A New Model for a Better Brochure

What would a ‘Better Brochure’ look like?  We used the ‘Four Actions Framework’ from the Blue Ocean Strategy to reimagine a brochure used for student recruitment.

Reference: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

What’s a Blue Ocean Strategy?

A ‘Blue Ocean’ is an analogy for a market not yet created.  But the analogy begins with ‘red oceans‘, which are existing industries, in which the market spaces are known and well defined:
Here, companies try to outperform their rivals to grab a greater share of existing demand. As the market space gets crowded, profits and growth are reduced. Products become commodities, leading to cutthroat or ‘bloody’ competition. Hence the term red oceans.
Blue oceans, on the other hand, are:

…the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid.

What makes the Blue Ocean Strategy interesting for our purposes, is that it provides a way for older, traditional businesses (or in our case, media) to think about how to reinvent themselves by taking on new forms and inventing new markets.

Case Study: Cirque Du Soleil

One of the celebrated case studies is of Cirque du Soleil, which reinvented the idea of a circus and in the process created a new market:

Whereas other circuses focused on offering animal shows, hiring star performers…Cirque du Soleil did away with all these factors [which] had long been taken for granted in the traditional circus industry…Blue Ocean Strategy, 2005, p14

But it also added new elements, such as theatrical story lines, whilst boosting the role of acrobats and glamorising the big tent.

Not only did this create a circus that was more appealing to a wider range of people (new markets) but it transformed (reduced) the cost model of the circus (animals and star performers being expensive and troublesome to maintain).

Institutions often feel the same way about brochures, so could the same be done with them?

Four Actions Framework

A key conceptual tool used for creating a Blue Ocean is the Four Actions Framework.  The idea is to look at all of the factors that make up a product or service and decide:

For brochures, which are typically produced annually, the factors (in terms of content) have traditionally been:

  • Who we are.  Brand and story.
  • Where we are.  Location and map.
  • What we look like.  Campus photos of smiling students and interesting architecture.
  • Why study with us.  Selling points.
  • Who vouches for us.  Student testimonials.
  • What you can study.  Programs.
  • How much it costs.  Fees.
  • When it happens.  Key dates.
  • What it takes to get in.  Entry requirements.
  • How to apply.  Check list and application form.
Of these factors, what could be eliminated, reduced, raised and created, and what would be the implications?  Here’s our ideas:

Any information that is readily changeable:

  • How much it costs.  Fees.
  • When it happens.  Key dates.
  • What it takes to get in.  Entry requirements.
Changeable information is problematic for brochures in a number of ways:
  1. After printing, it can’t be changed!  At least, not without significant cost.
  2. Production is often delayed pending faculty decisions on fees or entry requirements.
  3. Changeable information causes brochures become obsolete each year.

Tip: Keep pages dedicated to these topics but frame them in terms of the value proposition (see Raise below) and then use digital platforms to manage and distribute the information that changes e.g. Fees: Our programs are very reasonably priced/expensive and exclusive, which you can see at [our digital platform].


Any information that is overly detailed:

  • What you can study.  Programs.
  • How to apply.  Check list and application form.
Today, most brochures contain substantially less detailed program content than they did 20 years ago, which makes sense given the extent of the detail and the cost of printing and the fact that no student can be interested in every program.
Tip: Remove the application form and keep program information basic in the brochure, using digital platforms to manage an distribute detailed information.  

The value proposition:

  • Who we are.  Brand and story.
  • Where we are.  Location and map.
  • What we look like.  Campus photos of smiling students and interesting architecture.
  • Why study with us.  Selling points.
  • Who vouches for us.  Student testimonials.
Tip: Instead of having one page of selling points, let every page make the case for studying at your institution (see for example ‘Fees’ above).
Digital connections on every page.
Brochures are physical entities in the real world, which, like billboards or banners, can be used as a launch pad for digital engagement with the student.  ROI.
Tip: Use QR codes to link to digital content that is relevant to each page.

Comparing the Old and the New

Using the Four Actions Framework, we’ve created a ‘New Brochure’ that is:
  • a better sales tool, with greater emphasis on selling points.
  • less detailed with no changeable information extending life-cycle.
  • integrated with a digital ecosystem providing opportunities to measure ROI.
But added to this, the removal of changeable information and the problem of obsolescence, has major implications for brochure economics (lower cost) and market reach (greater).

Sample Study

Consider an institution with 1200 agent partners around the world, a budget to print 2000 brochures each year and a desire to give each agent 5 brochures per year.
Using this new model, the institution can vastly the extend the reach of its print collateral for the same or even less cost.

Old Brochure

  • 2000 printed annually.
  • 5 sent to each agent.
  • 400 agents receive brochures each year; 800 miss out.

Over 3 years, 6000 brochures are printed, with 400 agents receiving 5 brochures each year.

New Brochure

  • 6000 printed in year 1 and designed to last 3 years.
  • 1200 agents receive 5 brochures each; none miss out.

Far greater reach is attained for:

  • The same cost of distribution (total number of consignments is the same over 3 years).
  • Reduced print cost due to the higher print run (overall cost saving would be as much as 50%)

These savings can be reinvested in higher quality/durability of the brochure.

Conclusion: Is this a Better Brochure?

In theory, New Brochure would be a more powerful sales tool, higher quality but cheaper, with far greater market reach and measurable ROI due to digital integration.
However, it would require the institution to amortise print and distribution costs over multiple years and to integrate with a flexible and robust digital platform (we offer one).
And it may be that the effectiveness of piece of print collateral is diminished over time, which could undermine the long life-cycle approach used by New Brochure.
We don’t know if any institutions have tried this New Brochure model (and it certainly would be interesting to hear from them if they did), but it would require some bold decision making and a well thought through marketing plan that extends beyond the coming year.
If that sounds like your institution – get in touch and share your experiences!

Learn more about the Blue Ocean Strategy.

Click here to learn more about The Better Brochure Project.

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