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 November 19, 1999

Strong brand identify means integrating Web, printed communications

It is axiomatic in the new economy that a strong brand identity is crucial to success. A consistent visual identity can positively influence market share, share of mind and customer loyalty. Yet the print and Web communications of many organizations look surprisingly unrelated, thus risking a dilution of valuable brand equity.

The reasons for such inconsistency? Perhaps different teams of people are working on each medium. Or maybe the outsource talent hired for Web design has not been given crucial source files from those in charge of printed communications.

The first step in guaranteeing consistency of an organization’s visual branding is to publish a set of graphic standards. Dictating the appearance of all graphic communications — from billboards to Web pages — the graphic standards manual should specify the correct use of the logo, typography and other design elements and then provide examples of “do’s” and “don’ts” of such usage. Pantone Matching System (PMS) ink colors and their four-color process (CMYK) equivalents should be specified for the logo and other elements of corporate ID.

Since Web and multimedia use the RGB colorspace (the red, blue and green of projected color), these RGB values should also be identified to produce the closest equivalent to printed colors.

With print there is guaranteed visual consistency from piece to piece. Every recipient sees the same thing. Not so with the Web. Even when optimized for maximum quality and consistency, colors will appear differently on every computer monitor. If absolute color is critical to move an audience to action, perhaps print should predominate one’s marcom strategy.

Another technical issue connecting print and Web-based communications is the re-purposing of digital design files. Before beginning a new project, ask, “What is the highest quality application for the use of these images (e.g., print, booth graphics, signage)?” Build and keep the images at the highest resolution and then distill down for the Web. This will prevent costly rebuilding of files later at higher resolutions.

With technical and consistency issues covered, a company must then address how to divide their marketing communications between print and the Web. Creating a page-by-page replication of existing printed collateral is a good start, but leaves many of the Web’s possibilities underutilized. A better approach is to ask what one’s audience is really seeking to learn, and then identify their preferred media for obtaining that information.

More than ever before, we are recommending that our clients invest in research to answer some crucial questions before making a major commitment to either Web-based or printed communications.

Questions such as:

What is the average Internet connection speed to which your audience has access? What types of information would you want them to carefully ponder (print) vs. be able to access for in-depth inquiry (Web)? How will the primary contact in the organization you are trying to reach share your information with others: at meetings (print) or over an intranet (Web)? At what stage in the customer’s decision-making process is printed material most beneficial? Are there segments within your audience that respond better to print or to the Web?

One way to cover the bases is to have all printed literature downloadable from a Web site. The best vehicle for this is Adobe Systems’ Portable Document Format (PDF)–a format that is readable regardless of the recipients’ software programs or computer platform. If visitors have Adobe Acrobat Reader (a free download from Adobe), they can view, print and forward the digital version of any document. Visit www.adobe.com/acrobat for more information.

An important alternative to print and Web is CD-ROM. An interactive CD-ROM can be far more dynamic than a Web site, containing large amounts of information, audio and video that may be hard for many people to access via the Web. CD-ROMs are less expensive to produce than printed communications in applications such as catalogs and multi-page brochures. CD-ROMs can be distributed along with printed literature but can also contain live links to the Web, making them a useful bridge between print and Web-based communications.

Printed materials will, of course, always hold a unique place in marketing communications. The visceral effect of printed materials — especially when unique papers, varnishes, die-cutting and embossing are used — can speak to the recipient in powerful, subconscious ways. Print can evoke more emotional response than the Web, due to its tactile as well as visual effects.

It is also important to note that the vaunted ability of the Web to reach an “audience of one” is now being paralleled in the print world through new technology. Digital presses can produce printed pieces targeted to individuals based on data unique to the individual. Every sheet coming off the press can be different than the one before, fully customized for the recipient.

Web and print can thus be effectively linked as data gathered on the Web is used to produce a custom-printed piece that reflects the interests, buying habits or preferences of the recipient. Intelligent use of the Web can make direct marketing efforts exponentially more effective. The days of pounding out tons of mail to eke out a 2 percent return are over.

The keys to success in graphic communications today involve engaging the audience’s attention, building one’s brand from the first moment of customer contact, and strategically planning the right mix of print, multimedia and Web-based communications. Thinking strategically before jumping into design and production will result in moving an audience from knowledge to beliefs, from beliefs to feelings, and from feelings to action.

David Heitman is a consultant and lecturer on branding and marketing communications and is the president of Heitman Advertising & Design. He can be reached at david@hbgrafx.com or (303) 465-6100.

It is axiomatic in the new economy that a strong brand identity is crucial to success. A consistent visual identity can positively influence market share, share of mind and customer loyalty. Yet the print and Web communications of many organizations look surprisingly unrelated, thus risking a dilution of valuable brand equity.

The reasons for such inconsistency? Perhaps different teams of people are working on each medium. Or maybe the outsource talent hired for Web design has not been given crucial source files from those in charge of printed communications.

The first step in guaranteeing consistency of an organization’s visual branding is to…

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