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What happens if you ignore design in your inbound marketing team?

Posted by Mark Debenham - November 13, 2015

I love it when I find a great ad. Digital, print, TV, it doesn’t matter. There’s something strangely satisfying about them. In fact, I enjoy it so much that I always get the urge to describe my favourite ones to others.

The problem with each of my ad retellings is I’m always only telling half the story. Not so long ago I was describing an iconic print ad to a friend and one thought stuck in my mind the whole time:

“My words are not doing this justice”

As much as I waved my hands about and mentioned similar images for reference, I couldn’t capture the visual impact of the ad or the way it complemented the copy.

Many brands, particularly B2B ones, have shifted their focus towards more of a slow-burning inbound marketing approach, rather than relying on ads, but the design element is still just as important in a content-driven strategy.

To show just how crucial the visual is, I started thinking about what inbound marketing teams would be like without the designer’s eye and what qualities are needed for the design role.

Before that…let’s look at inbound marketing and how the designer’s role fits into it

Inbound marketing involves creating content specifically designed to appeal to your ideal customers.

It’s based on the customer’s trend of researching extensively online before deciding to buy – something that’s particularly apparent in B2B where order values tend to be high and involve long periods of information gathering so the buyer is fully informed before deciding what to buy.

The idea is that the content will catch your audience’s attention by being useful to them in a way that’s related to what your business does, allowing you to gradually nurture them through the B2B marketing funnel.

That content could a blog, ebook, email, video, podcast, infographic, social media post, website, plus pretty much any other format.

To be an effective strategy, the content has to resonate with its audience. And that’s where the designer comes in.

The designer’s creative streak and technical know-how combine to bring great content ideas to life and make them easier for audiences to consume.

Without design, it’s harder for copy to hit the same memorable heights

At the start of this blog I mentioned a print ad that I struggled to describe with words alone.

Here’s the ad I was talking about (image via

BBH levis ad zig zag

The copy and design work together to get the message across. They support one another by conveying the ad’s meaning on two different levels, without simply repeating what the other is doing. It was the first ad by world-renowned advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH).

The design and copy are iconic – in fact, BBH made the black sheep going against the herd its logo and the phrase ‘when the world zigs, zag’ became part of what the agency is all about (ain’t that something!).

Er…um…now here’s me describing that ad:

BBH's iconic black levi's ad without the design elements

There’s no comparison between the two. Seeing both helps you appreciate just how important the visual is to the overall message.

The combination of copy-and-design can make a quick, yet memorable, impact on the audience and do so on a level that copy-alone struggles to hit.

The same goes for your inbound marketing team. If your content is lacking on the visual front, it’s so much harder for it (regardless of whether it’s a new piece of industry research or a witty tweet) to stand out from the crowd and actually be remembered.

The flow suffers without images

A lot of content marketing, especially in B2B, relies on audiences getting to grips with new concepts and technological developments. The reader’s time is needed. Visuals assets are an effective way of holding the audience’s attention by:

Breaking up long chunks of text, making it easier to consume

Supporting what the visual is doing (similar to the Levi’s ad earlier in this blog)

Giving the reader a visual clue – many readers won’t necessarily read long copy in one. They might start and then come back to it later, or perhaps read it over several sittings. Images help you remember where you got up to with you reading and are handy for picking up from where you left off.

Quality control on what sucks for the user

Deciding if something does or doesn’t look good might be a subjective decision, but user experience is much more clear-cut.

If you’re going to include visuals in your content, involve a decent designer. They have a good eye for telling how easy a piece of content is to follow, how to make the call-to-action clear, and how to prevent the whole piece from jarring for the user.

They know how to:

  • Align lines of text correctly
  • Get the balance right between the design and the copy
  • Create contrast to bring certain points to life
  • Optimise the call-to-action
  • Use multiple fonts correctly so it’s easy on the eye

The design role can be as much a quality control one as it is a creative one. Otherwise you could end up with something that sucks, like the image I made below:

hard to read text and highlighting of text

You limit creativity

An inbound marketing campaign has to have quality content to be perform well. The writers in inbound marketing teams sit at the centre of that content creation process, but they’re not alone. The designer is right there with them too.

Design and copy should go hand in hand, like with that ad at the start of this blog.

If you leave a writer to come up with ideas on their own, you’ll get half as many good ideas as you would if you paired them up with a designer. Collaboration between writer and designer is a must.

For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I knew I wanted to write about the importance of the designer in an inbound marketing team, but felt like I needed more to the idea.

So I went over to the designers in our office and started talking through the blog topic with them. After five minutes or so of talking it over, they said “imagine what the world of inbound marketing would be like without designers”. They’d refined my idea and it became a much better, focussed topic than what I originally had.

OK, what kind of designer does my team need?

Every designer will have slightly different ways of working, taste and areas of design that they gravitate towards, but here’s a light-hearted profile style look on who should be designing in your inbound team:

  • Role: All that great copy needs to engage on a visual level so you need somebody who’s well-versed in designing for websites, video, presentations, email and more
  • Strengths/experience: Creating and editing images, laying out copy, picture research, creative hub of ideas, extensive knowledge of user experience when it comes to the web
  • Technical skills: InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator
  • Most likely to say: “That idea’s about as interesting as Comic Sans…let’s try and come up with something better”

If you can find a designer who nods their head to the points made in this blog post, but challenges parts of it and adds where and how it could be improved, then you’ve got someone who will improve the originality and performance of your content, and that’s something that will do justice to the rest of your inbound marketing team.

For more inbound marketing advice, download our guide How To Build A Winning Inbound Marketing Team

Download How To Build A Winning Inbound Marketing Team

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