Friday, May 7, 2010

Appearances Do Count

When you receive an e-mail ad full of all-caps words and with line breaks apparently inserted at random, how likely are you to buy the product?

When someone hands you an advertising brochure printed on cheap paper and using a different font for every line, how seriously do you take the sponsoring company?

The delusion that one’s genius shines through the sloppiest communication is amazingly widespread among beginning entrepreneurs. Those who don’t outgrow the attitude quickly become “new businesses fail within two years” statistics.

Several past posts (see March archives) have already discussed proofreading of actual text, so I’ll focus here on other visual aspects of written communications. If you want blogs, sales letters, and advertisements to make you look conscientious and competent, remember the following points:

For hard copy:

  • Use reasonably heavy paper (it looks sloppy to have text showing through, especially on two-sided brochures). And make sure the paper is fresh and clean.
  • Make sure there is sufficient toner to produce crisp print; smudged or faded text and illogical coloring make communications look amateurish, if not cheap.
  • For letters, use only white or beige paper and black text. Eye-catching colors are more acceptable in ads, but stick to pastel backgrounds and dark text; light-on-dark and bright-on-bright is hard on the eyes.
  • For trifold brochures, make sure each visual item is clearly contained within a single panel or spread—and that both sides have the same top edge!

For e-mails:

  • Avoid special formatting unless you know the recipient’s box can handle it. Few things are more visually annoying than the result of a computer’s attempt to translate colors and graphics to a plain-text-only window.
  • Don’t use all-caps for emphasis; it’s the electronic equivalent of screaming.
  • Try to stick to one screen’s worth of text.
  • Always use BCC with multiple recipients, unless they form a small, tightly-knit group. Aside from the issue of advertising everyone’s e-mail to who-knows-who, scrolling through three screens of addresses to reach the main text is a major nuisance.

For Web pages and blogs:

  • Use short pages, short paragraphs, and wide margins.
  • Remember that while Web users like graphics, they hate it when something downloads slowly or not at all.
  • For visuals, use photos (not clip art) that show your business in action or display its products.
  • Use eye-friendly color combinations of background and text, even more important here than in hard copy. Ten paragraphs of white-on-navy, or gold-on-white, are agony to the eyes on a computer monitor.

For everything:

  • Make sure margins line up logically and space between paragraphs is equal. (Check visually; printers and word processors can do strange things).
  • Remember that fancy fonts have no place in letters. Even in ads, atypical fonts make a poor impression if they are so squiggly or tiny as to be unreadable. And remember that boldface/italic, or different-from-the-rest-of-the-text fonts, are best reserved for section headings.
  • Remember that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression!

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