In the previous article we shared some free and low-cost but high quality curated resources for small businesses and start-ups to utilize when creating marketing assets and close the resource-gap.
Now its time to get our hands dirty.
Lets talk about tools and software that can be leveraged to create engaging visual content with their help.
Identifying Your Weakness
Generally speaking in visual communication, there are two general gaps that can appear when creating marketing assets.
- Knowledge Gap
- Skill Gap
From these two, the first one is the one harder to address as it needs years of study to offset. It is also harder to accept and discover that your understanding of constructing an asset is insufficient to generate the desired result of an effective visual. The Skill Gap in comparison is easily remedied by utilizing modern software and services that allow you to substitute or reduce some of the shortcomings.
Small businesses and start-ups in particular can’t afford to lose the brand-game as their stakes are much higher.
The Knowledge Gap
The Knowledge Gap, in essence, is the problem that we do not know how to construct the visual asset effectively even if we have a rudimentary skill-set in a tool. Sometimes the Knowledge Gap is falsely identified as a Skill Gap because it looks like the asset was created with rudimentary tools or low skill. But it’s usually not about the tool, it’s about the knowledge of the creator.
The above example shows the general principle. The problem on the left isn’t the usage of the wrong tool for the job, it’s the construction of the asset. Information hierarchy, composition, messaging and layout are the basis of communication in an asset. Only then we can discuss and focus on color selection, type and the other visual details.
A strong foundation does half of the job.
Designers spend an inordinate amount of time learning about several concepts in visual communication. Composition, color theory and typography are but the basic skills that are learned and honed over decades and hundreds of projects. But course it’s unreasonable to expect that a non-specialist would be able to absorb decades of knowledge. Small businesses in particular find it challenging to hire or consolidate experts that can help them. Luckily there are other ways to solve this challenge, which we will detail below.
The Skill Gap
The Skill Gap is something else.
In effect it is a desire coupled with a lack of manual ability, the lack of a technical skill.
As humorous as the example is, it illustrates a Skill Gap quite succinctly. The artist here clearly knew what they wanted to achieve, but lacked the technical aptitude to execute it.
Similarly when designing marketing assets, the desire to create a particular design might be greater than the creator is able to achieve given their limitations. It is especially challenging for small businesses and start-ups to afford these skilled specialist. Fortunately there are ways to solve this problem, to a certain extent.
Trust in the Template
If we identified a Skill and/or Knowledge Gap the easiest way to remedy both is to use templetized creation with the previously mentioned curated resources. This can help in many ways to increase the effectiveness of your assets.
First, a template is usually designed by a professional, which means it has all the benefit of knowledge already integrated into its layout and construction. It closes the Knowledge Gap effectively.
Secondly, a template is consistent. This means it helps communicate the brand of consistently across channels without too much variance.
And thirdly, a template is far easier to use than creating an asset from scratch, preventing us from hitting a Skill Gap.
When using a template and curated content, we can trust in the professional skills of others to express our messaging.
Of course there are downsides, like inflexibility, repetition and the fact that thousands of other brands might be choosing the same templates, making our assets common and not unique.
However at the humble beginnings of any brand the clarity, quality and engagement of an asset is more important than its conceptual uniqueness.
Now that we have established the problems and solutions, let’s have a look at a selection of tools that will make your life easier.
Canva is a cloud-based service that allows to easily create layouts with just a few clicks. It has a web-interface making it an easy solution for creating assets in any environment, without downloading applications and including on the go.
As a service it also has its own curated image library, including graphic elements, free for use when using a paid subscription. It allows for uploading your own logos and creating a brand identity. This can be used to quickly pre-load any layout with the necessary elements. It also helps with consistency across assets.
Canva also allows to resize and re-apply a certain design across many channels with just a few clicks.
The weakness of the service is currently its selection of largely static image-based assets. It has a great selection for flyers, brochures, eCards, graphs or other static content, but does not support video or interactive web showcases.
ADOBE SPARK (13€/Month)
Similarly to Canva, Adobe Spark is a cloud-based service with a simple web-interface to create marketing assets from templates. The features are very similar to Canva, however Spark also offers video, web and digital content for creation. The above example of the Knowledge Gap on the right was created using Spark.
Besides the standard layouts for flyers and brochures, you can also create short, animated, slide-based videos and web page-like content. The ability to create something more interactive that tells a story is a great feature.
While you can use Adobe Spark for free, it will always display the Spark logo on your designs, making it of limited use for marketers that want to be serious about branding. However Adobe Spark is also part of the Adobe Cloud subscription and links up with Adobe Stock. If you were already thinking about getting Adobe Cloud, this should be on your list of Pros.
If recent statistics are to be believed, video generates between 100-200% more engagement than any other form of content while retaining messaging. As a small business, there is no way to ignore the power of video, both on social and your landing pages. Biteable is a great web platform for creating videos easily and without investing thousands of euro.
Biteable allows you to design animations, simple motion graphics, explainers or corporate video based on stock footage. It’s also linked to its own stock footage library usable when using the subscription. The library is rather limited in scope though so you are best served to substitute or expand it with another service.
If you want to focus heavily on video content, Biteable is the service to use. Adobe Spark in comparison simply does not have enough flexibility to allow for the variety of assets that Biteable does.
ADOBE CLOUD (70€/Month)
We would be amiss not to mention the industry standard software suite being utilized by designers across the globe.
Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and their ilk are a permanent fixture in design studios and agencies everywhere. However, utilizing it requires training and knowledge small businesses might not have and can’t obtain on their budgets. However a lot of templates across the internet, from services mentioned in our previous article, are only compatible with Adobe software.
However the fact that Adobe Cloud bundles so many recommended services like Adobe Stock and Adobe Spark, it does seem like a good investment. Down the road, when your business has grown, you will most likely want to hire an in-house production team that’s trained, and the subscription will not go to waste.
The downside to all of these services of course is the lack of control. There is rarely any coloring outside the lines. No creating outside of the box(es) that are provided to you. But it will get your marketing going initially. Some of the templates, especially when handled by someone with a modicum of design skill, can be a cheap and effective way to grow your brand and close the gap between the bigger competition.
We reckon the Adobe Cloud seems like its delivering the most bang for your buck at this point, but it should be supplemented by Biteable if you plan on focusing on video content.
Naturally none of these solutions will ever be able to develop a brand or design strategy or keep an eye on your messaging however. Analysis, and problem solving is still the domain of experienced specialists and experts, the services listed here are merely production tools, but powerful ones.
In case you have doubts about how or when to use these solutions, you can always ask us.
We are a helpful lot.
Also published on Medium.