Online Brochures: The Digital (R) Evolution

Online Brochures: The Digital (R) Evolution

Dig Rev

Online brochures are expanding the rigid boundaries that constrained a once, print-only world. This, of course, is the world where brochures started and now it seems as though they have been a marketing staple forever. They were a natural evolution of the use of pamphlets, and here’s an interesting fact about pamphlets: people were putting them together [1] at least a century before Gutenberg’s printing press in 1450! Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Since then, a lot has changed. Here’s a history of brochure making, from print to digital and beyond.

The Early Days – Print

Even with the availability of print, it took a while before printed material could be used for marketing. Printing became more affordable in the 1880s and 1900s and early leaflets [2] were used for anti-slavery and suffragette campaigns.

By the 1900s, printing became even more accessible and this was when people began to create brochures [3] for advertising and marketing. There were all kinds of brochures, from single sheets folded in half to those folded in thirds to give multiple content panels. And there were collections of sheets that were made into booklets.

At first, these were mainly in black and white, but eventually full color brochures became available. Brochures were used in a wide range of businesses from non-profits to travel agencies. Advances in printing technology brought the cost of color down and marketers and businesses continued to use brochures of all kinds well into the late 20th century. Although you could print brochures faster, with a wider range of colors, not much else changed for more than a hundred years [4].

1990s: From Print to PDF

Then, everything changed – fast! Adobe developed the portable document format (PDF). It seems strange to think of it now, but the ability to share documents that could be read on all computer systems and have those documents look essentially the same was pretty revolutionary. Those of us who were around then can still remember the excitement and the joy of getting updates to Adobe’s proprietary reader software, which the company cleverly gave away for free packaged on CDs that came with computer magazines.

Of course, the technology wasn’t perfect. First of all, if you wanted to create a PDF you needed Adobe’s own, very expensive software. That remained true till 2008, when they created an open source patent, sparking a plethora of PDF creation tools.

Second, email and browser technology wasn’t what it is today. (In fact, many people still didn’t have access to email [5] and web browsers.) We take it for granted that you can click on a PDF and view it in a browser, but back then it was quite likely that something would go wrong because of a compatibility issue. Email marketing had been around since the early days of email, but it wasn’t till the 1990s [6] that it became a smart way to send out brochures.

Third, it was hard to interact with the text of PDF brochures. And that was just for copying and pasting, not the kind of interactivity we take for granted in 2014. The brochures created using this software were clones of the print counterparts. Depending on how savvy the creator was, they could be legible or completely incomprehensible. Some of those images were awfully fuzzy in the early PDF brochures. Though Adobe partly solved many of these problems, the format still wasn’t perfect.

2000s: The Digital (R) evolution

Since the 1990s, print brochures have existed side by side with their PDF counterparts, and new ways of creating brochures have come to the fore. For example, some people use Adobe Flash to create slightly more attractive copies of print brochures. In particular, the Flipbook style of brochure came into being in the mid-2000s. At the time, it was the best thing around. It transformed the print product into an exact digital copy, and allowed people to zoom in to read text and zoom back out again using on-screen controls. But even Flipbooks proved not to be the best brochure solution, because they relied on Flash. And Flipbook style brochures could be difficult to search and so weren’t that reader friendly.

Despite the limitations, some people were able to create interactive online brochures. Jonathan Winch [7] of Copenhagen ad agency Eye did one for a client in 2007. It met with a great response, but had one major flaw:

“Limitations of the technology then (and now) meant that we couldn’t accurately judge the extent to which prospects and customers interacted with it.”

In other words, it was good for readers, but not for marketers, and brochures have to satisfy both audiences.

2010 Onwards: The iPad Generation

The advent of the iPad in 2010 soon made Flipbook technology less appealing. Consumers began using mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) and their expectations of brochures changed. They began to take interactivity for granted, and that’s one thing old style print brochures (and their PDF and Flipbook clones) didn’t have. That meant brochure creation mechanisms had to change.

Back in 2012 a Daily Mail [8] article predicted the death of the travel brochure as more of its audience moved toward mobile devices. There’s definitely some merit in that, especially since new technological advances allow for the creation of completely interactive online brochures.

In 2014, the combination of interactivity for readers and trackability for marketers is no longer a problem. The confluence of HTML5 and CSS allows publishers to create fully interactive brochures that also allow marketers to track interaction. These brochures offer web compatibility, mobile readiness and meet users’ need to be able to watch embedded video, click to follow links and share individual pieces of content on social media from their mobile devices. As Jason Lisi [9] says:

“Why try to replicate printed products digitally, when there are aspects of digital that add a new dynamic to the user experience in ways that print cannot. Why simply display the transcript of an interview with a celebrity when you can also provide the audio, or better yet, a video of the interview? Why have static ads when they can be animated?”

Brochure technology today can give people what they are searching for: an interactive reading experience that blows plain old print out of the water!

The Future: Digital Publishing Platforms

Like all other print products, brochure making has had to evolve. This evolution is likely to continue as marketers request search engine optimization and robust analytics and readers seek solutions that combine great design and readability across multiple devices and platforms, with speed, SEO, interactivity and integration with apps. Doesn’t seem much to ask, does it?

 Want higher conversion rates for your customers? Create interactive online brochures. Learn how -

Tweet this: #OnlineBrochures are expanding the rigid boundaries that constrained a once, print-only world.

Tweet this: If you want a giraffe, get a giraffe; do not dress up an elephant and call it a giraffe. #OnlineBrochures


[1] Pamphlet – Wikipedia

[2] Leaflets (British Library)

[3] Brochure History

[4] Evolution of Brochure Design

[5] Timeline: A Brief History of Email

[6] The Evolution of Email Marketing

[7] The Evolution of the Interactive Brochure

[8] Death of the Holiday Brochure: “Web will take over in 5 years.”

[9] Print and Digital Media: Finding a harmonious Relationship

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