A practical guide to design-led content marketing

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What is design-led content marketing and why is it important to your brand? In this post, expert digital marketer Aaron Agius explains breaks it down and shares a practical guide to building a hybrid system between marketing and design teams.

In today’s visual and content-heavy world, marketers know how hard it is to stand out in the crowd. Content is churned out at a rate of knots, and marketers are always on the look-out for more innovative ways of getting seen.

As customers move towards more multi-platform online behaviors, businesses are realizing the importance of consistent and high-quality design that grabs the customer’s attention and keeps them engaged throughout their journey. It’s through this intersection between design and marketing that businesses elevate their content to the next level.

Why design matters

When consumers go online with an inquiry, they’re met with thousands of pages of content. Some high-quality, useful, and engaging—others, not so much.

In an age where content is so prolific, design matters. Beautiful, on-brand, and creative content is proven to outperform bland, copy-heavy material, with a Forbes study
 proving that 91% of consumers prefer visuals over text-based content.

Quality design is easier to digest, more likely to be shared, and more memorable.

In fact, the Design Management Institute
 has shown that design-led companies far outperform the S&P index, and a study by Forrester and Adobe
 has shown that design-led strategies lead to higher customer loyalty.

Not only does good design help build a consistent brand voice that consumers will begin to recognize, but it will also help your content perform better—quality design is easier to digest, more likely to be shared, and much more memorable. Design is the ingredient that can help tie your content together to provide a seamless customer experience.

What is design-led content marketing?

Finding the intersection between design and content marketing is what elevates your marketing strategy to the next level. Design-led content marketing is simply about looking at your content from a visual point-of-view, to ensure it’s not just words that are doing the leg-work.

When you take into account the whole array of content formats available to marketers, simple copy-based articles are just the tip of the ice-berg. There are also infographics, videos, quizzes, how-tos, cartoons, animations, webinars… the list goes on. And the majority of content formats are visual. Even the standard blog article needs careful design consideration so that the words come to life on the screen.

Design-led content marketing is about looking at your content from a visual point-of-view…

Ensuring your content marketing is design-led ensures that you think beyond the blog post, and start expanding your content horizons to encompass a range of options available to you. It means that the content you produce stimulates something in your audience—an intangible ingredient that turns them from passive observer to customer and then (hopefully) to loyal fan.

Design-led content marketing will affect every type of content you produce: landing pages, product pages, your checkout (in fact, your entire website), email campaigns, social media marketing, and paid advertising. As such, it takes a strategic approach so that the whole customer journey is bound by a consistent and recognizable design.

Building your hybrid system

So, how do you create an effective hybrid system between marketing and design? Here are six steps to help you get started:

1. Create a culture of collaboration

The first thing to address when you embark on your design-led content strategy is your company’s working arrangements.

If you have separate design and marketing departments, start to bring in systems and processes that will help them work together. This might even start with bringing these teams physically closer together. Other things can follow, like setting up online collaboration tools, or providing the time and space for brainstorming ideas.

2. Create a consistent experience across your customer journey map

Customer experience is a big deal for design-led content marketing. The Temkin Group
 found that businesses that earn $1 billion per year can expect to earn an additional $700 million within just three years of investing in customer experience.

To ensure you transform your content to meet a design-first quality, you need to revisit your customer journey. If you’ve already drawn up a customer journey map
, great! If not, then it’s good practice to start one, if only to visualize how your customers make their way through your brand from start to finish (and beyond).

To ensure you transform your content to meet a design-first quality, you need to revisit your customer journey.

When you (re)embark on your customer journey mapping, locate all the content that could be enhanced by higher-quality design and identify all the content gaps. Perhaps your map demonstrates that your marketing material is largely static and copy-led. If so, then consider all the content options available to you and how they might enhance your customer touchpoints.

Mark out all of the design inconsistencies that create customer confusion, off-brand messaging, and a general lack-luster look and feel, and start making a plan for how to make fixes.

3. Be persona-centric

 has found that 46% of design leaders forge deeper connections with their customers. Businesses that seek an emotional rather than purely pragmatic connection with their users will be repaid with customer loyalty.

Customer journey maps are, by nature, based on personas. So, hopefully you’ll have already done some persona research. If you haven’t, start by workshopping your target customers/personas, and even conduct some market research. Interview customers, get to know their online goals, challenges, and pain points, and develop detailed profiles.

As far as marketing is concerned, personas are the starting point of all content, and will help create the right material, at the right time, for the right people—all across your content marketing.

4. Create and maintain your brand identity

Your customer journey map and persona research will help you to build your brand identity. That being said, the brand-building process should be a collaborative effort between marketing and design teams to ensure that your look and feel, tone, voice, visuals, and language are all agreed upon and kept consistent throughout all content creation.

5. Identify your narrative

Design-led content marketing typically starts with the narrative, or the story. Most designers are tempted to use content to show off a new platform, or the latest gimmick, and then fit the narrative around that. But in fact, quality content will begin with the message, and the design tools and tricks will be employed to bring that story to life in the most believable yet creative way.

Quality content will begin with the message, and the design tools and tricks will be employed to bring that story to life in the most believable yet creative way.

A good place to start is establishing colors, designs, and visuals that are on-brand, but also help to support the narrative you’re trying to achieve. Avoid any visual elements that aren’t aligned to your brand, or that won’t speak to your audience.

6. Merge the physical and the digital experience

According to a recent McKinsey
 report, “Consumers have instant access to global marketplaces and ever-higher expectations of service. They no longer distinguish between physical and digital experiences… As a result, design has become a CEO-level topic for many executives”.

Historically, marketers would focus on different channels separately, without a view of the whole customer experience. Today, multi-tasking consumers have driven the need for “omnichannel marketing,” where all marketing channels are integrated to meet the needs of the customer at every step along their journey.

From a design-led perspective, this means there needs to be consistency of design throughout every touchpoint between customer and brand, whether the customer is in-store, on your Facebook page, or browsing your products online.

In summary

In today’s competitive online world, it’s not enough for marketing teams to work in a vacuum. High-quality design not only makes you stand out to new audiences, but it also helps to cement long-lasting relationships with your existing followers. If your content is bland, then sadly, it will get lost in the online mire.

That’s why design-led content marketing is an ever-important approach. When content takes a visual-first format, it reaches the customer on an emotional level that inspires and excites. This, in turn, means your brand will see bigger audiences, higher engagement and, hopefully, increased profits.


About the author:

Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world’s leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer—a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter and on the Louder Online blog.

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