You’ve heard the cliché about what a picture is worth (hint: about half the length of this blog post). But what if we told you each picture — more specifically, a graphic design asset like an illustration or a motion graphic — was worth a thousand dollars in brand value?
Direct-to-consumer mattress firm Casper definitely thinks graphics provide exceptional ROI. Consider this vector graphic design it used in a campaign on the New York City Subway:
A “snooze fest,” it isn’t.
It hooks viewers with a minimalist design sporting the brand’s distinctive typography and brand colors (blue and white) plus a neat puzzle, all part of Casper’s aim to offer “fun and intrigue.” The visual elements of this asset make it both a form of visual identity graphic design — embodying the overall Casper brand identity — and a type of advertising and marketing design, meant to support purchasing decisions.
Elsewhere, Casper has used other types of graphics to present a consistently comforting message and image. On its official blog, it often uses motion graphics like this animated GIF — a form of raster graphics — to demonstrate how its products work. Note the exact same blue coloration and typography as in the NYC Subway poster:
The same look and feel extend to Casper’s packaging design, another graphic type. Here’s a cat sneaking in a nap in the cylindrical package for the Casper pillow, again with the same typography and colors as its other types of graphics:
Casper’s graphic design strategy is carefully coordinated across all of its content marketing channels, resulting in an undeniable brand identity that has boosted its market share even in a highly competitive, low-margin industry. Its effective use of multiple types of graphics illustrates the central value of graphic design within marketing — namely, its effectiveness in succinctly and memorably communicating brand identity, in tandem with more specific messages.
The main purposes of graphic design in marketing
Graphic design is a form of visual communication.
What does this company sell or stand for? How do its products work? Why should a customer choose it instead of a competitor?
Though you could, theoretically, answer such questions using only words, adding or substituting on-brand graphic design is in practice a far superior strategy, and one that basically every brand follows:
- The human brain interprets images more quickly than words — in just milliseconds, according to MIT researchers.
- Audiences strongly associated brand names with visual elements like colors, which inform their evaluations of a brand’s identity and influence how they feel about it.
- Organizations with consistent visual style and branding stand out in multi-channel marketing strategies.
For years, CRM suite provider Salesforce burned its brand identity and image into the minds of B2B buyers everywhere with this simple logo graphic, featuring the word “Software” within a no-symbol, which it used in digital and physical media:
Salesforce’s mission early on was to get businesses to replace their on-premises software — applications they hosted and/or executed locally, as in the days of CD-ROMs — with its cloud-based suite.
Although “No Software” was an unusual graphic design and messaging strategy since technically Salesforce still sold software, only differently, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff saw its value in distinguishing the Salesforce brand identity from competitors.
He described “No Software” as part of the Salesforce “personality” of delivering a “future focused” experience — in other words, cloud CRM, not on-prem software.
For Salesforce and others, graphic design thus serves several main purposes:
- Crafting a consistent visual identity of the brand (“No Software” logo = Salesforce).
- Establishing brand affinity backed up by actions (Salesforce doesn’t sell traditional CRM software).
- Supporting advertising and marketing campaigns (the “No Software” design was once ubiquitous in Salesforce branding).
What are the major types of graphics used in marketing?
The types of graphics that companies use for the above purposes range from the UI and UX design components of their webpages to the illustrations they include in digital and physical media. Graphic elements fit into two general categories: raster graphics and vector graphics.
This table breaks down the basic differences between the two types of graphics. Basically, raster graphics are pixel-based, whereas vector graphics are mathematically generated from points on a Cartesian plane, connected by paths (vectors) to form geometric primitives.
|Type of graphics||Composition||File formats||Relative file size||Graphics software||Resizability||Example|
|Raster graphics||Pixels||.psd, .bmp, .jpg, .gif, .png., .tiff||Big||Adobe Photoshop, Acorn, GIMP||Pixelated and aliased when upscaled.||Images uploaded to a company website.|
|Vector graphics||Points on a Cartesian plane.||.ai, .svg., .eps, .pdf||Small||Adobe Illustrator, Sketch, Inkscape||No quality loss or aliasing.||Print-ready logos and packaging.|
Here’s a very basic example from Shutterstock showing the essential difference between the two types:
Both types of graphics are important in content marketing.
For example, the photos posted to a website or social media channel are raster graphics, while the logos and imagery in packaging design are vector graphics, with high resizability and smooth lines that look great in the real world. From the Casper examples highlighted earlier, the subway ad and pillow packaging are vector graphics, while the website image is a raster graphic.
Let’s dig deeper and look at how raster and vector graphics are used within seven more specific types of graphics
1. Visual identity graphic design
In this category, we have logos, icons, typography and color palettes — in other words, the graphic design elements that visually define a brand at a basic level.
Let’s return to Salesforce for a minute. It has moved on from the “No Software,” mantra but it still has memorable branding, thanks in large part to consistent colors and fonts as well as the use of a mascot in its graphic design.
This Instagram video shows multiple visual identity design elements at work: the main logo — the distinctively styled “Salesforce” typography on a blue cloud-shaped background — accompanied by a character bearing the same logo and also holding a flower pot of an identical hue.
The video is also an example of a motion graphic, being animated. Indeed, visual identity graphics may take many forms and overlap with one or more of the graphic types below, since brand identity should be reinforced across branded media.
2. Motion Graphics
A motion graphic usually denotes a video with animation and a voiceover and/or accompanying captions, although it can also refer to smaller-scale content like that Casper animated GIF from earlier.
Google Chrome’s official YouTube page includes a substantial library of motion graphics for explaining often complex, technically dense topics such as password management and the creation of administrator roles. Here’s one of their password management examples:
The animations show some of the common images associated with passwords — keys, entry fields, etc. — and are predominantly rendered in red, blue, green and yellow, which are the four colors most associated with Chrome in particular and Google in general.
3. Marketing graphic design
Infographics, slide decks, banners, brochures and ads all fit into this broad category, which includes any form of graphic design used within promotional and branding efforts. These assets are ideal for distribution through multiple channels, from email campaigns to blog posts.
This infographic from Dropbox Business is typical of the format, and an example of overall good graphic design. It includes:
- Concise bullet points.
- A mix of quantitative and qualitative data.
- Illustrative graphics.
- A call to action (download an eBook).
- Brand colors, logos and typography.
4. UI Design / UX Design
UI design determines the specific interfaces through which someone interacts with a website or app. Meanwhile, UX design refers to the holistic experience they have during these interactions (e.g., is the UI easy to use?).
Ecommerce platform Mercari has a distinctive brand identity as “the selling app,” with a color palette centered on a violet hue with occasional orange. Its mobile app contains multiple visual elements that support its seller-centric message:
- “Sell” is selected by default in the screenshot below; going to the “Buy” page requires an extra click.
- The “Set a goal” button leads to a guide on how to sell on the platform.
- The banner at the top offers a coupon for listing an item.
- The “Sell” button is at the center of the bottom tray and differently colored.
- Photos of actual sold items are prominently displayed, for added motivation.
5. Packaging design
The physical packages that products come in aren’t purely functional, of course. They’re also opportunities for visual communication and branding.
Creating on-brand, memorable packaging requires translating a company’s brand identity into the physical world. This process usually starts with designers creating mockups and print-ready assets in a vector graphics editor such as Adobe Illustrator.
Coffee brand Nespresso shows how packaging design directly supports branding. This box includes the distinctive company logo (note the “N”), along with a background that shows approximately what this particular flavor will look like once brewed. It’s an effective way for buyers to know what to expect. The bilingual labeling (“Barista Creations | Créations Barista”) is also an important part of Nespresso’s brand identity.
6. Environmental design
Signage, murals, architectural design, exhibitions, and conference spaces all constitute environmental design. These types of graphics aim to communicate with audiences in a specific spatial context.
The aforementioned Casper subway ad borders upon environmental design, but it’s a small-scale example. This enormous design that Apple draped over the San Jose McEnery Convention for WWDC 2019 combines the Apple logo, the colloquial shorthand for WWDC (“Dub Dub”) and a variety of icons drawn from the company’s operating systems and applications, from emoji to curly braces.
The result is visually overwhelming (I mean, the robot guy’s head is literally exploding!) yet engaging and informative. The icons provide a good visual representation of what the WWDC talks will cover, namely diverse topics such as gaming, coding and graphic design.
7. Publication design
Newsletters, magazines, quarterly reports, catalogs, books and more are forms of publication design. This type of design may combine illustrations, photos and advertisements with a brand’s chosen typography and color palette.
The design of Airbnb’s official magazine marries practical tips on improving a space with colorful illustrations of how to do so:
In the digital domain, similar combinations of typography and imagery can make a publication like an email newsletter fun to follow. Google’s periodic updates on Google Assistant include a distinctive font, color palette and CTA:
Design with a purpose
Content marketing is inherently visual. In addition to specific assets like illustrations, motion graphics and infographics, the general iconography and typography that you use are both integral to brand identity. Incorporate various types of graphics, but with a consistent purpose and set of guidelines, into your content marketing campaigns to communicate with your key audiences.