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The Role of Collateral in a Digital Age

Strategy

Traditionally, marketers have used printed collateral to communicate key messages and build a consistent brand image among customers and prospects. Now that email and the web are our primary means of information exchange, there are new considerations for what we used to call “collateral.”

The printed collateral piece, truthfully, is not often printed – or at least not professionally printed. Today, collateral must translate well to both print and digital output.

How do marketers develop collateral pieces to be effective in our web 2.0 world? The following are four tips to consider:

1. Print quality should always be in the front of your mind
Knowing a recipient may print your collateral piece on a home printer or otherwise “less-than-stellar” printer, marketers should be mindful of the colors and design used. A black-and-white printer does not deliver the impact of a professional, color laser printer – so choose your color scheme accordingly.

Consider also how images and logos will appear when grainy or in low-resolution. Think twice about small graphics and charts if the piece you are developing will primarily be distributed electronically. Reversed out type (white text on a colored background) can also be hard to read when printed on a low-end printer, so avoid thin fonts, especially those with serifs.

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Finally, consider bleeds. All printers have margins outside which they cannot print. If your document includes bleeds, these will be lost. That doesn’t mean bleeds must be banned – but don’t make them critical to your design. It might sound “early 80s” but consider whether the piece will pass the “fax test” – if it does, then it’s good for an inkjet printer too.

The Role of Collateral in a Digital Age image Collateral digital age 300x300

2. Create files that are easy to send and receive
Spam and email-borne viruses are rampant and as a result spam filters and security software are a must. While these security solutions help to safeguard a company, they may also block the “good” along with the “bad.”

Emails with attachments can be problematic for many. Using standard file formats, like a PDF, can help ensure your attachment gets through. Less common formats such as SWF or PPS files are more likely to be blocked.

File size is another consideration. Most email systems limit the size of file they will allow to pass – 10 or 20 megabytes are common limits – and firewalls too may block large files. In addition, a large file can be inconvenient and time-consuming for the recipient, especially on a wireless connection or mobile device.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your collateral files under 9 Mb. And remember, it’s normally the images in a document that bloat the file size – so consider whether those big background images are really required.

3. One page at a time
This one can really hurt but makes perfect sense. When a potential customer prints a collateral piece, they will likely view it one page at a time. Few if any will read it in “facing pages” like a traditional printed piece.

This is causing marketing professionals to rethink spreads. It’s not that you cannot use them, but the challenge is to consider how the information could be presented. By not taking into account the single-page format, you could be hurting both your design and your message.

PDFs can be arranged to be viewed in spreads, rather than a page at a time. The user can make this choice, but a best practice is to assign the PDF’s properties to the layout you want it to be viewed in. Setting the “Fit to page” property is a good idea while you’re at it.

4. Remember content is still king
No matter how good your design, if your content is weak, your collateral will perform poorly. Ultimately, content is what the business reader is looking for. Structuring the content to be accessible and easily digestible is essential.

Today’s business reader is really more of a “scanner,” looking for items of interest that will cause them to stop and then actually read. Knowing this, here are some tips for content:

  • Break the content up with headings and subheads
  • Embrace short paragraphs (even one-sentence paragraphs)
  • Put key information into bulleted lists (but try to limit yourself to 5 or 6 bullets per list)
  • Highlight important words or phrases in bold and/or color

Applying these four tips when developing digital collateral will increase the readability of the resulting piece.

In some ways, digital collateral may be different from traditional, but the same over-arching principles of good communication apply: ensure your content is relevant and well-written; adapt your design to the user’s environment (whether on-screen or on a desktop printer); and communicate as simply and directly as possible.

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