Product lit: Your secret sales rep

When this was written in 1995, the internet was still in its infancy, and printed media still governed building product sales. Still, the core concepts advanced below can be applied to contemporary marketing materials.
When I redesigned the brochure for my architectural product line, my reps and dealers complained that it was too “flashy” and lacked in-depth product information. But they had also griped about the old brochure, saying it droned on about the products without promoting their benefits. Since preparing and distributing the brochure is the biggest expense in my marketing communications budget, how can I make it as effective as possible?—C.E.B., vice president of sales

Your architectural brochure or catalog is often the first or only piece of sales literature your customers and specifiers see. It is an important sales tool for your reps, but it must also be able to stand alone when no rep is present. Your brochure is particularly critical in marketing to architects and other specifiers, who must consider thousands of products when they design a complex building. Most designers have little experience with many of these products, so they must rely on your literature to quickly find, assess, and act on product information.

You have run into two problems I often find in building product literature. First, many brochures appear to have been created by “technocrats” from the engineering department, and are so crammed with product information that they lack customer focus. Readers get lost in the detail without understanding product features and benefits.
Product brochures can also be ruined by “media jockeys” from ad agencies or graphic design firms who don’t understand your product. They’re so wrapped up in creating image-enhancing brochures full of beautiful art and clever prose that they overlook the specifier’s need for reliable, easy-to-understand technical data.  

What makes product lit good?
The best product brochures present a careful blend of image, graphic pizazz, and product information. They are based on an understanding of your brand’s positioning, its competitive strengths and weaknesses, and the message you want conveyed to your target audience.

When designing your brochure, keep in mind that it needs to guide prospects through the following sequence of responses before they will become your customers:
1. Prospects need to gain awareness of your product or brand and develop enough interest to read the brochure.
2. Prospects need to recognize that your product is applicable to their problems. This has to occur before a customer can commit to your product.
3. Prospects must get data and resources that facilitate the use of your product.

Additionally, an architect may be looking for different types of information at each point in the design process. For example, he may seek conceptual information as a designer, detailing information as a job captain, and reassurance of product performance as a specifier.
A case study
Some of these principles can be seen in a catalog I designed for Davis Colors, which manufactures pigments for integrally colored concrete. First, we needed to define the target audience and learn how to motivate them to use the product.

Until recently, Davis Colors used the same general product literature for all its prospects. The company realized, however, that designers, contractors, and ready mix producers each had different ways of looking at colored concrete and each required different sales literature. Architects, for example, had to understand the aesthetic impact of colored concrete before they could be sold on the merits of any particular pigmenting system.

Davis planned to distribute its new brochure by direct mail and through its reps, and to include it in Sweet’s Catalog File. Because of the cost of the Sweet’s insertion, we opted to limit the brochure to four pages. Like TV, Sweet’s is a crowded medium full of competing messages, which forced us to create the greatest impact in the least space.
To grab readers’ attention, we designed a cover with a strong graphic image of swirling, larger-than-life colored concrete. Superimposed on this was the rhetorical question, “Do You Dream in Color?” intended to elicit a response from designers.

In the inside spread, we illustrated the versatility of colored concrete by showcasing a variety of paving and landscaping projects on one page and buildings and other structures on the opposite page. Since designers are trained to move back and forth between envisioning the overall building and choosing materials, we surrounded the project photos with close-ups of some common colored concrete finishes.

Though architects are primarily visual thinkers who respond strongly to photos, they also need to justify their design decisions. So brief sales copy was used on the inside spread to reassure them that colored concrete is cost effective, durable, and appropriate for them. Together with the evocative cover, the inside photos and text support Davis Colors’ positioning as the pigment manufacturer offering the most design and technical support.

If the brochure has done its job, the design team is emotionally committed to colored concrete and they will move on to the back page. Here we provided technical information and told them how to get a set of sample colors.

The design of your own brochure or catalog will depend on your specific products, marketing objectives, and budget. If you view the design process as an opportunity to polish your marketing approach, you may see some unexpected benefits. At Davis Colors, for example, the new brochure renewed enthusiasm among the company’s salespeople and distributors.
Have a question you'd like us to answer? Send an email  By Michael Chusid, 

Originally published in Construction Marketing Today, Copyright © 1995