Category Archives: Creativity

Infographics 101

how to use infographics

The basics about why they work, what they are, and how to use them.

Why to use them

  1. We process images much faster than text.
    It makes sense, doesn’t it? Imagine a world where all the road signs looked the same, but had different messages. Stop. Deer crossing. Yield. School zone. How effective would these signs be in keeping traffic informed at the speed of travel?
  2. Images are engaging.
    We humans are wired as visual creatures. Don’t get me wrong, copywriters – I love a well-written piece. But when it comes to getting me to click something to get to that great tidbit of writing, there’s nothing like a compelling visual.
  3. Visuals aid memory.
    Think about your first experiences with reading. A is for…apple, right? When it comes to memorizing data, visuals are a key strategy. That works unintentionally, too. When it comes to getting your clients to remember you, a good visual can be a key aid.

What they are

An infographic is a graphic used to convey information. Seems obvious, right? Regardless, this term is used loosely to describe a wide variety of graphics. Here are a few key features we look for to define an image as an infographic.

  1. The pictures do the heavy lifting.
    Infographics do often have text. However, the best ones don’t rely on text to do most of the communication. Keep the text short and sweet, and let the pictures do the talking.
  2. There’s a clear message.
    Can you get the main theme of the message in three to five seconds? Congratulations, you have an infographic. No? Maybe you have a really cool graphic. But it’s not an infographic.
  3. It’s cohesive and concise.
    Infographics tend to cover a single topic. Think of them as 30-second commercial spots. You’re not going to cover the history of your business, the work you do, and your founder’s backstory; it’s too much. Instead, you’re going to make a single, very compelling statement about your business, and back it up with some relevant facts.

What they aren’t

Infographics are not well-designed flyers. They’re not sell sheets, or white papers. There are compelling reasons to have those, too. But these things aren’t the kind of shareable, hard-hitting, visual data-drivers that infographics are. Don’t ask for an infographic and expect it to contain a full page of text!

How to use them

Infographics can be a great addition to your marketing toolbox. Whether you are looking for compelling social media content, shareable blog visuals, or handy reference guides, an infographic can make a great contribution to your communication plan.

How do you use infographics? Let us know in the comments below.

Who do you think you are?

authentic brand copywritingWhen I was in fourth grade, our teacher tasked us with writing our “autobiographies.” Given that a compelling and lengthy personal narrative is a rarity among 9-year-olds, she also told us to write a chapter about what we thought our futures would hold. I wrote that “I will be a linebacker for the Chicago Bears and will marry a blond-haired girl.” One out of two ain’t bad.

If I had the patience or discipline to embark on such an exercise today, with four more decades under my ever-expanding belt, it would certainly lead me to engage in some serious self-reflection about who I am and what common themes define my personal story beyond “Disneyland was super neat!”

Crafting your company’s content should involve similar introspection.

In a previous post, I asked, “Who do you think you’re talking to?” That is to say, you should consider your target audience’s perspective when developing your content. Who is likely reading this? What’s important to them? What do they know about your industry, company or product?

Now, it’s time to ask yourself “Who do you think you are?” Whether you’re writing website copy, a blog post, or any other marketing collateral, you should know who you are or at least how you wish to appear before typing a single word. Your business’ identity, core values and culture should play a big, if not defining, role in the tone and substance of your content.

How can content convey who you are beyond explicitly spelling it out? “We are a company that manufactures the highest-quality widgets at the lowest price.” Here are two tips that can help you incorporate your company’s personality in your marketing content:

  1. Do some navel-gazing.

You may already have given a great deal of thought to your corporate identity. Perhaps you have a company mission statement that conveys what you are all about and identifies your primary objectives. Maybe your branding is strong and clear. If so, it’s important to take the defining elements of that identity and carry it forward into your content. If you haven’t spent time being a little touchy-feely about who you are as a company, you should do some brainstorming alone or with core members of your team.

Ask yourself:

  • What five words or phrases describe my company?
  • Why did I go into business in the first place?
  • How do I want prospects and customers to feel about my company after they visit my website for the first time?
  1. Make sure your voice is your voice.

If I could somehow conjure up William Shakespeare to ghostwrite my autobiography, I wouldn’t do it. As brilliant and timeless as the Bard’s encapsulation of my life may be, it wouldn’t reflect who I am. His writing would sound incongruous and awkward compared with how I am or appear to others — at least until I start living my life in iambic pentameter.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have someone write your content, but your content should sound like you. Maybe not the you watching the Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series or the you stuck in traffic on the Kennedy, but the you in a meeting with a client or on the phone with a potential customer. If someone reads your website expecting one thing and then gets another when they start interacting with you, it can dilute your company identity and be off-putting.

It has been said that you can’t fake authenticity. Your marketing content shouldn’t try to do so, either.

How does your content convey your identity? Let us know in the comments.

3 visualizations to bring clarity to your copywriting

Visualizations to clarify your writingGraphic designers might be the masters of all things aesthetic, but copywriters think visually, too. The images in our heads just manifest themselves as words, sentences and paragraphs, rather than colors, lines and typefaces.

I grew up drawing, painting, and exploring all things creative. At one point, my family encouraged me to pursue visual art as a career, but my heart was always with the written word. I originally aspired to become a songwriter, and spent several years in the music industry trying to finagle my way from the business side into songwriting. That master plan never quite panned out, and so I eventually found my way to marketing, which I immediately connected with as a copywriter.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to tell you my life story. My point in sharing my background is only to give context to a few visual references that help me with new projects and may come in handy for your next writing adventure. Off we go!

A painting of a pristine beach

One of the most common challenges among busy professionals who don’t write for a living is the struggle to complete their work. Maybe you’re familiar with this scenario: Edits and “finishing touches” are circuitous, causing the most dedicated writer to ultimately lose interest and energy. Worse, the work is tainted with some combination of typos, grammatical errors and underdeveloped thoughts.

Try this: Picture your marketing piece – whether it’s a blog article, web page, case study or white paper – as a painting of a pristine beach. After a round or two of revisions, you’ve probably painted a pretty clear and inviting picture. If you keep dabbing at it, you’ll start adding things that might seem like additions, but, in actuality, will erode readers’ enjoyment. Before you know it, your pristine beach will have birds swooping, babies crying, boomboxes blaring, and whales jumping, and it will become too much. Plus, you’ll miss the next opportunity to create another masterpiece.

Your digital storefront

Was that first visualization a little “out there” for you? Let’s bring it back to the basics, and talk about your website. Many marketing experts will tell you that your website is “your digital storefront,” meaning the first place people go to learn about your company.

With the digital storefront concept in mind, think about your website from a content standpoint. Would you rather have sharp, concise messaging that makes a strong and welcoming first impression or a scattered appearance that drives visitors away? When designing or redesigning a website, it’s important to put time and thought into the strategy before you move into content development. Otherwise, you could end up with a digital storefront that repels customers instead of attracting and converting them.

“Catering” to all readers

A best practice for any digital copywriting – again, think blog articles, websites, white papers, etc. – is to break the content into sections with subheads. The reason for this is not just for general “scanability,” but for readers to be able to pick and choose which information they want to digest. Subheads allow you to essentially create a “menu” of the offerings in your information, so you can cater to casual and formal readers alike. Those who prefer a quick bite can find exactly what they’re looking for, while the ones who might want a more complete experience can work their way through each course.

Now, let’s have some fun with this. What visualizations do you use when creating content? Tell us in the comments below.

Are you guilty of lazy marketing?

lazy marketingI have a confession.

It’s not as bad as stealing coins from a blind man or cheating on a test, but it ranks high in the thou-shalt-not-commit-marketing-sins category.

Ready? Here goes …

I’ve let an occasional hackneyed phrase remain in my content marketing, even though it made my teeth itch. The reasons are complicated, but let’s just say it was unavoidable. Mea culpa!

The truth is that it’s hard to be creative and compelling 24/7. When you’re digging for engaging content that converts – let’s say you’re writing about screws and toggle bolts for a living – well, you might resort to using “innovative” and “leading edge” out of desperation.

You’re better off leaving cringe-worthy hype in your back pocket, however. How many times will your audience read tired platitudes like “world class” and “robust solution” before they bail on you to call 1-800-KILL-CLICHÉ?

Clients and prospects don’t care that your products and services are “best of breed.” They want to know how you’re going to solve their problems. They want to know that you understand their businesses and their challenges and that you’re the right person for the job. Share success stories and results.

For example, nobody cares that your firm provides premier shipping services that meet exacting industry requirements. But people will pay attention if you guarantee 24-hour delivery for all packages.

It seems like a no-brainer and yet websites, email and direct marketing are appallingly full of generic drivel.

Here’s how to fix it: Ask “why” for every benefit you think you provide. Let’s say you’re a yoga instructor who offers classes for pregnant women.

Why do the women hire you? Why do they need a yoga instructor?

You might say it’s because yoga will help them relax. Why do they need to relax?

Because they’re expecting. Is that a sufficient reason to pay you for hourly classes when they could put that money toward their kids’ college funds. Nope!

Why would they want to give up an hour every week? Is it because they want to bend like a pretzel?

Maybe it’s because they want to experience less pain during delivery and prenatal yoga will help them do that. Or maybe they want a gentle way of de-stressing between diaper changes. Could it be because they want to regain their pre-pregnancy shape faster?

Try again. Why would women want to take prenatal yoga classes?

Maybe it’s because they need “me” time before their lives are completely disrupted.

Or maybe it’s so they can regain their pre-baby shape back faster.

Or maybe it’s because they want to make friends with other pregnant women so they have someone to lean on when they’re sleep-deprived and need adult conversation.

Focusing on the benefits that your prospects and customers really want – not superficial fluff – will help keep them coming back for more.

Does your marketing address your customers’ desires? How could your messaging be more persuasive? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Fonts Awesome: An Exploration of 3 Fonts

font exploration, font styleIf a picture is worth a thousand words, then great fonts are the happy marriage of picture and word. Choosing the right font isn’t just essential to staying on message, however, it’s also fun. In my last post, I mentioned that I could spend all day perusing Lost Type. Well, today we’re going to do just that.

Choosing the right font has several considerations. Here are the questions I ask when looking into typeface. I examine:

Style: What does the font make you feel when you look at it? Is it fun and flirty or serious and professional?

Web: There’s long been a theory that sans-serif fonts are the most readable for web design. While high-definition displays are making that less necessary, you may want to stick to them until you’re sure that your audience’s technology has caught up. Also, make sure the font you choose has a web license for purchase so that you don’t violate any restrictions or have trouble with its appearance on different browsers or devices.

Variations: How many weights are there for the font? Does it offer italics? More variations can mean more options in your design that don’t require choosing additional font pairings.

Pairs well with: Fonts, like wines, should be paired appropriately. Don’t make the mistake of putting two conflicting serifs together. One font should be catchy and the other should support.

Cost: To be free or not to be free? That is the question that many don’t ask – and I wish all decision-makers would. Free fonts are a great option for some projects, and Google fonts certainly has a nice collection of free fonts that are licensed for personal AND commercial use, but, when you really want your design to stand out, a nice paid font could be the way to go. Also, here’s a pro-tip: don’t fall for free-font sites that don’t check licenses or for fonts that are free for personal use only. You don’t want to pay for the font with license violation fees.

So let’s dive in. Today, we look at 3 fonts from around the web and what they say about your design.

font exploration, font style

Style: Slab Serif. Serif fonts seem to present a serious image, but slab variations are a less boring alternative.

Web: All Lost Type commercial licenses come with rights to use the font on one website, per their FAQ.

Variations: 4 font weights plus Italics. Several fun Open Type features.

Pairs Well With: Share, Roboto, Avenir

Cost: Starts at $45 for a 1-5 user license. Pay-what-you-want for personal use. Get it here.

 

Style: Sans serif, all-caps. Sans serif fonts are nice, clean, and readable. Bender has got a retro twist to it, and some fun variations, making it a great choice for a catchy headline.

Web: All Lost Type commercial licenses come with rights to use the font on one website, per their FAQ.

Variations: 4 font weights plus Italics.

Pairs Well With: Titillium Web, Roboto Slab Thin, Playfair Display

Cost: Starts at $30 for a 1-5 user license. Pay-what-you-want for personal use. Get it here.

 font exploration, font style

Style: Script and display serif options, plus decorative borders and floral elements.

Web: Web font available for purchase.

Variations: 16 total fonts. Three styles, four weight options, plus floral and border decorations.

Pairs Well With: A variation of itself. Script pairs with American Typewriter, Bodoni 72, News Cycle. Serif version pairs well with Avenir Next Condensed (Ultra Light), Minion Pro.

Cost: Currently on special at MyFonts for $39.75 / $59.62 with web font; normally $159/ $318. Get it here.

Great fonts can mean the difference between drab and fantastic designs. The options are endless – and endlessly fun to sift through. What are some of your favorite options? Comment below with your go-to choices.

What does ‘truth’ mean to marketing?

truth in marketingHistorically, much philosophical debate has focused on the search for “truth.”

This history includes myriad accounts of what truth is. They range from being relatively simple, like Rene Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am,” to mind-numbingly complex. But what all of these accounts have in common is an assertion that there is “truth” – that reality has a certain structure that, with the proper philosophical viewpoint, you, too, can comprehend.

As you get later into the development of philosophy, however, the definition of truth opens up. Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for is his dramatic insistence that “truth is a mobile army of metaphors.” Many American philosophers in the same period agreed, saying that “truth” is a commendatory term that expresses favor and not correspondence to reality. Crucially, Nietzsche and the American Pragmatist movement both thought that a true statement has to fit with other true statements. This undercuts the interpretation that a lie can be seen as a truth.

This definition of “truth” relates to marketing in a very tangible way.

In marketing, we calculate truth in moments. These “moments of truth,” a phrase coined by Swedish businessman Jan Carlzon, happen every time a customer interacts with your brand and has the chance to form an impression; it’s every time that a real customer tests the promise you’ve made.

By capturing and capitalizing on these moments, you can shape a customer’s perception and turn your brand promise into a truth.

Your offerings touch clients and prospects through many channels, so you have many opportunities to fulfill your promise and make it a truth. Consider what potential customers see when they search for your brand or find you in an industry search (what Google calls the zero moment of truth). Is their initial impression different if they come through a mobile channel versus a desktop format? Now think of their experiences making a purchase – how many ways can they do that?

Your sales team, every piece of marketing and every other customer interaction are up to you to shape. You owe it to yourself to find the unique driver that leads people to your company and leverage it to influence the perception of your brand. Find the most interesting approach you can to your company, and then to broadcast that to the world.

In what ways do you shape your brand’s truth? Let us know in the comments below.

4 steps to creating attractive content

content, writing, marketingContent constantly clamors for attention. Everywhere you turn, a blog or “listicle” is trying to catch your eye and send some kind of message. With this much competition, how can you make sure your content stands out from the crowd?

Here are four quick tips to write content that your audience will actually read.

  1. Get to know your audience. This first tip seems like a no-brainer, but with the Internet at your fingertips it’s easy to assume you know what kind of content your target wants after a few quick searches. Instead, try actually talking to your audience – whether that means connecting with existing customers or potential clients. Simple conversations can uncover some great insights, such as pain points you can address with strategic, effective content.
  1. Put a game plan in place. After you’ve taken the time to know what your target group wants, you can figure out how to craft a piece of writing that delivers just that. Before you sit down to bang out a piece of content, however, ask yourself if you’re actually offering something of value. Does the content teach your audience something? Are you helping solve one of your audience’s problems? Create a plan around each piece of content to ensure it has a clear message that resonates with readers.
  1. Think about your format. Now you know what your readers want from a piece of content, but how do they want it? A great piece of content can go unread by the people it would benefit most if the format doesn’t appeal to them. For example, busy executives probably aren’t going to find the time to read a long narrative, but content delivered in quick, no-frills bullet points is really going to hit home.
  1. Find out how your audience likes to connect. Once you have a piece of content your audience will love, it’s up to you to deliver it. Experiment with the best ways to connect with your target group. Do they use social media? If so, what platform? Helpful tools like Twitter Analytics and Facebook Insights help you track audience engagement to find the platform that works best for you. If you’re still not sure, use Google Analytics to track what drives traffic to your website

Do you have any tried and true strategies for creating content that connects with your audience? Let us know in the comments.

Design is a balancing act

design balanceI see web design as practical artistry. I don’t spend hours locked in a closet creating a digital magnum opus. Instead, it’s my calling to use stunning visuals in the service of business goals. I’m sitting down at my digital canvas to make a statement – whatever statement our lovely copywriters and client want to make – and to reinforce that message using the power of design.

Here’s an inside look at my process for finding the right balance of power in a design.

Start with the skeleton

It’s easy to get lost on great new fonts, color hues and more. I could spend all day at Lost Type, ogling and trying out the various letterforms. However, like writing an article (or, say, a blog post), the message is clearer if you start with an outline.

For my design process, this is a wireframe. That’s a simple collection of boxes on paper to make sure I’ve got all the elements laid out in a way that makes sense to the eye and the message.

Spend points wisely

Now, it’s time to flesh out the skeleton a bit. As I create a design, I imagine that I have 15 points of viewer attention to spend (truthfully, I probably have fewer). Every element on the page costs points based on how much attention it draws. So, a large red image is going to cost more than a plain text paragraph.

To check this, I close my eyes. Then, I open them and note the first 5 places my eye goes. Those elements get a point value in this order: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

A classic example of this exercise is Yahoo compared to Google. Load both pages. Now, tell me, where has Yahoo spent its points? Google? At Yahoo, they’re spread out among different page sections. Google, on the other hand, spent all 15 on the page center, where the search magic happens.

Use one job to rule them all

In landing page design, for example, you have one job. If you have more than one job, you’re doing it wrong. Other design types aren’t always this strict, but, generally speaking, marketing design aims to help people make a decision; decide to buy, decide to sign up, decide to contact. So, with Hick’s Law in mind, each design should try to reduce the number of choices to keep decision time to a minimum.

At this point, I have to stop and ask myself: How many points am I spending on my one job? All of them? None of them? Based on that analysis, do I need to adjust the design so that I’m spending more on my page goal, or reducing the number of competing message goals?

Add just enough detail

Once the basics are in place, the fun starts – the details, do-dads, tweaks and adjustments. This part feels like tuning a musical instrument, where the goal is to change the pitch just enough to make a message sing.

The trick is to figure out how to use those details to avoid changing the balance of power too much amongst the elements, but to add some subtle reinforcement to how things are already playing out.

That’s my story – what’s yours?

How do you design? What’s your process? How do you make sure your stay on message and on goal or assign the right amount of attention to each element?

Is it time to shake up your content marketing?

shake up, shake up content marketing, content marketing, refreshWe all want to go full speed ahead to meet marketing and sales goals, but sometimes we need to re-examine our efforts and decide whether we’re heading in the right direction. Take time to review your strategy along the way to determine if you’re reaching your target audience and getting the feedback you desire.

If your tactics are lacking in effectiveness, I have a few suggestions for tweaking your content marketing efforts to achieve maximum results.

First, produce content with value in mind rather than sales. Too often marketers develop content marketing to make a sale, shaping the content much like a leaflet – a hard sell with little substance. While the purpose always remains to convert a reader to a customer, you are more likely to get that call if you fill your content with invaluable tips, suggestions and advice. Present your brand as a thought leader rather than a door-to-door salesman, and you’ll find your audience interacting with your message more frequently.

While you’re doling out invaluable information through your content marketing, keep your audience’s needs and interests in mind. What would they find most helpful? What do they really want to know? Relevancy is king when it comes to good content, so make sure your marketing resonates with your audience’s taste.

Once you find a style of content that jibes with your audience, double-check that you’re presenting it in the right way. In today’s tech-savvy world, format makes a big difference. Study your brand ambassadors and the devices or platforms they use to connect to you. Simple changes like the right embedded links or enabling responsive design can open up channels that you might have cut off without knowing it.

How do you make sure your marketing stays on point? Let us know in the comments below.

5 tips for world-class staff photos

picture perfect

An up-to-date website typically includes staff photos, regardless of your industry. While staff photos may seem like a straightforward task, they play a huge role in ensuring your company puts its best foot forward. Below are some tips and tricks that will help you make a great impression:

  1. Keep it simple: Intricate photos can be exciting, but you won’t be appearing in Vogue. Keep your images nice and professional, and be sure they reflect your firm and corporate culture.
  1. Streamline backgrounds: You need the flexibility to add and adjust images without bringing in lighting equipment and backgrounds every time you update your photo roster. Make sure the setup gets you the shot you’re looking for without the hassle of bringing in all that extra equipment (and it will likely save you a lot of money).
  1. Keep it consistent: Take each photo in a similar manner. It’s fine to use different poses and colors for different employees, but make sure they share a similar theme.
  1. Use suitable lighting: I can’t tell you how many times I have seen staff photos that are incredibly dark, defeating the purpose of having photos in the first place. Bright, soft lights create nice well-lit portraits.
  1. Know your target market: We all like to flex our creative muscles every now and then, but make sure you appeal to your target audience in all of your marketing initiatives — from pictures to copy.

Does your website include employee photos? Is it true that a picture is worth 1,000 words? Let us know in the comments below.