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Why design should never be an afterthought

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's why you should take this idiom to heart when designing your brand's communications.

According to eMarketer, 60 per cent of B2B marketers create at least one piece of content a day, yet just 5 per cent of branded content accounts for 90 per cent of all branded content engagement. Design can be the key to making your content work harder and stand out in a saturated environment.

Research from the University of Minnesota shows that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it processes text. That means visuals have an important role to play when it comes to engaging your prospects long enough to leave an impression.

The average person’s attention span today is just eight seconds, according to Microsoft. But consumers respond to strong visuals and design. Great design can improve learning by up to 400 per cent. Meanwhile, the recall rate for text-only content is only 20 per cent.

Eye-tracking studies show that using detailed photos drastically improves both people’s desire to read content and the time they spend on it, Nielsen Norman Group reports.

Visual content is at least 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other types of content, and interspersing design elements throughout is the most effective. For example, articles with an image appearing every 75 to 100 words receive twice as many social shares as those with fewer images.

To help you capitalise on these findings, here are our top three tips for incorporating more design into your content to drive better engagement.

Drive social engagement with infographics

According to the CMI, only half of UK marketers are using infographics. But the returns they see are significant. Infographics can increase web traffic by 12 per cent and they get up to three times more engagement on social media.

There are two main types of infographics:

  1. Data snapshots are content-light, long and narrow infographics that could be described as flow charts, taking a single idea and pulling out five to ten stats. They are easy to share on social media and offer a clear overview.
  2. Dashboard infographics are detailed and complex. They offer multiple points of insight into a particular topic or allow data to be compared in context.

To get the most out of your infographic, decide on what the overall message you want to convey is and then organise your data sets to tell that story section by section.

If you need inspiration, check out CEB’s Challenger Customer infographic, IBM’s award-winning interactive News Explorer or Raconteur’s Special Reports infographics, published in The Times and The Sunday Times.

Aid comprehension with imagery and illustrations

We’ve all seen brands try to add in visual elements with headshots and obvious stock imagery. Visual production firm Invodo says just 43 per cent of UK marketers are strategically using illustrations and photos in their marketing activities.

Investing in the right visual assets makes content easier to understand and drives engagement. For example, people following written directions with illustrations do 323 per cent better than those following directions without.

Great visuals don’t have to break the budget. Subscribing to high quality photo libraries such as Getty is an affordable option for many brands, and many photo libraries make images available for free.

For brands with bigger budgets, commissioning original photography or illustrations is a worthwhile way to get the kinds of imagery that enhance editorial projects. Unique and powerful imagery is a double dividend investment because it both increases engagement in your original content and also allows for strategic use across digital and social channels.

Some of our favourite examples of excellent use of imagery are GE’s Instagram account, software firm Advanced’s award-winning Right-first-time campaign and risk management specialist Litera Microsystems’ The Changing Lawyer, created by Raconteur Custom Publishing.

The secret to mastering B2B video

Consumers are watching more content online than ever, and falling production costs mean there are fewer barriers to entry than there were even ten years ago. UK adults spend nearly an hour a day watching digital videos, creating opportunities for brands of all sizes.

Video and other multimedia formats should be an important part of your marketing strategy. Invodo reports that viewers are 85 per cent more likely to purchase a product after watching a video about it.

Remember that video is a flexible format, so the trick is to ensure that what you create links back to your business objectives. Before you get started, ask yourself what your aim is. Are you looking to drive site traffic, power lead generation, raise brand awareness or something else? This will allow you to understand what type of video you want to make.

For example, a social-friendly 3 – 4 minute documentary might be great for raising brand awareness. But if your aim is lead generation, it might be better to offer a meatier ‘how to’ guide. You can discover more about how to create great B2B video here.

In summary

What good design unlocks for brands goes beyond the measurable. It’s one of the best ways to improve engagement metrics and taps into the psychology and science of how people learn best. Taking advantage of this knowledge and investing in quality design has a high payoff. It’s what sets great brands apart from those that treat design as a box-ticking exercise.

Taking a design-led approach is a smart but undervalued strategy to build up influence and impact. Good design speaks volumes to a company’s professionalism, quality and positioning in the market. Plus, with increasing pressures on people’s time and declining attention spans, taking design seriously is the best way to enhance your brand’s content.

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