Remember when marketers could say, “That’s not my job. I just do branding”? Yeah, me neither.
Modern content marketing leaders need to be well-versed in a wide range of topics: marketing automation technology, data analysis, search engine optimization, video, VR, graphic design. Considering that many of us come from writing backgrounds, there’s a lot to learn.
Here’s one more for the list: typography.
Don’t worry. This is not a beginner’s guide to typography or a do-it-yourself tip sheet. Both my graphic designer friends and my personal experience have convinced me that amateurs shouldn’t be playing around with art forms they don’t understand—at least not for professional use. And I can empathize. I tend to get a little prickly when people start their own blogs and suddenly call themselves professional writers. Learning a craft like typography takes training, experience, and lots of practice. And quite frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that in the marketing department.
For most content marketers, design is not a part of the job description, but storytelling is. And now more than ever, that’s a job that can’t do without strong visuals.
Typefaces play an integral role in how messages are received, and no one is closer to a brand’s message, values, audience, and story than the content marketing team. Sure, designers generally handle typeface selection and creation, but it’s also a smart idea for marketers to be part of the visual designconversation.
For that, we need at least a basic understanding of typography—lest we get lost in translation or make fools of ourselves. Just tell a graphic designer that your favorite font is Comic Sans and see what happens. Unless your friends are nicer than mine, they’ll either laugh at you or look at you with a unique blend of pity and scorn on their faces. (My fellow southerners know it as the “bless your heart” look.)
So, what is typography, and why should content marketers care?
What Is Typography?
Typography is the art of arranging type, including letters and characters. It’s more than just choosing the right typeface. It also involves selecting the right size, style, and weight of the right typeface. It involves pairing complementary typefaces, and spacing letters, words, and sentences in a visually pleasing way.
Sounds complicated, right? It is.
Ten years ago, my father asked me to design a pamphlet showcasing a beautiful lodge that my aunt and uncle owned and rented out for weddings. I was a journalist who did some marketing writing on the side, so I was certainly qualified to write the copy, and I assumed I could figure out the layout part. I’d seen the graphic designers at work do it, and it really didn’t look all that hard.
I opened Microsoft Word, chose a template, inserted my pictures, and added some text boxes. Then I chose some fonts. That’s where everything fell apart. I fiddled with the fonts . . . and fiddled with them . . . and fiddled with them. Still, the pamphlet looked terrible. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I knew it didn’t look right.
When I showed it to a couple designer friends, I learned that I’d made two fatal errors:
- I used the wrong tools. (Want to really make a designer laugh? Forget Comic Sans. Tell them you designed something in Word. That’ll get ’em rolling on the floor.)
- I didn’t know what I was doing.
I quickly learned that making words look good on a page takes more than choosing a suitable font in the right size. Typography is an art form. And like any true art form—writing, photography, painting, parenting—people who are good at it make it look effortless, even though it’s not.
Typography isn’t easy, but it is important. Within a particular image or layout, good type is the difference between a professional-looking product and one that a twenty-four-year-old writer made using Word. For the overall brand experience, typeface consistency is just as important as quality.
I like this explanation from Monotype:
A brand’s type reflects its story—the who, what, and where behind the product—and that story is the cornerstone of a brand’s authenticity. Implementing typefaces consistently helps create a unified visual identity that supports and reinforces that story. Just as importantly, a brand’s typeface reassures the customer that she is operating within your brand’s ecosystem no matter where she is. This maintains and strengthens that essential connection between brand and customer, and creates the expectation of a reliable customer experience.
Typeface consistency is also important because designers put a lot of thought into which ones evoke the emotions, values, and tone that brands want to communicate. And that is a conversation marketers want to be part of. But first, you need to know the lingo.