5 More Typography Mistakes You Can Eliminate

This is a continuation of my earlier post “7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate.” That post garnered quite a few reader comments, including some who pointed out “mistakes” I didn’t include. So I’ve decided to share five more

MistakesThis is a continuation of my earlier post “7 Typography Mistakes You Can Easily Eliminate.” That post garnered quite a few reader comments, including some who pointed out “mistakes” I didn’t include. So I’ve decided to share five more:

1. Over Centering

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Many non-designers use centered text way too often. Mind you, I’m not against centering … I like it. But you need to know how to do it in a way that does not make your text unreadable.

Our eyes read from left to right. When we finish a line of text, our eye slides left to the beginning of the next line almost automatically. An edge is formed by the flush left text and helps our eye find the beginning of the next line. Each new line starts in the same place. It’s easy and we don’t think about it.

When you center multiple lines of text, your eye struggles to find the beginning of the next line of copy. The line does not line up with the line before it. The straight edge is not formed and our eye now needs to search for the start of the next line. This searching slows down reading and tires our eyes. Not what you want when trying to communicate a message.

What’s the solution?

First, center only a few lines at a time. Do this to grab attention — to highlight copy.

There are also ways to center text where you don’t actually center every line. Center the block of text instead. This gives the “feel” of centered text without the readability issues.

Centered text example
Everything centered is difficult to read. Use centering sparingly. Center copy blocks instead.

2. Justified Text

This is when all the type lines up on the left and right margins. Although not used as often as centered type, justified text also can make type difficult to read. It’s also very difficult to make it work, even for the best designers. Again, use it sparingly.

Make sure the line length is long enough. Short line lengths have fewer words per line and therefore more space is added between words to justify the text.

Be ready to edit your text to create better word spacing. This way, you can adjust the spacing a word at a time.

My recommendation: Don’t do it. It’s just too difficult to make type look good with the tools available to most non-designers.

Justified text example
Justifies text causes overly large word spacing making text difficult to read.
Plus it just looks bad.

3. Proximity

What is proximity? It’s the grouping together of items that relate to each other, such as a title with descriptive copy or a price with a product description. Grouping them together makes them one visual unit, organizing the information in a logical way that makes it easier for readers to take it in

In the wonderful book “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” (4th Edition) by Robin Williams, there’s a great example depicting how appropriate proximity and group content can improve look and readability.

Typical proximity example
Typical proximity
Better proximity example
Better proximity

Notice how much easier the example on the right is to read. Each block of copy now reads as a unit and has clear separation. The larger image has more visual appeal too.

4. Underlining

Underlining is a holdover from typewriter days when there was no other way to boldface or italicize type as we do now on computers.

Emoji: Digital Shorthand for Direct Marketers

Our culture is gravitating to visual displays of shorthand, and we’re relying less and less on words. For certain age groups and demographics, it appears that words and text is becoming out of date. Why? Emojis. You’ve seen them. But you may not have considered how you can leverage them in direct marketing. Here’s an emoji primer along with six ideas you can use for more visual emotion.

Our culture is gravitating to visual displays of shorthand, and we’re relying less and less on words. For certain age groups and demographics, it appears that words and text is becoming out of date. Why? Emojis. You’ve seen them. But you may not have considered how you can leverage them in direct marketing. Here’s an emoji primer along with six ideas you can use for more visual emotion.

First an emoji primer: Emojis originated in Japan, and means “picture letter.” Emojis are a single image that conveys an emotion or attitude. They are different than emoticons that are created with characters on a keyboard such as “:-)” to convey a smile. Emojis are shorthand in the digital age. Mobile has been a driver of the use of emojis because they are quick to use.

Unless you’re immersed in the emoji phenomenon, who would have known that last year some 2,834 new emojis were released by the Uniform Consortium (most of the 2,834 emojis have been in widespread use for years). Each has an official name and definition. By comparison, with a mere 26 letters in the alphabet to deal with, one wonders if adding a few well-chosen words may be quicker than scanning through nearly three thousand emojis for exactly the right one, but I digress.

Two recent observations in my life have prompted me to think about the emerging digital shorthand of emojis:

First, after the iOS 8.3 upgrade came through, I observed the sudden addition of emojis on the keyboard (at that time, I had mistakenly called them emoticons, which they are not). In fact, there are 300 emojis. And a Vulcan salute if you want it added. I like to use voice dictation for text and email on my iPhone. I don’t know about you, but I find the placement of the emoji buttons on an iPhone annoying because of my big fingers. I’m constantly touching the key that opens a flood of 300 emojis when I wanted the voice dictation button.

Second, while onboarding with a new digitally-driven client where everyone works virtual and all communications are posted on Skype chat, I saw team members answering questions using emojis. Even though emoji appearance is mostly intuitive, I still looked up the emoji so I was confident that I knew how team members were replying. On Skype, there are dozens of emojis ranging from the usual smiles and frowns to “TMI” (too much information), being worried and a birthday cake.

Then it dawned on me:

It’s clear that millions of people love emojis, so for direct marketers, it’s time to become aware of their power to transform how you communicate.

As our culture becomes more impatient, and attention spans are shortening, people want to shrink the seconds required to respond via email or text. An emoji can be the ticket to effortlessly conveying an emotion.

So how can direct marketers use emojis? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Direct Mail: A person doesn’t have to be a Millennial or Gen Z to recognize smiles, fingers crossed, a handshake or thumbs up. Remember: it’s visual shorthand.
  2. Social Media: Emojis are already built in and easy to use. Liven up content marketing posts with an emoji.
  3. Email Marketing: Why not? Put an emoji in HTML to add some fun and pizzazz.
  4. Website: Many emojis display movement, such as a bobbing head when illustrating someone laughing, and are a way to draw the eye to a desirable emotion.
  5. Blog Posts: I’ll let this light-hearted version speak for itself.
  6. SMS Text: With mobile as the reason emojis are taking off, it’s only natural to use them if you’re using SMS text (and especially you’re conserving on the characters you’re using). Of course, make sure your customer has opted-in to receiving your texts so your legal bases are covered.

Will emojis be the here for a long time to come, or a fad? Who knows? But I suspect that at least for the near term, you’re going to be seeing emojis more and more.

So what do you think? Would you ever use an emoji in your direct marketing messaging?

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 1: Email

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

Over the years, I’ve absorbed studies about the ventricles of the brain and how it performs distinctly different cognitive processes. I’ve read color studies, the anatomy of eye movement, how words and numbers trigger comprehension and reaction, fonts and their role in evoking an emotional reaction, persuasion psychology and unconscious motivation—the list goes on and on—all in an effort to apply these learnings in order to help our clients get the maximum response to their marketing efforts.

While I have a laundry list of “must-do’s” for every medium, I thought I’d share a few digital best practices as Part 1 in a series, and I’d love to hear why you’re NOT following these proven techniques:

  • Test Your Subject Lines: According to a 2014 poll by Howling Mad’s Parry Malm, marketers ranked subject lines among the top variable that affected email response rates however 25% ever conducted any testing. Parry (one of the leading experts on email subject lines) has learned that ‘Sale’ delivers 23.2% opens while ‘Save’ only gets 3.4%. He also found that if the subject line is personalized but the email content isn’t, you gain opens but don’t drive clicks. I put that insight in my ‘Duh!’ file.
  • Buttons Will Get More Clicks Than Text Links: Many have tested this theory (myself included) and the answer seems to always conclude that buttons will outperform text links. AWeber conducted a series of button/text links, and their findings are fascinating as they determined that, over time, text links outperformed the buttons—but they also concluded that what works today, may not work tomorrow. Again, test and keep testing.
  • Text Links Should Be in Color: While this might seem like a ‘Duh!’ I’m always surprised when I accidently hover my finger or mouse over a block of text and discover “there’s a hyperlink in them there hills!” If you want me to take an action (like clicking on something) then lead my horse to the water.
  • A Button Needs to Look Like a Button: Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, owns the button testing world hands down and he concludes that the digital button that gets the most clicks is shaped like a button (rounded corners, slight drop shadow) and is colored (or at least in contrast to the rest of the page of copy in order to stand out—duh). Try NOT to match the color of your button to other call-out boxes on the page as the distraction prevents the action.
  • Button Copy Should Be in First Person: Try this test yourself. If your action button is written in third person (“Start now” or “Try Product X Free”) try testing it against copy in the 1st person (“Help Me Work Faster” or “End My Headaches”). It’s highly likely you’ll see a lift of at least 25% in clicks, at least according to Ashtyn Douglas and Joanna Wiebe who conducted similar tests.
  • Fonts Matter: While many designers will argue this topic endlessly, the current consensus is that sans serif fonts are superior for body text and serif fonts are best for headlines. Of course if you have a newer display, it doesn’t make much difference. But not everyone has the newest technology and some work on displays that are 10+ years old, so if you target a senior audience (yes, that includes senior managers in small companies who cannot afford to regularly upgrade their hardware), you may want to design for maximum legibility. Make sure your font is a system font (most likely to be supported by the majority of email clients and web browsers) like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Geneva or Trebuchet MS, and large enough for people to read without any effort—at least 10 if not 12 pt. Even though Google is now providing supposedly supported modern web fonts, it’s a little too early to tell whether every email client and web browser will be able to properly display them.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own email marketing efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

Surviving Email Errors: It’s About the Perception

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Unfortunately, I also subscribe to the premise that to be considered a professional, you must sound like a professional. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred, and I believe we have become less sensitive to typographical errors and more receptive to text shorthand, even when the type of correspondence calls for something far more formal. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Despite my abhorrence for the misspelled word and my dependence upon editors to ensure I toe the line, my writing is seldom (perhaps never) perfect, and I suffer great angst on the occasions when I find a string of badly ordered letters hidden in plain sight within my writings.

Undaunted, my quest for the perfect content continues, and with good reason: The Web Credibility Project conducted by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab found that typos are one of the top factors for which a website’s credibility is reduced. If this is true of websites, surely the same can be said about other content we marketers produce, including emails.

According to a University of Michigan and University of Maryland study on grammatical evaluation and social evaluation (opens as a pdf), in general, homophonous grammatical errors (e.g., your/you’re) affected judgment and readability more severely than typographical errors (e.g., teh) or hypercorrections (e.g., invited John and I), but all typos have shown to have a negative impact on how you and your organization is perceived, and how receptive your recipients will be to a message with a typographical error. Typos imply carelessness and irresponsibility, especially when you are creating content on behalf of your clients.

When You Err
Many marketers believe that when a typo makes it through, they should immediately issue a correction or apology, but this is not always the best response. You need to keep the gravity of the error in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Take an objective look at the error and evaluate how egregious the error. If the error is statistical data or other numbers, it’s likely more important to address it than if the error is a typographical error such as teh. Likewise, if the error occurs in your subject line, this alone can adversely affect your open rate, so sending out a second email with a new subject line may be appropriate. On the other hand, sending a second email might well be more than your recipients will tolerate, and the correction email could be marked as spam or elicit an unsubscribe simply because it came so closely on the heels of the first. A balance must be reached.

If you find that you’ve made a mistake in your email, take a deep breath and:

  1. Assess the damage. Evaluate the impact of the mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: How many emails were sent? How does the open and click-thru rate compare with other emails of the same type? Was the typo offensive? Will the typo cause a negative perception of our brand? Will the typo cause your customer harm or lead to misinformation? If the typo is a pricing error or incorrect date, it may have a far-reaching impact on your company, in which case a correction is mandatory.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. Once your assessment is complete, work with your colleagues and management to draft an appropriate response, one in step with the gravity of the error. If you do decide that sending a second email is called for, follow these tips:
    • Act quickly. In many cases, a speedy follow up will be seen before the original email.
    • Be upfront. Write a subject line and preheader text that gets directly to the point: You are making a correction.
    • Apologize, without excuses. Take ownership of the error, be frank, and say you’re sorry. Don’t belabor the point with excuses that may well come off insincere or seem as though you want to blame everyone but yourself. Use words such as “correction,” “oops,” or “we apologize,” so your recipients immediately know why they are receiving a second email so soon.
    • Improve the offer. If the typo is concerning an offer on which you cannot deliver, offer them something better.
    • Mind your brand. Be brand consistent, but self-deprecation or humor can be a good approach.
    • Reach out socially. Use your social networks to further acknowledge the error (especially effective with humor) and offer ways your constituents can reach you with questions or support needs.
    • Vet programmatic solutions. In some cases, and depending upon which email automation solution you use, hyperlink errors can be fixed programmatically. While you cannot change the text of the email once sent, be sure to speak with the support team to glean options for fixing the underlying link. If the typo is in the form of an incorrect image, you may well be able to swap the image so that any unopened emails will display the correct image. If the email has been opened but is later opened again, the new image should appear there as well. In this case, a correction will only need to be sent to those recipients who opened the email before you corrected the error.
  3. Monitor analytics. Once assessed and addressed, your email software should be able to provide you with ample analytics about how things went. Keep a close eye on the open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates—these are the best places to discern the level of damage done.

We all make mistakes in our content, but it’s important that we learn from them and learn to avoid them. Here is a collection of tips that may help you avoid the need for an apology altogether:

  • Write your email content in Word and use autocorrect, spell check and grammar check. It won’t be perfect, so don’t depend on it solely, but it can highlight possible areas that need a closer look.
  • Printed emails are usually easier to proofread and pass around for others to review.
  • Read the text aloud, preferably to an audience.
  • Have a child read the text aloud to you. Children are more likely to read exactly what they see since they are typically unfamiliar with the content.
  • Read the text backward, from end to beginning.
  • Send draft emails to a select group on whom you can rely to read the content carefully and thoroughly.
  • Reread and proofread each time you make changes. Many typos are injected after content has passed through proofreading and while you are making on-the-fly and last-minute changes. Resend your draft email to your test group after all last-minute changes have been completed.

It’s one thing to make the occasional error, but quite another to consistently send emails with errors. Each error will erode your customers’ confidence and thus, damage your reputation and this can be a lasting impression. When asked of their perception of companies who send emails with errors, people use words such as “careless,” “rushed,” “inattentive to detail,” “incompetent,” “uneducated,” and “stupid.”

Your email typos might find their way to the inbox of a charitable person who is willing to overlook your error, or to someone simply too busy to notice, but odds are a customer, colleague or [gasp] your boss will notice and will assume that you are careless or uncaring—neither of which is ideal for your continued employment.

If you are sending SMS messages or posting to your social media, you’ll find that these mediums offer a bit more forgiveness, and what might seem like an apology-worthy error in email is a simple snafu socially or in text messaging. Though the formats are forgiving, there is still a call for professionalism, so resist with all your might the urge to use text shorthand in any type of business message, regardless of the vehicle.

Your content sets the recipients’ expectation, establishes you as an authority, and validates your knowledge of the industry. Typos can change this perception in a heartbeat, especially when repeated. Take the time to ensure your content is error-free and you will continue to foster a positive relationship with your recipients—and look brilliant in the process.

As a matter of record, my worst typo was a caption for the photo of a three-star general’s wife, where I noted that she was a “lonely lady rather than the “lovely lady” the client described. What’s yours?

4 Methods of Maximizing and Monetizing Mobile Marketing Efforts

A recent study by Google showed nearly 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they want to see mobile-friendly sites. And if you’re site isn’t one of them, you may be losing leads and sales. The fact that we’re a nation that is on-the-go and pretty much living on our smartphones or tablets means that your website should be adapted to these mediums to help monetize your business. It also means that thinking about mobile marketing and how to incorporate various forms of that into your marketing strategy should be high on your list for 2013.

A recent study by Google showed nearly 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they want to see mobile-friendly sites. And if you’re site isn’t one of them, you may be losing leads and sales.

The fact that we’re a nation that is on-the-go and pretty much living on our smartphones or tablets means that your website should be adapted to these mediums to help monetize your business.

It also means that thinking about mobile marketing and how to incorporate various forms of that into your marketing strategy should be high on your list for 2013.

Mobile-Friendly Must-Haves

There are certain “must-haves” that consumers noted they are looking for in a mobile-friendly website. Such features include:

1. Being fast. This means having a site that loads in around five seconds or less.

2. Being user-friendly. Having large buttons, easy search capabilities, limited scrolling or pinching are key, based on consumer feedback. Something to consider is having responsive templates that adjust accordingly based on the user’s device, albeit template, desktop or mobile phone. It’s also important to have quick access to company information, such as easy-to-find business directions, contact numbers, product and purchasing information. Even better, consider adding a “click to call” access button to contact a customer service rep to take an order via the phone, as well as an option for users to visit a non-mobile site.

3. Being social. To continue bonding and viral marketing, don’t forget links to your business’ social media profile page.

If you’re a smaller business that may not have the staff or resources to include these features into your website, there are some free and trial mobile conversion websites worth checking out. These include: http://www.ginwiz.com, http://www.dudamobile.com/ and http://www.mobilizetoday.com.

The App Attack

If you’re pondering if your business “app worthy” or how you can leverage apps for additional sales or leads, here’s some food for thought …

Paid apps could be a great way to add ancillary revenues to your business and free apps could be used for collecting important data (leads), which can be used for cross-selling. Some businesses even obtain revenues through ads that are built in the app from sponsorship partners.

Whichever business model you choose, you still have to decide what your app will feature. Typically, content is king. For instance if you’re a financial publisher, you may consider having an app that has stocks alerts and ideas, technical analysis, commentary and actionable data that your end-user (investors) would find beneficial. Know your audience and decide what kind of content is “app worthy.”

Then, of course, you need to market and distribute your app for increased visibility. You can promote your app though affiliate and joint venture emails, press releases, content marketing, online classifieds, and guerilla marketing in related forums and message boards. You can also include your app in various marketplaces including: Play/Apps Store (Droid and iPhone), BlackBerry Appworld, Apple Apps Store/iTunes, and Amazon Appstore for Android.

Of course, fees and commissions vary, but some are more cost-effective than you think. Here’s a great article with more information: “App Store Fees, Percentages and Payouts: What Developers Need to Know.” I also found a free service worth checking out called Freeappalert.com as an alternate distribution channel for your app.

QR Codes

You’ve seen ’em, those little square bar codes on just about everything these days. But not everyone is using them properly and not every business needs them. QR Codes, used the right way, can be a great way to take offline marketing leads online. For instance, consider putting these little guys on your business cards, collateral material, fulfillment kits, promotional fliers, press kits, brochures and other printed materials. Why? It’s a way for a consumer to “scan” the barcode and be redirected to your sign up/”squeeze page” or promotional webpage to provide further information and, more importantly, collect valuable data on them so you can follow up accordingly.

SMS Texting

Recent studies show that 97 percent of text messages are read within minutes of receiving them. SMS text message marketing allows you to communicate directly to your target market by sending a simple, quick text message. This permission-based program is perfect because your recipients have opted in to receive your messages. If you choose SMS texting for either bonding (editorial) or marketing (promotions), in addition to your standard anti-spam and privacy policy verbiage, make sure on your sign up form it’s clearly stated that subscribers who elect to be contacted this way will receive important messages and special offers from the publisher and select third-party partners, as well as may be subject to text messaging fees from the phone carrier. This article shows a good example of a text message disclaimer: “What Details to Include in a Mobile Marketing Call to Action.”

In my experience, this medium has been most effective with premium-type services where members rely on critical real-time alerts from the publisher that are pure editorial. The marketing aspect is ancillary.

So if you’re looking to be a leader in your industry and not a laggard, it pays to conduct some “due diligence” on your website and think about which mobile marketing strategies may be right for your biz and audience. With our social and communications landscape always changing, staying abreast of the latest tools, trends and is imperative for businesses to survive and thrive.

B-to-B Marketers Gone Wild!

All text and no fun makes Jack a dull B-to-B marketer. What’s fun about shopping online is that B-to-C retail sites often use video to make their products look more interesting and provide more information than you’d see in a static picture. Since B-to-B brands often sell a service, solution, or product that’s not easily demonstrated in a video, there will be reams of product information to convey, white papers and/or case studies to read. And who declared they have to be all text and dull, dull, dull?

All text and no fun makes Jack a dull B-to-B marketer.

What’s fun about shopping online is that B-to-C retail sites often use video to make their products look more interesting and provide more information than you’d see in a static picture.

Since B-to-B brands often sell a service, solution, or product that’s not easily demonstrated in a video, there will be reams of product information to convey, white papers and/or case studies to read. And who declared they have to be all text and dull, dull, dull?

Whether you’re targeting IT managers, security administrators, hospital executives or CFO’s, no one asks you to present your information in the dullest way possible.

Let’s look at 3 simple, but effective options:

  1. Design product sheets, white papers and case studies to be visually pleasing. Eye tracking studies prove that site visitors spend most of their time looking at visuals—faces in particular. And common sense tells us that when something is visually attractive, it will garner more attention. Which of these two B-to-B white papers would you rather read: All text or visually compelling?
  2. Use flash animation to liven up statistics and tell the story. Or if it’s too complicated, use animation to “hit the highlights,” then give readers a deeper understanding with a text/PDF option. Here are some fun examples to see flash in action.
  3. Add a simple involvement device to engage your site visitor: Online calculators let them see how much they could save, or determine what your product might cost given a few variables. For example, this is a simple but engaging one for college students to determine whether or not they should skip class today, while this data loss calculator demonstrates the negative financial impact an organization may face as a result of a data breach or theft of identity data. This one for a BtoB insurance product helps you see how much income is at risk if you became disabled, and ultimately helps calculate how much the insurance product might cost based on your age and other factors.