Lessons From Home Grown Marketing Collateral

Google inspired me.

Yes, Google inspired me to create a marketing collateral piece for my business, from its little AdSense booklet that I received in the mail several years back.  (See the booklet and read more about it here.)

Today I’d like to share my own booklet – the booklet that Google inspired.  When I saw Google’s booklet, a light bulb went on over my brain.  “A ha!  I can create something like that to drive people back to my website,” I thought.

You see, I run a Web-based publishing business – akin to an informal online magazine.  I have struggled to come up with meaningful printed collateral to hand out at in-person events and speaking engagements that will get people to go online and visit my website.

In my case, going to my website is the single biggest call to action.  My goal is to get people to go to my website, whereupon they read information, subscribe and participate in the community.  So I created my own booklet, which looked like this:

Tips cover page

For over a year, this booklet became my single biggest piece of printed marketing collateral.

Mostly,  it served its purpose.  It did drive traffic to my website, back to the single-page microsite I’d set up for it.  I’ve also used it as online content that I’ve brought to readers’ attention several times over the years (each time it is fresh for new readers).

More recently, I’ve been able to repurpose the booklet and use it in other ways.  For instance, I’ve loaded it on document sharing websites such as SlideShare, where it is still helping spread the word about my business.

But I also learned a lot from the experience of creating the booklet.  Looking back several years later, it now seems rather amateurish looking to me.  There are a number of things I would have done differently.   🙂

Here are five lessons I learned, about what worked and what didn’t, and what I’d do differently today:

1)  Spring for a great design.

In my case, I created the booklet at a time when my business was still young and my budget very small.  It was a homegrown effort done on the cheap.   I created the booklet using Microsoft Publisher.  As you can probably tell, I’m obviously not a designer.

For instance, I used curved corners for the border around the page edges.  The curved corners always printed slightly jagged, as you can see in this image of the interior pages:

Tips inside

I would have been better off with squared corners.  I never took the time to print out a sample and look critically at it.  So I didn’t realize the downsides to the curved corners until I took it to the print center to have printed in final form.

A professional would not have made that kind of mistake.

Plus, I did not take into account the value of my own time.   It probably took me 5 times as long as a professional to lay out a multi-page document like this.  I should have asked myself “What is the best use of my time?”

I’m a big believer that you can do some things on your own — however, you should know your own limitations.

2) Purchase professional images.

I had admired the simple line drawings used on the Google piece, and opted to use free black-and-white clip art in my own piece, thinking it would be simple and elegant.

Well … simple yes, elegant no.

The clip art was not what I’d hoped for.  The images tended to print out a little blurry.  Also, the images did not look quite as knock-out sophisticated as I would have like.  An investment in print-quality (300 dpi) professional images from a source such as istockphoto.com, would have been much more satisfactory.

3) Choose something you can execute well.

One lesson I learned is that I was too ambitious with the entire project, and especially the budget. I should have created a collateral piece that had lower printing and binding costs, and used the dollar difference on other elements — and still stayed within my budget.

I ended up spending many thousands of dollars for printing and binding.  Because the expense stretched my small budget at the time to the breaking point, that forced me into being penny wise and pound foolish.

First mistake: I designed it myself.  Yet, I didn’t have sufficient skills or the right tools that such an ambitious job demanded.  Spending $500 – $1000 more to hire a professional to design the cover and the layout of the inside pages would have leveraged my total investment much better.

Also, to save money, the paper stock was thinner than I’d like, and I did the interior pages in black and white, with no color.

At the time I kept thinking, “How can I cut costs?”  Instead, I should have been asking myself, “How do I create the most effective, best-looking marketing piece and still stay within my budget?”

If I were to do it all over again with the budget I had, I would have created something different … something with fewer pages or that did not require binding.  Instead, I would have spread out more of my budget into the overall execution: design, images, paper quality.

4) Create compelling content and copy.

Here’s where a second opinion or second set of eyes by a marketing professional or copywriter would have helped.

You see, I’m a bit of an information hound and like information for information’s sake.  But I should have put myself in the reader’s shoes — and asked what would have been most interesting and useful to them.   The whole concept would have been more compelling to my audience, had the content contained actionable tips that the reader salivated over knowing more about.

It would not have been that hard to re-write the content into better, more actionable tips.  In the end, it would have made the booklet the kind of thing that created word of mouth and delivered more conversions (driving more traffic online).

5) Get value online as well as offline.

I probably got the most mileage from the online version of the booklet.  I created a PDF of the booklet and loaded it online.  I also set up a companion page on my website for the URL listed on the printed booklet.  That drew visitors back to my site from those who got the printed booklet.

It only took perhaps 3 hours to create the online elements, and that small effort has more than paid for itself over the years.

For instance, I have had the PDF and the landing page (microsite) on my website for several years.  It has been a nice feature that I’ve pointed out to readers from time to time.  Each time it drives page views, and gets interest.  It’s even spawned a few flattering imitations by other people.

Later, when document sharing sites like DocStoc and SlideShare became popular, I was able to recycle the PDF and share the electronic version of the booklet on those sites.  This continues to add to my brand visibility and draw additional traffic up to the current day back to my site.  In the end, I’ve gotten 3 years of value out of having the booklet in electronic form online — and will continue to get value from it into the future.

Would I do it again?

“Would I do it all over again?”  My answer is a qualified … sort of.

If we were to do it all over again, we’d re-think the concept.  First, we’d put more effort into the content, to make it more compelling and interesting for readers — and hopefully a little viral.  Second, we’d print fewer copies and use them more sparingly.  The bulk of our effort and budget would be in the online version, in the form of an interactive slideshow that the reader can scroll through.  That’s how you take an idea and adapt it for a different media and to update the concept.

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

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