by Caledonia Skytower
Part 4. Creating Visual Collateral
“Visual Collateral? What the heck is that?” The word “collateral” is used here as an adjective, such as “accompanying; auxiliary.” Another possible interpretation would be “additional; confirming.”
Visual collateral refers to anything visual or graphics related, that you need to promote your event or venue. It may seem like a real fancy way to say “make a poster”, and perhaps it is. But as your promotional strategy gains sophistication, and your reach extends beyond the immediacy of your friends list, you will find that you need more than just a single image to get the news of your event out effectively. You need different versions of your image to fit different uses and promotional formats. You create a core image, and then collateral!
I couldn’t be more grateful that there was a pause between Part 3 and this post. I was struggling with how to share these ideas without pointing fingers at people’s posters and saying “that sucks!” The break enabled me to go through an exercise in humility that effectively brought me back to what is really important when you are creating this kind of work: what is the purpose of an image? How and where is it being used?
I have been peripherally involved with a long-standing event in SL that has an established visual brand – an easily recognizable style in their promotional graphics that they use over and over again. I have been critical of their poster work. Openly critical. The graphic design work is beautiful, but to me they failed as functional collateral on several levels.
This year I was more directly involved, and I got to experience the event from an inside perspective. It changed my view entirely. I realized that I had completely misread the application of the images – how they are used. The event itself is immense even by virtual terms. Individual components of it have to be promoted within the extended event area. THAT is the primary use of these images. They are not really for outside use, or social media. They work effectively on the website because the other basics are taken care of by the page text (see post #2 – The Basics – Who? What? Where? When? How?). The festival event itself is so large that other brand images (really simple ones) get people into the greater event, and these images help them make decisions on sub-sets of activity. How and where you use your images is important.
So everyone’s first sure-fire reaction to planning an event is “we need a poster” and that’s not a bad reaction. Next time you find yourself thinking that, try adjusting your thinking to “core image” and grab a notepad and pencil. Start writing down all the possible uses for that visual image and ask yourself if one version of your core image will satisfy all those needs. Be brutal.
A poster that works well in your in-world venue or at information centres may not look so great on a facebook post, in Google+, or on a website. If you are sending out images with press releases, not all bloggers or media outlets use the same AR (aspect ratio) for their pages and if you don’t provide images that they can use (both portrait and landscape), they are not going to clog up their posts with what you did send.
There are some missteps that happen when you use a single image for everything. I have been guilty of some of these myself, and some become unpleasant habits. Be conscious that not every poster/image “fits all”:
- Don’t use an image that says “click for info/information” in an application where it is not linked to anything.
- Try not to use a background image so complicated that your basic information is lost against it (Quick test: throw your eyes out of focus – do you still see “what/when/where” easily? effortlessly?)
- Avoid using a 1:1 image aspect ratio in social media or other applications not designed for that. You end up with a BIG, dominating square image and your accompanying text is diminished and ineffective
Why would size matter? On an in-world poster, residents can move their cameras in close to look at your image. For your average 19″ monitor screen, that can be quite a large image. I did a quick survey of various SL related blog sites and websites, and the largest images averaged 4″ x 6″ on-screen. Popular social media such as Facebook and Google+ run to comparable limits of 5″. Those dimensions are based on my smallest screen (19″) and many people’s screens are even smaller. You should consider that when planning your visual campaign – some people may be seeing your image on a notepad or even a phone. Keep it strong and simple enough that people want to zoom in to it because it looks interesting, not because they can barely read it.
In all these cases, you can usually click on an image to see an enlargement, but that too can be of limited help. Your objective is to make it easy for people to get to your information. Adding clicking steps is counter to that intent. Every click you add, loses the interest of more people. Social media marketing guru Guy Kawasaki suggests that you keep you images at a max 500 pixels for any kind of post. So, consider those relative sizes when deciding what version of a poster you need based on how and where you intend to use it. Do you intend to promote on social media? You may need a version of your core image specifically for that.
I have recently seen several posters for prominent events (an awards event and an artistic performance) that had a slew of sponsors, presenters, artists and participants on them. It is great to see that many people pulled together for an event, but you have to be able to actually distinguish their names to appreciate it. Save such details for a Lobby Card at your event, where you can make it as large as you have room for, or on your website. In both cases I ran into these images on Facebook and was immediately overwhelmed by their visual clutter. I couldn’t get them large enough to read all the text. A simplification of the image would have been much more effective. Size does matter! I refer you to the very first post in this series:
“Forget the catchy subtitles, or the extensive explanations. Distil the essential details into quick bites, simple phrases, and make them prominent. The other information is just that: “other.” Once someone’s attention is caught, THEN you can dazzle them with your witty descriptive prose and all the cool people who are making things happen.”
It is easier than ever to create attractive poster images, even for those with layman’s graphic skills. I myself am a good poster artist, though no one will ever mistake my work for those highly accomplished in the graphics industry. If you don’t have that skill set, make friends with someone who does and treat them well. You have to start with an image for your background that reflects the activity in some way: it’s theme, or some vision of what it will be like participating (i.e. is it a fun dance party? a lyric poetry event? is it wild? is it serious? are there crowds or is this an intimate experience?).
Choose your image carefully. Images with people active in them are always the best, but if they are low quality snapshots that scream “SL 2010!” you are better off to go for an image that reinforces your theme even if no avatars appear in them. If you are promoting a musician or DJ, have several different high quality core images of the artist to work from so you can adjust them to fit the venue and the set. If people see the same image over and over, used for multiple gigs at multiple venues, it can become visual white noise.
One of the most effective posters for a musical event that I have seen is a poster which the musician (who happens also to be a graphic designer) uses for one of the venues he performs at weekly. He is not pictured in this poster, nor is the venue. The image base is a silhouette over the heads of a crowd of dancing people. It’s says “dance” and “fun” without those words ever appearing. He uses different images for different gigs, all of them good, but that is the most successful one I have seen: a simple message, clearly depicted.
So let’s quickly review:
- Choose a strong image for the core
- Evaluate where the image will be used and how many different versions you will need to accommodate different uses and formats
- Cover your basics: Who? What? When? Where?, and as appropriate How?
What’s left? One final consideration relates to distribution, and I cannot give you clear-cut guidance on this one. It is something you need to consider as it impacts how and where you intend to distribute your images: are promotional graphics “art” or “marketing”? It seems like a silly question, yet time and again I receive No Transfer posters from people (so I cannot push them out to groups I promote to) and No Mod (so if they did not make them the size I have space for, they don’t go up) or otherwise treated as precious.
If you choose to lock down your collateral to No Mod / No Trans, there are some very good reasons why you might. My personal opinion is that proprietary artwork is counter to the objective of promotion. Yet, while it has been a long time since I heard of anyone abusing someone’s poster or poster art, I can conceive that people have had those experiences and have taken steps to be cautious. So, I’ll be fair and say the amount of proprietary control you exercise over your collateral pieces is a choice.
If you make the choice to lock-down the work, you need to accept that you will be handing your collateral to one person at a time, and it will go no further than that one person’s immediate sphere of influence. Sending it out to groups, or getting people to help you promote by enabling them to pass you poster on to other interested persons who might also display it or share its information cannot work locked-down collateral.
The best marketing is always positive word of mouth, or “buzz.” If you can create buzz without barrier-free distribution, then you can afford to be more proprietary. Most of venues and events don’t have that luxury. If you have issues around this, especially when working with a volunteer staff, I suggest you include on your list of collateral the need for a “non-precious” version that you can target for wider distribution. Then pass it out like candy.
Sending out images or posters with permission change instructions is not effective either. Once it is out of your hands, you no longer have control over it. Accept that. Your time is much better spent focusing on making your event or performance the very best that it can be, not acting as the poster police over use enforcement.
NEXT POST: Building a network.
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