Branding is Most Important Where You Least Expect It

Nobody grows up wishing to be the writer of manuals. In the TV show Monk, Adrian Monk’s even-more-dysfunctional brother Ambrose is portrayed as a writer of technical literature. Everyone shares the idea that manuals are written, mostly badly, by uninteresting people. Actually, manuals and product packaging are two of the most important areas that a company can apply its branding strategies. In fact, marketing people not interested to put their mark on manuals and packaging are missing a major opportunity.

Most marketing teams are glad to let the technical people, the clinical folks, or even regulatory or legal teams handle this kind of writing. It’s tedious work, and it’s the sort of thing that never wins awards or gets a person promoted.

Yet these manuals may be one of the most important brand-carriers the company creates. Companies that are busy churning out cookie-cutter ads or invitations (in the hopes that if everything looks alike, it’ll be “branded”) totally ignore their product manuals.

The brand should be most evident in the solid, nuts and bolts that the company produces. The brand belongs on the building, the website (particularly if you have a website from which customers order), your delivery trucks (if you have them), and your products. By products, I don’t mean so much the actually widget as the box it comes in, the label on that box, and all the paperwork within.

Many medical device companies are guilty of producing physician’s manuals and technical manuals that look quite unlike other materials the company produces. Even if the logo is on the front of the manual, chances are it does not resemble the company’s latest branding efforts. It is not even unusual for companies to do manuals in such a way that each is an entity unto itself, unlike its predecessors and descendants.

There are medical device companies that produce what they proudly call a portfolio of products, all of which come in different colors and sizes and designs of boxes. The box format may have to vary to accommodate its contents but having white boxes, blue boxes, boxes with logos on the ends, boxes with logos on the side, and boxes with no logos at all is just a mess.

It’s more important to brand product packaging and technical literature than anything else. Why? This is the exact point which the customer interfaces with your organization. Here is where your brand must be clearest.

Ads and invitations are ephemeral and can be subject to creativity, topical influences, and even whimsy. A clever company gives its copywriters and promotional team some free rein.

Product literature should look like it belongs to the package it came in and both should be clearly branded. They should have a consistent look, first and foremost. Don’t expect a creative team or ad agency to be able to design your packaging; at least one engineer will have to be on the team to be sure you get something that works well. You need to create functional packaging and then brand it not invent some clever package and then try to cram your product into it.

Manuals should fit into the packaging neatly. The brand on the package should be echoed in the manual. In other words, you should be able to associate the manual with the package and with the brand, even if the manual and package wound up in two different locations.

Besides creating a consistent look and feel for product literature, it should also be written well. A good manual is easy to navigate, clear, full of useful illustrations, and somewhat redundant. Redundancy is necessary because no one reads a manual cover to cover; people flip it open to the section they need. For that reason, writers have to assume that each manual section must stand on its own. You may have to put the same text in several different places in the manual to make it more serviceable and convenient. Remember it’s convenience for the reader you’re concerned with, not convenience for the writer and reviewer.

It is vital to keep your manuals as updated as you want to your customer to perceive you; that can mean some extra work. During an annual review, the manual should be revised to make any corrections that might have been caught since the last printing. If new products, new techniques, new phone numbers or anything else has been added, the manual should be revised.

Many companies think they are saving money by never bothering with routine and mandatory manual revisions. Do you really want your outdated look, old logo, stodgy design, or wrong address to confront your customer when he buys your product, holds the package in his hands, and later opens the manual?

Most customers turn to the manual when something is not going as planned. For most human beings, this induces a state of low-level anger, frustration, and perhaps disappointment. At this point, if the customer is able to put his hands on your manual, do you want to fuel that simmering annoyance by having an obscure manual with hard-to-understand explanations? Do you want your already aggravated customer to be tearing through the manual, scanning the index and the table of contents, and getting more and more irritated as she cannot find what she is looking for?

Most good marketers know that when a customer has a problem, it’s a golden opportunity for a smart company to look good. The trick is: you have to have an answer. By writing a clear, easy-to-use manual with a thorough and useful index and well organized, well written and illustrated instructions, you can transform an unhappy customer into a pleased customer. Solving a problem makes you a hero.

That’s why you need a great manual. You can’t always be there when your customer has difficulties, but your product literature can.