Marketing · Design

What makes a corporate brochure great?

Ross Gillespie Director / Electrical Engineer at Greeneview

May 26th, 2015

I am looking to develop a corporate brochure for a small engineering design firm that supports various different business streams: Oil and Gas, Industrials, Food Processing, Process Plants. 

What I would like to understand is what goes into a corporate brochure that would make it great, or stand out from the crowd. 

What components / style of writing have been found to be most effectively in transferring the 'oh thats nice' into ' I must do / have that'.

Does anyone have, or seen examples of great corporate brochures and that have made an impact on them, or initiated a corporate relationship or sales?

Steven Mason Brand Strategist & Ideator; Patent Strategist; Patent Broker; Negotiation Expert

May 27th, 2015

These are the wrong questions to ask.

The right questions are: Why does the brochure exist? What is its purpose? What ACTIONS do you expect people to take once they have read it? What do you want them to actually do? Call your company? Download a white paper? Pass it on to the CFO who will agree the economic analysis is sound?

You must start with the end in mind, the result. Almost every brochure is built using criteria that are insular. But the most important criterion is the result. Most marketers and agencies ignore this.

Now, let's say you know why the brochure exists. Is the brochure even the best delivery method? Should you be doing something else to achieve that same result? Because if you start with the idea that you must have a brochure, then you are exhibiting a form of confirmation bias. Start with the result and choose the tools and media you need to achieve it.

What about voice and copy? There is no one-size-fits-all. If I'm writing for Ph.D.s at Princeton, am I going to throw in some big words? Sure, but I won't let my sesquipedalianism run amok, either. If I am writing for Millennials, I might even use YOLO. I sure wouldn't use that if I were trying to get gerontologists clients! It is your audience that dictates your choice of words, your design, your voice, your everything! Ever see those websites in 8 pt. type -- and their audience? 50-60-year-olds who need reading glasses. Another "brilliant" move.

So: know your audience, know your intended result, choose your media and then choose the voice, tone, and words you need. Then get someone actually capable of writing, a rather difficult feat these days. Christopher Hitchens doesn't grow on trees.

And as far as the actual words go? Kill all platitudes. Very few adjectives or adverbs are appropriate, ever. Use active voice, not passive. Ask: So what? If there's no answer, then why are the words/phrases there? They are useless! Use as many words as you need to accomplish your result -- and not one word more. Whether that's 10 words or 1000 depends on what you want to accomplish. 20 words filled with platitudes are far worse than 2,000 words that grab the reader's attention and cause him/her to act.

David Yerger

May 27th, 2015

So do the research on the industries pain points.  Then look at Hubspot's sales and marketing blogs. They are regarded very highly among many professionals in those fields.


May 27th, 2015

Personally, I think even though good photos can be expensive, it is one of the things that makes the biggest impact and helps it to stand out from the crowd. And hopefully, they help support the story you're telling rather than just a pic of the building or boring product shot. The other big thing is to speak to the audience so it sounds more human and resonates with them.


May 27th, 2015

Hey Ross,

While I have not had to design a company brochure, I have heard a few pieces of advice from others around me that have designed them with success. 

First, they really understood their audience. Ask yourself questions like: why would they want to buy your service? And what's the most important problem your service can solve for them? The answers to these questions will greatly affect how the audience views your brochure. 

Second, make sure you have a great headline on the front of the brochure. It's the first thing people see when they are handed information about your company. The headline should always include the interests and perceived problems of your targeted audience, followed by the solutions you can provide. 

Lastly, don't use big words. This may sound simple, but it's hugely important. It helps with readability and retainability from the reader's perspective. 

Lawrence Bracco President/COO GD Entertainment & Technology, Inc.

May 27th, 2015

this one is simple, but MOST FIRMS miss the mark by a mile... 1) CLARITY - Spend the time honing your key messaging until it is crystal clear 2) NO CLUTTER - too much is, well too much. If you have a lot to say, develop a white paper. Its "Short Attention Span Theater" time 3) A picture tells a thousand words....SEE ABOVE. The right image, a clever infographic, simple text strategically placed.... 4) Leave them wanting MORE.... Trust your message.

Ernest Lupinacci Founder & CEO of Ernest Industries

May 27th, 2015

the simple answer is EMPATHY... the longer answer is - make it look and feel like a great article in Vanity Fair... avoid a POWER POINT approach at all costs. e sent from my iWatch 2

Mary Baum Digital consultant and web developer to the tennis industry. Standard on WordPress and the Genesis Framework.

May 27th, 2015

A corporate brochure has to work harder today than it ever did in the three-plus decades I've been producing them.

As Daniel points out, it's mostly about making the reader feel great about the company and eager to learn more.

But I don't agree that the reader should be asking what the company does - that should be eminently clear. I also don't think the company's mission, vision and values have any place in a deliverable where adding information adds to the cost.

As far as I'm concerned, the brochure's job is to make an emotional connection with the reader that drives him/her to the company's website - for more information, yes, but more important, to start a conversation (or several) that will: 

  1. Get the visitor into the company's sales funnel and 
  2. Make sure the company can meet the visitor's needs.
One thing that means is that the brochure doesn't need to be nearly as big as in the Analog Age. It doesn't have to be standard letter-size, like an annual report, and surely shouldn't be anything like as long.

It should tell its story simply and visually, and from the reader's point of view - not the company's.

The writing should be in the same language we all use to talk to each other, using the tone we might take with a friend over coffee. 

(It should never use the words provide or utilize, or any word that has a shorter or more energetic  replacement. When we use big words, we don't sound smart. We sound like we're trying to impress an English teacher.)

Images should be of your real people and the things they really make and do.

And as with the rest of what we produce, it must realize that nobody cares about any of our messages, clients, products or services. Nobody. Ever.

According to research done a few years ago at Cal State-Long Beach, hat they do care about are five things:

  1. Their family.
  2. Their finances.
  3. Their passions and pleasures.
  4. Their personal growth.
And above all,

       5. The problem they need to solve RIGHT NOW, and permanently, if possible, because it's keeping them from getting closer to one of the four things above.

Or, shorter version:

A brochure is your chance, in print, to show the reader how much you care about his/her problem. Because that's the only way he/she is ever going to care about you.

Ross Gillespie Director / Electrical Engineer at Greeneview

May 27th, 2015

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this thread, there are lots of really helpful and insightful comments, certainly lots to consider.

Just drawing upon a few comments on the media type and usage. I certainly think that we have opportunities for digital marketing, and we will certainly be looking at how and where this appropriate and how to capitalise on those opportunities.

But, I also believe that there is still a case for a physical format brochure too, specifically in some of our area's that I see as our growth prospects, where perhaps internet and PC/mac use is not so prevalent as it would be for the majority of us, and / or where digital media will not be able to penetrate. I have a few examples in mind where digital media just would not work for us, but perhaps a hard copy of 'something' would.

Jim Monroe Founder at OTT Age Industries

May 27th, 2015

To add to some of the very good comments above:

Are you trying to steal business from competing firms?  Are you trying to get prospective clients to outsource something they've beed doing internally?  In the first case, you're breaking into an existing market and need to clearly and concisely explain your competitive advantage.  In the second, you're developing a new market and should clearly state the benefits of outsourcing.

Once you've decided on a single message, assume that you will have only a few seconds of your reader's attention.  Communicate very clearly and simply your most important point, then ask for the order - a link, phone number or email address.

Once you've done that, you can certainly add more detail about the company and the marketplace, but make sure you've used those first few seconds wisely.

Nathan Gaydhani Strategic Partnerships & Research Consultant

May 31st, 2015

I make my living from helping my clients (Private Schools) to communicate effectively with their target audiences. The most important thing we help them to understand is that each medium has things that it does really well and things it does not do so well.

A lot of the discussion above has fallen into the trap of thinking that each communication medium is somehow better and more relevant than the last or that each audience group only sees one form of media which is not the case. The fact is, each system is a channel in its own right with a varying degree of cross-over between them. Only by understanding what each channel can do better than all the others can you use it for what it is best at.

Many of my clients have tried ditching the brochure completely and putting the money into their website only to find they have a 'hole' in their arsenal of communication tools. A printed brochure still offers many things no other channel can offer and by focussing on these, you can use it for what it is best at.

Some of these things are:

  • Linearity: A chance to tell a story in the order you think best helps to understand who you are and what you offer. Websites are non-linear and you have no idea what people will look at in what order. This can actually make it harder for people to understand the most important things first.

  • Permanence: This can very useful when your client may need a while to ponder your offering. Seeing the brochure on the desk long after the website has been closed, that can be picked up by other family members and discussed and being 'always there' offers a permanence in their minds that can help them remember you. Equally when you are at a conference and someone asks for something to remember you by, a small leaflet that steers them straight to your website is better than expecting them to copy down your web address from your banner.

  • Physicality: We are three dimensional beings that have evolved to hold things, feel things, see things in high definition and have an emotional connection with those things. Digital media still has a long way to go with this and printed media can offer something uniquely tangible. By paying attention to the quality of materials and finishes to beautiful professional full-bleed images and good design, the client can have a huge emotional connection with your brand.
There are many more but, this is not a case for printed materials over web materials, it is a case for using each medium for what it is best at and remembering that prospects will encounter many of these channels on their journey to becoming a customer. As such, each needs to be coordinated and aware of their part in the communication strategy, pointing prospects to take the next step that will give them a fuller picture of who you are and how you can help them.

To reach their market, each business will need the benefits of each channel to greater or lesser degree. By understanding how their prospective clients like to obtain information and come to make a decision they can optimise each accordingly.