Why design matters for branded content

We explore two reasons why design is critical to branded content and offer some useful tips on how to implement these learnings today.

The familiar saying ‘a picture says more than a thousand words’ is well known — but what does great design do for your communications? We explore two reasons why design is critical to branded content and offer useful tips on how you can implement these learnings today.

Lesson 1: Visual learning trumps other kinds of learning.

Attention spans are falling fast — the average person’s attention span today is a mere 8 seconds. As brands are looking to engage their prospects long enough to leave an impression, visuals are becoming more important. Research from the University of Minnesota has shown that the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than it processes text.

Visuals help marketing to be more effective, ensuring it’s memorable and that the audience is able to understand information more quickly and retain it more readily. The addition of visual material and strong design to content has even been found to improve learning by up to 400 per cent. In comparison, recall rates from text-only content is only 20 per cent.

We are witnessing the rise of what’s called ‘visual intelligence’. Many brands responding to this trends, with Adobe reporting an industry increase of visual touchpoints at a rate of 20 per cent per year.

One marketing trend that’s impossible to ignore is the growing power and value of visual content”
Larry Kim, founder and CTO, Wordstream

Lesson 2: Good design positively impacts engagement.

‘Engagement’ is comprised of both consumption and shareability metrics, and good design is vital to getting these numbers to skyrocket. When it comes to content consumption, eye-tracking studies have repeatedly found that using detailed photos drastically improves both people’s desire to read material and the time they spend on it, Nielsen Norman Group reports.

We know from Adobe’s ‘State of Content’ survey that given the option of 15 minutes to read something, two-thirds of people would rather read content that’s been beautifully designed than text-only content. The message is clear: our audiences are keener to engage in content that is well-designed and that has obvious design components to it.

When it comes to sharing content, an essential metric by which marketers measure engagement, the data shows that visual content is at least 40x more likely to be shared on social media than other types of content. BuzzSumo has found that interspersing text or editorial with images or infographics is also key for longer pieces — articles with an image appearing every 75 to 100 words receive double the number of social shares.

Good design makes your content more digestible and memorable, as well as more shareable. With those lessons in mind, here are four top design elements that can offer the greatest areas of opportunity to creating high-quality content:

People ignore design that ignores people”
Frank Chimero, designer

Tip 1: Infographics

Only 54 per cent of marketers in the UK are using infographics, but this is an essential visual element to any marketer’s toolkit. Choose the right format for your content.

A happy medium is CEB’s clever ‘Challenger Customer’ infographic, which is part of a set of well-visualised analysis for the enterprise.

Animated, interactive infographics can also be a good choice for brands with the capability or budget for animation, as they can offer a memorable experience and can inform and educate in a unique way. A stellar B2B example is IBM’s News Explorer, which won a coveted design prize last year from the Information is Beautiful Awards.

There is magic in graphs. the profile of a curve reveals in a flash a whole situation”
Henry Hubbard, author

Tip 2: Imagery and illustrations

According to Invodo, only 43 per cent of marketers in the UK are using illustrations and photos in their marketing activities. Others miss a trick by including headshots and obvious stock imagery, believing these suffice as adding a visual element to their collateral. Photography and illustrations have the power to evoke emotions where text does not, and building emotion is a tough goal for many B2B brands.

The key is to find visuals that feel original and illuminate your message. High-quality imagery doesn’t have to break the budget: subscribing to high-quality photo libraries such as Getty is an affordable option for many brands, and there are excellent photo libraries which make images available for free. For brands with bigger budgets, commissioning original photography or illustrations is a worthwhile way to bring in the kinds of imagery that enhance editorial projects.

Unique and powerful imagery are a double dividend investment because they not only increase engagement in the original content but also allow for strategic use across digital and social media channels — like GE’s Instagram account.

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.”
John Tukey, Mathematician

Tip 3: Editorial Design

Editorial design is a principle that publishing houses understand well: how to lay out copy, how to best space a page, how to consider fonts and formats and how to integrate design and text.

This is essential in any content project. The better the information is laid out and organised, the better white space is used advantageously, the easier it will be for readers to take away what you want. Google’s digital magazine Think showcases this well, with articles using bold imagery, well-spaced text and scrollable infographics.

Whilst every brand will have its own guidelines and house style, it is important to remember and apply considerations of balance between the written word and images and between infographics and written analysis.

There is no such thing as information overload. There is only bad design.”
Edward Tufte, Professor

Tip 4: Multimedia UX

Video has proven that brands no longer have to go through media to convey their messages, today they are the media. Consumers are watching more content online than ever — The Drum reports that UK adults spend nearly an hour a day watching digital videos. This is an opportunity for brands of all sizes. The cost of video production is lower today, leaving fewer barriers to entry.

Utilising video and other multimedia formats should be an important part of marketing strategy. Invodo reports that viewers are 85 per cent more likely to purchase a product after watching a video about it. And even when videos don’t lead to direct sales, they do lead to brand building and relationship building in a way that cannot be mimicked by text-only communication any longer.

Video helps capture and contextualise the world around us.”
Dan Patterson, TV producer and writer

Design unlocks revenue

What good design unlocks for brands goes beyond the measurable. Whilst it’s one of the best ways to improve engagement metrics, it also taps into the psychology and science of how people learn best. Taking advantage of this knowledge by investing in quality design has a high payoff — and it’s what sets brands apart from just boxticking with their design. 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, and with the increasing pressures on people’s time and dropping attention spans, there is no better way to power-boost your content than to take seriously the design element of branded content.