Visual design is the forefront of your brand. If I walk up to you trying to sell something, you will see me and make some decisions before you even hear what I have to say. You will categorize me based on past experiences with other people who have tried to get you to buy something. If I’m wearing a smart outfit that is within the wardrobe of someone you would typically see selling this product, you will have a different perception of me than if I approach you in a trenchcoat with the product secreted in the inner pocket.
Visual Perception is Especially Important
In digital marketing, when there is no sound, smell, taste or charismatic individual to set your audience at ease to help them internalize the information, visual perception is especially important. Users will make assumptions about your brand based on what they see. It is the responsibility of anyone on your team that can impact what users see to present a pleasing and cohesive visual experience to your audience. However, marketers by nature have dozens of responsibilities at any given time and this naturally becomes deprioritized, especially at scale. This is the same reason so many marketers are turning to marketing automation.
Brand aesthetic becomes one of a multitude of elements to consider when you decide to automate your marketing activities. As you begin communicating with your audience on a mass scale through channels like email and social as well as properties like your webpage and SaaS platform, you will face a myriad of non-design-related decisions about how to best present your messaging to your audience.
Hopefully, you have already developed some hallowed and unbreakable rules concerning your brand’s visual identity (your brand style guide); if you haven’t, you should. You’re busy with your marketing strategy, and don’t have time to make on-the-fly design decisions. Your next challenge becomes one of scaling out this identity across every channel and property you own.
Create Templates for Your Style Guide
In automating your marketing activities, the visual standards and guidelines of your brand are frequently translated into templates that can simply be populated with content and sent to your audience. Templates are an extremely handy way of maintaining brand consistency without having to reinvent the wheel every single time you have something new to deliver to your audience.
Templates should not only elegantly serve the purpose they were intended for, but also complement each other and create a cohesive visual brand to present to your user. Creating these templates is a worthy design challenge, especially if this is your first foray into marketing automation. Consequently, it is vital to your brand experience to front-load all of these design challenges, because these designs will be used in dozens of iterations and endless repurposing; all to eventually be seen, judged and internalized by thousands – or even millions – of people.
Make Your Designs Comprehensive
Because marketing automation is so iterative, it is a challenge to view every product of every template with the same critical eye that you had when you were first designing your templates. However, without individual attention to each deliverable that your team creates from these templates, your templates will quickly be misused or outgrown. The more your marketing automation scales out, the more marketing assets will be created, and under increasingly tight deadlines. Anything time-consuming becomes prioritized, which puts any edits for the sake of brand coherence on the chopping block.
I have heard more than a few professional marketers look at an email or landing page five minutes before it has to go live and say, “good enough”. No one wants to send “good enough” to all of their prospects, customers, followers or any other stakeholders, but the responsibility of visually reviewing every aspect of your marketing automation is practically a full time job. And it’s probably not a job you have budget for.Fortunately, there are other ways to close the gap between the experience you designed for your audience and the one they end up having. Below are two strategies to bring into your marketing automation workflow to ensure that your brand does not get stretched too thin as you scale your marketing automation.
Build an Inventory
First, before any design or development happens, take an inventory of all of the branded touchpoints that your marketing automation will encompass. This is not as simple as “email, webpage, social media… etc.”; Your use cases will vary for every marketing deliverable that you create, and your templates should fit every one of these uses cases like a glove. An email inviting your top customers to a company gala should look very different than your monthly newsletter. A landing page that lists product features before prompting a user to engage should look very different than a sign-up page for your upcoming webinar. Be exhaustive. Sleep on it. Do other work with this in the back of your head. The hours spent here will remove so many late evenings trying to wrangle your content into a template that it doesn’t belong in.
Start with Design Mock-ups
Once you are confident that your list covers every use case you can foresee in your marketing activities, bring it to your designer. Get a mockup for every single use case that you’ve thought of. You won’t actually need to create a template for every case; in the design process you will most likely find functional overlap between your different cases. Maybe your landing page promoting your latest ebook will look very similar to the one promoting your webinar. The more you pare down the functions your templates will eventually serve, the less work you will be sending to your template developer. Once you have a full suite of templates that you are confident will serve the need for any campaign, you can step into your automated campaigns with much more confidence.
Test Every Campaign Aspect
Second, test every automated campaign that you send to your audience, front to back. Leave no link un-clicked, no form un-submitted. Even if this is an instance of “good enough”, make sure the experience is as good as you are assuming. Landing pages look different on mobile devices, dynamic content will change the layout, tweets may use different market terminology than the page they link to. You might be surprised at what you uncover. If “once-over”s like these become time-consuming or stressful, your templates probably aren’t suited for the use cases you need them for.
Templates will Depreciate Over Time
Even if you were very diligent in scoping out the needs of your templates, you may find over time that you are outgrowing them. In fact, your templates will almost certainly begin to show weaknesses as your marketing efforts mature. New marketing strategies will inevitably develop, new use cases will arise, stats will come in that suggest your designs aren’t helping your content as much as they could – even the best planning can’t be 100% future-proof. By experiencing what your audience will experience you will realize it before they do, and you will be able to stay in front of these growing pains before they surface in your external brand.
Your digital brand is the collective experiences of your audience, across all channels and properties that you reach them by. By digging into these experiences and ensuring they look good and function well the first time and the thousandth time you send something out, your audience develop positive associations about you and your mission, your credibility will increase, and your brand will prosper!