We live in a digital world. Between social media, web ads, email campaigns, blog posts, landing pages, search engines, and website design, businesses are interacting with customers like never before. Even five years ago—well into the internet era—organic reach and digital marketing were operating in a very different world. These days, we reach our audiences in their homes, at work, and on their phones. Our ads are scattered between that one friend’s engagement announcement and the latest “what kind of cat are you?” quiz—and the constantly changing algorithms make us “pay to play.” Simply put, in order to create effective digital campaigns and stretch those hard-earned dollars, we need to find a way to capture our audience, relay our value prop, and establish our brand identity nearly simultaneously. But how do we accomplish that, increase traffic, and stand out in a sea of near-constant informational noise?

It should come as no surprise that adding images to your ads and social media posts has been shown to generate more traffic than using text alone—but how much thought do you normally put into selecting these images? More importantly, are you selecting your imagery based only on theme and degree of “prettiness”—or on the desires of your target audience? If you’re not placing emphasis on the latter, then you’re likely missing out on significant boosts in traffic and conversions.

To help navigate this increasingly complex and digital world, we’ve outlined six rules below.

Rule 1: Know Your Brand

In order to better know your brand, it’s first important to understand what a brand is—and what it isn’t. Your brand is not your logo. It’s not the colors that you use. It’s not your slogan or tagline. Those are just things a brand has. Your brand is the essence of your company as it is perceived by the outside world. Ask yourself, what do people say about your company when you aren’t in the room? That’s your brand—and it may or may not be the brand you want.

Luckily, brand identity is a moving target—everything you produce can affect it, and every piece of digital media or ad copy you write can contribute to it. If you’ve done your market research, identified your target audiences, and determined what makes your company or product special, you already know what you need to do to build your brand identity—and stick with it. Figure out your voice, your visuals, and your value prop. You want your business to be recognizable in your marketing materials—even without your name attached.

Rule 2: Play Smarter, Not Harder

Business has long been pervaded by the belief that harder, longer hours correlate to greater output and more success. Likewise, it’s tempting to flood your audience with a steady stream of quick-hit digital content. Fortunately, both of these ideas are fundamentally wrong. Just as we are now learning that long hours decrease creative productivity, so do we know that over-saturation is a poor marketing tactic in most digital platforms. For example, Facebook interactions generally decrease after a mere two posts a day.

The key is not to throw everything you have into cyberspace and hope something sticks. It lies in building valuable, high-quality cornerstone content and maintaining a consistent, recognizable brand. Whatever you do, don’t forget to use eye-catching, on-trend, and properly sized visuals to ensure the marketing materials you invest in are the best representation of your company and product.

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Rule 3: Keep It Simple

Modern design is generally very simple and clean. Icons have replaced text and minimalism has surpassed clutter for relating value and professionalism.

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It’s tempting to try to put all the information in one place, but part of the beauty of the digital age is that you don’t have to fit your entire value prop on a quarter-page magazine ad. Stay away from extraneous text and even too many icons. Embrace the empty space and stay clear and straight to the point.

Rule 4: Understand Color Theory

Color is one of the most powerful weapons in a designer’s arsenal, and every good design deserves a thoughtful color scheme. Whether you’ve determined your brand colors yet or not, a quick brush up on color theory is beneficial to anyone creating visual campaigns.

When determining a color palette, your brand’s colors take preference and priority— determining which colors work with your brand colors is integral to creating strong visuals. Luckily, there are many color schemes to choose from, so once you have a few hues in mind, consider the current fashions. Pantone is considered the definitive expert on trending colors, so if you have an interest in current color trends, stay abreast of Pantone’s seasonal updates. Don’t go crazy—two or three colors are generally more than enough—or you could even go monochromatic!

Finally, don’t be afraid of strong contrast. Contrast makes your designs pop and keeps them easy to read. Whatever you do, don’t put light text over a light background—or dark text on a dark background. If you can’t read your text or differentiate your design elements when you squint, they’re not clear enough. This can be especially tricky if you are working with a background photo or high-contrast pattern. To get around this, you can either avoid certain areas of the image with your design elements (be careful to keep the overall composition balanced) or add a translucent overlay to mute the background image and help the other design elements pop.

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Rule 5: Speak Up

There are thousands of fonts out there, and it’s tempting to spend hours finding the perfect font for each and every project—but this is not only a serious time suck, it’s just generally a bad idea.

Within one image, you’ll want to limit your design to one or two fonts that go well together. If you choose to go with two, there are plenty of online resources to help you determine the best pairings.

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Another thing to consider is the use of on-brand fonts. When thinking about brand, fonts can be another visual aid to help improve recognition of your product. Consider establishing 1-2 “brand” fonts and using these in most or all of your marketing content. If you want more flexibility, play with the weight (for example “bold” or “light”) or size of your branded fonts. Finally, make sure these fonts are a good fit for your business. If you are a jeweler, you probably don’t want to use a bubble text.

When it comes to copy, remember rule #3 above: keep it simple. In digital media, information needs to be translated in milliseconds before your potential customers simply swipe on—a ton of text is just too time-consuming.

Rule 6: Reduce Friction

When considering a product or business, beautiful, intelligent design goes a long way toward legitimizing your brand and assuaging the fears of would-be customers—but it isn’t enough. The best designs not only reduce anxiety, they also provide a direct and easy path to conversion. The fewer buttons your customers have to click and the fewer choices they have to make, the more likely they are to get to that treasured confirmation page.

In The Advertising Effect, consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier cites a study in which subjects were given chocolates either placed on their desks or placed 2 meters away. The subjects with just slightly easier access to the chocolates consumed 5 times more chocolates than the 2 meter group. So give your customers the chocolate, already.

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