the rooms, an exterior shot, several photos of scrumptious food, and a few of the surrounding countryside. The photography is well done and can easily be used in other marketing pieces, from Web to direct mail to magazine ads.

The Inn's logo integrates a piece of the owners' whimsical folk art to give a glimpse at their character. This motif is carried through to The Inn's Web site, where the "O" in the name features a changing cast of characters as you click through its pages. It's a dynamic branding element that draws your attention to the name of the business again and again.

Meow Mix
The Pet Loft in Portland, Oregon, wanted an interesting way to remind customers to come by when they needed anything for their animals. The pet-supply industry is fiercely competitive, especially at the high end. With competition coming from big-box giants, natural food markets, and pet-supply chains, the independent Pet Loft needed a way to appeal to its customer base of neighborhood pet owners in ways the bigger stores couldn't match.

To differentiate his store and keep customers coming back, Pet Loft owner Bill LaPolla decided on a monthly newsletter-type of vehicle, with store specials, customer profiles, and training tips (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. Inexpensive materials are well-suited for materials you plan on replacing regularly. Click on the image for a larger version.

The target audience is an opt-in mailing list of existing Pet Loft customers. The owner of the store writes a quirky, humorous, and helpful column discussing offbeat but relevant issues about people and their pets. The specials and new product announcements are designed to lure existing customers back in to chat, ask questions, and buy.

The brochure does include the store's email address and return mailing label, but because it's sent to existing customers, the page is better utilized with other information.

The branding of the piece is consistent with signage in the store, the business cards, and the font on the sign outside the building. The printing is one-color, and the paper is a 24-pound matte pastel-colored bond, which gives the piece a little more weight and a richer feel. The design is cramped but relieved a bit with photography.

The lack of white space doesn't seem to limit the brochure's effectiveness. LaPolla reports, "We have to print more copies of that brochure every month, and our mailing list has ZIP codes from all over the city." Each brochure contains a customer referral card that rewards both the giver and the recipient. "The referral coupon is great," says LaPolla. "I can track both new customers and my regulars, and it gives us an indicator as to which customers are doing the best job of marketing for us."

ZZZZzzzzzz...
Kerry Hills Farm is a business (and a real farm) run by Susan McCourt. She created a wool-based line of pillows, blankets, and mattress padding that combine support and temperature control. The product is both familiar and novel, as are the nine images that grace the pages of Kerry Hills' brochure. The brochure seeks to inform a broad variety of readers of the benefits of its product, the Snuggle Ewe sleep system, which claims to help with back pain associated with poor mattress support (Figure 4).

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Figure 4. Just looking at this brochure makes me feel comfortable. Click on the image for a larger version.

The brochure includes four levels of information to accommodate different readers' time and interest levels. Every image is accompanied by a corresponding text block. "Skimmers" are treated to a tempting image with a three-word, descriptive headline. If a particular image/headline combo grabs a reader, they can peruse 50- to 100-word blocks of text describing the product and its distinguishing characteristics. The largest image on the brochure is of an unmade bed with the Snuggle Ewe product plainly visible. The copy below describes the benefits, seeks to establish Kerry Hills as expert in this field, and offers specific product details about the main product, the Snuggle Ewe Sleep System.

One panel of the brochure contains the Kerry Hills logo and all kinds of contact details, including a conveniently located Web address, as most of Kerry Hills business comes from Internet sales.

The target market is people of discriminating taste, ample bank accounts, and, obviously, back pain. To appeal to this audience, the brochure designer relies on generous white space, soft blocks of color, and a uniform and creative use of fonts as branding element.

As with the Inn at Occidental brochure, the cost of professional photography is a worthwhile investment in collateral that can be used in future materials. The repeated use of key images serves to reinforce the brand and give potential customers touchstones of familiarity should they see any other branded material from Kerry Hills.

Building Your Brand, LEGO-Style
LEGOs have come a long way since they were invented in 1934. Despite the fact that there are roughly 2,400 distinct LEGO parts that have been played with in innumerable ways, the center of the LEGO universe is still the 2" x 6" brick.

Another hallmark of LEGO is the instruction manuals that accompany each set. There are no words, only clearly numbered step-by-step illustrations of the path to completing each pirate ship, castle, or dump truck (Figure 5).

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Figure 5. This Lego how-to manual keeps it simple.

The clarity of the LEGO manuals make it easy for the reader to understand the information and to achieve the desired end. An effective brochure should do the same: Offer a clear message and make it easy to both recognize and act on the desired end, whether it's buying a product or simply remembering a name.

What Kind of Blocks Do You Need?
Like the seemingly infinite variety of available LEGO kits, the number of possible brochure subjects is similarly vast. But despite the need to customize and craft each brochure, the basic building blocks remain the same.

Whether your audience wants dog food or fine wine, the client's wishes, the target audience's needs, and an understanding of the big picture are your basic 2" x 6" blocks, the foundation for everything else.

The marketing brochure is an ideal vehicle for transporting a lot of information in an efficient and appropriately sized package. A brochure is more than an advertisement; it conveys some depth, context, and character. It should be user-friendly, inviting to readers, and designed in a manner that's consistent with the client's other marketing material.

Begin with these basic building blocks and your understanding of the design process will grow, and with it your knowledge of your client's needs, audience, and brand strategy. Even the fact that you ask these types of questions will demonstrate a level of creativity and business savvy that should lead to successful brochure design at the very least, and a steadily growing design business at best.

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