The Customer-Centered Brochure

Medical device manufacturers, drug companies, and hospitals spend a lot of time and money writing brochures. High hopes ride on these brochures, but the reality usually turns out to be a disappointment. The brochure fails to accomplish its objective. Even the writers who worked on the brochure realize it went awry, but very often, everyone is at a loss to explain why it failed.

Most people think that the obvious reasons are to blame: was the writing bad? Maybe the images were lousy. Maybe the product was not any good. Last but not least, some critics might argue that a brochure was not the right vehicle.

The problem is something that is very easy to overlook. What’s strange it’s that it’s an easy fix linguistically but a hard change to make psychologically.

What’s wrong with so many medical brochures? Most medical brochures are about the company, and the product, and what the company did to produce the product and how the company is presenting the product and what the company thinks about the product.

It’s about everything except the one thing it has to be about. It’s not about the reader.

Good writers learn early that it is important to know your audience. Before a brochure is done, the author should have decided who was going to read it. More than that, the author has to know his or her customers.

Identifiying a target audience is not sufficient. You need to understand what concerns this particular constituency. What keeps them awake at night? What do they gripe about? What is the one thing they wish somebody would fix that would make their work easier or faster or better? What things caused them to enter medicine in the first place?

That’s a lot to know, and it’s the real work that writers do. Writers know people and they gradually get to know hot buttons, zones of common agreement, and areas where people are searching for answers.

Once you know that, you write to the person and make it personal.

This example comes from an actual brochure, with some details changed. The first paragraph of the brochure was the department’s mission statement and the second paragraph of the text went something like this, “At Mimi Company, we know the role that nurses play in the clinical setting and we strive to stress the importance of nursing in formulating our class schedule. We think nurses do a great job and so we like to give nurses the chance to participate in more in-service training classes than any other company in our field.”

It is clear to see what the writer intended to communicate, but the brochure was a total turn-off. Imagine being at a party and some guy came up to you and said, “I know what an interesting person you are, and I value you, which is why I decided to talk you, because I wanted to convey my respect, because I am one of the nicest guys here.” You’d think yuck and psycho, probably in that order.

One superficial fix of the brochure copy is to take it into the third person (which is a little bit formal) or second person. By ditching the mission statement (who wants to read a mission statement? Most people don’t even read their own mission statements much less try to foist them on the unsuspecting public) and changing the copy slightly, the entire brochure could be fixed. “Nurses work hard, and they don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Numerous studies have shown that nurses can significantly improve clinical outcomes, particularly in critical care. But nurses have not always had as many opportunities for in-service training as some of their colleagues. The attached schedule offers the most extensive selection of in-service training opportunities in the industry and these programs were designed by nurses for nurses.” Both texts were true, but the second took the focus off the company and put it on the nurses. One nurse hot-button issue is the fact that nurses are not as well recognized, at least in some settings, as they should be. In this particular context, nurses were also irritated that there were few in-service training classes open to them at all and, of those, none were targeted at what nurses needed. This text hits those.

If you’re a writer, you might also notice I started off in third person (nurses this, nurses that) but wound up talking me-and-you (That’s why we offer you thisÂ…) so by the time afirst-person pronoun was used in the text, the brochure was alredy talking directly to the nurses.

The company rejected the revisions and published thei first version. Not all marketing communications stories have happy or logical endings. But this example shows what is wrong with so many medical brochures. Companies promote their agenda instead of getting inside the heads of their clients and trying to make the brochure address their needs.

Here’s a hint. Customers do not buy from you because they want to help your company. They don’t even buy from you first and foremost because they like you (although that doesn’t hurt). They buy from you because you are offering something that solves one of their problems or meets one of their needs.

Keeping the customer’s interest the heart and soul of the brochure will help you create compelling content and an effective brochure.