Think visually: preparing graphics for your marketing efforts

A picture says a thousand words, the old saw goes. And this truism can make or break your marketing efforts, be it web design or paper brochures.

In my decades-long adventure as a writer and editor, it always seemed to me graphics were the biggest hangup in meeting deadlines and getting a project finished. Little has changed over the years. Oh, the designers can meet the deadline, as can the copywriters (*looks at wristwatch*). But getting that blasted artwork – the graphics or photos or videos – that’s hard. I’ve watched entire projects grind to a halt when a client cannot or will not take the time to obtain the art needed to make their entire marketing piece truly shine.

So, what to do? Before you launch on your next marketing piece or add to your webpage, think about how you can use graphics to enhance your message. And then get those graphics ready before you need them. Before the project even starts. Here’s a few tips:

  • Take photos of your offices, workshops & equipment. Try to take them without people in them, then with the staff working. Be sure the lighting is good. If you have a slick office, great. If you office is old with wood paneling, try to go for a “cozy” look with blurred out flowers in the foreground and the office in focus in the background or whatever conveys the mood.
  • If you sell smaller products, take the time to set up one-day photo shoot. Obtain a background drape (grey or white is good) and place the product under plenty of light. Take 5-10 photos from a variety of angles. Try to take a shot of every project you have. Or hire a product photographer to do it right.
  • Do you sell software? Use screenshot tools and take shots while the software is processing real-world examples. You can later have your graphic artist add callouts and highlights and other technical wizardry.
  • Employee pics. Yes, it’s like pulling teeth (especially if you work in a dental office). No, your employees don’t have a choice. On the other hand, you don’t have to line them up in a “firing squad” position. You know, those pictures of someone against a wall from waist up, with a fixed smile on their face. Take a pic of them at their workstation or on their machine, let them look relaxed or interested or animated.
  • Field work? Get a staff member to do a ride-along and take photos as your team works. It doesn’t have to be studio quality. Just ask them to keep in mind the lighting, distance (don’t take photos from a mile away – get close and get the action!), and the busyness of the scene.
  • Keep everything you shoot as a raw file (i.e. full size in native format) in one place, with easily-labeled digital folders. If you really want to save money with your marketing company, have the photos saved as both a 300 resolution TIFF or PNG and 72 resolution JPEG (for websites). Then you simply file transfer the whole selection to your marketing provider. (You’ll be surprised how much time and money this saves).
    • Better yet, store your graphics on an online file (cloud) server, so they are quickly available to anyone who needs them. Service such as box.net and dropbox are good choices.
  • Think outside the cubicle. It may seem odd to take photos or your break room, kitchen, or company picnic, but think again. These all could be used to show the human side of your company and its people.

By taking the time ready a good selection of digital photos and graphics you will save SIGNIFICANT time, and thus money.

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Build a website your audience will love, even if you don’t

Get results with websites based on audience research, not on opinions

As a new web designer, my workflow was typical of a freelancer. My designs were reflective of the client’s preferences. I asked questions like:

“What colors do you like?”

“Could you point me to some other sites you like the look & feel of?”

“What menu navigation & pages do you want?”

Clients loved this approach. They felt like I was addressing their concerns, listening to what they wanted, and providing good service. Years later, I’ve come to realize this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most of the sites I built based upon my client’s desires didn’t perform well. Sure, they were happy at the project’s end and signed a nice little form for me to say that they approved the launch of the site. After launch, not much happened. The sites look nice, and many are still sitting there. They function more as a glorified brochure for the business than a vital, central hub of marketing & results for the company.

After watching this happen over the span of a few years, I knew my process needed to change. Although the clients loved the website when we launched it, their customers simply didn’t. And that’s who every website needs to be built for.

The website process is totally different now. Clients communicate to us what their business objectives are and who their audience is instead of their favorite colors & websites. My web team does thorough research to figure out the places on the web where our client’s customers “hang out.” We find other sites they are loyal to, services they use regularly, brands they follow, media they consume. What are the customers used to seeing? What do they expect from a website? How can we build a place on the web that they WANT to be?

And then we build that site — even if it isn’t what the client pictured in their mind. The client, however, never cares — because the websites get results.

Customer preferences should always be the basis of any marketing decision, from design, to message, to delivery. Throw opinions out the window — at least if you want success.

If a web designer, graphic designer, or anyone else asks for an opinion instead of figuring out what the customer wants, well … that’s just embarrassing.

Note: For a slightly profane look at how the design process can go wrong, please view this comic from The Oatmeal.

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