From blogs, ads, and postcards to mission statements, social media posts and website content, we love the process of writing copious forms of content marketing for our clients. But we also know, we can tell an even better business story when pairing great content and great design.
We sat down with our friend Jenny Tod (Jenny Tod Creative) — who we’ve collaborated with on client projects (including the featured image you see above) — to explore the need for this marriage in content marketing.
I graduated with a degree in visual communications from Herron School of Art + Design, and from there I’ve had a few different branding and design jobs over the past eight years.
I started out working for myself — kind of out of necessity with my husband’s job at the time. And then I was sought out for a job at an agency. I worked at two different marketing agencies doing art direction for a number of different clients in different industries. Then, from there, I worked in house at a tech company, growing one individual brand from nothing into something that was usable and recognizable.
Recently, I’ve gone back to work for myself, putting all that experience to work for my clients.
There are multiple ways that people describe the term. You’ll hear “visual communications.” You’ll hear “communication design.” You’ll hear “graphic design.”
I think “graphic design” is probably the one that’s most commonly used — that most people recognize — but I would say that it’s the term that feels the least accurate. Graphic design, to me, just includes graphics. Whereas I actually do more brand work and website design that involves a user and their experience with it. It’s more than a cool poster or a CD album cover, which is what so many people know graphic design as.
But regardless of the term, for me it’s about solving problems through visual communication — taking information and presenting it so people can quickly understand it. It’s about communicating a business message and getting a user to interact with it.
I would say, in general, that graphic design involves things like business cards and marketing collateral, letterhead, posters, brochures, website design — even user experience design.
Then, you move into the world of branding, which includes things like logo design, a visual brand identity that makes sure things like the website and marketing collateral all tie together through one visual look.
And then you have interactive or digital design—things that happen online. This also includes things like digital ads, which have a lot more restrictions in what you can and cannot do.
The world that we live in now is so visual. Everything that we’re seeing is fighting for our attention, and so I think the expectation is that things have to be well designed if we want them to stand out. In my mind, a small business is going to stand out if they take the time and energy and investment to create something that does look really interesting and intriguing and gets our attention. Then, we want to read more and find out more about what it is.
Every small business has a purpose and a reason behind what they’re doing, and you can tell a great story with words. But if there are no images or visuals to go with that, it’s usually not nearly as impactful. It doesn’t have the same emotional impact. You’re just reading words. But when you add imagery, whether that’s photography or iconography, it becomes real.
Two things come to mind. The first type of project is websites. I just think that people are trying to share so much information now on websites, and visitors have very small attention spans. They want information, and they want it quickly.
When someone lands on your website, you have 10 seconds to get someone’s attention. And if you don’t, they’re going to click away. I see the value of SEO and I understand the need for great content that tells your story, but if you don’t do it in a way that looks interesting, gets someone’s attention, or leads them down the page, then your audience will click away. And they may never get to the meat of what you’re actually trying to tell them, what you’re trying to get them to do, or the next action step you want them to take.
So, that’s the biggest place where I see content marketing falling flat — people trying to load down their websites with tons and tons of content, but not doing it in a way that looks appealing or visually tells a story.
The other place would be on social media. I think people try to cram everything that they want to write into the image that they want to show. And I just find that people are much more intrigued and interested in an image that is appealing visually. And then, they’re going to read on if they’re interested in what the details of that are. And so, the caption is where you include most of the content.
The branding side of me feels like developing a brand is the number one thing you can do for your business, because that’s going to help lead the way for everything else. And also your website should be invested in, because it’s the first touch point for a lot of people. However, I realize that these are large investments that not everybody can do right away.
In the meantime, if you’re blogging you could update the visuals on your blog. Find a nice image that’s eye catching. There are too many free-image resources out there to not pull a nice image from somewhere, versus a low-res iPhone photo. Even trying to format the blog post in a way that looks pleasing can go a long way, like making sure the H1, H2, and H3 tags and pull quotes look good. Just making them look like you thought about them can help tell your story, versus having a page only full of paragraph text.
It depends on the business. Not all suggestions apply to all business types. But if your business is all about sales — getting your name out there and getting more people to reach out to you — then it might be wise to invest in business card designs that make a great impression on someone. It’s one small piece that you’re going to hand to someone, but just the way it looks or feels could impress that person a lot more.
Or, if you are a company where most people are seeing your online content, an infographic could be a great way to attract more customers. Instead of posting multiple paragraphs of text, you could create something visually interesting and get it on Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media places that would attract people to your website. So, it could be something as easy as that.
And, if you’re out at a trade show, having a nice booth display can be a great way to attract clients. That could mean investing in a really nice banner backdrop or a couple of nice marketing takeaways to help you stand out.
So, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish through your company, but hopefully that gives you a few ideas.