Blog Activity

  • Creative Strategy: “At-a-Glance” Comprehension Drives Response


    2011, September

    The success of your direct marketing communications depends heavily on how well it is designed to help readers grasp your message quickly. But most people—even many designers themselves—don’t know how to improve comprehension when presenting products for sale. It’s actually pretty straight-forward. Here are several key principles that improve comprehension in communications, whether you are using direct mail, a space ad, a catalog, an email or a webpage.



        Organization plays a key role in comprehension. One of the easiest ways to make overall design more decipherable is to organize the presentation so the reader achieves an immediate grasp on what they’re looking at. This might involve a variety of applications:

        • Create features and sub-features, to prioritize your presentation.
        • Use columns, keyed copy, or bold leadins to help readers easily find product descriptions.
        • Employ a grid (invisible or with rule lines) to help organize dense or complex information.
        • Apply universally understood design tools, like page number locations, footer content, and headlines at the top of a page.

        Photography should deliver a clear depiction of the product. There is no time for guessing if the barbecue grill has a side burner, how big the vase is, or whether this dress has pockets. Why crop off the bottom of the pants so the reader is left guessing how the pants fall? Dramatic lighting may get in the way of understanding the fabric’s texture or design. Photography needs to supply a maximum amount of information, immediately. Your art director and photographer need to understand this principle and take responsibility for achieving it.

        Icons can be a wonderful tool to communicate features or benefits at a glance. Icons should look like what you’re telling the reader. For example, for a no-iron shirt, you might use a picture of an iron with a slash through it.

        Insets, call-outs and bullets help communicate features, construction and quality, especially for high-priced products with complicated features. Frontgate would never be able to sell a $5,000 grill without completely dissecting the product and calling out all its features.


      For the benefit of the skeptics out there, all it will take is one read of Colin Wheildon’s Type & Layout: How Typographyand Design Can Get Your Message Across – Or Get in the Way. The book quotes test results and statistics on comprehension levels for various applications of type, headlines, captions and art. Some key principles from Wheildon research:

      • Use serif type, versus sans serif. We were educated on serif type in schoolbooks and newspapers, so it’s not surprising that this principle has become a maxim in the print industry. But serif type really does make a difference in your communications. Wheildon found that a serif typeface like Times New Roman is more than FIVE TIMES easier for average readers to comprehend than a sans serif type such as Helvetica or Arial.
      • Avoid reverse type. It’s harder to read white or knock-out type than black type on a white background. According to Wheildon, when text was printed black on white, readers reported good comprehension 70% of the time, fair comprehension 19%, and poor comprehension 11% of the time. When text was printed white on black, good comprehension fell to ZERO, while poor comprehension rose to 88%. If you have to use reverse type, use it for secondary copy that’s not critical to selling.
      • Avoid color type. It’s harder to read and slower to comprehend than black. And because color type is composed of more than one color, it can get out of register, appear blurry and be harder on the eye, unless you’re using a fifth color on press.
      • Avoid all caps. They are harder to read than upper/lower case sentences or headlines.
      • Long columns are harder for the eye to follow than shorter, managed columns.
      • Use left justified type. Centered type or right justified is much harder to grasp.
      • Captions and copy-blocks belong UNDER photographs , not above them. Newspapers train us to look for copy below the thing they’re talking about. If they can’t be below, then put them to the side.
      • Headlines are most read when they are at the top of a page. Headlines in the middle or low on a page have much lower comprehension scores.
      • Type reads best on white backgrounds. Comprehension starts to diminish when colors or photography is used for type background.
      • Avoid extensive use of bold type . Text printed in bold type is harder to comprehend than regular type.

      Using the techniques outlined above will not only improve your customers’ experience, you’ll increase performance and generate more revenue.

    Glenda Shasho Jones is a consultant specializingin improving brand and performance using creative strategy. She is a frequent speaker and writer and author of The Identity Trinity: Brand, Image and Positioning for Catalogs. Reach her at


    Glenda Shasho Jones

    The success of your direct marketing communications depends heavily on how well it is designed to help readers grasp your message quickly. But most people—even many designers themselves—don’t know how to improve comprehension when presenting products for sale. It’s actually pretty straight-forward. Here are several key principles that improve comprehension in communications, whether you are using direct mail, a space ad, a catalog, an email or a webpage.

  • Digital Printing: Dynamic, Innovative, Flexible


    2014, December

    Digital Printing:  Dynamic, Innovative, Flexible and the Wave of the Future 

    Every day someone is talking about digital, and for each person it can mean something different.  In general, digital means communication and distribution of knowledge through a variety of channels including on the computer, a mobile device, television, video, and audio.  In other words, anything that’s electronic.  The word also connotes communications that are efficient, immediate and impactful. 

    In the marketing world, digital means connecting with targeted audiences without borders.  In the printing world, it’s a means of printing where the images can be the same or variable from piece to piece. 

    Although digital printing presses have been around since the early 1990s, they are constantly evolving.  In the past 10 years as the quality, speed and price points have improved, the marketplace has been more and more accepting of this format.  And it’s no secret that all printing today starts in someone’s computer. 

    How does digital printing work?  Basically, on the press, a digital image goes into a computer and is then transferred onto a variety of surfaces and/or paper stocks, allowing files to be quickly and economically printed, usually in short run quantities of 5,000 or less—although this is changing.  This approach compares to color offset printing, commonly used for high-volume commercial work, which involves preparing and printing the artwork through a time consuming pre-press plate process that allows for very little flexibility. 

    So what does this mean to a marketer in today’s fast-paced environment?  It means that digital printing not only has arrived, it’s definitely the wave of the future.  To ride the wave, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

    Digital technology is a vital means of communication.  The use of digital technology is an absolute must in this age of targeting the customer and providing that customer with the information he or she will respond to. 

    Digital printing has become more competitive. Compared with traditional printing, digital printing becomes more competitive as the number of versions increase, and costs go down.  Until recently, the quantities were typically limited, but as new technology has come on the market, variable imaged programs are run as trigger campaigns and produced as the customer defines the criteria.  

    Be aware of the paper stock used for the campaign.  Whenever technology changes rapidly, it’s always a scramble to keep up with the ramifications.  In the case of inkjet technology, the paper companies are in some cases still trying to figure out how to provide the right stock to the printer.  Marketers should make sure they are in the loop on this topic.  

    Think through the whole campaign from beginning to end.  Digital printing provides the opportunity to use various marketing channels and make electronic changes on the fly.  As a result, it’s even more important to carefully think through a whole campaign.  The best advice is to work closely with your printing provider to take advantage of that provider’s technology, scalability and flexibility.     


    Patrick Beddor
    Patrick Beddor's picture

    Patrick Beddor is the National Sales Manager at Japs-Olson Company.  Reach him at

  • Omnichannel Everywhere


    2014, December

    Omnichannel has been buzzing for over a year and still hasn’t lost its ring. Yet, despite the fact that we are surrounded with omnichannel references every day, the concept still seems slightly out of reach. What really is omnichannel? How do we achieve it? What’s holding us back? What about our audiences?

    Beyond defining omnichannel and the challenges that accompany it, all marketers need to first and foremost place their omnichannel goals in the context of their audiences. Today, what audiences want most is content, and a seamless content experience across all of their devices. From online shows, to ecommerce transactions, and even social media personalities’ accounts, content has the ability to bridge the gap between brand and audience in this new omnichannel world. 

    One of the major challenges is that there are still some questions around the meaning of omnichannel.  Essentially, omni means “all.” Channel in this context is a “means of communication.”

    What Is Omnichannel?

     Here is how we characterize it at Paradysz and PM Digital: 

    -      A holistic, comprehensive organizing principle to achieve customer-centric foundations.

    -      The development of campaigns from the point of view of the customer. 

    -      Content driven by unique customer behaviors and histories. 

    What Is Omnichannel Not?

    Omnichannel is not:

    -      Multiple channels operating in isolation.

    -      The development of campaigns from the perspective of the brand. 

    -      Content and campaigns specific to only shopping.

    A true omnichannel approach puts customers at the center of a brand’s marketing efforts.  Not only will this approach allow marketers to analyze their efforts in context of the whole picture, but it empowers them to build out the right recipe for particular customer segments.  It no longer suffices to create separate experiences and silos of content across various subject areas, channels and devices. Consumers demand comprehensive experiences without breakage points, allowing them to seamlessly interact with brands on their terms. 


    Build a Dashboard

    A step in the right direction is the ability to build dashboards that can help you understand programs across channels.  Dashboards that are successful have the following characteristics:

    -      Scale up to executive level, and drill down to campaign, channel and customer segmentation.

    -      Real-time interactive filters that accommodate questions and issues as they occur.

    -      Comprehensive displays of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) across goals and budgets. 

    Developing an omnichannel strategy is complex, but well worth the effort.  


    Mary Beth Keelty
    Mary Beth Keelty's picture

    Mary Beth Keelty is Vice President of Marketing for Paradysz and PM Digital.  Reach her at

  • B2B Email Best Practices


    2014, May

    The ad tech industry is abuzz with emerging technologies and new techniques, but email marketing remains one of the most important tools in the B2B marketer’s toolbox. The cornerstone of today’s business communications, email goes out at the rate of over 122 billion messages every hour, and 68 percent of marketers say that email marketing is vital to their business. 

    That said, email marketing in 2014 is not the same as it was in the ‘90s. Here are current best practices for B2B marketers looking to leverage email for customer engagement, acquisition, retention, CRM and more. 

    Make subject lines count. The subject line is the very first interaction your customers have with your message, so craft it carefully to encourage them to actually open the email. It should be short, benefits-driven and compelling. Self-service email provider MailChimp recommends 50 characters or less, and—though your grade school composition teacher may cringe—don’t waste valuable space on unnecessary punctuation. We’ve also found that capitalizing the important words lifts engagement, and that recipients are 22 percent more likely to open emails addressed to them by name. 

    Content is (obviously) key. This may sound like a no-brainer, but your email’s content should also adhere to certain best practices. Keep it clear and concise. Also be sure that it actually delivers on the promise of the subject line. And keep the salesy stuff out of it. It’s a marketing message, but don’t beat users over the head. Don’t focus only on yourself; asking questions within the body of the email message has been shown to boost customer interest and click-through rates. 

    Go with eye-catching creative. This also sounds obvious, but many B2B marketers eschew color and design elements in favor of a more “professional looking” black and white, text-heavy message when, actually, a little color goes a long way toward capturing interest and driving action. We don’t recommend neon green letters and flashing banners, but we’ve found that orange and red are colors that pop, especially for Call To Action buttons. Also, those buttons are more likely to get clicked if they are placed either at the beginning of the message, the end, or both.  

    Test, test, test. Who cares how beautiful or compelling the email is if it never actually makes it to the inbox? Be sure to regularly test delivery rates to avoid getting stuck in spam filters, which can be even stricter for some corporate domains. Also, regularly conduct A/B testing to optimize campaign performance and surface any issues.

    Go mobile. Your B2B prospects are doing business on their smartphones and tablets, so if your design isn’t optimized for mobile and responsive to action via mobile devices, you’re way behind the curve. This is no longer optional. 

    Email is still one of the most effective ways to engage on a one-to-one basis with B2B customers and prospects, but it is important to understand how your B2B audiences use and respond to email in general in order to actually begin that dialogue and maintain it over the lifecycle of that customer. Keep your communications concise, benefit-oriented, eye-catching and device-agnostic and you’re sure to reap the rewards of this tried and true channel. 


    Erik Matlick
    Erik Matlick's picture

    Erik Matlick guides corporate strategy and vision as CEO at Madison Logic.  Reach him at

  • Pre-testing: A Better Way to Beat the Control


    2014, February

    The A/B split test is as fundamentally sound, as it is slow, expensive and inefficient. 

    Direct mail testing—even for high-volume mailers—means putting a finite number of possible tests in market.  These tests are either incremental changes or wholesale redesigns.  The former usually assures incremental gain/loss, and the latter requires a lot of risk and reputational capital.    

    Truth is, the vast majority of tests fail.  For two reasons.   
    1)   The control is hard to beat.  It benefits immensely from something your test package can never have—exposure.  Your target audience, however large, is still finite.  You mail the same people over and over.  Even non-buyers are exposed to the control. 

    2)   Coming up with a test, or 10 tests or 100, for a single campaign is like searching for a needle in the haystack.  The number of possible test packages is infinite, and you are forced to choose an imperceptibly small percentage of them to mail.    

    In split testing, the odds are against you.  With a complete redesign, the odds are even more onerous.  The A/B test will tell you if the new package test wins or not.  But it cannot tell you why.  Perhaps there are components within the complete redesign that are clear winners, but are getting drowned out by the weaker elements.  

    So, what is a better alternative?  Look no further than the consumer package goods industry for an idea.  CPG marketer do lots of in-market testing, also lots of product development work in advance.  By comparison, the direct marketing world does very little. 

    The methodology now available to direct marketers is sophisticated, but simple and intuitive.  In short, It is an online testing program through which your target audience evaluates thousands of different direct mail package ideas in mere minutes.  

    The secret to its success, and why this pre-testing matches up with live test results so well, is the ability to replicate real-world choice and decision making by:

    1-  Showing the target audience concepts, packages or offers holistically, just as they view them home. 

    2-  Asking the target audience answer one question—overall preference—within a few seconds, the same amount of time you get before your package is thrown in the trash.  

    Behind the scenes is very sophisticated statistical modeling to answer the question we really want to know, which is Why?  You end up with scores for every single test element, which may encompass 30 or 40 different component parts of a direct mail package (OE, letter, buck slip, reply form) and, in turn, thousands of package combinations.  

    The business upside is four fold:  
    - Test exponentially more ideas in a radically shorter period of time.
    -   Put fewer tests in the mail, and at higher volume, to get to rollout faster.
    -    Find out exactly what impact each component has on preference and response.  
    -  Test big ideas, those that would never make it in the mail unless you have empirical proof they can work, in a low cost, low risk environment. 

    A/B split testing method has been around for decades, and yet direct marketing has changed dramatically, with more channels, better targeting, better production methods and now, a better way to beat the control.


    Chris Locker
    Chris Locker's picture

    Chris Locker is EVP of marketing and strategy at The Consumer Voice, in the Minneapolis area.  Reach him at