RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Examples of really BAD product literature

Rick OsmanCIMCIG's Rick Osman examines some marketing literature collected at a recent trade fair and points out some glaring – and less obvious – deficiencies.

A colleague recently returned from a trade show promoting hotel design and development, raving about the positive implications for the construction industry. Naturally, the exhibition itself featured specialist manufacturers and suppliers of, often stunning, furniture and fabrics. What truly shocked us both however, was how poor some of their marketing literature was.

These were companies selling to designers. Yet many seemed to have overlooked that it takes good design to sell good design, practicality to sell practicality, and both to convince an architect to choose your product over others.

Now, more than ever, marketing literature must earn its keep. It's not enough that your products are more effective than your rivals'. Your product literature must be too.

The first of several random pieces that caught my eye was a beautiful printed 224-page A5 book produced on behalf of an interior designer. A substantial tome, it contained much original photography and was laid out with obvious care. It was also completely useless. Nowhere did it include any means of contacting the company – not even a website address. Its parting shot in the foot was a line on the back cover, "Past performance does not guarantee future results." Words failed me.

Next came another A5 publication, this time from a bed supplier. Despite offering a choice of over a dozen types of bed these chaps elected to make comparison of each almost impossible by having their brochure open in landscape format, like a calendar. They then repeated much of the same information on every page, burying the main points of differentiation within a dense paragraph of text. Why? It would have been so much simpler, and more effective, to include a product comparison table. Added to that, there is a reason why so many technical brochures are standard A4 portrait. It's because it works. They're easier to read, to file in architectural libraries, and to store in project folders.

Even getting all the basics right couldn't prevent some from clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Two A4 4-page brochures I saw featured all the right information, but packed so tightly onto the page as to not even allow enough room to be hole-punched. Ideally, each page would have included company name and contact details, as with a website. In this case there simply wasn't enough space! Cramming stuff as close as you can to the edge of the page simply makes you look amateurish – desperate not to miss anything out but too mean to do the job properly.

Not all that I saw involved ink on paper. A tap supplier, whose products impressed me as both innovative and stylish, unfortunately chose to present their wares on DVD. Why not put the same information on a website and spend about a tenth of the cost on pens, highlighters and other knick-knacks promoting their URL?

Not one of the examples I examined had an architectural library reference*. While it's true that not all practices have a physical library, and those that do may not worry too much about keeping it organised, you must still make life as easy as possible for those who do want to keep your information for future use.

These are tough times. We need all the help we can get. Not thinking through how, where and by whom your marketing literature is used is just wasting money and makes everyone's job that much more difficult.

More information

Rick Osman is a CIMCIG committee member and partner in Highwire, a design and marketing agency specialising in the construction industry. Highwire was also a part of the team that created HotelStandards.com.

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