If you work in marketing communications, you've probably seen this scenario a dozen times: A harried sales guy, shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbow, storms into your cubicle. "I got a hot sales call in Toledo in three weeks. I got to have a brochure to leave behind," he says, smacking his fist into his open palm.
You sigh. So it begins—yet another brochure. And you know how it'll end: Thousands of dollars and multiple late-nights-against-deadlines later, he'll have his brochure. But the company won't have the sale. And you'll have a coat closet stacked with bulging boxes of forgotten collateral.
Is there a better way to support sales? Something you can leave with prospects that's just a bit more memorable—and more effective—than the standard brochure with its forced march through company "visions," product descriptions and corporate bios?
Yes, indeed. Here are eight suggestions, not as comprehensive answers to every sales-communications situation but as inspiration and provocation for creating material less likely to gather dust—and more likely to draw your company closer to a sale.
1. Make it a magazine. David Ogilvy once asked why print ads had to look like print ads—why not make them look like articles? Why not go one step further and make your brochures look like magazines? Instead of the usual ho-hum content, create articles that position your company, products or services as ways to solve problems or achieve customer-desired goals.
For about a decade, Baystate Health Systems in Massachusetts has published a beautiful four-color glossy magazine, AlphaSights, that it distributes to referring medical professionals in Central Massachusetts. Distributed three times a year, AlphaSights is loaded with articles about new procedures, protocols and initiatives at its flagship hospital, Baystate Medical Center. It's been a phenomenal success: The first issue alone attracted an increase in referrals that more than offset the entire year's production costs.
2. Make it useful. Here's another lesson from healthcare. Every day, legions of pharma and medical device representatives leave tons of samples, coffee mugs and brochures in physicians' offices across the country—clutter, clutter and more clutter. In a competitive field, how do you stand out?
One medical products manufacturer got wise. It developed a pad of forms, 8.5" x 11", with pre-assigned check boxes and fast, no-brainer ordering fields that a physician can complete in seconds. All she has to do is fill a few boxes, sign it and run it through a fax machine to order the product. In a crowded field of competitors, this manufacturer got the most orders—not because it had the nicest mug or the most beautiful brochure but because it left something behind that made its products the easiest to get.
3. Make it educational. Give your prospects a taste of your expertise. Professional services companies have been doing this for years with the ubiquitous white paper, a kind of extended essay about a relevant topic of business interest.
Why not apply the "report" idea to products and consumer services as well? For years, the Wall Street Journal has been offering personal finance guides as subscription lures. Anything complex could benefit by an educational report that simplifies: Imagine a guide to countertop selection for a kitchen remodeling firm, or an explanation of housing values for real estate agencies. With a little research and imagination, these businesses and others like them can distinguish themselves as authorities, not just runners in the pack.
4. Make it handy. Two of my current clients are getting lots of mileage by packaging tips—handy advice or insights that are just long enough to be helpful but short enough to be easily digested. It's a format people love—in fact, you're reading a tips-based article right now!
The key is to break your know-how into bite-sized bits that busy people can consume on the fly. Of my two "tips" clients, one is targeting the multibillion-dollar mergers and acquisitions market with a "top 10 tips" guide; the other runs a tips-based Web site on a variety of subjects that interest consumers—and draws eager sponsors who want to reach them. Upscale or down-market, tips attract favorable attention either way.
5. Make it "keepable." When I was a kid, a mechanic's garage just wasn't real if it didn't have at least one "girly" calendar, sponsored by a "Joe's Auto Parts" or "Cranwick's Plumbing Supply" on its walls. Cheesy? Perhaps. But you can be sure that the target audience saw the sponsor's name and phone number every day—often long after the calendars expired!
In addition to calendars, consider attractive posters, playing cards, puzzles and entertaining cubicle toys. Of course, you want to select options that are as closely associated to your business, proposition or message as possible. I know of one enterprise that creates decks of custom cards for authors (especially consultant or motivational authors), with each card serving as a chapter or topic summary. The decks are much more memorable than business cards or brochures, yet they are less cumbersome and expensive than free copies of the books themselves.
6. Make it from the customer's point of view. If the familiar brochure format still remains your best option, then at least consider changing the perspective. Too much collateral is narcissistic, packed with empty chest-beating that attempts to wow the reader with the company's alleged greatness.
Instead, write from the customer's point of view. Skip the boring company history and honors-won stuff, and talk about the real problems or issues your customers face. Then tell them how you solve these problems with precise, specific evidence that makes your claims credible. By adopting this shift in perspective, you demonstrate empathy with the customer—you're on their side—and you show a grasp of real-world circumstances prospects can recognize and respect.
7. Make it mailable. Or, if it's going to be shared by hand, easy to ship or transport. In any event, consider how you're going to distribute your new collateral before you commit to creating it.
Years ago, I worked on a spiral-bound booklet that the client adored. Unfortunately, the spiral binding bulged within its envelope and jammed the post office's machines. Worse, the book was an awkward size—just small enough to rattle around in an ordinary cardboard "express" envelope. While the design was lovely, the project was impractical and ultimately failed in its intended purpose. Don't make the same mistake: If you're distributing in large quantities, make it easy to mail.
8. Make it work for you. A final thought: You're not in the business of publishing collateral for its own sake; you should always have a specific marketing or business goal in mind for each piece you create. Everything you make must serve a dynamic role in your sales process, an objective that moves the prospect one step closer to buying. What do you want the customer to do as a consequence of getting or receiving your piece? Whatever that is, make it explicit.
If nothing else, at least end your collateral copy with a "call to action," a directive to phone, write or otherwise respond to you. If you can provide an incentive—a discount, a premium, a free analysis—all the better. But, at the very least, ASK for the response and tell readers exactly how to reach you.
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