I’m all for saving money on marketing unless those savings end up costing you new business. Case in point:
An independent insurance agent had always used glossy brochures provided by the insurance carriers he represented. As competition increased, he realized that having his own branded materials would do more to differentiate him and showcase his independence. Seeking to save time and money, he downloaded a ready-to-use template for a tri-fold brochure. He typed in his text and then “quick printed” the brochure. He was delighted at how inexpensively he’d created his brochure.
Ultimately, however, that brochure cost him $100,000. The more he used it, the more trouble he had closing deals. He thought the problem was the economy until a prospect leveled with him: “You say you’re different from other agents because you care about finding us a quality plan. You say you’ll handle all the details. But this ‘cookie cutter’ brochure says otherwise. In fact, my plumber uses this same template for his brochure.” The prospect walked away from a $100,000 policy that the insurance agent had thought was a done deal.
I’ve heard similar stories involving off-message stock photos and “canned” website and blog themes. In fact, clients often come to us for help after DIY templates have undercut their brand. At that point, they don’t just need to redo their materials; they need us to help them rethink both their branding and their messaging to address the image problems and competitive vulnerabilities created by the cookie-cutter materials.
Lessons learned: You can use templates successfully. You just need to make sure whatever template you use reflects your brand. For example, if your value proposition includes stability, integrity and risk avoidance, don’t pick a template with flashy colors or funky typefaces. In a case where your message is about providing unique solutions, you may not want to risk using a template at all. A custom design will work much harder for you. And you don’t have to spend a fortune – through sources like Craig’sList and Elance.com, you can connect with good writers, graphic designers and web designers who help you create custom materials that truly set you apart from your competitors.