Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Form Follows Function" – The way advertising should be designed

There was a time in the golden era of advertising design when the simple principle of "from follows function" was an obvious mantra all good ad designers followed. Of course that was before so many "creative" aids came along to confuse the process. Those offending aids include the remarkable graphics software that every ad designer has at his/her disposal at the click of a computer key.

Graphic software has truly been liberating in the scale and scope of what is now possible to infuse into an ad design or other marketing materials. That's the good news. The bad news, is that elaborate graphic effects too often get in the way of good visual communication. They become a superficial message instead of supporting a strong, clear message idea.

There is a wide array of contributors to this rise of superficiality and decline in persuasive messaging. Advertisers who value slick, exciting design may not recognize the importance of starting with a strong message strategy and then finding the best way to express that strategy in compelling words and visuals. Combine that problem with ad agency executives who confuse strategy and execution, and ideas are in the ditch early. The last weak link in the dive for superficial, effects-driven design are the art directors and designers themselves. The excitement of doing something extra cool often blasts right past recognition that there is an actual selling message that needs to be communicated.

The best adverting design results from recognition throughout the collaborative process among client, agency executives and designers that message strategies and objective are paramount. Once that is understood, it really liberates the designers to soar in their imagination and crank up all that extra cool graphics software. 

Good design still springs from the basics: form (the way stuff looks) follows function (the work it's supposed to accomplish).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How to Do Search Engine Marketing

First, let me stop laughing at my own hubris. It's not possible to explain in a single blog post how to do search engine marketing, right?

Probably so, but I'll try anyway.

First, what is search engine marketing? It is a series of actions taken to convince the search engines to rank you highly. In many ways, it is exactly like fishing. The search engines spiders are constantly sniffing around searching for food. Your job is to create the bait that catches the (search engine) fish.

Ok, so let's review some types of bait that the search engine fish (or spiders) like to eat:

1. Title tags - This is the favorite food of search engines. They gobble up title tags. What's a title tag? Look a the top of the browser you are now looking at. the line of descriptive text above the URL is the title tag. It's part of the html code for each page of your website. For example, if you want to be ranked highly for "dallas landscape services", then the page where you discuss Dallas landscape services should have a title tag that reads something like "Dallas landscape services - ABC Landscape Professionals". Note that you should NOT have the same title tag on each page. In fact, just the opposite is true. Each page should have a unique title tag that describes what is discussed on that specific page.

2. Header tags - Search engines try to understand the intent of your website page by reviewing the entire page, starting at the top. So, you should repeat your title tag in your page header.

3. Body copy - The copy on each page should be focused on a specific topic which should, of course, be the topic you described in your title tag. For Dallas landscaping, the page should talk all about how you provide great services specifically for the people looking for Dallas landscaping services. You should use your desired search term (dallas landscaping services) throughout the copy but not more than 5% of the time and probably less than 3%. Why, because the search engines don't like keyword stuffing.

4. Directory links - Now that your website is filled with great pages focused on specific topics, you need to list your website in good directories. The search engines want to know how popular and credible your site is, and one way of determining this is to see how many other sites point to your site. For instance, if Wikipedia has a link back to your site this a great thing. It says you are credible and probably important enough to rank. But, don't be tricked into listing your site on garbage sites whose only reason for existence is to link back to other sites. These sites are called link farms; the search engines don't like link farms. In fact, the search engines don't like anything that is done solely for the purpose of tricking them into ranking a site.

5. Articles, blogs, press releases, etc. - These are just a few of the tactics you can use. Let's say you write an article for a trade magazine and in your bio your website is listed. You'll probably get people linking through who read the article plus the search engines will give you credit for being popular. Blogs are a good way of putting out a constant stream of information. The more you put out, the more the search engines see you as a source of current information. They will visit you more often. And, if you write a blog post that becomes popular, the post may rise to the top of the rankings. In our agency, we use Lead Maverick to generate visibility. In many cases, we're able to achieve page one ranking on Google in less than a month. Contact me and I'll tell you how it works.

I'll admit, there's much more to write on the "how to do search engine marketing" topic. But if you start with the search engines tactics described above, you'll be well on your way.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

How Being a Dallas Advertising Agency has Changed in 25 Years

AdWise Group was formed as a Dallas advertising agency in 1985. Since 1985 we've seen a lot of changes in the Dallas advertising market and the advertising agency business. We began life as the Wm. S. Miller Co and have gone through a couple of name changes since then, but many of the people roaming the halls in the 80s are still with us in the 00s.

Who Has the Pencil Sharpener?
Big change number one. Print was big, big, big. There were two major Dallas newspapers in 1984 (remember The Dallas Times Herald?) Computers had only recently been introduced and they certainly weren't part of the advertising agency world. Pencils ruled. And markers. To make a print ad was a real production. Don't believe us? Read on.

How Print Ads Used to be Made
You have an idea, so the art director grabs a pencil or marker and makes a sketch. The copywriter writes some copy. Not much different from today. But then, all graphics have to be created by hand. Remember, no computers. You type the copy using a typewriter. Then you send the rough layout of the ad to a typesetting company (they dispatch a truck for that purpose). You have specified which type you want and the typesetting company grabs physical type and makes the ad to your specifications. One of the larger typesetting companies of the day was called Typographics. The typesetter then sends you back a printed type proof that you cut and paste and assemble on an illustration board.

You compose each element of the ad on a different layer of acetate. Once you have the mechanical art (paste up) done, you send it along with desired photographs to an engraving company. Harper House was big in the engraving business. The engraver creates a composite film that includes the type, the photo, graphics, etc. They send you a single negative for a black and white ad or four negatives for a four-color ad. (More delivery trucks involved here.) They create a proof for you to review with the client.

Changes needed? Go back a couple steps and do it again. Every day, all day there were trucks traveling between Dallas ad agencies, their clients, the typesetters, the engravers and finally the media outlets. Speaking of media outlets, this is the one place where the old process was better than the current process. The media would receive the film and a proof with instructions to print exactly as shown in the proof or we wouldn't pay. Color proofing in the modern day is more hit and miss.

How Print Ads are Made Today
Everyone knows this answer. It's all done on computer.

Changes in Dallas Advertising Costs
In 1984, the DFW area had 2.3 million people. By 2007, that had grown to 4.1 million (source: US Bureau of Census). This has led to a dramatic increase in the cost of advertising on Dallas mass media. In fact, the Dallas area is one of the most expensive markets in the country. More on this in a later post. We recently did a study comparing broadcast television costs over the past five years. Contact us and we'll share the sobering conclusions.

The Internet
TheInternet existed in 1985, but only for a fairly small group of scientists and academicians. It wasn't until the 1990s that the Internet started to be used by every day folks. Now, Google seems to be taking over the world. How has this impacted life as a Dallas advertising agency? It's been a tsunami, an earthquake and a hurricane all rolled into one. It has completely redefined what it means to be a Dallas ad agency. And the changes have only just begun. Again, more on this in a later post.

AdWise Group has been a Dallas advertising agency since 1985. We've experienced the changes described above and many more to be described later. We've survived and thrived by continually changing and adapting to the new ways of doing business. In fact, we love change. We have transformed ourselves from an advertising agency that did mostly print work in the 80s to an agency that spends much of its time in new media. But the one thing that hasn't changed - advertising is ultimately about persuasion. Regardless of the media, regardless of how ads are designed and published, whether it's newspaper, TV, Internet or mobile phones, the ultimate objective is to persuade someone to do something.

At AdWise Group, we're a Dallas advertising agency and we're wise in the art of persuasion.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Blissful Ignorance Effect

It’s no surprise that people seek information about products and services before making a purchase. What is surprising is that the less information people acquire, the more likely they are to be happy with their purchase. Researchers at the University of Iowa call this the Blissful Ignorance Effect. They found that people who have only a little information about a product are happier with that product than people who have more information. Prior research has shown that before people make a buying decision, they generally like to take an objective, clear-headed view of the products they're considering. During this phase, so-called accuracy goals play a larger part because they want to buy the product that best meets their needs at a reasonable cost. New research, however, shows that once a decision has been made, the Blissful Ignorance Effect takes hold and the buyer makes an emotional commitment to the decision. That’s the key lesson in this story. Customers have an innate desire to feel good about their purchase. So, as marketers we should spend at least as much time and energy living up to or surpassing their expectations AFTER they make a purchase. This is a key concept in word of mouth marketing. People want to feel good about their purchases and when they do, they will tell their friends. Of course, the opposite is true. If we let our customers down, we have broken an emotional bond and they will surely tell anyone who will listen.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How to See Your Google PageRank

PageRank is a trademark of Google. Google assigns a numeric weighting from 0-10 for each webpage on the Internet. The purpose is to measure the webpage's relative importance. If you want to know the rank for your site, one easy way is to install the Google Toolbar in your browser. This will give you access to a number of interesting tools, including the PageRank display. You'll not only see the PageRank for your site but for all sites you visit. Once this is done, you can start to measure the impact of your search engine optimization efforts on your webpage rankings.


Here are links for installation in Firefox or Internet Explorer:

Firefox - http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/toolbar/FT3/intl/en/index.html

Internet Explorer - http://toolbar.google.com/T4/index_pack_xp.html