Critical Layout, Design and Typography Concepts for Content Publishers

When I think about design, layout and presentation, there are two books that I frequently come back to:

1) Colin Wheildon’s Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes

2) Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery

Wheildon’s book is a frontal assault on the lame-o typography mistakes that continue to occur today (especially in the amateur design Web arena). His findings are backed up by in-depth research about comprehension and reader retention.

Reynolds’ book is a more elegant assault on similar miscues in the world of PowerPoint and Keynote… or just presentations in general.

My simple recommendation?

Buy these books. Dog-ear these books. Keep them near Strunk and White. Savor them, review them, revere them, spoon them.

They’re gold and will help you win projects and the hearts of your clients.

Here’s a taste from Presentation Zen that talks about the “picture superiority effect”:

“When information recall is measured just after exposure to a series of pictures or a series of words, the recall for pictures and words is about equal. However, the picture superiority effect applies when the time after exposure is more than 30 seconds, according to research cited in Universal Principles of Design (Rockport Publishers). ‘Use the picture superiority effect to improve the recognition and recall of key information. Use pictures and words together, and ensure that they reinforce the same information for optimal effect,’ say the authors… The effect is strongest when the pictures represent common, concrete things.”

And from Wheildon’s masterpiece:

“.. the average advertisement is read by only four percent of the people on their way through the publication it appears in. Most of the time this is the fault of the so-called “art director” who designs advertisements. If he is an aesthete at heart – and most of them are – he doesn’t care a damn if anybody reads the words. He regards them as mere elements in his pretty design. In many cases he blows away half the readers by choosing the wrong type. But he doesn’t care. He should be boiled in oil.” [my emphasis]

These two guys think deeply about design, and they offer lots of undeniable proof for their theses.

If you’re a copywriter, art director, Web designer, SEO monger, marketing director (or VP or CMO), or a layout/design guru, please pick these up and study them. Your job is not finished when you complete your piece of the creative puzzle. You need to understand the other disciplines to make sure you’ve created something that’s usable, appreciated, and understood by your consuming audiences.

Do you have any other book recommendations that are crucial for publishing/Web development creatives? Please comment below and share your favorites. Thanks – Phil.

Does marketing copy belong in a product’s instructions?

I got a new fog-free shower mirror from ShowerTek. As I was installing the mirror, I noticed something interesting in the instructions. It said something to the effect: We’re continually improving product features so these instructions may not accurately depict the product you have.

I see this ocassionally. It’s that blurry area where marketing turns up in other printed materials. It’s nice to know that they’re always improving these mirrors…. but I couldn’t tell much difference from the older one I had. Regardless, they’re communicating a benefit right in the document where users are spending some time – the installation instructions.

Smart – perhaps accidental, perhaps completely true. Either way, it’s good to keep this in mind when you’re producing documents for your company. Find ways to show off your benefits in instructions, invoices, estimates…in addition to the usual places like landing pages, brochures, trade show booths, scripts, white papers, case studies and so forth.


9 Wise Quotes from the Advertising World

Mark Twain image quotes copywriting advertising marketing

These gems from Jack Forde’s Copywriter’s roundtable newsletter. The most anticipated email in my inbox.

“Many a small thing has been made large by the
right kind of advertising.” – Mark Twain

“Words calculated to catch everyone may catch no
one.” – Adlai Stevenson

“Yes, I sell people things they don’t need. I
can’t, however, sell them something they don’t
want.” – John O’Toole

“Everyone is in sales… whatever area you work
in, you DO have clients and you DO need to sell.” –
Jay Abraham

“Advertising people who ignore research are as
dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy
signals.” – David Ogilvy

“I once used the word ‘obsolete’ in a headline,
only to discover that 43% of housewives had no idea
what it meant. In another headline I used the word
‘ineffable,’ only to discover that I didn’t know
what it meant myself.” – David Ogilvy

“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t
want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to
your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.” – David

“Committees can criticize advertisements, but they
should never be allowed to create them.” David

“For a business not to advertise
is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what
you are doing but no one else does.” – Stuart Britt


Ernest Hemingway and Economy of Words: Stanford University Study

Economy of Words

Everybody says this… but it bears repeating. If you reduce the number of words your readers have to endure to get your message, you’re way ahead of the game.

It worked for Hemingway, and it works for advertising and marketing writers. When you simplify, you not only communicate better, you make your readers think you’re *smarter*. Stanford University did a study on this, in fact. Those who write with both shorter sentences and shorter words are perceived by their audiences as more intelligent than those who use more elaborate and sophisticated means. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

Write short and reap profits. That’s communication.

Intense, Detailed Pricing Discussion Regarding Freelance Copywriting Rates

A lot of people come to my site (via Google, Twitter and elsewhere) for information about marketing writing and freelance copywriting pricing. These include people in the market for writing services and freelance professionals that need guidance with respect to specific projects. I usually direct them to Steven Slaunwhite’s resources. He’s considered the pricing guru in the biz and does a lot of research to back up his info and reports.

I recently came across a great comment thread about freelance copywriting pricing, however. And it’s a useful eye-opener for anyone involved in this trade – buyers and sellers. Ignore the obnoxious headline and read the thread below that. There are a lot of gems in there (along with some duds and silliness). The range of pricing discussed is huge, but you can get a sense for what the more serious companies pay when they’re looking for quality writing.

Avoid This Common Mistake When Pricing Your Promotions

by Bob Bly

This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly Direct Response Letter –

In a price of $40, the number or digit on the left is 4, and the digit on the right is zero.

Be careful when changing the left digit. Example: a service business found no price resistance raising price five dollars from $40 to $45.

But when they raised price another five dollars from $45 to $50, they encountered huge resistance.

Source: Marlene Jensen, “The Tao of Pricing,”

Experience Marketing is Changing the Way Marketers Work – in a good way

Are you starting with the experience and working back to the product?

The following quotes are from Richard Florida’s analysis of the current worldwide economic situation – The Great Reset. This is a fantastic book that dovetails with a lot of the things I’ve been seeing on the Web, in markets, and in other books (like Seth Godin books, Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, Daniel Suarez’ Daemon and Freedom, and others).

“People will always define themselves through their consumption habits. There will always and inevitably be some element of competitiveness in our consumption that will never die, even if the rules change. .

“If, before, people trumpeted their financial success through their purchases, there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to show off what righteous and evolved new “citizen-consumers” they’ve become..

“As long as people have been trading money or goods and services, they’ve been demonstrating their unfailing ability to fall for a clever marketing pitch, and marketers know a good thing when they see it. .

“Witness The Gap’s ‘Buy Red, Save Lives’ campaign or a company like Endangered Species Chocolate, which are still designed to get people to buy things they almost certainly don’t need but that now play to their newfound identity as responsible citizens of the planet..

“We might not like to admit this about ourselves, but it isn’t so much material goods themselves that drive our consumption as the perceived status we assign to them. Largely, our material possessions and our perceived status are one and the same thing, but only up to a point.”

“A decade ago, John Seabrook identified a shift away from older forms of conspicuous consumption to new and subtler status distinctions…

“Green products have become the ultimate status goods. People buying hybrid cars are more driven by the status they confer than the fuel savings and energy efficiency they provide. Toyota Prius owners pay a significant premium over many conventional fuel-efficient cars. .

“When asked about the top motivating factors behind their purchase, the comment “makes a statement about me” was at the top of the list, while “higher fuel economy” came in third and “lower emissions” fifth, according to a July 2007 survey reported in the New York Times. (That’s probably something we should have intuited. After all, the carmakers figured out long ago that the rush to buy SUVs had less to do with safety or carrying capacity or durability than with buyers’ perception that driving an SUV conveyed an image of youth, ruggedness, and adventure.)”

Ok – I just laid a lot of quotes on you.  Here are my thoughts.

Following this same line of thinking, the new consumer is more interested in buying experiences rather than purchasing products.  This is in keeping with the consumption lifestyle trend. You are what you do more than what you are what you have.

So, what does this mean for marketers?

For one thing, that means you have to pay close attention to emotional drivers – which you should have been doing in the first place.

Either way the emotion drives the purchase.  If you buy a fancy car, you’re expressing an emotional need.

But if you go deeper into this, you need to find the motivations and pair those with the experiences.  I think this new trend toward experience as marketing or the consumer being more interested in experiences is important because really that’s all that was happening earlier, as well.

A product was purchased because of the experience it generated.  It didn’t matter that it was a physical object or nonphysical object.  A massage can produce a feeling.  A cookie can produce a feeling.  A toy can produce a feeling.

So you have to work back from the feeling of the customer to the reality of the product.  Does the product satisfy the emotional driver?  Does the products solve the pain the issue, the itch, the disturbance?

It’s also useful to pay attention to the general trend where marketers pair altruistic or idealistic/emotional causes with physical products or physical experiences or events.

What are you doing to ensure that your marketing messages are working back from the emotion to the product?  Do you have processes in place to ensure that your clients or customers are thinking about these kinds of drivers? . . whether they’re experiential drivers, lifestyle positioning, or product add-ons for specific causes, charities, or events.

Please comment below. I would love to hear from you.


A New, Better, Web-based Mind-Mapping Solution: Popplet Review

A lot of people use mind mapping software these days to gather their thoughts and start creative projects. This applies to many different creatives, including software developers, writers, producers, screenwriters, marketing teams, executives. . lots of different people and applications.

You can storyboard scripts with these tools, outline PowerPoint and Keynote presentations, conceptualize products, delineate workflow processes and much more.

I’ve used several mind mapping programs – freeware mostly. The most recent one I used was called Compendium. It was good, but it was pretty complex. With most of them, you’ll find them overly-complex. Compendium was nice, but I’ve found something better.

It’s called Popplet. This one is different, because it’s a Web application that has all the features I need in one package. The mind maps I make are shareable and “social,” so I can show people all my thoughts and even collaborate them without any local client program. They don’t need to install anything, and I don’t. It’s all Web based.

As far as I can tell, Popplet is pretty new. The app allows you to intuitively create detailed, flexible mind maps with just a few mouse. You can easily share these maps with others. You can easily collaborate with others to manipulate that maps in real time.

The product is a godsend for anyone involved in creative planning, software development, workflow, organized analysis of any kind. I made a quick video that shows you how easy it is to make a Popplet and how easy it is to share one. You can see that the below.

Take a look and please comment if you’ve tried and like Popplet. . or if you have any questions about this cool little app. Thanks.

Aside: The app is beta right now, however, I had no trouble getting an invitation. That may change as Popplet becomes more popular.

Razor Blades and a Persistent Marketing Cycle – Gillette Reels Me In

Would you consider yourself a difficult person to market to?

Do you research high-end products thoroughly before you purchase? Does it take lots of pressure to get you to move from one trusted brand or consumer product to another?

Me too. Especially when it comes to consumer goods like razor blades.

For years, I’ve happily used Gillette Good News razors. They’re simple, do the job and are inexpensive.

Until . . one day. . queue the bass drums. . I bought a package of Good News that included a free sample of the multi-blade Fusion product.

Now – I’ve tried these before. In fact – way back in the 1980’s I even had a power 2-blade razor that buzzes like the Gilette Power Fusion. I liked the concept and the shave back then.

But somehow I ended back up with the basic Good News razors. It was probably during a “simplicity” or economizing phase.

Anyway, I tried the Fusion sample and liked it a lot. The beard grew out less in a day, it seemed. That was a good deal for me.

So I ordered the Power Fusion product. And I’m waiting to get it from Mind you: this is after years and years of using the Gillette Good News razors.

The lesson? Persistent suggestions in your marketing materials (which were the actual product in my case) are CRITICAL!!! Never give up on this idea. Gillette sure doesn’t.

Offer samples, suggest up-sells, show the customer new ideas. IT WORKS.

It even worked on me – one of the more skeptical, difficult to motivate and move consumers I know.

Do you have any examples of how persistent messaging, product offerings or samples have motivated you to engage a company or switch products?

Please comment below.

“How could the malls be full while we’re in a recession?” asked his wife.

My wife recently remarked that the malls are full. “How could we be in a recession?” she said.

It got me thinking. Personal spending is obviously way down, but people still want to have a mall experience. They want to window shop, buy some small things, taste candy, play with pets, jump through fountains, see cool fashions and maybe dream a little.

The thing that *really* gets me. . in a recession. . is this. People go by the hoards to a place where the finest marketing minds in the world (from the most talented ad agencies known to man) are working their magic. Everything from the display windows and signage, to the cashier talk and uniforms, to the music and temperature, to the promos and tagging… is designed by the best of the best.

This may not be true of every store in every mall. The malls I usually witness are Fashion Island in Newport Beach CA, and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. But it’s certainly relevant to most of the national chains and high-end designers.

The point is that these people are voluntarily exposing themselves to a situation designed to suck money out of their pockets.

They want to be pitched, sold, persuaded and wow’ed! They want that, deep down.

And what do we complain about in marketing? Let me count the ways: Traditional advertising is dying. There’s too much noise out there. People are shutting out our messages. People are fed up with consumer-driven behavior. The market is resisting our messaging.

Yet, the malls still bring em in.

I realize that malls are “opt-in.” Maybe that’s something to ponder, too. Is there a way you can make your business and partner businesses more like a mall?

Something to think about. Enjoy your weekend. And please comment below to add your observations.