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Graphic Design For Effectiveness, Not Aesthetics: 10 Expert Lessons

It might possibly surprise you to find direct mail design is possibly even more crucial than the text of your ad, when it comes to getting responses.  Why?  Because unless someone actually responds to your advertisements, you don’t make a cent.  Any direct response ad or other promotional piece cannot be responded to until the people in your target market in fact read it.  Even worse, your graphic presentation might give the unintended wrong impression about your business, so take heed.  Don’t be an empty marketing suit.

And inadequate design and tiresome copy mean your target market will just not read your marketing pieces.  My guess is that since you’re reading this means you’ve already bought into to the notion long, engaging copy is the lynchpin of efficient direct response marketing.

You may already be aware of the famous AIDA (Attention-Interest-Desire-Action) formula, and the need for proper structure in your sales pieces.  Terrific!  Yet, crummy design can mean your copy never even gets a pair of baby blues on it at all, because the design pushes people away.

So what I’m going to share with you now are ten very simple design tips you can just copy in your own direct mail advertising pieces and enjoy much improved results.

Though I do give fair warning to you: your graphic designer or creative marketing people will loathe everything I have suggested here. That’s OK, since I didn’t just invent this stuff.  It’s all based on peer-reviewed research which is related in excruciating detail in Colin Weildon’s Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes.

Here’s a quick summary for you:

Best Practices for the Layout

1. Put your headline across the top, going over the left two-thirds of the page. The right-hand third can contain an image in the top-right corner. A picture of a human face is good — and in every case use a caption.

2. If you are going to have a picture full-width across the page, put it at the very top, even above the headline.

3. Another image in the bottom left-hand corner is great, too. This is a “fallow corner” and copy written here is often skimmed over. An image, though, will typically draw in the eye.

4. Your call to action or “next page” indicator should be in the lower right hand corner. This is generally called the “terminal anchor”.

5. Avoid fancy backgrounds. Use plain, light-coloured backgrounds. White is fine, ivory or light gray possibly even better. Keep away from light text on dark backgrounds, especially for large blocks of copy.

Typography Stuff

1. Headlines may be either in serif or sans-serif typefaces. Stay clear of the sophisticated fonts so adored by graphic designers. Experiment with various colors, but understand brilliant colors can sidetrack readers from the rest of the copy. Dark reds and blues are good choices.

2. Don’t use all caps. This is very tough to comprehend. Either capitalize the 1st letter of every word, or just write them like a regular sentence. THEY ARE TOUGH TO READ!

3. If you’re designing for printed matter use a serif font like Caslon, and if you are designing for the ‘net or reading from a screen, use a sans-serif font like Helvetica.

4. Indent the 1st line of every paragraph and have your margins fully justified.

5. For the body copy, the ideal font size for comprehension is 11pt with a 13pt leading (pronounced ‘ledding’). Depending on your page-width this may mean making use of two or more columns, although that’s fine.

There they are: 10 very straightforward design tips you can set to work for you starting immediately and enjoy immediate results. Just remember you need to be firm with your imaginative design folks!  These ideas are relevant to more than just printed direct mail letters. They are applicable equally to web-pages, leaflets, reports, PDF special reports and postcards!

Undoubtedly you must test, test then test some more but it makes sense to begin from a place where scientific research tells us you’re a lot more likely to achieve results.  Now go design your marketing pieces to get read and convert prospects, not just look flashy.

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