Direct Mail Design And Copy Basics

Making the “Right” First Impression

Nowadays, it’s fairly simple for just about anyone to use affordable software to create their own marketing pieces – design websites, write sales copy, create logos, etc. So many entrepreneurs do just that… and unfortunately, it shows. You probably see examples of this every day – websites with eye-bruising colors, direct mail pieces with fonts too tiny to read, muddled newspaper ads, amateurish logos and more.

And even though these may not seem like big deals – after all, businesses don’t go under because of lousy design work – they are significant reflections of your company. Consider this… it takes the average consumer just seconds to “judge” your company’s credibility and decide if they want to learn more.If they like the look and feel of your communication piece, you’re over the first hump. If not, it’s all over. They won’t give you a second chance.

So never underestimate the importance of learning and adhering to basic design principles. Following are several important guidelines you can use to create your own pieces.

1. Know your target audience in the minutest detail… their wants, problems, needs, and interests.

Then make sure that your piece reflects your understanding of their personalities. This can be accomplished in many ways such as choosing the right paper (size, weight, color), fonts (for example formal fonts for wedding invitations; “childlike” fonts for a day care center sign), size, and language (apt buzzwords). Traditionally, more upscale offers have uncluttered designs with plenty of white space, while discount offers are just the opposite (you can fill them up with graphics and words).

2. Use Color Effectively

Although successful use of color is often elusive and always subjective, mounds of scientific research data exists on all aspects of the topic – for example, which ones are considered most attractive or eye-catching; what feelings particular colors inspire; or which are easiest to see, and the like.

However, we did locate several basic rules of thumb. They are:

  • Use soft pastels (e.g. light grey, blue, and tan) as backdrops for copy. They’re easier on the eyes than stark white, bright colors or reverse (black background and white lettering) type.
  • Use colors that arouse emotions. For example, note the feelings that the following four colors evoke.
    • Red: action, emphasis, recall, excitement.
    • Yellow: happiness, sunshine, attention-getting.
    • Green: reassurance, security, stability.
    • Blue: order, tranquility, coolness, relaxation. Perhaps dentist offices should be painted blue, yes?

Artwork and Graphics

Visual images are simple, yet widely effective ways to communicate a lot. Trite phrases such as “a picture is worth a thousand words” are certainly overused because they continue to ring true.

Your artwork will help you:

  • Tell a compelling and appealing story.
  • Symbolize your company’s values and culture.
  • Evoke important feelings.
  • Explain your product / service.
  • Itemize key points.

Thus, visually pleasing communication is important and can increase your chances of capturing your prospects’ attention.

Here are some tips for ensuring that it does:

  • Take your time while creating or choosing your artwork. If it’s rushed… it shows. Great photography and graphics are affordable and easy to find on the Internet. (See Chapter Eight under Resources).
  • Make sure your artwork is compatible with your company’s and target market’s personality.
  • Do not create an ad where your artwork overpowers your content, headline, product, etc. Yes, it should be noticeable and “tell your story”… not be “the story”.
  • Your artwork should increase the odds that your message will be noticed, even to casual readers or viewers.
  • Don’t waste money investing in unnecessary, and often distracting, pizzazz – you know, graphics that flash, move around, dance, etc. They increase costs substantially and result in negligible or negative reactions.
  • Find ways to reuse photos, illustrations, testimonials, and blowups again. This will save you money and if they continue to work, why change?

Fonts and Typefaces

What exactly is a ‘font’? Simply put it is the specific traits (size, intensity, and typeface) for letters, numbers and symbols (that is, characters).‘Typeface’ is a subset of font and refers only to a character’s design (e.g. Times New Roman, Helvetica, Verdana). The right font will make your copy easier to read, create harmony with your artwork and graphics, and be reflect your company’s and target market’s personalities.

Choosing the right font can be daunting… particularly given the sheer number of choices. However, let the following general tips guide you:

  • Sans Serif” fonts are easier to read because they leave more “white space”. Serif means: little decorative “doolollies” (adornments, flourishes) on the ends of the characters. Sans: Means “without”. Some popular “sans serif” typefaces are: Gautami, Microsoft Sans Serif, and Avant Garde. I like Verdana and Arial.
  • For a more traditional look you’ll want to consider using “serif” typefaces such as Times New Roman, Century Schoolbook, and Garamond.
  • While it’s okay to vary font styles within a piece, try not to use more than two. Also, if you decide to try different fonts, choose one of each – sans serif and serif. The contrast will result in an “eye pop”
  • When choosing size, italics, and bolds keep readability in mind. This Look in your own magazines, newspapers, and direct mail… copy styles that you find appealing, easy-to-read and in keeping with your company’s tone and feel.

Design Choices to Avoid – And Why:

  • Reverse Type… while it works well for eye-catching headlines, it’s harder to read and tough on the eyes. Use sparingly…
  • Overdoing italics, underlining and capitalization… it looks unprofessional.
  • Fonts that look typeset (making them “fuzzy”). They should be clean and crisp.

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Mary Eule Scarborough, an unassailable marketing expert and thought leader, helps businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. She is also:

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  • Qualified with a Masters degree in marketing from The Johns Hopkins University.

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