to Write a Corporate Image Brochure People will truly want to Read
Writing a corporate
image brochure is truly a study in futility. Two things are certain
about these expensive, glossy booklets:
1) Almost all
companies of any size feel compelled to produce them.
2) Virtually no one ever reads them.
It is not difficult to understand why. It's in the name. Most
such brochures are far too concerned with "image",
i.e. making the company look good, than with communicating
with readers. So why should people read it?
The solution to the
problem is well-known: Write from the reader's point of view. But
while everyone may know this, hardly anyone actual does it. They
think they do, but they don't. Too often the rationale for the brochure
is, "This is interesting and important information, so people
will surely want to read it." This is not writing from the
reader's point of view, but the company's point of view.
The results of this self-delusory approach to corporate image brochures
are plain to see: high costs and low value.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Some years ago, I was commissioned
to write a corporate image brochure for a pharmaceutical company.
When it was printed, not only did people read it, they actually
called the company to request additional copies to give to friends,
clients, and professional colleagues.
How did I achieve
this miracle? You guessed it, by writing the brochure from the reader's
point of view. But how did I know that I wasn't deluding myself,
only thinking I was writing from the reader's point of view and
not my client's? I had help and guidance from what is known as the
"expository writing attitude".
All writing can be divided into two broad categories: creative (fiction)
and expository (non-fiction). Creative writing comprises texts such
as short stories, novels, poems, radio plays, stage plays, television
scripts, film scripts, etc. Expository writing comprises texts such
as such as memos, reports, proposals, training manuals, brochures,
newsletters, marketing proposals, research reports, etc. The approach
the writer takes to these essentially different genre must also
be essential different. Broadly speaking, the purpose of creative
writing is to amuse and entertain, so when sitting down at the keyboard
the fiction writer can assume that "everyone will want to read
what I am going to write". This is the "creative writing
of expository writing is usually to inform and instruct. When
called upon to be informed and instructed, most people would
very much prefer to be doing something else. So when the expository
writer sits down at the keyboard, he is constrained to assume
that "no on will want to read what I am going to write".
This is the "expository writing attitude".
This dreary description of the expository writer's challenge
may seem a rather negative note on which to set about one's
work. But is it really? If it is a realistic assessment of
the situation, then it is the best starting point for defining
and achieving a text's objectives. This can hardly be considered
So how did I apply
the expository writing attitude to produce a corporate image brochure
that people not only read, but recommended to their friends and
colleagues? Starting from the assumption that no one would want
to read anything about the company, I and my colleagues (it was
a brainstorming) asked ourselves: What things does this company
do that people might want to read about? Its basic activity was
producing vaccines. We are all naturally interested in health, and
virtually everyone knows the importance of vaccination, for themselves
but especially for their children. Here were already two things
people might want to read about.
We were given the
assignment in the mid-1980s, just when a strange new term --genetic
engineering -- was beginning to appear more and more in newspaper
headlines. According to the reports, this new technique would revolutionize
medicine, so people were becoming more and more interested in learning
what it was all about. This was a third topic of broad general interest.
To make a long story short, we defined seven areas of the company’s
activities that would be naturally attractive to potential readers.
However, it didn’t stop there. If all this exciting information
were jumbled together with company propaganda, people probably still
wouldn't want to read the brochure, despite their natural inclination
to do so. We therefore made a daring proposal. The brochure would
be laid out in seven double-page spreads, i.e. each of the seven
areas of activity would be allotted two facing pages. But the text
would be rigorously segregated.
1) Theory. The left side of
each page would be pure science; the company’s name would never
even be mentioned.
2) Practice. The right side of each page would explain
how the company used the science explained on the left to produce
When we presented the concept, the reaction was one of shock. “You
mean people could read the brochure left side only and never see
our name?” Exactly. But having learned about the basic science,
wouldn’t they naturally want to learn how the company was using
the science to produce safe, effective, and (relatively) inexpensive
It took a while for management to accept the proposal, but finally
they did. When the brochure was ready, they couldn’t print enough
of them. Of course, not all companies would be suitable for this
particular type of corporate image brochure. The important idea
here is not this particular brochure, but the thinking process that
led to it. I subsequently wrote several other corporate brochures.
None of them had quite the same overwhelming impact. However, all
of them received positive feedback. Not only from the company's
management, but from the people who really count -- the readers
for whom they were intended.
The next time you sit down to compose a corporate image brochure
(or virtually any kind of expository text), ask yourself the question:
I know that no one wants to read what I am going to write, so how
can I write something they will want to read? Until you can find
at least one good answer (preferably more), keep your hands away
from the keyboard. You are simply not yet ready to start writing.
By : Philip Yaffe
is a former writer with The Wall Street Journal and international
marketing communication consultant. He now teaches courses in persuasive
communication in Brussels, Belgium. Because his clients use English
as a second or third language, his approach to writing and public
speaking is somewhat different from other communication coaches.
He is the author of In the “I” of the Storm: the Simple Secrets
of Writing & Speaking (Almost) like a Professional, available
from the publisher (storypublishers.be) and Amazon (amazon.com).
Contact: [email protected], [email protected]
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