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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Fargo Print: The Seven Steps to Great Print Ads in The Valley.

Seven Steps To Great Print Ads in Fargo Moorhead

1. Choose the right creative approach.

Who are you selling to? What are they buying - really? Choose the angle that will attract customers’ attention, stimulate their interest, and "hook" them on what you offer. Don't be in a hurry to start writing your ad. There are several components to the creative approach that must be decided before creative work begins.

You’ll need to:
- Identify the target market.
- Define the offer — will you be promoting your overall brand, or a specific product or product line?
- Choose a benefit with emotional appeal. What problem are you going to solve? What disaster will you keep at bay? Substantiate the claim. Prove how the company, the service, or the product delivers the benefit promised. Support your brand. Consider how the tone or style of the ad reflects on the public image you’ve created so far. Be consistent.
- Before you start writing, jot down a few words summarizing each of these components of your creative approach. For more about the creative approach, see “Using your ad strategy to hook the ‘big idea’.”

2. Write compelling ad copy.

Shut the door. Unplug the phone. Don’t start to write — yet. Why? It’s easier to write great copy by sneaking up on it. To warm up your brain, try the “features-into-benefits” exercise, described in “Using your ad strategy to hook the ‘big idea’.” Next, look for the action. Action is the heart of any good story. What activity best conveys the problem and the powerful way your offering solves it? Like the man who sat down at the piano and astounded his friends, your story will convey a dramatic conversion from “before” to “after.” Copy, supported by photos or illustrations, must set up a believable context, describe benefits, and create a desire to take action. Imagine you are your target customer. Use the tools on this site to help you “get inside” their minds. Ad copy can take a number of approaches, from straightforward “reasons why” to storytelling to humorous puns and incongruous images. Which you choose depends on your skill as a writer and your brand identity. Explore several ideas before you decide.

Regardless of the copy approach, your ad should follow the same “AIDA” formula that has proven to be effective in all print and broadcast advertising. This mnemonic reminds you to:
A — get Attention
I — arouse Interest
D — create Desire
A — stimulate Action

If your ad moves a reader through this sequence, you’re on the right track.

How long should the ad be? For a complex offering, it might take hundreds of words to get from attention through interest to desire and finally action. For a simpler appeal, seven to 10 words might do it. The honest answer is: as long as necessary and as short as possible.

3. Test the ad copy on humans.

In many ad agencies, creative teams work together to develop ads. The benefit of the team approach is that two heads — any two heads (human, that is) — are better than one. So, once you have written a copy draft or two, get two heads together. Show the drafts to someone who’s familiar with your business, your market, and the publication in which the ad will appear.

Take the reader’s seat for a moment and ask “why should I care?” Then read your ad. Is it clear what you promise, and how you substantiate your claim? Is the benefit you promise one with plenty of emotional power? And finally, does the ad copy make it clear what you want the reader to do next? The “call to action” is critical. Do you want them to call? Say so. To visit your Web site? Offer an incentive: a bonus or contest waiting for them there. Test the copy against the creative approach you defined in step No. 1. Then, apply your pencil and eraser, to tighten and brighten. Try reading it out loud. Anything that’s hard to say will be hard to think. Re-write again. Much of good writing is really good editing after the first draft.

4. Design a clean, easy-to-follow ad layout.

There is only one great layout for any ad. Yes, that may sound like a gross exaggeration. But it’s true. The basic grid layout has proven its effectiveness over the years. Leaf through any magazine and you’ll find many slight variations on this tried-and-true formula. You’ll see a photo, then a headline, then copy, then at bottom the call to action and the logo, centered or to the right. The headline may come above the photo; the copy may be in one column or two. But the basic grid will be the same.

This formula leverages our natural tendency to view ads with an “S-curve” motion of the eyes, sweeping from top left around through the middle, coming to rest at the bottom right. Why mess with what works?

To lay out your ad, use a computer program such as Quark XPress. If you don’t have access to layout software, use your word-processing program to mock up the ad, then rely on the publication’s in-house production service to finish it. What visual imagery do you have in mind? Browse the stock photography available on the Web; you’ll find many options. Purchasing the right to use a photo or illustration will cost you less than $100 in most cases, and the quality is top notch. If you don’t find what you have in mind, talk to local photographers or illustrators, or search an online talent broker such as Elance or Guru.

5. Test the layout on humans.

Make a prototype of the ad that looks as much like the final ad as possible. Place it in the venue where it will be seen. If it’s going to run in a magazine, tape your prototype into a magazine. Then, test it on friends, colleagues, or better yet, typical customers. Big advertisers do considerable testing before they commit an ad to print. Consider holding a focus group to explore several ideas, or several executions of one idea. (For more on research techniques, see the article, “Do some customer research — or you’ll never know.”) What do readers recall about the ad after having read it? Ask questions, and then, tailor your ad copy or layout based on what you’ve heard. Simplify anything that seemed confusing, and then test again.

6. Produce “camera-ready” artwork for submission.

You’ll most likely be asked to submit your ad as a collection of electronic files. These will include graphics files, font files, and a layout file that brings those elements together on a “page” precisely the size of the ad. These files will go on a disk, accompanied by a hard-copy prototype that shows exactly how you expect the ad to look when the files are imaged and the ad appears in print. When it comes to production, remember the old saw “garbage in, garbage out.” What you send to the publication determines what appears in print. If you send them your ad poorly prepared, there is very little they can do to make it better. Printed images require higher resolution (expressed as dots per inch, or DPI) than images prepared for display on Web pages. Make sure that the photos or logos you use weren’t simply borrowed from your Web site — the resolution of those files won’t be high enough to make a sharp printed image. When in doubt, trust the publication to guide you — they’re professionals at this, and they have an interest getting your ad right, thereby keeping you happy. Ask them to review your files for potential problems. Submit your ad well in advance of their publication deadline — no one’s going to hold the presses while you scramble to get your ad finished.

7. Measure your results.

From the beginning of printed advertising, advertisers have kept records of inquiries produced by different ads, in order to learn what works. The same method is just as helpful today, but today’s advertisers have a few more tricks at their disposal. Scientific advertising research uses techniques like statistical recall scoring, in-depth interviews, motivational research, and post-publication surveys. The ads you see in mainstream publications from national advertisers have survived many rounds of testing before you ever see them. The point of such research is to determine how well the ads are working, and how they can be made to work better. Tracking inquiries is a tried-and-true technique. In your ad, ask for a specific behavior, such as calling for a free sample, then track how many calls you receive. For more comprehensive research, consider surveying a sample of the publications’ subscribers.

You can speed up your learning curve, by applying a technique known as A/B splits. To do this you start from a known baseline (the “A” ad), then change one factor at a time, testing whether the “B” ad performs better or worse than the “A” ad. You might change a headline, or a photo, or the size of the ad, and then measure response. By changing one factor at a time, then tracking what works, your ad will evolve to its utmost pulling power.

Be wary, though, of appearing to change too radically or too often. Consistency is important in building your brand image. Keep placing ads and keep measuring the results; drop what doesn’t work and go with what does. If you find that your ad is pulling in a good response, and you’re making sales as a result, consider using some of the profits to expand your advertising program. By increasing your advertising and continuing to test and track its performance, you will grow your business.

It’s difficult to break through the clutter of ads out there, and even more difficult to get readers to respond with action. If you follow this seven-step technique, your odds of creating an ad that works will dramatically improve. Now you have a great print ad — get your mileage out of the time and effort you’ve invested! What else can you do with this ad? Think of all the possibilities... print copies to include in your sales kit, or to hand out at your next trade show. Display it on your Web site. Enlarge and frame a copy to display in your lobby. Each “re-purposing” extends your investment, and consistently builds your brand — the real secret to great advertising.
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