Every now and again you get an opportunity to see how something you've worked on has evolved. When you're working with a company that has put out a regular piece twice a year for the last decade, this becomes even more apparent. I've recently completed work on a direct-mail publication for Explorica that has been evolving since I began working on the document three years ago. Since then, the brochure has been produced several times and recently it has conceptually been taken further than ever before.
After several years of existence as primarily a product catalog, this Explorica marketing piece had evolved somewhat beyond its competition. Most others in the educational travel field used perfect-bound catalogs with multiple photos on the cover. Exploria spent a significant amount of time, it is worth noting, researching two things: what their branding should be as a differentiator and what features people interacted most favorably with in the catalog. As a result, there had been some differentiation in the design. The cover design was a notable departure from the rest of the industry, it featured an immersive photo, ostensibly a student on tour, engaged in whatever experience they had signed on for.
The catalog usually featured marketing and sales spreads amongst the first several pages. The content touted the usual company advantages: safety, customer service, flexibility, and so on.
Still heavily a catalog, the document had lists of tours that were readily available on the web site as well as dozens of pages of the basic itineraries that customers could alter to suit their educational travel needs.
There was one aspect of the catalogs that stood out for customers. It was discovered in testing that the double-page spread preceding each region of itineraries gave readers pause. They particularly enjoyed the "magazine-like" spreads with full-page photographs. It was decided that we should explore layouts that further called on magazine design to communicate Explorica's brand and product.
We set out to add what was essentially magazine content as produced by Explorica. What would customers find most enjoyable and useful? The first round of results were slightly uneven as they were still heavily influenced by hardcore marketing and sales content. Though regionally specific and littered with useful content, the spreads were a bit too full of bits of content rather than a cohesive narrative. The covers evolved slightly to accommodate a more magazine-like design, featuring more dramatic typography and setting out to demonstrate even more immersive, experiential settings for individuals on tour. The itinerary pages were also redesigned. The spreads were less derivative of competitors' catalogs and laid out with two specific goals in mind: readability and the goal to feature the user-generated photography that Explorica had been gathering for the last few years as part of its overall strategy. The results have been to have more of an impact in print and in social spaces online.
The second round of development featured longer narrative content and a tighter organization of marketing content with it. We continued to draw inspiration from the region's introductory table of contents. The layout was further focused on a narrative of interesting, destination-related information followed by specific callouts about how to take advantage of the featured content with Explorica. Comparing the previous article layouts to these, we had condensed the bits of information required from eight down to four.
We continued to follow this trend and our overall strategy. Focusing the content even further to an even more accessible narrative and condensing the required marketing and sales information, 2–3 items, to essentially a single callout column.
Feedback from customers, regarding the content, continued to improve. We took it a step further, fully converting the catalog to a magazine-style brochure by loosening up the cover's appearance, focusing on a series of twenty "top destinations" for the articles, creating a true table of contents, adding topics of interest such as interviews with teacher-travelers, independent research-based graphics supporting the benefits of educational travel, entertaining flowcharts, and "advertisements" that featured particular sales and marketing content. The results are a far more personable and entertaining direct-mail piece that features all of the information a customer would need to know before deciding to engage with Explorica. It is also very much in line with Explorica's "the experience is everything" branding, it exceedingly demonstrates a differentiation in appearance and communication strategy with competitors, and ties in with further promotions on the web site's landing pages and through email.