Old farm - content marketing

One of the greatest examples of content marketing, and it’s over 120 years old


As digital marketers we have a dickish tendency to hijack methods that have been used forever and pass them off as inventions of the digital era. This is particularly true with content marketing. We talk about quality content as if it didn’t exist before social media. As if prior to the last 10 years marketers just depended on nothing but promos and special offers. Obviously that’s not true. Content has always been at the heart of great marketing. The only things that have changed are the channels through which we communicate it.

For evidence of this then we need look no further than John Deere and his magazine The Furrow, first published in 1895. The Furrow was packed full of educational content in order to offer extra value, position his brand as the experts and nurture the relationships towards becoming loyal customers. Sounds an awful like a content strategy in 2018 doesn’t it, only I would argue a hell of a lot more sophisticated than 90% of content strategies that the digital world produces.

In fact it is an online content strategy now, with its own online magazine, email list and literally millions of engaged followers on social media.

The perfect example that demonstrates if you get the brand and content right for the audience, the channels will take care of themselves.

See you next time.

A comprehensive guide to selecting typeface for business

All too often, decisions over typeface seem to be based on little more than what feels right. A degree of subjectivity in all aspects of design is inevitable, but I do believe that (as with colour) creativity at its best is built on a foundation of facts and logic. That's why I've trawled through the ocean of detailed but chaotic information on the web and created a simple guide to selecting typeface for business.



Developing an understanding of typeface at times feels a lot like learning a second language. Here are some of the more common terms that you’ll need to get familiar with:

  • Font - each typeface has a family of fonts - bold, italic, etc.
  • Stroke - any line within the letter.
  • Stem - the main vertical stroke.
  • Kerning - the process of adjusting letters so that the white space between them feels comfortable on the eye and optimises legibility.
  • Stress - the way it leans.
  • Serif - the little flick that appears on the end of some letters. As we will see, this little flick defines a whole family of typeface.
  • Axis - an imaginary line drawn from top to bottom of a letter that shows the degree of stress (how much it leans).
  • x height - literally the height of a little x. A term used to refer to the bottom half of your type.
  • Brackets - a curved or wedge-like connection between the stem (main vertical line) and serif (little flick) of some typefaces.
  • Baseline - the imaginary line the letters are sat on.
  • Glyph - the variety of designs of a certain character. If you have 3 different designs of the letter A, for example, you have 3 glyphs.
  • Aperture/Counter - a bit of space partially or entirely closed, such as in an n, s or c. The larger and more open it is, the better for legibility.
  • Ascender - the bit that rises above the x height.
  • Descender - the bit that drops below the baseline.
  • Apex/Vertex - the top and bottom points where two strokes meet.
  • Terminal - the end of a stroke (but not a serif).
  • Hairline (or hair stroke) - a thin stroke, commonly found in serif typefaces.
  • Legibility vs readability - legibility is concerned with the details of individual letters, while readability is concerned with the overall appearance of whole bodies of text. It is a very small distinction (illegible letters cannot be made into readable words) and in this guide I'll be using them pretty much interchangeably.



We'll begin with the serif, which applies to those typefaces that have a little flick on the end of the letters. They are generally considered traditional and often found in books.


Old Style (Humanist)

Origins - Popular from the 15th century to the 18th century, these are typefaces based on the scripture of Ancient Rome and are sometimes also known as humanist serifs due to the fact that they represent a natural (human) stroke.
Design - the serifs are bracketed, the axis tends to be curved to the left, the x-height is small and there is little contrast between the thick and thin strokes. They sometimes have a diagonal cross stroke across the e, as that’s naturally how a person would write.
Examples - Garamond, Goudy Old Style, Centaur, Perpetua and Minion Pro.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates tradition, history, conservatism and reliability.
Legibility - their simple and natural style assists in legibility although this can be offset slightly by their small x height (which reduces the size of the counters).



Origins - John Baskerville, the English printer, established this style in the 18th century. It includes elements of both the old style and the neoclassical designs that followed.
Design - There is no sense of it being handwritten, with the stress perfectly vertical, weight contrast is pronounced and serifs tend to be bracketed. The curvature of serifs is more gradual. It is elegant and sharp.
Examples - Baskerville, Georgia, Caslon and Times New Roman.
What it communicates about a brand - like old style, it can communicate tradition but with a greater elegance. It is commonly used within law and academics. Baskerville in particular is considered an extremely trustworthy typeface as many believe it presents a certain British formality.
Legibility - generally considered highly legible.


Neoclassical (also known as didone or modern)

Origins - created in the late 18th century, it represented a significant shift from previous typefaces. The classification name Didone is a combination of the names of the two most common modern fonts at the time - Didot and Bodoni.
Design - vertical axis, high contrast between thick and thin strokes, and flat, hairline serifs. Tends to be little or no bracketing.
Examples - Bodoni, Didot, Elephant and Kepler.
What it communicates about a brand - sophisticated but could be considered cold. Regularly used by fashion brands and magazines.
Legibility - tend to be distinctive but harder to read, making them great for headlines but not body copy. Dazzling can occur where thick lines become prominent and thin lines almost disappear.


Slab (often called square or egyptian):

OriginsSlab type - this style first appeared in the nineteenth century as the printing of ad material was expanding and it offered a more attention grabbing appearance.
Design - geometric, block like appenditures. Very solid and confident. They have minimal or no bracketing, and heavy serifs. Stroke contrast is minimal.
Examples - Rockwell, Courier, Beton, Tower and Memphis.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates confidence, strength and durability. They tend to be authoritative but still friendly. Courier in particular is typically regarded as the typeface of nerds and librarians.
Legibility - generally considered highly legible as they benefit from strong serifs while still offering a high contrast that we'd usually associate with sans serif typefaces. They produce extremely well defined lines of text.



OriginsType Glyphic - they are derived from engraved letters, so appear like they’ve been created with a chisel rather than a pen.
Design - contrast in stroke weight is minimal. The defining feature os the triangular shaped serifs and the flaring of the strokes when they terminate. Sometimes only contain uppercase. The axis is vertical.
What it communicates about a brand - tradition and strength. Often used by luxury brands and products with a high price point.
Examples - Trojan, Beaufort, Americana and Friz Quadrate
Legibility - legibility can be quite variable. Counters can be small and some glyphic typefaces only appear in upper case. They tend to be used more for display type than body copy.


Sans serifs:

The sans (or "without" in French) means that there is no serif, or finishing stroke. This simplicity creates a more modern feel and is a little more common on the web.


Origins - it was the first sans serif to be popularised and use lowercase. It began with Caslon (William Caslon IV) and they were called grotesque because they were considered quite ugly compared to their more ornate serif predecessors.
Design - Influenced by Didone serif fonts of the period, these were often quite solid, bold designs suitable for headlines and advertisements. They are generally very similar to serif typefaces.
What it communicates about a brand - an informal warmth. Smooth and balanced.
Examples - Quartz grotesque, Ideal Grotesk, Akzidenz-Grotesk and Monotype Grotesque.
Legibility - very strong due to its simplicity and large apertures.


Neo grotesque:

Origins - a direct evolution from grotesque, it began in the 1950’s with the aim of creating rational, almost neutral typeface designs.
Design - They have a relatively plain appearance in comparison to grotesques. Less variation and irregularity.
Examples - Helvetica, Folio, Arial, Univers and Roboto.
What it communicates about the brand - modern, safe, perhaps a little generic. Great for body copy, hence why Arial and Helvetica are the two most common typefaces on the web.
Legibility - tend to be highly legible. In fact Helvetica is believed to be the best typeface for people suffering from dyslexia.



Origins - it originated in Germany in the 1920’s and remained popular throughout the 30’s. Various revivals have been made since.
Design - based on geometric shapes, mono linear lines and circular shapes. It is very simple and very modern.
Examples - Universal, Erbar, Proxima Nova and Futura.
What it communicates about a brand - it suggests the brand is modern, open and transparent. Great for tech companies.
Legibility - not often used as body copy as the letterforms tend to not be too distinct, but great for headings.



Origins - emerged in early 20th century, essentially carrying over all the principles of humanist serif type over to sans serif.
Design - more calligraphic than other sans serifs so they have a greater variation in line widths and sometimes even have a slight stress, giving the more natural appearance of how someone would actually write. The lowercase a and g tend to be two story.
Examples - Frieght Sans, Adelle Sans, Gill Sans, Geneva, Tahoma and Verdana.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates a more natural, human and personal tone.
Legibility - these are highly legible as they have high stroke contrast and highly distinct letterforms.



This class includes all those that appear handwritten, often calligraphic, and give a sense of style and elegance. In an experiment, diners were presented with two menus, one using fancy script typefaces and one using plain, sans serif type faces, and they assumed that the chef behind the menu with script type possessed greater skill than the other. However, greater complexity isn't always the right message for a brand to communicate!


Origins - they are based on 17th and 18th century letterforms and created by a quill or metal nib.
Design - there is a high contrast between fine and thick strokes, and the letters often join together. They are commonly found in wedding invitations and certificates as they give an almost stately appearance.
Examples - Snell Roundhand, Compendium, Ambassador and Balmoral.
What it communicates about a brand - elegance, formality, tradition, opulence.
Legibility - tend not to be legible so use should be limited to large header and display copy.


Blackletter and lombardic:

Origins - was used in the Guthenburg Bible and its appearance immediately conjours up thoughts of Medieval Britain. It was common from the 12th century across western europe and in Germany right up to the 20h century, and is often associated with Nazi propaganda.
Design - dramatic thin and thick strokes, elaborate serifs
Examples - Frakto, Notre Dame, Old English and Luminari.
What it communicates about a brand - it communicates history and tradition, but also strength and mystery. Often used by heavy metal bands (also Corona, Disney).
Legiblity - legibility is poor which is why it soon went out of fashion as body type and is now only used for headings and logos.



Origins - they emerged in the early 20th century and then became increasingly popular in the 50's and 60's.
Design - they appear as if drawn quickly and tend to be loose and informal with the appearance of having been painted with a wet brush rather than via a nib.
Examples - Brush Script, Kaufmann, Swing and Mistrai.
What it communicates about a brand - gives an informal, relaxed and even intimate appearance.
Legibility - legibility is often poor so should be limited to large header copy.



Origins - became popular in the 19th century and was often used on posters and in ads as it was considered more exciting than previous typefaces.
Design - as their name suggests, they are highly deocaraitve and therefore should be used carefully and sparingly. They come in a vast array of styles. The only common theme being that they tend to stand out and grab people’s attention.
Examples - Estilo, Marzo, Letterpress and Pitcher.
What it communicates about a brand - the great thing about decorative fonts is that anything is possible. They can communicate far more than conventional type faces as there are no limits, as illustrated by some of the examples here.
Legibility - these fonts are not intended for body copy. They should only be used for type over a certain size such as for headers or posters.


General rules about body copy

  1. Font should be kept between 8pt to 10pt.
  2. Font should always be left aligned and jagged on the right.
  3. Always favour lower case.
  4. Lines should be 50-60 characters wide, including spaces. Too short and it forces the reader's eyes to travel back to the start of the next line too often. Too long and it makes it difficult for the reader to focus on the correct line.


A few other interesting facts about typeface:

Finally, I'd like to share a few facts that I stumbled across while creating this article, for no other reason than I think they're pretty interesting and this has admittedly been a fairly dry (albeit hopefully useful!) article.

  • The ampersand (&) is actually the letters e and t combined - from the latin word "et"!
  • Eric Gill, the creator of Gill Sans, was known for his sexual exploits with his sister, two eldest daughter and his dog. As tribute to him, Barry Deck, the designer of Template Gothic, released a type face in his honour called Canicopulous.
  • Comic sans came about as a type designer called Connare was supposed to find a better font for Microsoft’s 1994 extra user friendly Bob software. It turned out to be the wrong size for the programme but was used instead for movie maker and following positive feedback was added to Word. It soon became wildly overused and is now perhaps the most hated of all typefaces. It really just comes down to appropriate use. A child’s birthday card is fine. A gravestone is not.
  • You may have noticed that the phrase the "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" is often used to display typeface. This is because it includes every letter in the alphabet.
  • The man who designed the world's most familiar font, Helvetica, was paid a flat fee, received no royalties and died virtually penniless.

  • Offline marketing

    The growing importance of offline marketing in an online world

    Video Transcription

    As digital marketers we can sometimes be guilty of acting like the entire world only exists online, but actually, if we're to engage our audience, it can sometimes make sense to go offline first. In fact, and this surprises a lot of people, but one of the greatest areas of budget spend in the last few years has been event marketing. There are a few simple reasons for this:

    • There is SO much communication going on online now. We are bombarded with thousands and thousands of messages every day, and as targeted as we make those ads the fact is it’s really really difficult to engage people. Whereas if you go offline and actually talk to them, you have their undivided attention.
    • Secondly, the most effective way of getting emotional buy in is to create an experience and place the consumer at the heart of it. That can of course be achieved online, but it tends to be most easily achieved within an offline context.
    • Thirdly, if your product or business is not yet commonly understood by your audience, and there’s a level of education and engagement and feedback required as you evolve your offering, then that again tends to be most effective from an offline perspective.

    One of the examples I tend to give when illustrating the importance of the offline world from an online point of view is the world’s largest social media networkk. People tend to think of Facebook as something that’s exclusively online, but how did it actually grow - it was exclusively offline word of mouth.

    So if operate in a market where people understand the products or services you’re selling and they’re out there searching for them Google or going onto the app store and searching for an app that’s a bit like the one you’re selling, then by all means, that’s where you should be focusing your efforts. However, if you actually need to engage your audience and build those relationships then very often it makes more sense to go offline and have real conversations with real people.

    See you next time.

    The marketing genius archive - #1 Claude Hopkins, the man behind the perfect American smile


    The most powerful principles of marketing don’t change, which is why I like to look at the early advertising campaigns that shaped the industry.

    In the early 1900s an advertiser called Claude Hopkins was asked to work on a new toothpaste called Pensodent. This was at a time when only a very small minority of people regularly used a toothpaste. Initially he refused on the basis that it was a technical product, but eventually he was persuaded. What Hopkins did next would not only transform the toothpaste industry, but advertising at large.

    • Firstly, he realised that people weren’t going to buy technical detail, they weren’t even going to buy the promise of prevention of a decay in the future, they would only buy one thing, and that was a cure because a cure was the only thing that offered an immediate benefit and that’s what people buy - benefits. In this case, a beautiful smile.
    • Secondly, he identified a trigger that would make people think of the need for this benefit. He did this by asking consumers to run their tongue across their teeth and to notice what he called “the film”
    • Thirdly, and entirely by accident, he created a craving, which is essential if you are to develop a habit. You see there was an ingredient within the toothpaste that created a tingling sensation once people had finished brushing their teeth, and it was that tingling that gave people the sense of having clean teeth. This association was what people then craved and what in turn developed a daily habit for millions of people across the country.
    • Finally, during the launch phase he used coupons to test little variables on sales. For example, whey added the word “free” and actually found that sales plummeted by 75%. In another industry that might have had the opposite effect, but this was perceived as cutting edge stuff at the time and clearly people believed the word “free” undermined the scientific integrity of the product.

    Soon Pepsodent were selling so many tubes of toothpaste that their operations could barely keep up, and within three years they had gone international. Virtually all competitor brands replicated the tactics, all adding ingredients to produce that tingling sensation, and also to create more foam while brushing. Again, it has no impact on the teeth, but it makes us feel like we’re achieving something.

    That was all a hundred years ago but these principles are all just as true today and as marketers I think we can all learn a thing or two from Claude C Hopkins.

    See you next time.

    Finding your killer customer insight

    Finding your one killer customer insight


    When we conduct customer research, we have a tendency to want to go into loads of detail, creating audience profiles and giving them all names and daily routines and behavioural habits and brands they engage with, etc, and that’s all really good stuff. It’s going to help your content marketing, or whatever activity you’re engaged in, be 5%, 10% better, than would otherwise be the case. However, if we want to do something truly transformative and have half a chance of leading our market in the months and years to come, then we need something more.

    I want to illustrate this with an example from the gym market just because it’s one that I’m very close to. For years, the gym market operated a certain way, until one day, a smart cookie somewhere made the observation that the vast majority of their customers weren’t that bothered about the swimming pool, or the tanning salon, or the cafe. In fact all they really cared about was the gym kit. So they decided to strip out all those frills that accounted for 70-80% of the cost which meant that they were then able to reduce their costs by a similar proportion. Overnight the budget sector was born and within a couple of years the mid market had all but vanished. And it all came down to that one killer customer insight.

    What i particularly love about that example is that it had nothing to do with technology and so often when we talk about disruption now we assume that it has to come from a place of technology and so often that isn’t the case. It just came down to one person understanding their audience better than anyone else and in hindsight it almost seemed obvious, but isn’t that so often the case.

    Another example that I read just yesterday, is that this year the most successful pop name in terms of ticket sales was not Justin Bieber or Drake or Ed Sheeran, but a 1980’s British band called Depeche Mode. And therefore perhaps not surprisingly the most successful festivals this year weren’t the big names, but the specialist festivals targeting the over 35’s. So another key consumer insight with profound implications for the markets around it.

    So yes. conduct lots of research and create detailed audience profiles, but ultimately, if you want to do something truly different and truly remarkable, then you need to find that one piece of killer customer insight.

    See you next time!

    Risks of dependence on social media

    The dangers of becoming too dependent on social media (and the two channels you should prioritise instead)


    As digital marketers, particularly those of us that work within content marketing, we can tend to have a bit of an obsession with social media, and not without good reason. Social is hugely powerful for extending your brand reach, managing and nurturing relationships with customers and even, for many businesses, generating direct leads and sales. So social is really important and every business should have a social strategy in place. However, I do think that we just need to keep this enthusiasm in check, and it’s for one very simple reason - we do not own those platforms.

    Let me give you some examples. If Facebook were to increase their cost of advertising where it was fundamentally prohibitive for you to keep creating and promoting content on it, then all of the investment of time and money that had been made to date would have been for nothing. Or if LinkedIn were to close their doors tomorrow, there would be nothing you could do about it.

    There are only two assets that we actually own in the digital space. One is our website domain and all of the content on it, and the other is our email list. And therefore, as important as these other channels are, we just need to occasionally remind ourselves that if this activity is not ultimately strengthening and growing the two assets that we do own, then we’re building our online presence on very shaky foundations.

    So yes, have a social strategy and use it to its fullest potential, but just keep in mind those two assets that you actually have ownership of.

    Interview influencer marketing

    6 reasons you need to include interviews as part of your content strategy


    As an agency we conduct a lot of interviews, both for ourselves and for clients,with people of authority within the target sector. There is a reason for this. Well actually there are about 5.

    - Firstly, It’s the best insight you will ever capture - these people are the leaders in their field.
    - Secondly. the content tends to be evergreen which means that you can reuse it every few months, over and over again.
    - Thirdly, if the interview is conducted on video then you can actually chop it up from one long interview, into each of the individual questions, which is how most people like to digest this kind of content anyway, which means that your one video could become five or six, so it’s incredibly efficient.
    - Then there’s the fact that these people will drive most of the promotion on your behalf. After all, the point is they are high profile and have large audiences.
    - Number five, you will build great relationships. Anyone that has read how to make friends and influence people will know that there is no better way of building rapport than asking questions. And these are people you really want relationships with.
    - Finally, it’s easier than you think. As long as you’re polite and sincere then most people, no matter how busy, will be more than happy to give you twenty minutes of their time.

    So if you’re struggling to cut through the noise with your content, then I’d highly recommend considering some kind of influencer interview strategy.

    Examples of this model that we have launched include:
    The Transformation Network
    The Cyber Leaders'Network

    Old school marketing

    Three retro areas of marketing in which we should all up our game


    We tend in the digital world to fixate far too much on the latest technology and far too little on the fundamentals that have always shaped great marketing, so I just want to run through a few example areas of old school marketing that I think we as digital marketers could all benefit from upping our game in.

    The first is long form copy writing. We are obsessed now with short form copy, imagery and video and these things are very important, but as any conversion expert will tell you long form sales copy is as significant as ever when it comes to any form of direct response marketing. The same principle actually applies to video, too. There’s a reason why long infomercials continue to do so well. Less is not always more and our ability to tell compelling and persuasive stories in detail is a valuable art form that only the best marketers tend to grasp.

    The second area is brand. This one is so obvious that it shouldn’t need saying but as someone who completely neglected it for my first 4 years in digital, I feel I really have to. Brand is everything. Without a clear strategy for it your tactics, no matter how effective in the moment, will be disjointed and amount to little over time. You will have no sense of what truly defines and distinguishes you and struggle to ever connect on an emotional level with your audience. All mistakes that I made over and over again.

    Finally, there’s email. Email marketing has been around for over 20 years and contrary to popular opinion it continues to be as powerful as ever. Having an engaged list, whether you’re a consumer or B2B organisation, is arguably the single most valuable asset you can own. It is your primary mechanism for talking to your core audience, has huge implications for your reach across social media as those are the people who will then share your content, and is often the single biggest determinant of lifetime customer value. And yet too many of us skip over it in favour of the latest shiny social platform because email seems old hat. Well there’s a reason why this old hat continues to be worn by all great brands - because it works!

    So there are three and of course there are others. The point is that we’d all benefit from spending a bit less time obsessing over the latest change on Instagram or Google update, and a bit more time working on those fundamental pillars of marketing that endure from one decade to the next.

    See you next time.

    Three easy but effective ways to embed brand values


    One of the most important parts of a brand identity is company values. In fact for some companies, such as professional services firms, where the only thing you sell is people’s time, I would argue that your organisational values are maybe even the single most important aspect of the brand.

    That probably explains why the vast majority of companies now have documented values. Great. But how many actually have mechanisms for embedding them into their organisational DNA? In my experience, almost none. They get trotted out during the interview phase and then tucked away again and that’s it. What’s the point of that??

    If we all agree that every company really needs organisational values then surely we can also all agree that those values must be reinforced in all sorts of ways?

    So here are a few ways in which you can actually turn those values from the abstract into practice:
    - A monthly meeting - if your values are important, then surely they’re important enough to have a quick meeting every fortnight or every month where you have each person provide an update on something that relates to each value. So if being a great communicator is an important value, why not go round the room and have each person state which clients they’ve met or spoken to over the phone since the last meeting?
    - Reviews - when you perform reviews, why not organise them by value?
    Most importantly, pay - why not offer everyone a small increase to their basic that they’ll receive when they are consitently displaying each value?

    Now of course there are a thousand different ways you could go about doing this, so the point of this video is not to say that these are the ways, but just that you need to have something, otherwise those values are literally not worth the paper they’re written on.

    See you next time.

    The most important challenge any business owner or marketing director can set themselves


    The difference between brand identity and brand positioning is that while brand identity encompasses the entire brand and is fixed over time, brand positioning is a question of identifying certain elements of that brand identity and really emphasising them in order to access a particular market at a particular time.

    People can get really confused over brand positioning, which is why I always recommend taking the following, very simple approach.
    - First of all, it must be something that you’re passionate about and that you believe you can do really well
    - Secondly, it must be something that really matters to your target audience. Ideally a growing area of demand.
    - Finally, it must be something that is not currently owned by a competing brand, which is not to say the competition is neglecting it entirely, but just that nobody really owns it in the minds of the consumer.

    That probably sounds quite simple. That's the point of it. However, of course in practice finding something that truly does tick all three of those boxes is really difficult which is why it's so rare to see a brand achieving huge growth without large advertising budgets, but that's precisely the value of it and I would argue that's why it's the most important challenge a business owner or marketing director can set for themselves.

    See you next time.