A wise man once taught me that there is no need to write and rewrite and write again the marketing collateral for websites, brochures, and flyers for a product. In fact, consistency across marketing collateral goes a very long way towards communicating complex product descriptions and value propositions to customers, market analysts and sales teams.

I had first experienced the impact of writing canonical text in 2006 when I was working for a highly-technical company and was trying to find ways to communicate clearly what the different products did, how they related to each other, and why they would solve the customers’ problems.

The first thing that stood out when we began to review our collateral was that there was an awful lot of text on every webpage, brochure and flyer. And the text on each of these items was completely different from the others. This meant that the marketing teams were rewriting the text for every piece of marketing material relating to each product. It confused the sales teams and market analysts, and it certainly confused our customers.

The leader of our marketing department decided to have us write canonical text for every product in our division. He had us begin by writing a problem statement for each product (see my previous post titled “What is your Problem?”. The problem statement helped to clarify the basic value proposition of the product.

Because the problem statement included a list of features and benefits, an elevator pitch for each product became much easier to put together. This is a description of the product that you could tell someone during an elevator ride. For some products, this is a remarkable difficult achievement!

As pieces of sales collateral needed to be written with more detail, such as flyers, brochures, and seminar slidesets, the canonical text proved to be a very good starting point. Each piece of material that was written with more detail could be tailored to the audience, whether it needed to be more technical for seminars or at a laymen’s level like websites and flyers. This helped to ensure the message was consistent across audiences.

We then proceeded to expand this text into a website where we needed images – in this case screenshots. As part of the canonical text exercise, we chose a very small number of screenshots, graphs and graphics that would be relevant, interesting, and easy to reuse. Like the canonical text, these images were the same across all of the marketing collateral for each product. Make certain to save them as high-resolution the first time as recreating them for printed brochures is not fun.

By finessing all of the marketing material in the department in this way, we found that we were able to respond much more quickly to marketing needs, we were much more confident in our external communication, and our sales department and customers finally understood what we were talking about. Well, most of the time.