Beyond Colors and Fonts: Developing and Launching a Successful Literature System

Seven steps to help you get started.
stack of pamphlets

As a company grows, its communication needs become more intricate. There’s the sales team, which needs a variety of sell sheets, updatable on the fly yet coordinated and professional looking. Human Resources plans to develop a recruitment packet for college job fairs. Customer Support needs product literature with detailed specs featuring lots of tables and graphs, and so on. A literature system can be defined as the coordinated system of templates and guidelines used for creating a range of marketing collateral such as brochures, fact sheets, newsletters and e-communications within a defined, integrated brand language. This system can help support everyone’s communications goals.

Whether your company has outgrown its existing system, wants to revamp to support a new brand, or needs to build something fresh from the ground up, developing a literature system is a complex undertaking. First though, it’s important to understand what kind of system you need and how to create one that works for your company. Here are seven steps to help you get started:

1. Decide on the basics
When deciding on the level of complexity and control that is best for your program, some key considerations are:

  • How much centralized control and review are you prepared to provide?
  • How will your team respond to a rigid layout system?
  • How frequently will your literature need to change?

2. Conduct an effective audit
Gather examples of every communication currently being produced, including print and electronic versions where possible. It’s important to reach out to all corners of the company and dig deep – somewhere someone is producing a sell sheet in Power Point, and it may not be sitting on a shelf by the printer. Remember to ask stakeholders what materials they would like to produce but don’t as of yet. Try to identify what they see on the horizon and what they’ll need in the future.

3. Determine the scope of the system
You need to codify the elements of the system. Look for commonality among the materials and information you’ve gathered. Can you develop a single format for sell sheets and product information sheets? Is there a need for group-level capabilities brochures?

Make sure to consider what applications will support the system and what user level. Microsoft Office is probably available on all company computers, but they have severe limitations. A professional application like Adobe InDesign is required if you want to produce more complex, higher value materials.


4. Develop the system and guidelines
When putting together a project plan, keep in mind that a typical plan would include:

  • a review of audited materials and findings
  • a working session to gain consensus on system elements
  • the design development phase
  • the design presentation, including an overview of design elements and prototypes of completed materials
  • iterations and additional development
  • focus groups with key stakeholders to review the system, possibly including testing of templates
  • development of guidelines to support the system

5. Put your system online
Create a dedicated “brand central” site so the literature system is accessible to everyone. If you include brand messaging elements such as a corporate video and mission statement, you’ll create a go-to destination for new hires and outside vendors, helping to assure brand consistency.

Building your site on a content management system (CMS) is also a good idea so that your marketing team can keep the content current.

6. Launch it loudly
Present the system in a company-wide webcast or live meeting, send regular emails to remind everyone where they can find materials, and don’t forget employee training!

7. Support it seriously
Monitor the rollout and ask to see all materials developed in the new system for the first six months. Remember to look on the website – legacy PDFs need to be replaced and new ones should be reviewed for compliance.

A comprehensive literature system is a large venture, but if you plan well, involve key stakeholders, and support it post-launch, it will become a valuable tool to support the larger communications goals of your company.

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