Let's get down to brass tacks. People like pretty pictures. So I understand why the marketing world's abuzz over visual content ! But I also understand why not all marketers are fully embracing visual content -- because unless you're design-minded (and let's face it, many of the best marketers are staunchly analytical), identifying the qualities of amazing design is a challenge.
And it's critical marketers understand how to create visuals that stand out from the crowd, because boy, is it crowded out there. According to Pingdom , an average of 60 photos are uploaded to Instagram every second . Every day on Flickr, 4.5 million photos are uploaded . And throughout its history, 100 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook . That's ... quite a lot of visual content. So how do you ensure yours is the most eye-catching stuff out there? We sat down with our own branding goddess, Marta Kagan, to get some guidance on how marketers can ensure their visual content is just plain awesome. Ready to dig in? Let's do it!
Design ... You've Changed, Man
We all know that marketing isn't stagnant -- we need to keep adjusting our strategies to keep up with the current trends. And design is no different! Since media has shifted, particularly over the past twenty years, from an emphasis on print to digital, the way marketers approach design has adapted, too. Let's consider what digital visual content might have looked like as computers and the internet became more pervasive in business in the 1990s, for example. A marketer might have taken a print ad, plopped it on their computer, and called it web design. And you know what? It wasn't the worst thing to do -- because despite the low quality of the content, all of this was pretty new to the masses.
You may also remember design from 20 years ago as being a little more busy and complicated than what you might find in today's visual marketing content. With newspapers and traditional print media, people were just used to clutter, so they translated what they knew to the computer screen. But as the digital marketing world evolved, people began to study user experience more. Through the power of analytics , they realized flashing ads and busy images burdened with excessive text weren't effective anymore. Instead, content that was more visually "simple" performed better, allowing the user to focus on just one action. (Shocker -- more fonts and colors doesn't mean better results!) As a result, more brand marketers started creating a cleaner digital image for themselves, stripped of the clutter that had marked design for so many years.
These pioneering companies were the ones whose brands started to get noticed for their streamlined visual appearance -- Apple being the classic example that we all likely remember quite well. And as technology like touch screen signage and mobile marketing continues to grow, nuanced design only becomes more important for quick user-adoption.
The Hallmarks of Clean & Simple Marketing Design
So, how do you translate that clean and simple approach to your own visual content? I like to think of Coco Chanel's famous saying, "Before leaving the house, a lady should stop, look in the mirror, and remove one piece of jewelry."
In other words, don't overdo it. Extraordinary visual content doesn't need to be -- nor should it be -- complicated. While we were all once adept at parsing through the clutter, we've adapted to appreciate a simpler design, and as such will be disoriented when our senses are assaulted by too many visual cues. To quote our own Marta Kagan, "In general, people tend to overdo it, entering in doohickies, 17 different fonts ... they just go nuts! The best design can be super simple."
To keep yourself in check when you're putting on your designer hat, ask yourself whether your visual content fits these four criteria of beautifully simple design:
1) Minimal Text
Simple visual design is not text-heavy. Avoid large paragraphs of text, and instead break up the text using headings and bullet points. This way, people stay interested and understand the focus of your content instead of getting lost in the mass of words and characters.
2) Visuals That Enhance Understanding
Visuals should help tell your story, not detract from it. This means that images should be relevant to the message you're trying to get across. A poorly chosen image is just plain distracting and confusing, so ask yourself -- are the cute pictures of puppies and babies really helping the reader to better understand your content?
3) Appropriate Choice of Color, Font, and Texture
Your visual content should reflect your brand. What are the standard visual elements your company uses? Having a set of standards regarding visual elements such as fonts, color scheme, texture, and use of photography can help ensure that you are always making appropriate choices that are consistent with your brand.
4) Clear Message
If you're using a funky font or color, have a reason for it. Does it help portray your message more clearly? That message, whatever it is, should always remain central to your visual content. Keep in mind the one key point your viewer should take away from this content, and simplify your visual as much as possible while still maintaining this message.
Brands Doing it Right
Since we're talking about how to execute clean visual design, let's actually look at some visuals, shall we? Here are some examples of brands that are leveraging simple design in their marketing to give you an idea of exactly what we're talking about!
This image on Mini Cooper's website homepage aligns perfectly with their brand. The use of black, red, and white fit the brand's color scheme. The font is clear and easy to read, especially with the bold heading. The fun, youthful feel of Mini's brand is exemplified through their image choice, and the copy aligns well with the brand as viewer imagines themselves cruising to the beach, a pig-roast, or a hula competition. Finally, the opportunities to view all of their offers or to find a dealer is clear, letting potential customers continue engaging with the brand.
Burt's Bees creates natural, earth-friendly personal care products designed to maximize the well-being of you and the world around you. The green background with images of cotton help emphasize the importance of nature in their products, and for their brand. Viewers of this image will immediately understand the core value of this company, without Burt's coming out to say it explicitly. The text is clear and easy to read, yet not distracting from the product images. The visual content is also interactive, as you can roll over the yellow buttons to learn more about the products.
This HubSpot partner consistently creates beautiful visual content , this image appearing on their website's homepage. job with the main image on their homepage. The image provides a perfect yet simple visualization of the text, enhancing meaning (what their company does) without distracting the reader. The colors are vivid and align with the company's color palette, and the use of white space in helps maintain a clean homepage that isn't visually overwhelming.
How to Design Effective Visual Content
We've seen how other companies nailed design ... how can you do the same? According to Kagan, the key is to let the following four questions guide you as you're creating content.
1) Who is the audience?
Keep in mind that creating great visual content is not about you. The focus should be on your audience -- so if you haven't created your buyer personas, get cracking ! For example, Old Spice doesn't shy away from shock value, using red, fiery flames in much of the visual content on their social media accounts (just visit their Facebook page to see what I mean). However, using red to grab the attention of a financial services audience might not be the best idea because this evokes thoughts of losing money. Your audience should also determine the ratio of written to visual content you are creating, and the amount of data or text that is part of your visual content. The text to image balance would need to be different for a company selling to graphic design companies, for example, versus mathematicians.
2) What do you want your audience to think?
Just like when you create your emails, landing pages , and calls-to-action, your visual content should have one core message. By sticking with just one message, you'll help prevent yourself and your readers from getting pulled in too many directions. So, what do you want your audience to learn? What is the takeaway that reader should remember? Any part of your design that doesn't help promote that one message should be eliminated.
3) What do you want your audience to feel?
Your brand is how people feel about your company, and any design work you pump out should reflect that feeling. Create a basic style guide for your company that outlines things like proper logo usage, color palette, photography guidelines, and fonts. This way make it easier for you to have a clear vision of how you want your audience to feel after engaging with your content -- and keep it consistent. People across the company can using this guide when developing everything from presentations to infographics to website pages.
4) What do you want your audience to do after engaging with your content?
Every piece of content -- visual or otherwise -- should have a marketing objective driving its creation. Let's say the goal of yours to get someone to sign up for a webinar ... there should be a call-to-action or an opportunity for people to learn more about your company somewhere within your design. The visual content that you create is not simply decoration; use it to accomplish your marketing goals!
What do you think makes for amazing marketing design? Share your opinions in the comments!
Image credit: Dave Haygarth
Originally published Jun 26, 2012 4:55:00 PM, updated February 01 2017