From the December 1997 issue of Startups

You've probably seen hundreds-- even thousands--of ineffective company brochures. You know which ones they are. They're like the one for the CPA that addresses only features, such as, "Fifteen years of experience . . . Knowledgeable in tax law . . . Certified in six states," and on and on. The content is boring. It doesn't draw you in, and it certainly doesn't motivate you to try a new CPA. That's because the CPA focused on features, the characteristics of his product or service, instead of the benefits his prospects will derive from those features.

Too many new business owners make the same costly mistake. They consider their company brochure a basic information piece--more like a resume than a crucial component of their marketing arsenal.

Here are a few of the positive things a hard-working company brochure can do for you:

  • Position your company against its competitors.
  • Communicate the benefits of your product or service.
  • Motivate prospects to the next level.
  • Help prospects take a particular action.

And when you combine effective content with eye-catching, readable design, you can also create a visual identity for your new company. If you think this sounds like a tall order, you're right. Your company brochure doesn't have to cost a fortune to create, but the content should be right on the money.

In all, you'll have a very short time--usually a matter of seconds--between the moment a customer receives your brochure and the moment they decide whether it's worth keeping. The content must be outer-directed. There should never be a focus on what "we do" or what "we offer." Instead, the copy should focus on what your customers will receive.

Use headlines and subheads to move the reader along with benefits. We tend to look at brochures this way: headlines first, then subheads and photos, photo captions, and finally, the text, called "body copy." So everything from headlines and subheads to copy must be outer-directed and answer the prospect's question, "What's in it for me?"

Never use a dull, lifeless title on your cover, such as: "John Smith, CPA specializing in small business and executive estate planning."

Instead, begin by drawing the reader in with a compelling, benefit-laden headline on the cover, such as: "Three ways to save tax money for your small business." This headline teases the reader and motivates him to open the brochure and read on.

Subheads, which should be sprinkled throughout the copy, must also entice your readers and convince them there's valuable information to come. Avoid weak subheads, such as:

  • Accounting Services
  • Tax Prep
  • Estate Planning

Instead, use subheads that contain benefits, followed by equally compelling copy. Here's how I would improve on the above subheads:

  • Subhead: Reduce Your Operating Budget

Body copy: Low-cost accounting services can actually reduce your operating budget by . . .

  • Subhead: Save Money on Tax Preparation

Body copy: Experienced tax preparation saves you money when . . .

  • Subhead: Ensure Your Wealth at Retirement

Body copy: Top-quality estate planning means a secure retirement, thanks to . . .

As you can see, the body copy that follows each subhead must also be outer-directed. At the close of your brochure, include a phone number and a "call to action," which gives your prospect a reason to respond. Your call to action can be time-dependent to build urgency, such as, "Call before January 1, while there's still time to save money on your 1997 taxes."

When you combine effective content with an easy-to-read, eye-catching design, your brochure will become a hard-working partner that will help you win the customers you need to start your company out right.