Producing Product Publications

Last Updated Jun 4, 2007 8:45 PM EDT

Product publications can be a useful sales tool for communicating with customers. From flyers and data sheets, to detailed brochures and catalogs, each type of publication has a unique role in the sales and marketing process. This article gives an overview of the various forms of product publications and how you can use them effectively.

What You Need to KnowWho should develop product publications?

Developing publications should be a joint effort: Product and technical specialists provide essential content. Professional writers or communications specialists edit to meet the market's information needs.

Should I produce a variety of publications, or just a single catalog?

It depends on your company's product line. In some cases, producing a single catalog is most cost effective. If your products change frequently, though, making essential updates to a catalog could prove cost prohibitive. Or, a catalog might not offer enough depth if you offer a wide variety of products that serve customers in different market sectors. In this case, consider multiple publications with targeted communication objectives.

Can I just use the Internet to distribute product information?

The Internet has made it easier—and more economical—to produce, update, and distribute product information. However, some people still prefer using print publications as an information source and perceive them as offering added value. Consider your customers' preferences when deciding how best to communicate.

What to DoSelect the Publications You Need

Each type of publication has a unique role in the sales and marketing process. Here is an overview of publications you may encounter in the corporate world, and their purposes:

Flyers

Flyers, also called leaflets, are simple, short handouts distributed to customers in the early stages. Their purpose is to generate interest in a product or service and summarize its key benefits. Flyers are inexpensive to produce and therefore can be easily updated.

Catalogs

Catalogs provide basic information on a range of products. Individual product descriptions are brief and should direct customers to other publications for more detailed information. Often catalogs include ordering information. Layout is very important when designing a catalog. Products should be organized in a logical fashion, so that customers can find what they're looking for quickly and easily.

Product Brochures

The purpose of product brochures is to provide customers with detailed product information and assist them in making an informed purchasing decision. The contents might include:

  • Description of the product
  • Main benefits
  • Awards or achievements
  • Market position
  • Related products or accessories
  • Company information
  • Price
  • How / where to purchase
Product Guides

Product guides include similar information to a product brochure but provide far greater detail. They are a key resource for sales representatives and also can be shared with customers and prospects. The content should include:

  • Product description
  • Applications
  • Features analysis
  • Operation / skills necessary
  • Accessories and replacement parts
  • Support services
Data Sheets

Data sheets help customers evaluate products by providing detailed technical information. They often include a comparison chart of the product versus competitors.

Technical Updates

Technical updates inform customers about updates to products they already have purchased. They are useful not only for the practical dissemination of information but also for relaying a policy of continuous improvement. Be sure to make technical updates as clear and straightforward as possible, with a minimum of jargon. Safety information should be highlighted clearly.

Develop Your Message

Once you've decided what publications to produce, it is time to develop your message. The information you include will depend on your communication objective. Here are some thoughts on how to structure your message:

  • Know your customers. It is important to show that you understand your customers' needs and the challenges they face. Use your literature to describe how your product will help customers deal with their specific business and technical issues.
  • Reinforce branding.
  • All of your product literature should reinforce your company's established brand values. Be sure to align the appearance and language used in your literature with your company's advertising and other marketing material. Branding is very important for inspiring customer confidence and loyalty.
  • Stress benefits over features. For some customers, product features are vague and meaningless when they are first thinking about making a purchase. It is better to talk instead about how a product will benefit customers or improve their day-to-day lives. Specific product features become more important when customers are comparing competitive offerings.
  • Stress quality over price. Price isn't everything: Quality and value are at least as important. Stressing the quality of your product in your literature, or how it can save your customers' money in the long run, are key ways you can help customers think beyond the sticker price when they are making a decision.
  • Provide a full list of product benefits. When evaluating a product, customers may not immediately see all of the benefits your product offers. Pay particular attention to describing less obvious benefits, for instance reduced maintenance costs, in your product literature. Providing customers with a full list of all potential benefits assists them with making an informed purchase.
  • Provide education. Especially if your product is a new or innovative one, education might be necessary for customers to understand its use and potential benefits. Providing education also encourages customers to see you as a valuable provider of support and advice, not just a seller of merchandise.
  • Include testimonials or other supportive information. If possible, include testimonials from satisfied customers or other information to reassure customers that your product is a good one. Other types of supportive information may include case histories, user lists, or endorsement by official entities. Any positive reviews of your products from independent parties can help convince customers to make a purchase. This type of information may be especially helpful for customers who are considering making a switch to your product from a competitor.
  • Include usage instructions. Include step-by-step instructions or guidelines on product usage to assist customers with using the product correctly and safely. In addition, be sure to provide sources for technical help or other assistance.
  • Be attuned to cross-selling opportunities. Though customers might be seeking a particular product, there may be other products in your range that would support their initial purchase or interest them in the future. Be sure to refer to your full product range in your product literature. This can generate cross-selling opportunities, and it informs customers about other products they might look to you to provide.
  • Offer service and support. Offering services such as planning, installation, training, or maintenance can add value to your products by making them easier for customers to use. It also simplifies customers' lives if they can look to one company for all of their service and support needs.
Only Produce Essential Publications

It may seem obvious to produce a brochure for product promotion, but be sure to consider whether this is the most effective approach before moving forward. Product publications are expensive to produce.

If sales staff propose a brochure or other publication, you might request they supply a business case or specific communication objective for the publication to ensure the cost will be worthwhile. Another approach is to charge staff internally, so that they must cover the publication's cost with an revenue gains. These measures can help eliminate ill-considered requests and ensure all publications are effective sales tools.

Consider Publication Alternatives

Depending on your target customers, there are other sales methods you might use as an alternative to traditional product brochures:

Customized Presentations

These are effective if you are targeting small groups of customers. One advantage to presentations is they can be individually customized for each customer group. Presentations also are useful for increasing personal contact with customers.

Customer Magazines

Magazines can be effective when your customer base is large, or if you are in an industry where products or technologies are rapidly changing. Frequent, regular publications allow you to maintain contact with a large group of customers on a periodic basis.

Customer Handbooks

Handbooks can be effective if you work in partnership with a small group of customers on an ongoing basis. One purpose of a customer handbook is to increase mutual understanding and knowledge between a supplier and customer about the product as well as expectations inherent in the working relationship. Handbooks can be updated easily to reflect changes in the relationship.

Customized Information Packets

Customized information packets can be useful if you produce a wide range of products and have a highly diverse customer base. They usually take the form of a corporate folder or other package with individual, customer-specific inserts. This form of communication is incredibly flexible and therefore easy to modify.

Targeted Literature Programs

A targeted literature program may be effective if you have a detailed, customer database with specific information on purchasing patterns or other individual data. In this case, you might use the database to develop a communication strategy that is individualized for specific customers or customer groups with unique interests.

What to AvoidYou Don't Communicate the Right Information

Each type of publication has a specific purpose. Be sure to consider the best form of communication for your sales objective. Supplying detailed product guides to customers who only need a brief overview is a waste of your money and effort.

You Overlook Publication Alternatives

Publications are not always the best way to get your message across. Be sure to consider alternatives, such as customized presentations or information packets. These solutions may be more effective, especially if you are targeting small groups of customers or those with highly customized needs.

You Produce Overly Technical Information

Some customers do not need highly technical information. Consider your customers' information needs when you decide what to include in your brochure or other publication. It is important that your copy is appropriate for all potential audiences. For instance, executives and general managers are most interested in business benefits, technical employees care about technical specifications. In some cases, you may need to provide different publications targeted to each group.

Where to Learn MoreBooks:

Cyr, Lisa. Brochure Design That Works: Secrets for Successful Brochure Design. Gloucester, MA: Rockport Publishers Inc., 2002.

Williams, Robin. The Non-Designers Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice. 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2004.

Yadin, Daniel. Creative Marketing Communications. 3rd ed. Milford, CT: Kogan Page, 2001.

Web Site:

American Marketing Association: www.marketingpower.com

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