THE PLAIN TEXT GAZETTE – Issue 4, September 2002
* When communication doesn’t #4: The Brochure of Doom
* Utilising unnecessary quantities of terms: redundant words
In the last issue we took a look at ‘Case Study Carnage’ to see what happens when a useful business story gets ambushed by lawyers and nervous managers.
As we continue our tour through the world of business writing, this time we’re applying the sword of Plain Text to the dreaded brochure, in our customary ‘how to get it wrong/right’ style.
And Jargon Watch strays from its remit a little to look at one of our favourite obsessions: redundant words. So in the spirit of brevity, Editorial now gives way to our first feature.
Keep it plain,
When communication doesn’t #4: The Brochure of Doom
There seems to be an inverse relationship between the usefulness of a type of business communication and management’s enthusiasm for it. So we see case studies and newsletters (very useful, in our opinion) received rather coolly: “Hmmm…it’s a lot of work..all that talking to the customer..and we have to do more than one of them? Forget it” Whilst press releases and brochures (which can be much less useful) are inevitably popular: “Great, our v184.108.40.206 upgrade will be in the news!” or “The customers love to have something glossy.”
Just as we still read newspapers even though all the content is online, it’s a fact that customers like to have a physical ‘takeaway’, even if the product is entirely digital and supported by a superbly-designed website.
But hands up anyone who carefully reads the contents of the groaning bag of brochures that we drag back from the average trade show? I didn’t think so. Brochures are a necessary evil. But they can be good, too. Here are some guidelines on how to produce (or avoid producing) the Brochure of Doom.
There are many, many ways to mess up a brochure. So this list is by no means definitive. But we hope it covers the main points.
* Write a lengthy essay explaining the background situation
No-one’s going to know what you’re talking about unless you explain the background to your product first. So start your brochure with a detailed exposition of the industry, covering everything from historical trends to current issues. By the time they’ve finished, your customers will be wiser and ready to understand where your product fits.
* Gather an exhaustive list of the product’s most exciting features
OK, so they’re up to speed on the business. Hit ’em hard with the bells and whistles. They all want to know — to the nanosecond — exactly what the response time of your SpeedFlo (TM) Logistics Extender is. And don’t forget to tell them in detail about the other 23 enhancements…
* Use ‘aspirational’ language
A brochure is the one place where it’s OK to let rip and use some seriously flowery language. This kind of stuff: “You demand perfection. We deliver excellence. Together we can forge a partnership for the future.”
* Make sure you include as much information as possible
Brochures are also *the* place to put absolutely everything. Fill as many pages as you can with all the background information your customers will need. They’ll be able to read it at their leisure, just like a magazine.
* Include expensive shots of attractive business people looking at laptops
Nobody will take your product seriously unless they think it’s aimed at them. So make sure they see themselves — sleek, besuited and serious — reflected in the pages of your brochure.
2. Not writing the Brochure of Doom: a step-by-step guide
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Getting a brochure right takes a lot less effort than getting it wrong. Here are some pointers to writing a good brochure easily.
* Ask yourself some serious questions
Never let anyone start from the “We need a brochure!” position, because not everyone does need a brochure. Ask questions like: What do we want to say about our product/company? To whom do we want to say it? What do they know? What do we want them to do once they’ve read it? Answer these questions and chances are you’ll produce materials that have an impact with your audience.
* Explain what your product/service means to your customers
This sounds blindingly obvious but is so frequently ignored we feel moved to mention it. Companies continually confuse features (e.g. flat screen) with benefits (e.g. means you use less space and power). If your brochure doesn’t explain what you can truly do for customers, then it’s not doing its job.
* Be brief and to the point
Brochures get ‘flicked through’. So dense, 1000-word essays in 10-point text won’t get read. Equally, flowery sales language is likely to be ignored. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should resort to just bullet point lists and huge headlines. Use straightforward, attractive language that gets to the point. And keep it brief.
* Use your website as the foundation
Websites are easy and cheap to update. Brochures aren’t. So if you can, use the text on your website as the ‘master copy’ for your brochure and send updates to print when you need them.
* Include relevant, attractive graphics
Although we word-heads at Plain Text don’t practice what we preach here, graphics are useful, but only when they are relevant, or when they genuinely enhance a brochure. But don’t use them to fill space, or because someone insists they must be included.
Here’s an easy, underused tip for improving your copy by taking a red pen (or the electronic equivalent — the delete key) to as many words as you can.
Write as you speak to help copy flow, by all means. But if you do, erase unnecessary words, which slow readers rather than help them.
The trouble with some words is that they are, basically, overused if not entirely irrelevant. To all intents and purposes, they are more or less redundant. The end result of their continued use is that your writing becomes somewhat bloated. Look out for them on a daily basis.
Sorry — that last paragraph should have read:
Some words are not necessary, even redundant. Use them and your copy becomes bloated. Look for them daily.
That’s it for this issue. As always, keep your comments and suggestions coming and please pass the Plain Text Gazette on to friends and colleagues.
Paul & Paul
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