Thursday, June 19, 2014

Creating Effective Printed Materials - Tip 3

Following the same blog theme – we will now look effective visual content for company documents, reports, manuals or promotional literature.


The real message here is that you could have a real competitive advantage if you are able to break down the service or product visually. 

Images of your product do much more to communicate than lots of words – as long as they are relevant.

Always try to appeal to the visual (emotional) as well as the written (logical) senses.

When Direct2Print started operation in 2003 we tried to visually convey the concept as the “Direct2Print Cycle” order process on our promotional materials and on the web site.

What’s Your Budget? - Internal or External Communication?

The previous two postings related to the importance of a headline and the copy and how it should be applied across both internal and external printed communications.  We are now at a point where budgets play a key part in decision making for the visual options for all printed materials. 

Budgetary constraints are more common with internal literature, like training manuals or forms than the more “glamorous” external communications like brochures, newsletters, annual reports or leaflets.

And yet, research consistently shows that effectiveness of all forms of printed communications is considerably improved with the use of colour, charts, photographs, and histograms.
Whatever your project – visual images and the use of colour can assist in the effectiveness of your communication.

PowerPoint slides are particularly colour intensive and yet the same slides lack the same clarity and impact when printed in mono. 

Because printing from PowerPoint is so toner thirsty – online document printing was given a big boost because it reduced the printed page cost and the speed of printing sets of presentations for both internal and external communications.

The Impact of Colour Choice

Colour within documents can often be the difference between success and failure.  Whether used for a sales proposal, a tender or simply to convey a message.  Colour improves clarity and retention of the information. 

Research by Xerox concluded that colour improves impact and recall by up to 80% for all types of printed materials.  Training materials in colour can accelerate learning and improve recall by up to 78%.  In direct mail alone it has been shown to improve response rates by up to 23%. Even in the area of financial communications, colour has been shown to contribute towards the faster payment of invoices.

One thing to avoid is the overuse of colour in a document because it will lose all interest value.  Another point is to remember who is likely to be reading the material. Restaurant menus are difficult to read in low lighting and remember that 8% of us have some form of colour blindness – most commonly red and green together.

Colours need to work well together.  There are no good or bad colours.  Hue determines the basic colour.  Saturation refers to the amount of grey in the colour. Luminosity refers to the whiteness or intensity of the colour. 

Blue has been the most popular colour in the logo design and business printing we have supplied over the last 30 years. 

Blue has the qualities of appearing as business-like, strong, trustworthy and authoritative and yet at the same time can also appear as cold, depressing and gloomy.   Yet, when combined with a second colour, like yellow or red, it can work well because it adds some warmth to the design. 

Every colour can have a negative or positive effect depending on the context and how they evoke responses. The table below acts a simple guide to some of the other primary colours.

COLOUR                                  POSITIVE                                 NEGATIVE
Clean, Innocent, Pure
Cold, Empty, Sterile
Strong, Brave, Passionate
Dangerous, Aggressive, Domineering
Happy, Friendly, Optimistic
Cowardly, Annoying, Brash
Warm, Earthy, Mature
Dirty, Sad, Cheap
Natural, Tranquil, Relaxing
Jealous, Inexperienced, Greedy

I remember when I entered the printing industry in 1992.  Branding played a big part of the decision-making process. First impressions are often based upon the impact of colour.

In my case, the choice was between the orange of Prontaprint or the blue and red of Kall-Kwik.  The orange appealed more at the time. 

Yet, within a few years it was decided that this was not an effective “digital” colour and at great expense a decision was made to re-brand in red and blue.  Whilst at the same time two of the most successful early digital brands Orange and Easyjet launched with a very effective “digital” orange corporate branding.

So it is never clear cut. Colours are capable of much variation – some combinations work and some just don’t – for whatever reason!

As a compromise I currently use orange in my Direct2Print document and digital printing website ( and blue and red in my Direct2Print Business Centre Retail ( and blue and light blue in my offset litho print Direct2PrintOnline ( websites!

The Impact of Photographs

Some say a photograph can be worth a thousand words. But some pictures don’t say one word – never mind a thousand!

Does your customer really need to see your flashy new office or an expensive piece of machinery to make an informed decision?  Does the photo add anything to the message?
Your audience is only interested in relevant content. If you want them to visit your office and look over your machinery in the factory - then fine!  But always think about the purpose of the photograph before including it within the design.

With modern cameras and software even novices can be really creative with special effects, for example, the use of zoom for exploded views of a product. 

When we are supplied with photographs for printing we are sometimes surprised that the quality can be so poor. 

Common errors include:
  • ·    Very poor resolution – usually RGB screen resolution of 72dpi rather than CMYK print resolution of 300dpi.
  • ·     Very little contrast or colour saturation – supplied without any cropping or enhancement software editing.
  • ·         Often a lack of interest – even showing people who are actually using the product, enjoying themselves would add to the image you are trying to project!
  • ·         Trying to include lots of tiny images rather than fewer, better quality and larger photos.  This is particularly important for a “cover” photograph on a brochure.

For some services or products there may be no alternative than to turn to the services of a professional photographer.  For example, we printed a brochure of a building product that was used the protect the inner wall surface of chimneys – to get a meaningful photograph the professional was required and needed to supply special climbing equipment and lighting to get the right sort of images we needed.

If you can’t provide your own quality photographs or afford a professional then there is a wealth of available image stock libraries for virtually anything you would ever require at a very reasonable cost and free of any copyright. 

Using low quality, pixelated images downloaded from a web site or from a camera phone may not always reflect the type of image you are wishing to project.

We will cover photography for printing in a later Blog Article.

The Impact of Charts, Maps and Histograms

I worked briefly for one of the world’s leading (and most expensive) strategic management consultancies on a Pan-European project for one of the world’s largest companies. English is the business language but no text reports were allowed. 

Every printed presentation had to be converted into a visual format in the form of a flow chart, bar chart, histogram or pie chart.  Lots of words would have just ended up in the top drawers of the senior executives, who were all busy people.

Colourful diagrams all tend to point the reader in the right direction and aid memory.  One of the best pieces of design is the London Underground map.  It bears little resemblance to a true map but it is symmetrical and memorable.  It was designed over 50 years ago and it is still easier to understand and follow than most other public transport maps from around the world!


There is an old adage that says we make decisions emotionally and then try to justify them with logic. 

Considerable research has been made to determine the relative importance of emotional or logical factors in our comprehension and decision making. 

There is no doubt that emotional senses are influenced by appearance, colour and photography.

Like good copy – your visual presentation should have a logical flow and re-enforce the message.

Never judge a book by its cover?  Maybe not, but it influences whether you pick it off the shelf to give it a chance.

Chris Jepson Google+

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Creating effective printed materials - Tip 2

Following the blog theme – we will now look at writing copy for documents and promotional printing and hope this will provide a bit of extra help and advice.


“Keep it Short and Sweet”

There are people who advocate circumstances where both long and short copy may be appropriate.  My view is that in modern times the shorter the copy the better – in all circumstances. 

We are now in the age of Twitter and social media and our content is often determined by the number of characters in our message.

Always follow the old adage that “your copy should be as long as it needs to be and no longer”.
As we are all increasingly so short of time – everything has to be presented faster and in words we can scan and comprehend quickly.
A simple tool is the “Fog Index” which measures the average number of words in each sentence. Try and keep this around 10 words per sentence as an average.  If it is any more edit ruthlessly.

The golden rule is to know your audience.  Your copy has to be targeted and relevant to their needs.  You need to understand what makes them happy?  What are their biggest problems?

Your writing style should always be based upon how you want them to feel.  Do you want to simply state facts or do you want to amuse or entertain? 

This will depend on what you are writing for.  Obviously, there is a difference when preparing legal documents or sales literature.  When preparing copy for business documents or training manuals you need to avoid descriptive terms and stick to the relevant points.

You always create an image through your writing.  You also may need to build up a mental image of the product or service you are trying to sell or the message you are trying to communicate.

Anecdotes and Case Studies make a very effective theme for copy writing because they help to trigger the imagination of the reader.  These “hooks” can also help memory – because a picture is easier to remember than text.

5 simple guidelines to writing effective copy

1    1. Have a Clear Objective
Be very clear about the objective of the copy – is it to sell, educate or to persuade.  Avoid trying to put too much information.  Keep referring back to this objective regularly to see whether what you are writing is “on track”. 

In terms of priority the best points should be made early rather than hidden away or held back.  It would be better if they were repeated later for extra emphasis.

2    2. Follow a theme
The more you write the more likely that the reader will “turn off” or “click away” if you are writing copy for digital media. 

You need to make every point in the most concise way possible.  Adjectives and adverbs are just “filler”.  Try and make every word tell.

Like a good speech, try to grab attention immediately (the headline) and always try to have a good beginning and finish off with a good end. The end is usually the call to action. 
If the theme has not been followed it is unlikely to prompt the desired response.
There are certain buzz words, action words, descriptive words and emotive words that can be used to add effect.

Buzz Words
Free, Now, New, Here, At Last, Today
Action Words
Buy, Try, Ask, Get, See, Ring, Write, Call, Click, Send, Cut, Taste, Start, Enjoy, Replace, Renew, Repair, Examine, Consider
Emotive Words
Splendid, Excellent, Amazing, Delightful, Gorgeous, Wonderful, Beautiful, Explode,
Descriptive Words
Economical, Inexpensive, Satisfying, Rewarding, Value, Time Saving

3    3. Do not overwrite
Your copy should have a logical flow in keeping with your theme and style.  Your introduction would normally follow on from the headline by carrying the case forward in clear and unambiguous terms. 

Complexity is not a sign of intelligence.  Don’t overstate any point and always avoid superlatives.  Try and keep sentences short – more like “The Sun” rather than “the Times”. Use the “Fog Index” to measure.

4    4. Address your audience personally
Write in the present tense.  Use the word “you” not “we”.  For example – “You will receive your documents tomorrow” is better than “We deliver all our digital printing within 24 hours”. 

By personalising your message the chances are that the audience will be more receptive.
Variable data is a means by which you can mail-merge images and text to great effect – adding the recipient’s name throughout the body of your message. 
Including testimonials or a customer quote can add to the personal nature of the message – particularly if they are regarded as a credible third party. 

5    5. Proof read and edit
Do some editing.  Cut out any unnecessary words and consolidate your ideas – this should reduce the amount of text by between 30% and 50%.  Then walk away and do something else.  If you have time revisit your copy next day. This will give you a fresh perspective on your content.

Do some more editing when it has been printed out.  For various reasons people are better able to edit the printed word easier than the words that are displayed on a screen. 
Try reading your copy out loud to confirm the rhythm and reads as you would speak.

Needless to say your copy should be thoroughly checked for any spelling or grammatical errors by a third party.  We are all prone to make mistakes even with word processing spellchecks.

We recently printed a brochure that had apparently been supplied print-ready and proof-read by ten people only to find on our final proof more than 15 errors.  Many of these words also passed through the spell check.  However, printing and distributing this material would have seriously damaged the original objective of presenting a high value company image.

How to Write Effective Sales or Marketing Copy

In most cases you want to persuade or sell something, particularly in your marketing copy. 
Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it is to the point – but in all situations it requires a considerable amount of planning and preparation. There is only one question to answer.

What’s in it for me?

This is the only relevant question when preparing any sales or marketing message.
Your copy has to be your very best “salesmanship in print”. 

The secret is to put into words benefits rather than features.  The product or service is far less important than its ability to fulfil customers’ needs.

There is nothing worse than seeing printing companies with an equipment list of their machines on websites and in brochures – they would mean nothing to the majority of their clients. 

A good technique is to list all the features and then add an extra column which converts the feature into a benefit.  This is simply done by adding a column headed by “which means that” or “so what” – where you carry on the sentence by converting the feature into something that the audience would value (i.e. a real benefit!). 

If any of these are unique to your product or service they are unique benefits and will give you a competitive advantage.  The process described above is an invaluable exercise if you operate in a competitive market.  And these days this applies to virtually all of us.  Anything that can give us an edge – no matter how small can sometimes win a major contract or new client.

Now you are ready to add visual stimulation in the form of colour and photographs to help communicate your message.