Design: the hidden opportunity for engagement

Design can be overlooked as a core ingredient when marketers plan a content initiative. Based on insights from our recent research of over 500 European C-suites on their content consumption habits, we look into why design should not be left as an afterthought and how it succeeds in driving C-suite engagement.

Considering design only as an ‘add on’ to your research or producing a badly designed whitepaper could twist the fate of your content’s success or failure if you are looking to engage the C-suite. Raconteur’s recent study ‘The Elusive C-suite: Content that Cuts Through’ sheds light on what motivates executive’s content consumption, and reveals that design provides an often overlooked opportunity.

“Arguably, the battle is won or lost in the first few seconds”

The path to engaging the C-suite is challenging. They are a notoriously hard group to captivate, as time-poor business leaders who are responsible for unrelenting and weighty decisions. There have been a considerable number of studies looking into what drives their content consumption habits — and you may be familiar with the usual findings. Know your audience, add value, have a strong positioning along with meaningful thought leadership. However, for these to be effective, you need to entice your audience to give your content a fighting chance.

Those brands who fail to invest in their design lose out on engagement. Our research shows 57 per cent of the C-suite group do not think brands take the layout of their content very seriously, and reject their content as a result.

But when brands get it right, the rewards are significant. ‘Distinctive, eye-catching design’ was listed as the top factor for harnessing the attention of these professionals in reading branded content. Interestingly, this surpassed their need for substantial conclusions or an ‘engaging journalistic writing style’. Initial impressions are crucial; it’s not only about getting your content read, but also noticed.

Tim Whitlock, Head of Design at Raconteur explains: “Arguably, the battle is won or lost in the first few seconds. If it looks impressive and is visually appealing, people will give it a chance. With a hyperbusy and ultra-selective target audience, getting past that first line of defence is key.”

As a result, marketers need to take design more seriously. Brands shouldn’t view design as a box-ticking service, and must come to recognise it as a diverse discipline that forms an integral part of their strategy. Assets including a brand’s logo, visuals for social media and email templates might all fall under the umbrella of design, but vary from one another and are each deserving of real consideration.

For those marketers looking to win the content game through increasing their focus on design, there are three key areas to consider: establishing a strong visual identity, improving visual storytelling and investing in best practice user experience (UX).

Establishing your visual identity

Marketers are tasked with reaching a time-poor and highly selective audience, whilst navigating a multichannel landscape. The issue is that we live in an oversaturated world of content. By involving design at the start of any content creation plan, visuals will effectively convey the values of your written content.

Approach a visual identity same way that you would establish the tone of voice or a campaign series. Who are you trying to reach? What are the category norms? What innovation is driving engagement? How can it be adapted to suit the brand identity?

Asking these questions will help you to define your identity and to be instantly recognised by your target audience in an effective manner.

Drive engagement through visual storytelling

Visual storytelling has been proven as an effective and immediate way to leave a lasting impact on readers. As the brain processes visual images 60,000 times faster than text, making the most of your content’s visual elements will drive engagement.

Thomson Reuters, the largest international multimedia news provider, is an excellent example of a B2B brand commanding authority through design. The Wider Image¹ is a multimedia platform that reimagines news photography by delivering in-depth visual reports from across the world. It seeks to bring information to life and explain global news themes in bite-sized, easy-to-consume pieces. Format is not limited; single images are given more context through slideshows and sequences. Thomson Reuters believe visual content marketing as more successful than any other form of communication.²

These narratives are just as significant as editorial when analysing a topic, because they can establish a tone or communicate emotions faster and with more impact than words alone.²

UX best practice

Even the best content can be let down by a failing digital ecosystem. Broken templates, failure to optimise for mobile and poor user journeys between different touchpoints distract from the content and harm your brand’s credibility.

When we asked the C-suite what annoys them most about content produced by brands, they placed ‘format or design unsuitable for mobile consumption’ at number one. With mobile surpassing laptop and desktop as the primary way to access the web, thinking mobile-first is key.

Taking a customer-centric approach to UX also opens up new opportunities to engage, for example using interactive infographics can offer an intuitive way to break down complex data, whilst conveying your message effectively.

Key takeaways

~ Create a visual identity that a reader wants to engage with. It should define the purpose of your content, alongside your brand’s personality.

~ Visuals are a language of their own which can powerfully gain and hold attention. Use these to communicate messages that written content cannot.

~ Figure out which format best suits your audience’s needs. Ensure your content is of high quality, with good accessibility across multiple devices.

¹Source: The Wider Image, ²Source:Thomson Reuters.