what we do and how we do it.
At Masked Man Design we only work for marketing people. So we understand your unique requirements.
What’s more, we’ve developed a way of working that’s tailor-made for creative marketing design. That’s the big difference between us and other designers.
The best way to explain the way we work is to show you. So we’ve created a step-by-step guide to marketing design. More about that in a minute.
First, let’s talk about you.
How stressed are you at work?
Notice we didn’t ask “are you stressed?”. We assumed you are.
Marketing people are under pressure to deliver results, often against the clock.
And it’s hard to stay motivated when only 11.2% of marketing people believe they receive fair financial reward.
That’s unhealthy, and it’s counterproductive too. Marketing relies on creative thinking, which isn’t easy in a stressful workplace.
Out of control?
Any professional marketer wants their work to be 100% effective. But factors beyond your control can mean it’s not always possible.
We’ve already talked about time pressures. But there’s also well-intentioned interference from higher up in the organisation.
It’s hard to say no, especially to the boss!
And you can’t afford to put your projects on hold for restructuring or rebranding. Both those events move the goalposts when you’re trying to get things done.
Most marketing design is usually compromised by at least one of these factors.
So it’s nowhere near as effective as it should be.
The good news
We’re here to help. We can offer you focus and effectiveness in marketing design.
You can read our free guide to creative marketing design as an overview of how we work.
But you’ll also get great value from it in your own job.
Our guide to marketing design is:
- in-depth and explained step-by-step
- built on years of experience in promotions and corporate communications
- totally free with no sign-up and no strings attached
What you’ll learn
You’ll discover how to:
- analyse your product, service or event and come up with a unique promise for your target audience
- generate attention-grabbing and memorable marketing messages
- build creative concepts that are adaptable to all media and platforms
With this knowledge you’ll benefit by:
- keeping your marketing team focussed and on-message
- enhancing your own marketing design skills
- creating brilliant briefs for your designer
So read on, and begin working towards stress-free marketing design.
In this stage, you’ll get clear on what you’re saying and who you’re talking to.
Start with a blank piece of paper. We suggest at least A3, but a flipchart is ideal.
Write the name of your product, service, event or course at the top, and then draw a vertical line down the middle. Write “Features” at the top of the left column.
And it’s brainstorming time! List any features you can think of. Don’t worry about prioritising or categorising; just get your thoughts on paper. Use any information from surveys, reviews or testimonials as well.
The features list of a vegetarian restaurant might look like this:
Don’t ignore negative features, because we’ll address those later.
Aim for around a dozen items. Too many will be unwieldy for one piece of marketing design.
Now think about who you want to respond to your marketing design. Write a few lines about your target audience at the bottom of the page, like this:
At the top of the right column, write “Benefits”.
Now rephrase the features from the left column. Think about the benefits of each one, like this:
There might be more than one benefit for each feature.
Use lateral thinking to rephrase negative features into potential benefits. But don’t worry if you can’t counter all the negatives.
If you’re creating a small piece of marketing design, this might be too much information. But in Marketing Design Stage 2 you’ll learn why it’s important to have lots of benefits.
What about those negative features with no conceivable benefit? Try thinking about how you can use these to improve your customer service.
For example, there’s no parking at the restaurant. So they should put a map of nearby public car parks on their website and flyers.
- who you’re talking to
- what you’re saying
Now move on to Stage 2 to build your marketing design strategy.
In this stage, you’ll prioritise your benefits and identify an ideal customer response.
The key proposition
Which one of your benefits is the most compelling?
If it’s not immediately obvious, look at combinations. Ask yourself:
“Which two or three benefits make a unique argument for why customers should choose me?”
You could also ask:
“What’s my unique solution to my customers’ problem?”
The most compelling answer you can think of is your key proposition.
Marketing design has just a couple of seconds to grab attention. Find a key proposition that can be understood immediately.
At the top of a new page, write your target audience definition from Marketing Design Stage 1. Write your key proposition underneath.
Now copy your remaining benefits underneath, this time in priority order.
The benefit that best supports the key proposition is top priority. The one that least clearly supports it is lowest priority. Rank the rest between.
If you need to, rephrase the lower-rank benefits to support the key proposition better.
Prioritising now will help later in the marketing design process. If you have a small piece, you’ll use just the top benefit; for bigger promotions you’ll add more, in order.
Imagine your target audience reading the key proposition and the supporting benefits. What do you want them to do now?
Write this at the bottom of the page.
Make sure your desired response is realistic. People shy away from effort and big commitments. Nobody will buy a car just because they like the ad: it’s more reasonable to book a test drive.
This might seem like a lot of preparation for one piece of marketing design. But your strategy is a useful tool.
For future marketing design projects, you won’t need to do Stage 1 or Stage 2 again. You can reuse the strategy in an integrated campaign. You’ll reinforce the key proposition again and again. That’s how brands are built.
You’ve finished your marketing design strategy. You know:
- who you’re talking to
- what you’re saying
- why they should believe you
- how they should respond
Now move on to Stage 3 to learn about creative thinking for marketing design.
This stage describes the creative thinking process, which is vital for successful marketing design.
What to do in Marketing Design Stage 3
This stage is different to the previous two. It doesn’t involve making notes. But it does teach you a process you need to understand before you move on to Marketing Design Stage 4: The Idea.
Creative thinking isn’t magic. It’s a system anyone can follow.
A Technique for Producing Ideas is a landmark book about creative thinking. Marketing Design Stage 3 is our summary of the book. We recommend you buy a copy. It’s available from Amazon, it’s a quick read and it’s not expensive.
An idea is a new combination of two or more familiar elements.
So, to create an idea, find a new relationship between two or more objects, phrases, concepts or images.
Here’s an example from our archive. It’s a poster to support victims of homophobic crime.
The two elements are:
- the cross representing the word “positive” from the headline
- rainbow colours representing the LGBT community
Next time a piece of marketing design grabs your attention, take a moment to think about it. What elements does it combine?
Gather raw material
This is strategy-specific raw material.
You also need to understand:
- your market
- your competitors
- your target audience’s likes and dislikes
This is market-specific raw material.
Then there’s general inquisitiveness and awareness of what’s going on in the world. Be informed and open-minded to supply your general raw material.
The three types of raw material are vital to creating marketing design.
You could think of it like gold mining
Strategy-specific raw material is already refined into gold bars. You know what it is and what you can do with it.
Market-specific raw material is unrefined ore. It has the potential to be useful.
General raw material is like prospecting future mining sites. You don’t know exactly where you’ll find something useful, but it’s worth looking.
Refine your raw material
Think about your raw material. Mentally explore it in as much depth as you can.
- strategy-specific: consider your benefits. Why are they meaningful to your customers?
- market-specific: look at your competitors’ marketing design and business practices. What do they do, and why? What’s their key proposition? What else appeals to your target audience?
- general: think about news, art, music, movies, social media and television. What’s making a buzz in popular culture right now? Why does it provoke strong emotions?
Spend some mental energy on this. Fill your brain with information.
Here comes the idea
Now stop and let your subconscious take over.
Take a break from it all and do something that stimulates your imagination instead. Go for a walk or watch your favourite TV show. Whatever you usually do to unwind.
Ideas will appear out of nowhere as your subconscious makes new connections and combinations.
It’s that simple
Good marketing design may be emotional and intuitive in its final form.
But it’s built on an idea, and an idea comes from the creative thinking process we’ve talked about here.
Anyone with an open mind can do it.
Understand this process before you go on
In the next stage you’ll use these techniques for your first marketing design ideas. Remember, you can read all about it in more detail in A Technique for Producing Ideas.
When you’re ready, move on to create your ideas.
Make a promise
Write your key proposition from Marketing Design Stage 2: The Strategy at the top of a fresh piece of paper.
Then rewrite it in the form of a promise. For example:
This is an explicit promise: it tells you something definite.
You can also have an implied promise: it suggests something without stating it outright.
Promotions for fast-food value ranges typically make an explicit promise:
“You will get a good-value cheeseburger from us.”
Promotions for young men’s deodorant typically make an implied promise:
“You will be more attractive if you use this product.”
Experiment with implied and explicit promises. Write down some variations until the right phrase clicks for you.
Now you’ll refine the promise into a creative idea to drive your marketing design.
Use the techniques from Marketing Design Stage 3 to write your ideas under the promise. You will need thinking time.
The goal is to write your promise lots of times, in new and creative ways. Try to push the promise from a literal expression to one that engages lateral thinking.
To get you started, we’ve got some approaches you can try. These examples use the value cheeseburger, the men’s deodorant and the vegetarian restaurant.
Ask a question
When did you last get a cheeseburger and change for £1?
Will you still be single on Monday?
Where can you eat the best vegetarian Thai food without going to Thailand?
99p is worth more than you think.
Her boyfriend doesn’t like you using Brand X.
There’s Thai food, and there’s OUR Thai food.
Joan spent all afternoon hungry when she could have spent 99p at lunchtime.
Billy no-mates is the type of person who doesn’t use Brand X.
Without us, you’d have to fly to Bangkok for Thai food this good.
Use a play on words
It’s cheap, you’re cheerful.
Spray it on and you’ll be fighting them off.
Vegy good Thai food.
Our burgers are only 99p, so bring a wheelbarrow.
Ladies’ night was cancelled when they all went home with Andy.
Our vegetarian Thai food is more authentic than Chiang Mai’s.
99p will get you half a slice of pizza, or a fully-loaded cheeseburger. Not really a choice, is it?
Other deodorants make you smell good; brand X makes you feel unstoppable.
Our chef learnt to cook in Thailand, not Telford.
FREE cheeseburger with every 99p bun.
Not tested on animals. But it might turn you into one.
tum ful yum.
Extra context can help explain your ideas.
For “her boyfriend doesn’t like you using deodorant X”, there are three obvious contexts. You could express the idea from the viewpoint of:
The jealous boyfriend
The flirty girl
The Brand X user
Work through the process from Marketing Design Stage 3: Creative Thinking. Write down a range of ideas for your promise. Make a note of any contexts you could use.
Your best ideas will:
- express your promise quickly
- express your promise cleverly
- combine two or more elements
- provoke an emotional response
When you’ve got a few ideas, you’re ready to move on to Marketing Design Stage 5 to draw some concepts.
In this stage you’ll add visual elements to your ideas from Stage 4 to create concepts.
Take a second look
Before starting this stage, it’s worth waiting overnight. Look at your marketing design ideas with fresh eyes. You might see ways to improve them, or think of a few more.
Pick between three and eight of your strongest ideas.
In Marketing Design Stage 3 we defined an idea as “a new combination of two or more familiar elements”.
You can express these elements as words and images:
So sharpen your pencil and grab some fresh paper!
Draw your concepts
You don’t have to be great at art. Simple drawings are fine for marketing design concepts.
Ask yourself how the different elements of your ideas work best. Are they strongest as words or as pictures?
Ideas become concepts when one of the elements is visual.
We suggested some starting points in Marketing Design Stage 4: The Idea. You can use them for visual elements too:
- ask a question
- use suggestion
- suggest absence
- use humour
We also suggested a play on words; trick imagery is the visual version.
The power of concepts
You can express ideas with words or pictures. But a combination of both is much more powerful. They can enhance or subvert one another to create deeper meaning.
A headline has different interpretations when it’s enhanced or subverted by imagery:
It works both ways. Different words enhance or subvert an image’s meaning:
Work through your ideas and draw them as concepts
Read Marketing Design Stage 3: Creative Thinking again if you’re stuck.
Your strongest ideas will work for more than one concept. You can rephrase your ideas if it helps them to suit your imagery better.
A straightforward way to present your concepts is in a classic print ad format, like this:
Using this simple format means you don’t need to think about the finer points of design just yet.
When you’ve got some great concepts, move on to the next stage to think about developing your visuals.
Stop right there! Before you go on, consider what you’ve achieved so far.
- In Stage 3, you clarified who you’re talking to and prioritised your supporting benefits. In Marketing Design Stage 4, you wrote snappy ways to communicate your key proposition. You have a perfect brief for a copywriter.
- In Marketing Design Stage 5, you worked out visual elements that sell your idea. These make an ideal brief for your photographer, art director or designer.
You have everything you need to launch your campaign.
- Your in-house team now know how to keep their marketing design on-message
- Your freelance creative professionals understand what you expect from them
In this stage we cover some aspects of graphic design and copywriting. But not everything!
This guide can only scratch the surface of these subjects. We’ve prepared a further reading list to help you learn more.
This stage helps you to give a little bit more polish to your marketing design. It’ll enhance your understanding.
Consider hiring a professional photographer, designer and copywriter. They have the skills and experience that will lift your marketing design to the next level.
But if you’re ready to take things forward yourself: let’s go!
Review your concepts
Display them on the wall of your office. Invite other people to comment and whittle it down to the most effective concept.
Create your visuals in a shape and size appropriate to your final media.
When you try some of these techniques, make sure they enhance your concept. Creativity is good; using a technique “just because” isn’t!
Typefaces suggest a tone of voice.
Be aware of how readable blocks of text are, and the space they take up.
A paragraph is a design element in its own right. Text blocks can suggest movement and shape on a page.
You don’t have to fill the page. White space can create focus and simplicity.
You can use empty space to suggest a shape.
The classic technique of art, film and photography composition is the rule of thirds. It’s more of a guideline than a rule, but “guideline of thirds” isn’t as catchy.
Compose your layout with horizontal and vertical lines to divide the area into nine.
Align important elements along the lines or at an intersection.
Here’s a classic advertising example:
Colour can suggest different moods.
Use strong contrast to focus attention and make your marketing design stand out.
On the other hand, muted contrast might be appropriate for your concept.
You can use texture to bring a tactile element to your marketing design.
Angles and perspective
Angles and perspective will give your marketing design movement, depth and focus.
Sequences and insets
A sequence is perfect for marketing design ideas that promise improvement. The simplest is a before and after sequence – just two images.
An inset lets you highlight detail or make a comparison.
If you’ve got a simple, striking or familiar shape, consider abstracting it.
By reducing something to basics you can quickly communicate your idea.
If you struggle with visuals, you could make a moodboard for your marketing design.
This is a collection of imagery similar to what you want to achieve. The pictures can come from anywhere. Stick them to a large board.
Look for common styles, colours and images. How do these pieces of marketing design achieve your aims?
Marketing Design Stage 2: The Strategy is the basis of your marketing design copywriting.
Your key proposition and a call to action are the minimum to include in your marketing design.
If there’s room and it’s relevant, add body text based on your supporting benefits.
Remember you prioritised the supporting benefits? If you’re short on space, add just the first one. If you’ve got a bit more room, include the second. And so on.
If you do have to remove text later, edit from the bottom up. Take away the least relevant benefits first.
But always include a call to action!
The golden rule of copywriting for marketing design
You could write out your supporting benefits as bullet points. But it’s more effective to write with flow and flair.
Like graphic design, there’s a lot to learn about copywriting. We’ve got some suggestions in our further reading section.
But the golden rule is to engage emotion and provoke a reaction.
We hope you’ve benefited from our guide to marketing design. We’ve got a further reading list below to help you dig deeper.
We’ve got a list of recommended reading below. We built our techniques on what you’ll find in these books. So if you want to become a marketing design expert, here’s where you start.
100 Ideas that Changed Graphic Design by Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne
The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry
The Craft of Copywriting by Alastair Crompton
Know Your Onions: Graphic Design by Drew de Soto
A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
Our marketing design guide aims to make your professional life easier.
If you think we’ve missed anything or something’s not clear, comment below. We want our guide to be a valuable resource, so we’ll update it to meet your needs.
Is there a hard-working marketer you know who would enjoy reading this? Share the marketing design guide with them.
We’d love to see your marketing design results: send us a tweet @maskedmandesign