How to use Color and Graphics in your Business Proposals

By Abe Cherian Copyright 2005

Most large and small businesses have their own unique brand. This includes their logo, packaging or any other kind of graphic. Writing a good business proposal often requires some thought whether to use graphics and color.

Research recommends using color and graphics except for those rare situations where the customer explicitly forbids it. Government bids are less common than it used to be. But, they need to be used with some judgment. Throwing in clip art or colorful logos will probably do more damage than good.

There are several factors that contribute to a good package: page layout, legibility of the font, use of white space. But, two of the more important tools you can use are color and graphics.

Research indicates that using color and graphics can increase the reader’s interest, enhance retention, and improve comprehension. In fact, the results showed the following impact from color:

1. Increases comprehension up to 73% 2. Increases retention and recall 55% to 78% 3. Increases motivation up to 80% 4. Sells products and ideas 55% to 85% more effectively

If there’s any bad, it’s the fact that the research was sponsored by Hewlett Packard. They just might have a vested interest in getting business people to use more color printers.

But the group that actually did the research was an independent, third party, with good credibility. And those figures are consistent with other research done by publishers and educators.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that the use of simple graphics increased the persuasiveness of a message by 47%. To measure the effect, they had a group of people read a passage of text and rate it for persuasiveness. Then they had another group rate the exact same text, only this time it included a graphic. The score jumped by 47%!

Why does this work? One factor is that some people learn more easily through graphics than they do through words. They are right-brain oriented. Also, some people are skimmers, and graphics are more likely to slow down the skimming process so that they absorb the content. Finally, sometimes graphics, particularly those based on statistical analysis or other quantified data, seem to carry more authority than mere words: for more people a bar chart showing the average annual temperature in three cities will be more convincing than similar data presented only in words.

Here are some ideas for using color and graphics to enhance your document:

  • Use your customer’s logo on the title page of your proposal and balance it in terms of size and impact with your own logo. If you know that the customer absolutely hates having their logo used by outsiders, obviously don’t do this. Too many proposals go out with a cover and title page dominated by the vendor’s logo. It comes across as self centered and obnoxious.
  • If the customer has a “company color,” incorporate it into your design. For example, using a line at the top of the page in their color to separate the header from body text, or putting major headings in their color, are subtle ways of communicating to them.
  • Avoid using clip art. It usually doesn’t enhance your document. It’s not smart to throw something into the document just because it’s available. Your goal is to include appropriate graphics that reinforce your message.
  • Avoid highly technical graphics, complex diagrams and charts. Simple graphics are better. They will attract more attention and they will be easier to understand. If you must include schematics, drawings, network diagrams, or similar technical visuals, consider putting them in a technical appendix or providing them as attachments.
  • Graphics should be oriented horizontally on the page, just like the text. The reader should never need to turn your document sideways to look at your graphic.
  • Write an active caption that not only explains what the graphic is showing but also emphasizes a customer benefit. In long documents, it’s a good idea to number the graphics, too.
  • Discussing an idea in the text and then illustrating it graphically is more effective than showing the graphic and then discussing it. Never put all the graphics at the end of the document. If people have to flip back and forth between the text and the graphics, they won’t get the full value of either.
  • Use the kinds of graphics that are appropriate to the role of the audience.

For example:

CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and other senior executives are likely to look at payback calculations, ROI charts, or gap analyses

Technical evaluators will appreciate a compliance matrix more than any other kind of graphic. A compliance matrix lists each requirement, shows your level of compliance with it, and references where in the document the evaluator can find detailed information.

The “business beneficiaries” of your solution- that is, the people who will use it or maintain it will be most interested in graphics showing the cycle of operation, work flow, escalation policies for handling problems, and so forth.

Think about graphics while you’re outlining or organizing your document, before you have written any text. Graphics that are thrown in as an afterthought typically look like after thoughts.

By following these tips, your documents will be more colorful, more interesting, and will probably have more impact.

About the author:
Abe Cherian’s online automation system has helped thousands of marketers online build, manage and grow their business. Test-Drive iMediatools for free and watch your sales shoot up.


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