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How AEC Firms Can Build Brands with Better Ad Design

How many Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) firms place ads in trade publications that actually damage their brands.

Fri August 08, 2014 - National Edition
Brian M. Fraley

You wouldn’t design an ornate church and cut costs by leaving out the stain glass windows, so why would you invest thousands of advertising dollars to run a poorly designed ad? This may sound counterintuitive, yet many Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) firms place ads in trade publications that damage their brands. Like a building, an ad is a lasting reflection of your company and its brand. The good news is that it’s not too late take corrective action. The following practical graphic design tips will increase the potency of your advertising, make better use of your marketing dollars, and begin restoring strength to your firm’s brand.

Your Advertising = Your Brand

You’re advertising must properly reflect your brand. That means incorporating your logo, color scheme, and tagline/slogan if you use one. Protect your brand like a father protects his daughter. If your logo looks blurry or your colors don’t appear properly, your brand will be penalized and your business can’t afford that. A potential client is likely to issue a mental strike against your firm. If your brand includes writing in a certain style or tone, make sure your copy is written consistently. The strength of your brand is largely defined by consistent application.

Copy Overload…Keep it Simple

Trying to jam too much text into an ad is like trying to load 15 clowns into a Volkswagen Beetle. Saying more with less is effective in today’s world due to information overload and compressed schedules. It is rare for a client to stop and read an entire ad so get to the point quickly. Keep your message simple. You literally have seconds to make an impression with your ad, so your graphics and copy should designed accordingly. What is it that you want them to take away? If they don’t catch it in a single glance, your ad will sink like rebar in wet concrete.

Say More with Less

Is your text small and difficult to read? Are you trying to say too much given the size of the ad? There is no better way to repel your target audience. I see this frequently with 8 1/2" x 11" magazine pages with 1/8 of a page ads. Have you ever seen such an ad that features a bullet list? Neither have I because no one reads it. Let me provide an example. If you’re a multidiscipline civil engineering firm that offers a host of services, summarize that list with a simple phrase such as "full-service engineering." You will score points for differentiation because your ad will be the only one on the page to catch the attention of your audience. Remember that white space is your friend.

Best Practices in Graphic Design

Graphic design is critical. If you don’t have an expert internally and are unwilling to hire outside help, don’t spend the money on the ad space. If your ad looks like a 4th grade abstract project, your audience will disregard it. Good graphic design means that your ad has the proper balance between graphics and text, effectively written error-free copy, high-quality photos, a catchy heading, and an aesthetically pleasing design. Generally speaking, less copy is more desirable than more. And avoid fine print. It will be read closely in contracts, but ignored in ads. If you’re using color, limit it to no more than three colors unless you’re selling rainbows. Two colors are better. Symmetry can also be effective, but don’t let it impede your creativity. Asymmetrical ads can work well if designed properly.

Humanize Your Ad…Add People

Include people when possible. We human beings find people interesting and enjoy them on most days. I love an a action shot of an excavator loading a dump truck as much as the next guy, but adding people can humanize your ad in a way that a machine simply can’t. And you don’t need a professional model. Regular people are just as interesting. You should include diversity as well. Women and minorities hire professional services firms and buy construction machinery, too, so let them know that your brand welcomes everyone.

In conclusion, don’t cut costs when it comes to designing your ads. Hire or train an in-house graphic designer or pay a consultant or marketing agency. As the old saying goes, "if you’re going to do it, do it right." Ad space is expensive and damage to your brand is even more costly. Spend the extra money now on proper graphic design and it will pay dividends in the long run.

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