Having discovered the platforms and resources that are available for small business and marketers, how exactly do you go about designing visually engaging marketing content? Good designers are expensive, and sifting through Upwork or Fiverr is time-consuming and often wrought with failure.

While this article can’t make you into an ace graphic designer, it can identify easily preventable mistakes and guide you towards better communication with your audience.

All assets designed as examples here were done in Adobe Spark at no cost.

Plan Your Messaging

The usual mistake when creating a marketing asset is to have no plan for the messaging. You sort-of, kind-of know what you want to say, but you didn’t really think about how to formulate it. You don’t know what the information-hierarchy is.

When it comes to your messaging, most assets follow the visual structure of Headline, Subhead, Body-copy and CTA (Call To Action). Together with the key and supporting visuals this structure provides a reliable and repeatable process for creating content that speaks to your target audience.

The eye should be led from Headline, KV through the supporting visuals to CTA, where you get a conversion (click, call, email, etc).

The Headline & KV

A headline’s and key visual’s purpose is to catch attention, its the first thing your audience should read and take in. The visual should elicit a feeling or mood that you want to communicate to your audience, while the headline should tell the audience with one glance what this is about.

In the digital age, looking through our feeds and inboxes, the average time a person evaluates any content is about 3 seconds. Yes, you have only 3 seconds to get them interested in even considering the proposition you are making. In video it’s slightly more: 8 seconds.

If you make your KV too generic or irrelevant to the target, they are gone.

If you make your headline too long or confusing, they are gone.

Try to lead the eye of your audience by playing with font size, color and contrast. Ideally for western audiences always remember that we read left to right, and top to bottom. Let the eye naturally flow like this to increase effectiveness.

The Subhead

As in the examples above, the subhead supplements the messaging by giving the headline more context. Just “Need more storage?” isn’t enough, since storage could be anything; local, physical or otherwise.

While subheads can clearly be longer than headlines, they shouldn’t be too long either. They should be the expanded value proposition or contextual audience hook.

The Body-Copy

The body-copy should adress your value proposition and the features of your solution. While it can be long, it’s not recommended to try and cram a blog-post worth of content into it. The current attention span doesn’t support long copy very much, at least when it comes to ads. Blog posts or articles on their own can of course have long copy, but for a traditional or social marketing asset the current best practice is short copy.


The CTA should always communicate what the audience should do when they want to convert. A very important issue here is to never be misleading, so do not use misleading CTAs that make something unexpected happen for your audience or potential client.

“Order your free sample!” shouldn’t go to a survey or email subscription form, similarly “Learn more” shouldn’t lead to an order or pricing page. We react very viscerally when we think something or someone is trying to deceive us, and it damages the brand. We become untrustworthy to the potential customer.

Always do what you say, this way you can build a positive relationship with your clients.

Addendum: Front-loading the CTA

Lastly a short remark on front-loading the CTA.

Sometimes in particular situations it is possible to show the CTA together with the headline. This is especially often the case when it’s a phone number or live chat feature, and the CTA is a free consultation or other time-limited service.

However this only can work if the service or product is indeed somehow limited. Otherwise the front-loaded CTA is too forceful and will likely not be effective at conversion.

The client doesn’t even know what you do yet but you are already asking for a sale. Most people react very reluctantly to being pushed a product or service this way. It’s better if the asset first “confirms” if this is in their interest at the moment.


To be absolutely clear, this structure isn’t always useful or applicable, but when you are starting out, it is better than trying to wing it every single time.

Here are our suggestions to generate good marketing content that will effectively convert audience into leads or even sales.

  1. Stick to the structure
    Headline -> Subhead -> Bodycopy -> CTA
    It leads the eye and creates a hierarchy of information.
  2. Trust the template.
    Most templates already have blocked in dummy text, so keep to its length.
    The designer already figured out what the maximum number of characters is.
  3. Pick relevant, powerful and striking key and supporting visuals.
  4. Keep it short and simple.
    You only have 3-8 seconds.
  5. Front-load your value proposition in the subhead.
  6. Keep your body-copy succinct and to the point.
  7. Don’t use misleading CTAs.
    If it says “free” it should be “free”, not a sign-up, trial or a paywall.
  8. Don’t front-load the CTA.
    Unless it’s a limited offer.

Of course at some point your customer base will grow and you will have multiple channels. This process will have to scale, and the simplistic structure outlined here will not be sufficient.

You will have to think about target audiences, customer personas, channel-specific design, UX, customer journeys, storytelling, content marketing, SEO and many more details. There is only so much an entrepreneur, start-up or small business can do on their own.

That’s why, whenever you’re ready, we are here for you to help you grow.

Also published on Medium.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Marketing on a Budget pt.4 – Web Design for Small Businesses | Fortify

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