Print 101: Tips for Top Travel Guides & Brochures

Account Director/Senior Content Director
Published 9/1/15
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If social and digital marketing are the belles of the Media Ball, then print publishing is its Cinderella.

While those aforementioned, flashier forms of communication are getting most of the attention these days (and understandably so), traditional travel magazines and guides continue to be stalwarts behind the scenes. Toiling away outside the spotlight, quietly getting the job done, but getting little credit in the process. That is, until a head-turning “a-ha” moment transformed print into the subject of everyone’s affections.

Sticking with this analogy, the recent release of new State of the American Traveler research could very well have been print publishing’s coming out party. According to that report, nearly half of all American travelers (47%) say they use print resources to plan and book their trip. What’s so special about that number? It represents a staggering 24% increase over the past two years. Research also shows that print users not only make more money, but also spend more while on vacation – just the people you want to attract.

To bring another childhood story into the picture, all that speculation that print is dying is like the boy who cried wolf. It’s simply not true. So with print still playing such a vital role in your marketing mix, you want to make sure you’re doing it right.

Over the course of the past year, I was recruited to conduct two educational sessions, sharing valuable print best practices with Kentucky tourism industry partners. But the highlights of both presentations, participants told me afterward, were the specific critiques I gave of the printed travel guides, brochures and rack cards they graciously offered up for public scrutiny.

After reviewing dozens of print pieces during that process, several common themes rose to the top. I’ve summarized many of them here in this handy Print 101 checklist. Use it to rate your current publications, making special notes of mistakes you don’t want to make when it comes time to redo them.

  • UPDATE YOUR LOOK: Walk to the nearest brochure rack and tell me what you see. Remind you of the ‘80s? Many travel print publications (especially brochures and rack cards) still feature clunky fonts, brassy colors and other “cutesy” design elements that are so yesterday. That’s largely because many of them were designed years ago and are simply reprinted each year. But remember this: The quality of your marketing materials reflects the perceived quality of your destination. It sets the expectation, so put your best foot forward. The nicer the look, the nicer experience consumers think they’ll have. 
  • REMEMBER YOUR AUDIENCE: But don’t go too crazy with fancy new typography. Although research shows a continuing surge of print use among younger travelers (yes, Millennials, Gen Xers and the like) the core audience of most print resources is a little older. And their eyesight ain’t what is used to be. Pay special attention to make sure copy is large enough to be easily read, italics and decorative fonts are used sparingly, and reverse type (white letters over a dark background) and copy that runs over photos or textured backgrounds are kept to a minimum.
  • STATE YOUR CASE: Don’t try to be all things to all people. Almost every city has nice people and old buildings and good restaurants. What can a visitor see or do at your destination that they CAN’T do anywhere else? Whatever it is that makes you unique, shout that to the rooftops in a clear, powerful way. Make sure the information you present is clearly organized, with a visual hierarchy that helps readers navigate through the piece and absorb your key messages. And be sure you’re offering the types of meaningful content consumers want – focusing on experiences, best bets, insider insights, suggested itineraries – and that these are presented in a “voice” that matches your destination’s personality.
  • INFORM, YES. BUT INSPIRE, TOO! Yes, readers want and need information when it comes time to plan their trip. But if you don’t first inspire them to choose your destination over others they may be considering, they’ll never make it to that planning stage with you. Pack your publications with engaging content and dynamic photography that bring your area to life – and show it in a positive light. (Still using a handful of dated, poor-quality images? Toss ‘em out!) Avoid long passages of text and pack your fill your pages with great images, graphics and other design elements that convey excitement. After you’ve grabbed their attention, THEN present the planning tools folks need with maps, strong social integration and promotion of online features.
  • BE A LITTLE BOSSY: Branding ads have their place, but a printed marketing piece’s sole purpose is to encourage the consumer to DO something. To take action ... whether that be picking up the phone, visiting your website or jumping in the car to head your way. Make sure you are clearly and powerfully telling consumers what you want them to do with large, strong, almost in-your-face calls to action.
  • COVER YOURSELF WELL: Be sure to keep your destination or business name right at the top of your guide cover, brochure or rack card. I know it’s fun to play around with different treatments and placements from time to time. But if you’re distributing these pieces in traditional brochure racks, only the top strip of your piece will be showing. If your name isn’t there, your brochure might as well not be either. Below that, make sure you’ve featured a dominant visual (image, illustration, graphic) that draws people in. Photos showing people having fun or experiencing “a moment” beat out static streets, buildings, even scenic overlooks – every time.
  • QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: We know you love leads – and want to have enough brochures or guides on hand to fulfill them all. But if production and printing costs are an issue – and aren’t they always? – consider printing a lesser number of higher quality pieces and being much more strategic in the audiences you’re targeting.

 Now that you have your own glass slipper, so to speak, go write your own Cinderella story.