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The Evolution of the Interactive Brochure

What B2B companies wishing to update their marketing plan should be looking for is a simple, low-cost way to produce interactive brochures in-house. Here’s my take on the state of the play right now:

In 2007, my agency created its first interactive brochure for a B2B company. Based on the Ceros platform (, which is similar to iPaper ( or Zmags (, it was an overnight success, combining text, illustrations, video, sound in an interactive experience that almost overshadowed the messages themselves. Marketing loved it, sales embraced it, top management applauded it. Limitations of the technology then (and now) meant that we couldn’t accurately judge the extent to which prospects and customers interacted with it, but it was generally considered a win for the company and an important feature of their marketing plan.

Five years later, companies considering how to add life to their company and product brochures by entering the world of interactive, rich media, are faced with some difficult choices. To help our clients evaluate the choices, we considered first what B2B buyers might like for their brochure experience: An attractive, simple-to-navigate, any-device, explorable, shareable, commentable, searchable, subscribable, printable, fast mix of text, graphics, video and sound. Sounds simple, right? Then we thought about what the company itself would prefer: An attractive, low-cost, in-house produceable, scaleable, secure, trackable, updateable, easily edited, CMS-based, open source, brochure-like mix of text, graphics video and sound.

Even today, the two wish lists are difficult to unite. In our opinion and experience, Flash-based flipover PDFs have become difficult dinosaurs. They can offer a rich visual and audio experience, but they are expensive to produce, difficult to edit and tough to integrate with other tools in the marketing plan. Viewing an interactive brochure created this way from a mobile device (which is where more and more of the B2B action is) brings its own set of challenges. What’s more – and most important of all – they are out of touch with the way many B2B buyers really want to be served their information.

So where does that leave your company? Stuck with downloadable PDFs – perhaps enhanced by PDF publishing site’s simple but effective PDF viewer? Or implementing your interactive brochure in Flash with all the associated difficulties? Other choices, like Apple iBooks or Adobe’s new range of publishing software, also have their limitations. For example, a brochure produced in an Apple iBook format can be very nice indeed, but it only works on an iPad.

We encourage our customers to rethink the role of the brochure in their marketing plan. Today’s B2B buyer typically performs a great deal of research before approaching a particular vendor. Much of this fact-finding is conducted via Google searches, community participation and industry events. In this context, the information you provide needs to be at a Voice of Industry (i.e. problem-specific rather than brand-specific) level. It needs to be presented in a online format that enables buyers and influencers to share your information with others, supporting their ability and desire to recommend your company to others – even if it’s just as a source of information. Here, the specific product you sell takes a back seat. You’re a customer advocate, helping buyers to make smarter decisions.

On the other hand, once you’ve got a prospect on the hook, you need to communicate specific details about your products and your company. This calls for information presented at a Voice of Company (i.e. focused on the company’s offerings) level. Here, the best thing to do is to create (in addition to printed materials) an online resource that enables the prospect to obtain the usual information provided by most printed brochures, as well as rich media information such as a video where the product’s developer talks about how he was inspired to invent the product or how it’s best used in practice.

Check out, for example, DuPont’s This HTML5-based platform, called Edition Manager (and yes, produced by our agency), checks all the boxes for rich media and online functionality but it can easily be produced in-house with a minimum of graphical skills. It might look like a magazine, but don’t be fooled – this is just a more intelligent, and more effective, way of creating a product brochure!

The same underlying technologies can produce a rich-media, online brochure experience for your Voice of Company communications (the classic-style product or corporate brochure), too. It’s just that no one has actually done it yet. Can’t wait? Don’t have the resources? Or looking for a more brochure-like experience? New technology is on its way in the next 12 months. For now, one of the simplest but most effective choices, in our opinion, is to use’s publishing platform ( to add social capabilities and enhanced viewing to your PDF publications. A well designed interactive brochure functioning as an integrated part of your company’s marketing plan can be a highly effective messaging tool and with the possibilities opening up today this promises to go for both cost and return.

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Jonathan Winch

I’m Jonathan Winch, partner at cylindr and BBN International and a B2B marketing enthusiast. I've participated as a strategic and creative resource in the marketing and communication sphere for over 25 years, making contributions to the strategies and communications of companies of all sizes, the best known of which include Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Danisco, GN ReSound, Hempel, Nokia Siemens Networks, LEGO, Coloplast, and Johnson & Johnson. My mission? To help B2B companies make the most of the value they create for the world. My hobby: Nutritional science, particularly sports nutrition.

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