By Paul Gustafson published June 21, 2012

Critical Dos and Don’ts for Design that Enhances Your Content Marketing

dos and don'ts of content marketing design, CMIWe don’t understand why so much B2B marketing collateral misses the mark. We keep tabs on the content produced in the industries we serve — and frequently discover instances where poor designs don’t support or enhance otherwise convincing pieces of content.

Graphic design has been, is, and always will be a crucial component of effective marketing. Whether you are producing an app for a smartphone or tablet, a website, a case study, a presentation, a white paper, or a data sheet, the design should help engage the audience, reinforce your brand and, ultimately, influence perception and decision making.

While it goes without saying that creativity must be encouraged, there is a science to the art of content marketing design. Remember these dos and don’ts of design if you want to optimize your message delivery.

Do engage the audience 

Design provides the first opportunity to engage your audience — to get them excited about what you’re saying. No matter what type of content you are producing, your audience will see and be influenced by the design of the piece before reading a single word of copy, watching any video, or listening to any audio. Each element of that design — from the color of the logo and the choice of typeface to the balance of text and amount of white space — will have an effect. Taken together, design elements instantly set a tone; so, depending upon what choices the designer makes, the design can generate excitement, foster curiosity, or exude a sense of stability and reliability.

One of the most effective and proven ways to quickly engage an audience is through photography. A picture not only says a thousand words, it does so in the blink of an eye. Selecting the right images is key. In many cases, the best images for a brochure’s front page or a website’s landing page are not the ones that depict a product but rather ones that suggest potential benefits or demonstrate an understanding of the target audience’s industry.

Don’t rely on gimmicks 

While a primary content goal is to capture and sustain attention, reining in the use of gimmicky design tactics is important. For example, using an eye-catching, colorful “violator” can be a great way to punch up packaging, direct mail, advertising, or even the front cover of a magazine. But excessive use of violators will distract your audience and cheapen your brand.

Do guide the reader 

Design should hold the audience’s hands as readers venture into your content. Good design leads the eye of the audience from one area to the next and highlights key messages along the way. For example:

  • Using short subheads that are treated with boldface or a slightly larger font size can help break up text into easily consumable sections and enable readers to grasp essential points instantly.
  • Callout boxes help clarify terms, offer examples, or provide details without disrupting the flow of the story.
  • Simple charts and diagrams help readers quickly visualize important and potentially complex concepts.

Don’t try to cram in everything 

You’re excited about your product and everything it can do — and you want to tell the world. That’s great, but be sure the quantity of content does not overwhelm the design of the piece.

Using a reasonable font size and leaving a decent amount of white space on the page will help make the content easier to consume. Get your design team involved early in the content creation process to help set expectations for the amount of text that can be supported without compromising readability. 

Do reinforce the brand 

Content design serves an essential role in reinforcing a brand. Designers should carefully employ clients’ existing brand guidelines to ensure consistency across deliverables and different types of media. For example, a case study produced by an external agency should be in perfect sync with a client’s national ad campaign and the presentations created in-house. Your content design should differentiate the specifics of your particular products, but do so in a way that also supports your corporate brand.

Do create design that can influence decisions 

Working in concert with strong copy, good design influences audience decision making. For example, in the short term, well-designed, well-written content can help convince an audience of a product or service’s quality, value, desirability, or usefulness, making it more likely that they will want to purchase it. But from a long-term perspective, the benefits of good design are much greater. High-quality design bolsters trust and fosters loyalty for a brand — and those benefits can continue to pay dividends well into the future.

Don’t forget to make design a team effort 

Make sure designers collaborate with writers and editors to develop captivating materials that draw in readers and lead them to the most important messages. Throwing copy over a dividing wall between writers and designers without providing them with much explanation or context doesn’t help any designer. Explain what the audience is like, and what you’d like them to feel after seeing a particular piece. Establish this kind of teamwork and you’ll be able to combine consistency with originality — and improve the overall effectiveness of your content marketing efforts.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Paul Gustafson

Paul Gustafson is president of TDA Group, Silicon Valley's premier B2B content marketing agency. The award-winning marketing communications firm provides a broad range of services to engage buyers wherever they are: on the Web, on smartphones, on tablets, and through print. Get more insights from Paul on Twitter @PSGustafson.

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  • http://qualitylogoproducts.com/blog Jenna Markowski

     These are excellent tips. So often brands create a distinction between content and design, when the two should really function in harmony! You are so right about well-crafted designs fostering trust — a poorly designed website just looks scammy. Plus, if the site is an eye-sore, potential clients won’t be compelled to linger and click around for very long. On the other hand, an aesthetically pleasing, engaging design will keep clients clicking around on the site.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • http://twitter.com/kent_ong Kent

    Conclusion is do focus on what customers need, don’t focus on what we need. Creating a content for customers, not us.