A client once said to me, ‘I don’t get involved in marketing because there’s no science to it, and everyone has an opinion’.
I’d agree with the second part, but the first part is arguably not correct. 20 years of writing, researching, learning and studying have taught us there’s a lot of science to the world of marketing and copywriting.
I’ve been lucky to work with some excellent mentors over the years. Annie and I have come into contact with some marketing and communication greats, who have been inspirational. What they’ve taught me, and we’ve learnt ourselves has helped shape the things we now pass on to our clients and friends.
So where is the science in marketing?
At Limeslade, ‘we don’t do design’ is our general mantra. We don’t generally make logos or design websites. We leave them to people far cleverer and more talented than us. Our skills lie in the other things we do; creating content, copywriting, business development and event management are our core strengths.
However, we do work with designers a lot and we know a thing or two about that world. We have to be able to communicate and work well with them. We also have to respect their wisdom and talent when they do work for us.
Why am I telling you this?
Often our clients ask us to help them create simple pieces of artwork or incorporate it into their social media – which we happily do. But people very often doubt some of the things we tell them. I suspect many of them think like our client: there’s no science – ours is just an opinion. So, hopefully, a little extra understanding of the science behind it will help if you have to work with a designer or consultant. A lot of what follows applies equally to technical reports and other documents as it does to marketing material, so should help most of our clients.
The Science in Text
Let’s start with text. Your favourite font, and why it’s not necessarily the answer to your problems. There are a number of scientific elements to consider in the things you type. I’m slightly cursed in this regard, as my Dad was a print typesetter before he became a teacher. As a result, he is somewhat obsessed with typefaces and typography.
If you write coloured (or white) lettering on a dark or black background, your readers will be unlikely to understand what you’ve written. A typography expert, Colin Wheildon wrote an entire book on this stuff a while ago. He found that white text on black could reduce the effectiveness of an advert by 50%. This is why most designers will only ever use light text on a dark background sparingly. Save it for headings or where you will only be using one or two bold words. Entire paragraphs or text blocks should not be reversed out.
Fonts / Typefaces
There’s a good reason the body text of most websites, newspapers and other media are in a limited selection of fonts. Either arial or helvetica for on-screen reading, or times / times new roman for print. They work.
A phenomenal amount of time went into researching typefaces like those used for books, newspapers and magazines. The aim is to make life easier for the reader. Why? Because media companies want to sell newspapers. They don’t want to put barriers in the way of the readership.
Use fonts sparingly, max out at two or three. Don’t mix them up. Have a heading font which is unusual perhaps, but keep body text standard. This will also help you avoid problems when you share documents with other people using different computers and software. From a purely practical perspective – if you have a font that only exists on a mac and send it to someone in using a PC and Microsoft Word, then that font will likely appear badly, or in the worst case, nothing will appear at all.
One reasonably well-known law firm uses a very non-standard font in all its emails and communications, and they look terrible. Don’t be that law firm.
To understand what size of text to use, you need to put yourself in your user’s position. What might look perfectly proportioned and readable on your large external screen, might be completely unreadable for users on a mobile device. If in doubt, there are tools that can check this for you.
We often see people reduce the size of their text in order to fit it into the space allowed. But you should be looking to do the opposite. If the text doesn’t fit, look to reduce the amount of words used. Additionally, you may even be breaking the law – the equality act requires that documents should be clear for reading by those who are partially sighted or have visual impairments.
Columns and Paragraphs
The eye is a lazy thing, it doesn’t like working too hard. So don’t make your customer’s eyes work too hard. When was the last time you read a newspaper which had text running from the far left to the far right of the page? Never, right?
Newspapers split their text into columns and break things up with images for a good reason. They want readers to read, understand and buy more papers.
Whether on-screen or in print, you won’t find many newspapers who run text from far-left, to far-right. They will generally have columns, whether that’s the Daily Mail’s ‘sidebar of shame’ or the BBC’s ‘Top stories and features’ column.
Break your content into smaller paragraphs. Don’t expect your readers to understand what you’re saying if you can’t break up your text into digestible chunks.
That’s it for now. Hopefully this little insight into some of the science in marketing will help you communicate better. And of course, if you need help with any of it, you know where we are!