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 re-imagine a brochure used for student recruitment.

In this post we re-imagine your brochures in 4 steps:

  • Step 1: We eliminate information that changes e.g. Fees, Dates…
  • Step 2: We reduce information that is overly detailed.
  • Step 3: We raise and enhance what you’re promoting – your value proposition.
  • Step 4: We create digital connections to information that changes and do it on every page for maximum engagement.

Take these 4 steps to create more effective and durable print collateral that can:

  1. Be distributed far more widely across your agent network for no additional cost.
  2. Eliminate brochure obsolescence and waste.
  3. Become a physical launchpad for digital engagement with your brand.

Read on to see how.

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, old print 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 most celebrated Blue Ocean 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 base of the circus (animals and star performers being expensive and troublesome to maintain).

Institutions often feel the same way about brochures (expensive and troublesome), 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 for your brochure?  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 cannot 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 to become obsolete each year causing waste.

Tip: Keep pages dedicated to these topics but frame them in terms of the value proposition and then use digital platforms to manage and distribute the information that changes e.g. Fees.


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 or two pages of selling points, and the rest dry detail, let every page make the case for studying at your institution.
Example: Raise up your Fees page.
We’re not saying your brochure shouldn’t have a Fees page.  It should.  But instead of filling it with numbers that might already be wrong or about to go out of date, use the opportunity to speak to the value that your institution’s fees could offer the student’s family.  
For example, your fees may offer:
  • Value for money
  • A great return on investment
  • Flexibility of payment
  • A sign of status or prestige
Use the Fees page to make a case for your offering and then launch from there to the fees hosted on your digital platform, where the numbers are always up to date and can be surrounded by student video testimonials and other content supporting the messaging on the page.
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.  

And if integrated with a digital platform you can track how, when and where your brochures are being read and convert that traffic into leads for follow up and nurturing.
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 your institution’s value proposition, even to the extent that the Fees page speaks to your institution’s selling points.
  • less detailed with no changeable information extending life-cycle and eliminating waste.
  • integrated with a digital ecosystem providing opportunities to measure ROI and generate leads.
But furthermore, eliminating changeable information and obsolescence, can have a major impact on brochure economics (much lower cost) and market reach (far greater).

Consider this scenario: 

An institution has 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.
Here’s how:

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 banked or reinvested in higher quality/durability of the brochure.

Conclusion: Is this a Better Brochure?

In our view this ‘New Brochure’ would be a more powerful sales tool.
It would be higher in quality but cheaper, with far greater market reach and measurable ROI.
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).
We don’t know if any institutions have tried to create a New Brochure like this (and it certainly would be interesting to hear from them if they have done), 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.

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.

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