Are you one of those people who procrastinates over taking down holiday decorations?
Some of us stick to the traditional goal of having them put away by Kings’ Day on January 6th. For others, it’s a chore that can wait until they really have nothing better to do.
It gets awkward when the deco’s become so incongruous that friends and relatives begin making snide remarks and raising a questioning eyebrow…
Most décor has a life span. Seasonal decorations belong to the season for which they are intended, and not much longer. Furnishings belong to the era in which they are or were fashionable—look at photos from a decade or two (or three) ago and judge for yourself whether you’d pick the same window treatments, rugs, or furniture today.
The same is true for elements of your company’s brand and the way you apply them to your content.
Let’s discuss four key aspects of branding that can either give your content an edge or make it feel dated if left unattended for too long.
At first blush (pun intended), your choice of colors should not change over time.
Each color evokes a predictable, consistent set of emotions in the average viewer (with the visually impaired sadly missing out on some of the fun). For example, red prompts ideas of energy, urgency, and provocation, while blue implies trustworthiness, dependability, and security. To learn more, check out this helpful infographic created by Column Five Media and Marketo showing how people respond to different colors.
Since much of your content should be created to elicit a desired emotional response from your target audience, wouldn’t that predetermine the best colors to choose?
Yes and no.
The choice of dominant colors should be influenced by the emotional response you want to evoke.
While the choice of dominant colors should be influenced by the emotional response you want to evoke—and you must avoid creating dissonance between the words you use and the colors you choose—the overall palette can still vary quite significantly.
From pastels to bolds, multicolored to monochromatic, and complementary to contradictory, there are many ways to select a color palette for your brand and content.
The key is to be intentional.
Why you choose a particular set of colors will have a lot to do with consumer trends, the market in which you operate, your overall brand personality, and how other companies in your industry are using color (since you might choose to align with or differentiate from their approach).
Simply picking a set of colors that “look cool” to someone on your team is not okay.
Using too many colors is also a faux pas, since it can distract the reader and make your content look untidy or even unprofessional.
Pick 1 or 2 primary colors and up to 3 accent colors to form your palette. Consider using lighter and darker shades of the primary colors (for example: 25% higher intensity, 25% lower intensity) as accents rather than introducing new colors.
And, reevaluate your palette on an annual basis.
If your goal is to maintain an edgy brand, shifting design trends will require more frequent updates to your color scheme than if you have adopted a more traditional look.
While they aren’t quite as numerous as shades of color—the average human eye can distinguish about a million different hues—there are certainly more fonts out there than you or I have had hot dinners.
However, very few of them should concern you when it comes to setting font standards for your B2B business.
Your first concern should be readability.
This means ignoring decorative fonts for everything except graphical elements—no matter how clever or connected to your brand they might seem.
Choose one font for headlines and subheadings and another for body copy. The two fonts should be complementary but different.
For example, you might choose a bold, sans serif font for headings and a lighter, serif font for body copy.
While sans serif fonts are currently popular for all forms of content, serif fonts are designed to make large expanses of text easier to read and still work well for that purpose.
Stay within your chosen font families for as much of your content as possible and use size, weight (boldness), and italics judiciously.
Much like colors, more isn’t usually merrier when it comes to font variations.
The more combinations you allow, the more likely it becomes that your team will apply them inconsistently, making your content feel less polished.
Documents that feature more than 4 or 5 fonts (or variations in size and weight) can seem cluttered and hard to digest, even when compared to the same content presented using fewer font variations.
Remember my quip about looking back at photos from a decade or two ago? The same phenomenon happens with the images embedded in your content.
Thankfully, unlike those Polaroid snaps from 1995, you can refresh digital content whenever it looks dated. This is good practice from both a factual and visual point of view.
A good first step is to consider the potential lifetime of an image when you choose it for your content. Is the subject matter something that will lose relevance or appear out-of-touch in a matter of months or years, or is it something that will endure?
Unlike B2C content, where images tied to current trends, events, and influencers are essential, B2B content seldom needs such visual references.
Choose images that cue your reader, indicating what’s covered by the adjacent copy.
Choose images that cue your reader, indicating what’s covered by the adjacent copy. This helps skim readers—a large proportion of your audience these days—decide where to slow down and pay greater attention.
Also choose images that are consistent with your overall brand personality, your company values, and your purpose and mission.
While readers might not stop to analyze your images in detail, the styles and subjects they depict will contribute to the overall impression a reader forms about your business.
Does a typical website look the same today as it did 2, 5, or 10 years ago? Absolutely not.
Changes in the way we consume content, the technology we use to access and view it, and the composition tools available to business owners and designers have all impacted the pages we see—both digital and physical.
Falling behind these trends can leave your brand horribly disadvantaged.
We’ve all visited a website and thought “my goodness, this is like something from the 1990s”. Our willingness to take the site seriously is immediately reduced and we may even be reluctant to do business with the company responsible.
Whenever your site begins to look dated it’s time for a refresh.
The same is true for brochures, newsletters, business cards, banners, emails, social media graphics, and any other form of content you can name.
The most significant trend affecting many of these designs is the proliferation of mobile as the primary mode of content consumption.
Websites must now be designed with a mobile first mindset, rather than simply as mobile friendly.
Brochures and other collateral must function equally well in electronic format (usually PDF, but also web-based flipbook) and every piece of content must be consistent in appearance and quality.
There’s no excuse for different pieces of content from the same business looking like they were designed and produced by different companies.
And no quarter is given to a company that allows its content to age beyond the point where it should have been refreshed or replaced.
B2B buyers make their decisions based primarily on emotion, and the look and feel of your content plays a major role in how they feel about your business and its products.
Just like a human job applicant, content that looks put together and polished stands a much better chance of winning work than something dated, scruffy, or discombobulated.
The key to achieving what I like to call brand umami—the design equivalent of the sumptuous flavor achieved by a master chef—is having clear and consistently applied brand guidelines.
It’s no use spending hours choosing the perfect color palette, font combinations, and imagery if your team doesn’t apply them religiously to the content it produces.
This is as true for a two-person marketing team that relies on external contributors as it is for a fifty-person in-house content department.
Capture the dos and don’ts of your brand, using examples wherever possible, and make sure the guidelines are shared with and explained to everyone.
Then, enforce them.
Allowing minor deviations from the guidelines is part of managing a brand. Achieving perfect brand consistency is nigh-on impossible, especially when relying on third parties to replicate your brand on their products or at their events.
But internal consistency should be high—as close to perfect as possible—and major deviations should justify a work stoppage and investigation.
New hires must be inculcated in the ways of your brand (another situation where comprehensive brand guidelines play an invaluable role) and their work carefully reviewed before it is published. The same goes for contributions from third parties.
Nuanced differences in branding can be the reason a flighty visitor settles on your content or flits off to someone else’s.
In the fiercely competitive world of digital media, nuanced differences in branding can be the reason a flighty visitor settles on your content or flits off to someone else’s.
So, don’t be that person who leaves the content decorations up too long.
Moreover, don’t hang the wrong decorations in the first place.
When high-stakes decisions are based on emotions first and product features second, the materials that evoke those emotions should be as carefully scrutinized and quality controlled as the products and services they promote.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock