Manfacturers' sales literature is a subject we've touched upon in past articles — but it is important enough to deserve its own focus. Simply put, it is the workhorse of your marketing efforts. It tells your "story" better and more consistently than anything else can.
It's something your customers can keep and look at to remember what your product is. It contains the information needed to make additional purchases — and to use as a training vehicle for store employees. Most importantly, it helps your customers relate to your product — what it is, what it does and why they want it. Effectively used, it can create your image better than anything else — possibly even more so than your product itself.
Literature is inclusive of all the written and graphic materials you use in presenting your company and products. It includes advertisements, direct mail pieces, product brochures, business cards, shipping labels, invoices, order forms and shipping cartons, product labels and story cards, Internet web pages, etc. Once you develop a "look", make sure you reinforce it by using it in all your written materials. Your "look" includes your name, logo, tag line, typeface, borders, etc.
To thoroughly position your product in its market, these items need to be developed together — to professionalize them and add enthusiasm to them. When done well, each one reinforces the next. Someone familiar with your product will ultimately see your familiar border or typeface and immediately conjure up your product.
To pull off this type of image recognition does not (and should not) require an expensive Madison Avenue advertising firm. It does require your thinking through exactly what you want the market to think about your product. Based on that image, you proceed to derive a list of suitable names to use as examples of your concept, and then locate a good freelance graphics artist and writer. Explain to them what image you're trying to develop and ask them to work with you to develop:
Since you know your product and who you're directing it to better than anyone else, you must direct this project. The professionals are there to mentor and finalize your input — but the input must come from you.
If you have the time and expertise to do a preliminary pass at these elements, do so to give the professional a starting point. However, unless you are very adept at commercial design, don't try to complete the design on your own. A good graphics artist can take your product "out of the basement" and into the visual range of an "established" company.
The better your literature, the more established your product will appear to the marketplace. The more established your product appears, the more likely retailers will want to buy it — and the more likely your end-customers are to want to take it home.
Conversely, if your literature looks like you ran it off on a bad copier ten minutes before you dropped it in the mail, the less likely the retailer will make a commitment in your product.
It pays to keep your designs simple and to use a color scheme suitable to the product. Use quality papers and try to keep your printing runs as large as you can reasonably use, aiming at around a one-year supply. Usually the set-up charges on printing are high enough that you get a better per-piece price on larger runs. That being said, don't order more than you can use or the savings aren't justified.
Remember that it's important that your name, address, telephone number, fax and e-mail address appear on every free-standing document you print. Don't make it hard for someone to contact you once you've piqued their interest. Also, it's wise to add a date (or revision) code on everything that relates to product details, so you'll know how current someone's literature is when they call you. Avoid putting comments like "NEW" on your data sheets as it will only be new for a brief period of time.
Finally, once you've developed a good compendium of sales materials, don't be stingy with them. Some small manufacturers feel that their customers should pay for literature. I strongly recommend against this. When I was retailing, I positively would not buy from someone who wished to charge me for product information. To me, it was analogous to charging a customer to enter a retail store. You just don't do it!
Literature is a cost of doing business and should be factored into your overall product cost in pricing it. So what if some people take the literature and then don't buy? A retail store has many customers enter without making immediate purchases. But no retailer would turn someone away for not paying an entrance fee. Your literature is your "store".
If you feel you absolutely must charge for literature — as some manufacturers selling high-ticket items mail-order direct to their end-customers do — at least apply the cost to the customers' first purchase.
I'm personally against charging, even with reimbursing, because the dollar amounts are typically so small that any "savings" anticipated by the manufacturer are more than lost in their administrative costs in handling those payments (depositing, reimbursing, etc.)
Instead of attempting to charge for literature, work harder at making your literature pull better. A good example is a New England pewter manufacturer I bought from. Their research showed that if someone was to order from their catalog, they would do so within 2 weeks of receiving it — or not at all. To encourage quick orders, they offered a 15% discount on all orders placed within 2 weeks of receiving the catalog. I took them up on their offer — and I'm sure many others did too.
Again, never forget that the retailer is your customer and you want to work with them — not against them.