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Great design is crucial for engaging the C‐suite

Design is often overlooked as a core content ingredient. Here's why it should never be an afterthought and how design helps you 'get your foot in the door' with the C-suite.

The C‐suite remains one of the most elusive audiences to engage. Its members are time‐poor, under pressure and discerning about the content they consume.

Studies into C‐suite content consumption tend to uncover the same key drivers. Content that succeeds in cutting through is tailored to its audience, original, valuable and takes a clear stance on the issue at hand. However, all of these factors only come into play once the prospect has taken the first steps to engagement. To engage an executive, you first need them to pick up a copy of your report, press play on your video or sign up to your newsletter and give it a chance.

We all know that abandonment is high, and unless you capture your audience from the beginning they are unlikely to continue to engage. Take video for instance, where a third of your audience will abandon a clip within the first 30 seconds.

First impressions count. The human brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. So, perhaps it’s not surprising that our research into 500 European C‐suites shows that thought‐through, eye‐catching design is the number one factor for executives when they consume content.

“Arguably, the battle is won or lost in the first few seconds,” says Tim Whitlock, Raconteur’s head of design. “If it looks impressive and is visually appealing, people will give it a chance. With a hyper‐busy and ultra‐selective target audience, getting past that first line of defence is key.”

The opposite is also true. The brands who fail to invest in their design lose out on engagement. Our research shows 57 per cent of C‐suite members do not think brands take the design seriously, and reject their content as a result.

This means marketers need to take design more seriously. Brands shouldn’t view design as a box‐ticking service. It’s a diverse discipline that should form an integral part of your strategy. There are three key areas to consider: establishing a strong visual identity, improving visual storytelling and investing in best practice user experience (UX).

Defining your visual identity

Most brands will say they have a visual identity. Logo, check. Colour palette, check. Brand guidelines, check. But do your brand guidelines take content into consideration? As a brand, your competition is those who sell what you sell. As a content marketer, your competition is YouTube, Forbes, or Vice.

The most successful content marketing and thought leadership brands will have an identity that’s separate and flexible enough to adapt their content initiatives so they stand out.

Approach a visual identity same way that you would establish a tone of voice or a campaign series. Who are you trying to reach? What are the category norms? What innovation is driving engagement? How can it be adapted to suit the brand identity?

Asking these questions will help you create an identity which is compelling, ownable and in line with your content initiatives.

Be a visual storyteller

Thomson Reuters, the largest international multimedia news provider, is an excellent example of a B2B brand commanding authority through design. Its multimedia platform, The Wider Image, reimagines news photography and delivers in‐depth visual reports from across the world. It seeks to bring information to life and explain global news themes in bite‐sized, easy‐to‐consume pieces.

Format is not limited on The Wider Image. Single images are given more context through slideshows and sequences. This is because Thomson Reuters has found visual content marketing to be more successful than any other form of communication.

Visual narratives are just as significant as editorial when analysing a topic. They can establish tone and communicate emotions faster and with more impact than words alone.

For brands that don’t have access to an in‐house design team, content partnerships are an effective way to get in front of the right audience and can also give you access to quality content assets, which can then be repurposed.

Design the whole brand experience

Consider design beyond look and feel and start to think of it as the wrapper for the brand experience. Even the best editorial can be let down by a failing digital ecosystem. Broken templates, failure to optimise for mobile and poor user journeys between different touchpoints distract from content and harm your brand’s credibility.

When we asked the C‐suite what annoys it most about branded content, its members placed ‘format or design unsuitable for mobile consumption’ top of the list. With mobile surpassing laptop and desktop as the primary way to access the web, thinking mobile‐first is key.

Taking a customer‐centric approach to UX also opens up new opportunities to engage your audience. For example, using interactive infographics can offer an intuitive way to break down complex data, while also conveying your message effectively.

Key takeaways

  • Create a visual identity that readers want to engage with. It should define the purpose of your content, alongside your brand’s personality.
  • Visuals are a language of their own and can powerfully gain and hold attention. Use them to communicate messages that written content cannot.
  • Consider which format best suits your audience’s needs. Ensure your content is of high quality, with good accessibility across multiple devices.

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