Last time, I told you how to use words that sell and a bold, assertive tone to grab reader’s attention when creating promotional materials such as ads and flyers. But words, while important, are just one communication element. Visual communication is also important.

Visual communication includes:

  • Photos
  • Illustrations
  • Animated graphics
  • Videos
  • Multi-media presentations
  • Player bars that launch an audio file
  • White space
  • Subheads
  • Font choices
  • Colored text
  • Sidebars
  • Pull quotes
  • Bulleted lists

The first impression people have is almost always visual. Make sure every first impression counts, whether it's the landing page of your Web site, Twitter feed or blog or your brochure, pocket folder or a flyer. Here's how we think about visual communication elements at Impact Communications.

People's eyes and attention tend to jump around when they read, whether it's a printed piece or a Web site. Most of us were taught to write according to the model, "Tell them what you're gonna tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them." But that's not an effective model when it comes to laying out and composing marketing copy.

If the reader is jumping around like a pinball, the writer should leverage that behavior. As advised in my last Marketing Maven article, keep your copy short and concise. Offer the reader a variety of ways to get your message by using strong headlines, text boxes, visuals, strong quotations, color and font variety.

Studies show that readers automatically start perusing any page or document at the upper left hand corner. The eye then zigzags down the page, left/right, left/right, left/right, until it lands at the bottom right corner. If you organize your information in a zigzag eye pattern, the reader will not have to work so hard to understand the overall communication. Readers who have to work too hard to see what’s important on the page, will move on without trying to understand what you are trying to convey.

Here’s a good example of using the zigzag eye pattern to capture attention.

What do you think the advisor is trying to communicate with this piece? That’s right – that he is a credible speaker and professional resource for meeting planners and association task force members.  Notice, too, the use of white space, photos, graphics, subheads, font choices, sidebars, pull quotes and use of bulleted lists.


On the Web, readers tend to move from page to page. When you organize your content, consider how you want visitors to read the material then try and guide them to where you'd like them to go. This can be done by using hot links embedded in the content and words as,  "Learn more about xyz now,"(and hot link that text to the corresponding Web page) instead of  "To learn more about xyz, click here."

Here’s an example of how one advisor uses embedded hot links and text to guide visitors to the next logical place on his site. Notice, too, the use of navigational “bugs” – small graphic icons that the graphic designer asked the Web master to place to help the reader see that bottom-of-the-page navigation.

While the visitor can certainly decide to just pop around on the nav bar, many people will read quickly to the bottom of the home page and then take the suggestion at the bottom of the page as to where to go next. Guiding the reader along the sequential learning path you want them to take is a good idea.


Many people have become lazy, impatient readers. Consider adding audio notes (with a visual player bar) or video clips (with a visual player arrow) to your Web site and e-mail communications.

Use simple text that hooks them with a promise or a benefit statement so they can promptly see "what's in it for me?" Otherwise, they'll move on.

Here is an example of a video embedded into a Web page – notice how effective it is in engaging the viewer. 

Here is an example of a podcast with visual player bar embedded into a Web page – what a nice option to give people who may be tired of reading and in need of a rest: (notice that the transcript of the audio is also available with just one extra click, for those who prefer to skim or read versus listen).

Here's the audio service my firm uses to record conference calls, dictate instructions, provide commentary or virtual coaching, generate a podcast, etc.

You could also embed a Power Point slide show, recorded webinar or a multimedia presentation that includes music, narration, photos, animated graphics and text.

Here’s a slide show that RIA Central posted, using a service called Slide Share, after a recent webinar for its members.

Here are two examples - an embedded document that retained its original formatting thanks to a service called Scribd and a recorded webinar created using the BrightTalk service.

Here’s an example of a good multimedia presentation.


A little movement can draw people in. Use animated graphics and/or flash animation sparingly, but do consider them when you want to make an impact and catch the viewer's eye.

Here's an example of an animated gif – take a look. It adds a lot of interest without being overly distracting. Here’s one more animated gif example.

Here’s an example of flash animation – (note that the flash and music plays automatically when you hit the site but you could chose to have it play only when clicked, much like the video greeting that is also visible on the home page of this site).

Here’s one more example, a more subtle use of flash animation.


Incorporate process graphics to quickly communicate complex thoughts. Here are some good examples:

Use photos of yourself and your team to build rapport. You want people to get an immediate sense that they could like and trust you and your team. The photos should be professionally taken and big enough so the viewer can look right into your eyes and get a good feeling about you. Good examples:

Use photos of people who look like your clients – or the location of your firm – to create a sense of identify and belonging.

  • What is this firm trying to communicate with their visuals? Notice the subtle patterns (tapestry patterns, silk thread simulation) in the website design as well as the photos (Asian location, American people) as you click from page to page:
  • What is this firm trying to communicate with their visuals? Notice the feminine colors and images on the site (flowers, greenery, soft borders) in the website design as well as the photos (all ages, average Americans, families) as you click around the site:
  • How about this firm? Who is it trying to attract and make to feel at home? Notice the emphasis on certain sports, hobbies, life stages and heritage:

Invest in a quality brochure and full-color, professional output. Today's direct digital technology and online vendors have leveled the playing field. Just because you're a small business doesn't mean you can't look good on paper. Post an electronic version on your Web site so people can print it out. Here are some good examples

Post a copy of your white paper, book or special report online. For good examples see:

 Whether you're using ink or electrons, every communication is an opportunity to reinforce your positioning and your brand. With a little thought and planning, you can turn your ink (or pixels) into gold.
If you have missed any of my other Marketing Maven blog posts, please skim the archive of articles below. You can also enter “Marie Swift” using the search box on this site to find many other articles that I’ve written for in the recent past.

Marie Swift is a nationally recognized consultant who has for over twenty years worked exclusively with some of the industry’s top financial institutions, training organizations, investment advisory and financial planning firms. Her “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry” blog provides additional insights and advice. Find it at Get breaking news at

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