Visual Hierarchy Lesson 4: Whip Your Designs Into Shape

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In our fourth and final look at the visual hierarchy of design, we’ll be examining shape. Shape is a relatively intuitive concept because our minds are already trained to break things down to their most basic forms. Many of us grew up playing with blocks and other geometric toys, and we see shapes every day – from octagonal road signs, to square windows and doors. It’s this deeply ingrained familiarity that makes shape such a powerful component of design.

I’ve already discussed some of these concepts in the alignment section, but it’s worth repeating:

Diagonals tend to create a sense of movement and activity.

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…As do curvy unpredictable lines.

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Visual Hierarchy Lesson 3: Here’s Some Straight Talk About Alignment

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We’ve been talking about the visual hierarchy of design, and so far we’ve covered size and color. This week we’ll be looking at alignment. Alignment is essentially a method of arranging text or shapes in such a way that they’re aesthetically pleasing while also being easy to understand from an organizational standpoint. Imagine ten people standing in line. If someone stepped to the side, you’d notice them right away. The same rule applies to paragraphs. So far you’ve read several lines of text. If all of a sudden a line of text was centered…

You’d notice that line. It stands out.

That’s because humans like structure and stability, and almost everything in our daily lives reflects this. Our square houses are filled with box-like rooms. Our streets are made up of grids. Our newspapers are compromised of countless columns. We like square and rectangular shapes because they’re predictable and easy to understand. Straight lines tend to feel at rest, while squiggles and curves feel like they’re in motion. Continue reading

Visual Hierarchy Lesson 1: Why Does Size Matter?

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The key to successful marketing is successful communication. Of course, the words and images you choose are important, but did you know how you display them is just as vital?

In a series of blog posts I’ll be exploring a concept known as the visual hierarchy. Simply put, it’s how we make people see what we want them to see, and in the order we want them to see it in. And we do this by understanding and applying the four main components: size, color, alignment, and shape.

it’s how we make people see what we want them to see, and in the order we want them to see it in.

Today we’ll be talking about size, the most frequently utilized and easiest to understand principle. Headlines in newspapers are a prime example. They’re big and designed to grab your attention. Think about the countless advertisements you’ve seen where FREE is the largest text on the page. There’s a reason for that… they know you’re going to see it, and with any luck, respond.

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Embracing Weird: Advertising’s Shift To The Odd And Unusual

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There’s a reason Super Bowl commercials are funny, and there’s a reason they cost millions of dollars: Witty works. Humor had long been an effective tool in an advertiser’s arsenal, and no matter how daring or risqué an ad was, it always had a concrete connection to the product or brand. The punchline was tied to the messaging. Now? Now things are starting to change.

If you’ve been watching television, reading magazines, or surfing the web, you may have noticed a trend – advertising is getting a little weird.

Old Spice ad

Okay, scratch that. Advertising is getting very weird.  But why?

Well first of all, advertisers are becoming aware of the power of social media and sharing. Viral is their new favorite word. And for good reason: a well-executed campaign can yield millions of impressions, now and for years to come, and at no additional cost.

However, execution is tricky because consumers are not easily tricked. They’re bombarded by advertising more than ever, and as a result they’ve developed natural defenses. They’re tuning out, changing channels, and filtering e-mails. If it smells like a pitch or looks like a promotion, their eyes glaze over and they look the other way.

It’s these factors that have created the perfect storm for the odd and unusual. Marketers are minimizing the what, as in what they’re selling, in favor of maximizing the what? As in what the heck was that, I have to show my friends. It’s hard to ignore the people that are important to us, which is precisely why advertisers are so keen on using them.

 

Burger King - The King

Remember The King? The creepy Burger King mascot that tormented us from 2004-2011? He was arguably the start of all this madness. And while creeping out your hungry customers hardly seems like the best idea, here’s the thing… it worked. People were talking about him, people dressed up like him for Halloween, The Simpsons spoofed him, and most importantly – Burger King profited.

He didn’t look like a fast-food ad. He wasn’t the perfect mouthwatering burger being grilled in slow motion, he wasn’t a waterfall of cola cascading over idyllic ice cubes, he wasn’t the imagery pretty much every other fast-food joint was using. He wasn’t a coupon or an offer. He was just…weird. The perfect thing for people to talk about around the water cooler without feeling like corporate shills. He was so intentionally disconnected from the product and typical messaging that Burger King was able to penetrate the average consumers’ defenses.

The creepy king was a carefully crafted promotional Trojan Horse.

And there’s countless examples of this strategy. Geico television commercials frequently feature short nonsensical skits that have next to nothing to do with their actual product. A pig at a football stadium? Really? GoDaddy has also switched from sexy and provocative to surreal and head scratching.

Geico Pig

Best of all, this approach isn’t limited to video. Print ads can be just as odd. The key is to be memorable, and to have your brand somewhere on the page or the screen so they’ll always associate your brand with that memory.  That’s it.

 

So as you develop your marketing strategy, consider doing something a little out there. No risk, no reward, right?

 

I’ll leave you with one of the strangest and most unnerving commercials I’ve ever seen. An advertisement for Totino’s Pizza Rolls that’s nearing 1,000,000 views. From mere word of mouth.

Do I want Totino’s after seeing that? I’m… I’m not sure. Am I ever going to forget the name?

Not a chance.

Urgent Care Marketing

Photo by Adam Ciesielsk

There’s a new business model that’s finding its way into almost every community: the walk-in urgent care clinic.

Today there are over 8700 urgent care centers in the US alone, according to the profession’s association.

And since urgent care clinics are usually small, local and privately owned, they are much more entrepreneurial than their big hospital counterparts.  Where a non-profit hospital might be able to get along with minimal outreach efforts, an urgent care clinic couldn’t survive if the community didn’t use its services.

For the doctors who run these centers, effective urgent care marketing can be the difference between withering or prospering.

As anyone who’s been involved with a neighborhood business knows, there’s a short list of effective ways to build awareness in a community.  But attending Rotary Club functions, co-sponsoring soccer car washes, and managing the chamber of commerce open house will only get you so far.

Sure, there’s something to be said for making an investment to assure a prominent spot in Google, under “local urgent care.”  But even the all-powerful Google Search would likely not connect with most potential patients when it was time for urgent care.

What the urgent care doctor needs is the clinic’s phone number, street address, and maybe a web address, to be posted in kitchens and workplaces throughout the community.

The clinic could really use imprinted magnets in those homes and offices.

And that’s where our postcard magnet mailers come in.

urgentcare-magnet-mailersYou see, our postcard magnet mailer is a jumbo, full-color, laminated postcard, with a magnet attached. We mail them to a mailing list you provide.

Think of it as a delivery-vehicle with a mini billboard that finds its way into the kitchen or workplace, for the cost of a postage stamp.

And done effectively, the magnet positions the urgent care clinic’s message in full view, for weeks, months or longer, for less than the price of an iced tea.

At magnetbyMail we handle the details: printing, laminating, assembling, addressing, bundling and even the postal paperwork.  We can even help with the design and the mailing list.

This leaves more time for the clinic to tend to its patients.

And even though we’re a bit biased about our love for these magnet mailers, we think you could might come to agree that it’s pretty much the vitamin C of direct mail marketing.

 

Another practical marketing idea from magnetbyMail.com,  where healthy results are what it’s all about.

USPS NCOA Requirement

Photography by Chris Woods

In return for the discount postage rates it offers for First Class Presort and Standard Mail services, the USPS requires that both of these types of mail meet its Move Update standards. This is also called the NCOA processing requirement.

USPS NCOA processingThe Postal Service maintains a sizable registry of people and organizations who have recently moved; and it compiles this info in its National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Mailings that meet the Move Update standard must be checked against the NCOA database, and updated for any address changes.

This is good for mailers, since it helps ensure that addresses are up-to-date. And it’s good for the Post Office, since it minimizes the expense of handling all those bad addresses.

The downside to the NCOA requirement is that it costs money. And for a small mailer with a small list, an NCOA processing fee can seem just plain silly.

Luckily, the USPS provides two ways to avoid the NCOA requirement: Continue reading

Improving Direct Mail

photo by Nick Bradsworth www.nbphotos.net/

OK, the secret is out: the most important factor in getting better direct mail results is improving the quality of your mailing list.

This may not seem that surprising. If you’re using really good criteria to select your mailing list, certainly you would expect improved results.

usps standardized addresses

But a quality mailing list is more than the criteria you use to create it. It is quality content in terms of accurate names and deliverable addresses.

At magnetbyMail, we see hundreds of mailing lists each year — most of them are created by our customers who send them to us. They are usually lists of alumnus, subscribers, members, prospects or clients.

And many of these lists are full of errors that would cause the Post Office all sorts of delivery problems.

Now, the good news is that we’ll do our best to make the addresses deliverable. We’ll try to normalize and validate each address provided, so that it meets US Postal standards and matches an address that really exists.

But (although we try) we can’t do miracles. If you manage a mailing list of any size, you should understand some things about Normalizing and Validating an address, to ensure that your list is in tip-top shape:

Normalizing an Address

The Post Office wants to see addresses in a certain, normalized way. They expect an address with at least three lines of information: 1) Recipient Line, 2) Delivery Line address and 3) Last Line. For example: Continue reading

What is Good Design?

Original photo by Tomasz Piskorski

What is good design, exactly, when it comes to direct mail marketing?

The short answer is:  the design that achieves the results you need.

And with that you’ll note good design is above all, results-oriented.  The entire reason for good design is, not to make the world a prettier place, but to maximize the impact of the message.

Good postcard design

The longer answer is more helpful perhaps, although no more precise:  good design is using visual elements of form — space, lines, shapes, color and textures, along with function — a compelling message — that achieves an action or some goal for the marketer.   Often, it’s about finding an appealing balance between form and function — that is, a pleasing presentation;  but this is not always the case.

There’s no single design that is the perfect design.   Further, a design that works for one type of message may not work for another.

And a design for one audience may not work for another.

When it comes to postcard magnet mailers (what we do at magnetbyMail) we’ve seen all types of designs for all types of messages and audiences.

The designs that work best seem to be the ones that:

  1. get your attention, either through imagery, a few words, or both;
  2. draw you in to explore and learn more details;
  3. change your emotional state — make you angry, curious, intrigued, excited, etc.;
  4. and lead you to a next step — to a website, a phone #, a donation, etc.

Personally, I like simple layouts.  Grab the attention, give a message that’s succinct, and ask for action.

The design philosophy for this is “less is more.”   The principle is that unessential elements are distractions. So if an element isn’t necessary to your core message, consider doing without it.

Where do you find good ideas for good design?  I suggest starting on the Web.

For postcard designs, check out BestPostcardDesign .

On a future post, I’ll provide a list of my favorite websites that are helpful for design inspiration.

Until then, I suggest:  less is best.

 

Another little marketing nugget from magnetbyMail, your source for postcard magnet mailers and other nifty marketing aids.

Sending Large Files

Photography by Andreas Krappweis - http://www.krappweis.com/

How to Send Large Files for Free

Sending Large Files for FreeBeautiful art files can cause ugly problems when sent through email. The problem is their size.  Many email services restrict the sizes of file attachments, and so emails with big files can simply get bounced back.

But there are a few ways around this problem.  Here are some free large file transfer ideas you might find useful:

  • use an email service that allows big files to be sent. Google allows 25MB files and Yahoo allows 20MB files. Also, the recipient needs to be using a service that allows receipt of large emails.
  • if you have your own website, upload the large file to a folder on your website, then email the link of that file to the recipient. When the recipient has downloaded it, you can delete the online file.
  • you can sign up for a free online file sharing service. Look at SugarSync which offers 5GB of free online storage, as well as a handy routine for backing up your important files. Or consider DropBox which works like a file folder that automatically syncs on all your computers.  With these file sharing services you can upload your files and share them with one or more people.
  • use a free large file-transfer email service that takes care of everything — creates an email, attaches the files you need, sends the email.

The last of the above list is the most popular solution, since it takes care of the email and the attachment.  Here are several services that offer a free version:

YouSendIt   – transmit up to 100MB file, one file per email, Lite version for free.
WeTransfer  – a very easy process with no registration.  Email with one or more files attached, up to 2GB total, for free
DropSend    – email with one or more files attached, up to 2GB total, for free with the Lite version
TransferBigFiles  – with one or more files attached, up to 100MB total, for free.

Each of these services, although very similar on the surface, offer various ‘features’ that make each somewhat unique. Features include: size of the attachments, number of attachments, number of days that a shared file can be accessed, confirmation of email delivery, number of emails per month, and ads or promotional emails you might receive.

Because our work on postcard magnets commonly requires our clients to send large art and data files, we’re always on the lookout for good solutions for large file transfer.  If you have experience with a useful system not mentioned here, please let us know.

Another useful tidbit from your favorite source of magnet mailers, at magnetbyMail.com