While many businesses have a digital-first approach when it comes to marketing, there are still plenty of reasons to create physical marketing collateral like brochures, postcards or flyers.

Maybe you want to leave information behind after meeting with a prospect or are promoting an upcoming event with a direct mail campaign. Whatever the reason, traditional marketing tactics like these are still very much alive and well.

Unfortunately, these types of pieces are all too often designed in ways that defy logic. What horrors have I seen lately? Everything from postcards that haven’t been edited to brochures crammed with so much information that there’s no clear takeaway. It seems as good a time as any to share a refresher on what elements will separate your marketing collateral from the many terrible, hastily put together pieces that I see far more often than I’d like.

No matter what collateral you’re designing, be sure to follow these best practices so people not only read your piece, but take action.

1.  Use the visual design of your piece to aide readability

When you were a student, did you ever open up a textbook only to find pages crammed with massive blocks of tiny print without any images, charts or even section headers to help visually break up the page? Were you immediately filled with dread? Did you seriously consider how much you really needed to read it? Was it too late to just run away and join the circus?

Don’t make your audience feel that way when they read your collateral. 

Content cramming is a great way to get people to ignore your marketing, but thankfully, it’s easy to design your pieces for maximum readability. A few tricks to consider: 

For smaller pieces (like postcards or event flyers):

  • Rely more heavily on images than copy. Copy should only be used to communicate the most necessary information you need to get across.
  • If there’s additional information you’d like to share but can’t fit onto the piece, include a link to a landing page created specifically to share the rest of the details.
  • Make sure your call-to-action (more on this in a minute) can’t be missed.

For denser pieces (like brochures): 

  • Use headers with different font sizes to allow readers to quickly scan for the most important information.
  • Make use of white space. Instead of including long sections of copy, break your text up with line breaks every three or four sentences so that the reader’s eyes can have a space to rest in-between important pieces of information.
  • Used correctly, imagery not only makes your design more visually interesting, but it can also be used to support the message of your piece. For example, a photo of your product being used can help readers visualize themselves using it, instead of forcing them to rely on their imagination.

2.  Have a crystal-clear call-to-action

What do you want readers to do after reading what you’ve shared with them? 

Of course, the ultimate goal is to have the reader spend money on your services or products. However, the way to guide them to a purchase will depend on the typical sales cycle of your product and where your reader is at in the buyer’s journey. Your call-to-action (CTA) should provide a clear next action for the reader to take that gets them a little closer to making a purchase.

For simple, transactional products or services — perhaps you’re trying to get people to order a large vegan pizza from your pizza joint or buy a pair of boots from your shoe store — your call to action should encourage people to make a purchase. 

Example transactional call-to-actions: 

  • Save when you buy during our sale, now through 10/31
  • Visit us online to place an order
  • Order by phone today
  • Get free shipping when you spend $50 or more

If there’s a longer sales cycle involved with your product — perhaps you sell machinery to manufacturers — you can’t just immediately tell someone who has never heard of your company to buy your product. They’ll need plenty of information and likely a few conversations with a sales person to be convinced that they should buy from you. In this case, your CTA won’t be to simply “buy now.” Instead, you’ll be better off encouraging readers to learn more.

Example calls-to-actions for longer sales cycles:

  • Call us to schedule a free consultation
  • Visit our website to get a free trial of our software
  • RSVP on our website to attend our event
  • Email us to schedule a product demonstration

No matter what the call-to-action is, it should offer a clear next step they need to take to get closer to closing a deal. You’ll need to make this call-to-action (CTA) crystal clear and impossible to miss. 

As you can see, these call-to-actions all clearly detail what step a reader needs to take next. 

Be sure that your call-to-action can’t be missed. Ways to ensure that it isn’t skipped over include bolding or changing the color of the font used to share the CTA, using line breaks to separate it from other copy, and using imagery to draw attention to it.

To see this in action, take a look at this postcard we created for our client, Switchfast. The front of the postcard clearly spells out the benefits of working with them while using a large illustration to support the idea that they assist nonprofits. The back uses frequent line breaks and bullet points to make the copy easy to read. The CTA is also in orange, helping it stand out from the rest of the copy found on the postcard.



3.  Tell the reader why they should keep reading

It doesn’t matter if you’re sending a tiny postcard or a hefty brochure: you need to convince your recipient to keep reading early on in your copy. If they lose interest, your collateral ends up in the trash.

To do this, consider what benefit you’re ultimately offering them.

The benefit for your reader will vary based on the value proposition offered by your product or service, but some high-level examples include:

  • Cost savings
  • Time savings
  • Improved efficiency
  • Reduced stress
  • Increased happiness

Once you determine what it is you’re ultimately offering your reader, make sure to put this message in the forefront of your design. This often means including the benefit in the piece’s title or opening sentences. Whatever you do, don’t bury this information within your collateral — the reader may never get to it.

The exception to this rule is collateral that’s intended to visually showcase your product or service. It would make sense for certain professions — like architects, interior designers or clothing designers — to let their work do the talking. If people may be swayed to purchase based on nothing but a photograph, you may be able to get away with burying the benefit your products or services offer.

4.  Keep your language simple

While having a large vocabulary is impressive, the time to show it off is not when writing marketing copy. In fact, using large words and unnecessarily long sentences can create confusion among readers. 

The words you use should be simple and the sentences you write should be short. This way, more people will be able to understand your message. The Readable tool can analyze your copy to let you know what reading level your copy is written at and offer suggestions on how to make it more readable. 

Considering that the average American reads at the 7th or 8th grade reading level, using complicated language or sentence structure isn’t just potentially off-putting: you risk losing potential clients simply because they don’t get your message.

In addition to using simple language, you should also avoid jargon.

Why? By using it, you risk making your reader feel stupid (if they don’t know what a word means) or having them wrongly assume that your product/service isn’t for them since they don’t understand your collateral.

After writing your copy, have someone who isn’t in your industry review it. Do they fully understand what you’re saying? Are there any words or phrases they didn’t know? You’ll want to remove and replace this language with something that can easily be grasped by anyone reading it.

I can hear the objections now. “We’re marketing to professionals in a highly technical B2B industry! They’ll know what we’re saying!” “How will people know we know what we’re talking about if we don’t use jargon?”

You should be able to get your message across without relying on jargon. Even if you’re theoretically sending your collateral to people who should know what you’re saying, consider if they actually don’t — perhaps they use different terminology than you do — or if someone at the company aside from the intended recipient reads it. You’ll gain a lot more interest from people when everyone who touches upon your collateral can easily and quickly understand your message.

If you’re still not convinced, let Weird Al remind you just how ridiculous jargon actually sounds.

If you feel you absolutely must include jargon in your material, I recommend defining it upon first use to make sure all of your readers are on the same page.

(Be sure to check out our Simple Grammar Tips for Small Businesses for more advice on how to write effective marketing copy.)

5.  Match your language to the lifecycle stage of the collateral’s recipient

Consider who the recipients of your marketing work will be. Are they people who have likely never heard of your company before? Are they leads who have yet to make a purchase? Whoever they may be, you need to make sure that your message matches the stage of the buying process your reader.

You don’t want to waste time by sending high-level company information to leads who have already had in-depth conversations with your sales team. Similarly, you don’t want to upset current customers by offering them a promotion they actually aren’t qualified for (looking at you and your “free rides for new users only” promos, Uber). 

Marketing is all about sending the right message to the right people at the right time. You need to do all you can to avoid being wrong on message, recipient or timing. If you screw up here, you risk losing a potential customer forever (or at the very least, you’ll have wasted your time and money developing ineffective marketing). 

Remember — at the end of the day, you need to make it as easy as possible for your reader to decide they’re interested in what you have to say and want to take action. When you design your collateral with the tips above in mind, you’ll be more likely to convince them to do just that.