9 Lessons on Digital Content Marketing from the humble printing press!

I love the internet and digital content. Rather than trawling through libraries for a book someone had always got to first, I have access to a wealth of interesting people, research and thoughts. I’ve never studied digital marketing but when involved in a marketing plan always try to get a goal

  • “create interesting, useful, visual pleasing and DELIGHTFUL content”

I love blogging and bouncing ideas at and sharing knowledge with the world and hearing what comes back. About 4 months ago though I stopped writing – I’d lost my digital-mojo.

I’d spent the previous year writing a lot of technical and support information, guides to support matrices, error codes, debug methodologies which were deeply rewarding in the feedback from those who appreciated them. It’s rewarding writing material if it’s read and helps, makes things easier…. but it isn’t enough to maintain a mojo.

When writing, the subject has to delight me and I can only hope it reaches similar like-minded folks. I don’t care if Kim Kardeshian retweets me and her squillions of twitter followers boost my “influencer” rating; I can’t imagine we have much in common in target audience. Writing with a target to reach “Mary in Marketing in an SMB” personas with a target of 50 inbound hits doesn’t motivate me (sorry hubspot!).

Getting the mojo back – step away from the digital!!!

I realised I needed to step back, stop writing and re-explore what content vs. digital meant to me. Go back to a time pre-the-internet to rediscover what delighted earlier generations and provoked them to create and share. The vehicle I chose was the printing press. An invention that changed the world in parallel ways to the internet. The introduction of printing allowed the mass sharing of information, politics, ideas, religions. Printing brought fun too, satirical plates of the Prince Regent, mass artwork, Mr. Men books…. Printing also brought such strong visual branding and propaganda via imagery, colour palettes, typography.

So… over the past few months I’ve been learning to print, doing an introduction to print workshop at the Bury St. Edmunds Print Workshop covering Collagraph, lino, etching, mono and drypoint printing. I’ve added a few pictures of the outcomes at the end. But what did I learn that I can apply to life and digital content?

1)      Love your material / content / images

When I chose images/topics I loved it generally went well. I did a lino print of a beautiful railway station image I’d seen in AEC Magazine. When I broke that rule and chose a subject because I thought it would fit the style, it never seemed to quite work. From this I took away if you aren’t passionate about the material you are covering perhaps you should be co-ordinating that content rather than doing it yourself. Find someone else in your organisation who lives and breathes that subject or talk to such people until you too get why they are passionate.

2)      Choose something that gives quick positive feedback and lets you fail

I’m not terribly arty, printing is great because you can trace images, follow templates and try dozens of different things out (rapid iterative design cycle 😊 ). I’ve been to painful watercolour classes, tortuous photography sessions where the time invested didn’t reflect my skills or talent. Trial-and-error is actually a fantastic methodology. Try lots of things, see what happens, what works, what doesn’t. Release a blog or article that’s a bit out-of-the box, see what it’s impact is!

3)      Be Around Other Sharing Creative People

Although a lot of it was a very mechanical in technique, the other artists using the studio produced vastly different outcomes and tried things I’d never have thought of. Seeing other people’s work, ideas and failures inspired and evolved my own work as did their feedback.

4)      Plan your workflow and keep it tidy and clean

Print studios have a lot of dirty things in them and printing is often a multi-stage process, preparing surfaces, soaking paper, timing things and working around others using the shared resources. Very much like a digital content campaign. Know what and when you need to do stuff, co-ordinate with others, plan and then make sure you protect your work accordingly. Make sure your content is looked after and cared about.

5)      Adjust your eye-for-detail

When you spend a lot of time on a piece you care about you become fussy about its flaws. Scrutinising each piece and the errors that bugged me made me raise my standards on digital work. It’s very easy to churn out mediocre visual content with all the tools and software available now-a-days but some people are very visually perceptive. Step back and scrutinise your work. Ask others what flaws they notice immediately and take the feedback graciously; it’s amazing how I couldn’t see past certain flaws in my own prints that others didn’t see but vice-versa how I failed to notice bigger issues while obsessing over certain bug-bears.

6)      Content dates and ages, the corners curl and the paper yellows

Around the print studio were various examples of styles and genres. No matter how good your content is over time it will date and viewers will come to it afresh with a different perspective. The audience will grow-up/evolve and your content will pick-up associations as the wider context of the content it sits amongst changes. Back in Greek times the swastika was used heavily to decorate mosaics and imagery but you won’t find many swastikas in B&Q bathroom tile section these days!

If doing digital this really means looking at the content competitors, partners, the world is pushing out and looking hard at your own, is it relevant anymore? Does it still look good/fresh? Has someone redesigned another part of your company’s website, does your stuff still fit, are the user journeys between the areas still pleasant? This again comes back to ensuring someone cares for your content ongoing, maybe yourself in the short-term but long-term you need to plan for its survival or death (nobody needs abandoned web pages hanging around where google will find them).

7)      Re-use and scalability fore-thought

There are a wealth of printing styles, some (mono) are one offs and others such as lino allow you to make infinite variations ongoing and in between some styles have limited print-runs (the printing process degrades the plate). The visual effects are very different so plan for your needs and volumes – choose the appropriate methodology. This could be applied in digital to thinking about designing an animation so that it is easy to turn into Japanese/German etc.

8)      Throw the failures in the bin and don’t put them on the wall

There were plenty of failures: a teapot print that turned into something akin to a disturbing chainsaw massacre owing to some enthusiastic use of red ink, times the pressure wasn’t quite right so the image was faded/ a bit too dark. Some of these looked passable but weren’t optimal. It’s tempting when you’ve invested time in something to overlook its flaws. Sometimes the world has moved on by the time a piece of content has finally been written and it’s no longer relevant. Things go wrong – if they do move on, learn and chuck the fails in the bin. Don’t use mediocre material just because it’s there or the time invested creating it. Only the results are relevant to the viewer/reader!

9)      STEP AWAY FROM THE INTERNET

Print workshops are full of sticky dark inks and your fingers/gloves become tools of destruction to gorilla glass and smart phones. Putting yourself in an environment that physically breaks your twitter, facebook, LinkedIn addiction is really healthy and constructive. The endless stream of ephemeral, instant and short-attention content dulls the senses. Stepping away from your digital inflow allows you to return healthier, refreshed and able to see the wood from the trees. I’m planning some regular all-day printing sessions in the future! Spending time on one piece of content for longer than 7 twitter seconds was very insightful!

 

The Results – warning my content choices were esoteric (mainly CAD, engineering and science magazines!)

Lino prints of a CAD image of a railway station from AEC Magazine:

An etching of a diagram of string/M-theory from Physics World Magazine:

(I got a bit confused and forgot the equations would come out in reverse – so my pis and mus etc. are reversed – photoshop time)

etch

Some poppy/seed heads that turned delightfully into a constellation with no intent (mono printing styles):

print

A style that consisted of sticking bits of card, orange bags, sandpaper, seeds on a plate (it’s very fast and easy), I think it would work well with flowers/plants and needs zero artistic skills!

print2

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