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Marketing typography

Why read this? : We examine the impact of marketing typography. Learn how to use and combine different font styles in designs. We also explore typography psychology and show where to find online typography resources. Read this to raise your marketing typography game.

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Marketing typography

How this guide raises your game :-

    1. Learn the role of typography in marketing.
    2. Make better decisions about marketing typography by learning key definitions and theories.
    3. Explore typography psychology and what it means for marketing.

Typography is the art of making the written word readable, understandable and visually appealing.

It has a long history within the skill of printing, specifically arranging letters and symbols on the page. To many people, typography conveys images of printing presses and setting blocks of metal together to roll out the day’s news. 

These days, with the rapid growth in word processing, graphic design tools and laser printers, the metal presses are mostly gone. But typography still remains a key graphic design skill to create impact. 

This guide explores how the most common typography concepts apply to marketing. 

Overhead shot of multiple jumped printing blocks with random letters and fonts

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Where to use marketing typography

The ideal place to start with marketing typography is your brand identity.

The font styles and layouts you use on your brand are tangible assets. They’re mandatory rules you apply to your brand activation.

You apply these typography rules in 2 key areas. In your logo design. And in written materials, like your adverts, brochures and website

The typography rules you set for both your logo and written materials does 2 jobs for your brand :- 

  • creates a consistent look and feel.
  • reinforces your brand identity.  
Brand identity asset classification - intangible - tangible - rules - playbook

Consistent look and feel

A consistent look and feel for all your brand materials is important. Using the same typography consistently helps customers recognise those materials as yours. It acts as a visual shortcut to your brand.  

Look at how big well-known brands use their fonts. They use and repeat the same typeface consistently across all their brand touchpoints.

For example, the Coca-Cola typeface script is instantly recognisable because they’ve been so consistent in using it for so many years.

The most obvious place you see this is on packaging. 

Side of an old apartment building with a classic Coca Cola advert on it

Consistent marketing typography in logos and product information helps customers identify and recognise products. (See our famous logos article for examples of this). 

But it also covers other areas like advertising and websites. Using a consistent typography style across all your touchpoints helps link them together in your target audience‘s minds.

Reinforce brand identity

The second key job of typography in marketing is to reinforce your brand identity

Different font styles create different impressions. They provoke different thoughts and emotions for customers. For example, some fonts are traditional and dependable. Some are modern and stylish. Others are fun and casual. The perception from your font style should match the values and personality of your brand identity. 

But before we go into the details, let’s introduce some basic typography concepts. 

Font styles

We’ll start with the most well-known area, fonts. These are the collection of letters, numbers and symbols all following the same design. 

They’re a part of typography, though typography also covers how you use fonts, like their layout and spacing.

There are 6 main font groupings :- 

  • Old-fashioned.
  • Modern.
  • Serif.
  • Sans serif.
  • Script.
  • Special or specialist fonts.
Typography styles - Old-fashioned, modern, serif, sans serif, script and specialist font styles

Old-fashioned vs. modern

The first way to split font styles is by whether they’re old-fashioned or modern.

Old-fashioned fonts have unsurprisingly been around for a long time. They’re recognisable as they imitate the writing style you see from old-fashioned fountain-pen style writing. Individual letters have variations in the thickness of the stroke. And there are curves to certain parts of each letter.

For example, look at the “O” in the word Old-Fashioned written in Garamond in the image. The stroke is thicker at the left and right-hand side than at the top or bottom. Compare that to the “o” in the word modern written in Helvetica. Its thickness is uniform all the way around. 

Modern fonts come from the era when machines rather than humans produce text. It’s more uniform in its use of stroke thickness. For example, compare the “d” in Modern written in Helvetica with the “d” in Old written in Garamond. Modern fonts tend to look “cleaner” when seen on their own. They have fewer flourishes.

Serif vs. sans serif

Another more common way to group fonts is based on whether they use serifs or don’t.

Serifs are the little tails you find on some letters such as in this example on the “S” of the word Serif. This uses a Serif font called Abril Fatface.

Compare that to the “S” on the Sans in Sans Serif. This is in the Sans Serif font of Poppins. It has no tail. 

The tails in Serif fonts accentuate each letter. The Serifs are useful when there are large amounts of closely spaced text together. They help the reader distinguish between letters.

That’s why a lot of old-fashioned fonts have serifs because they were used in newspaper print type. 

ypography serif and sans serif

When used in headlines, or logos, they can add extra flourish and character to text.

There is also a sub-set of Serif fonts called Slab Serif fonts. These are where the tails of Serif fonts are mixed with the thick uniform strokes of Modern fonts. See the example above which uses American Typewriter font. Well-known serif fonts include Baskerville, Garamond and Times New Roman.

Sans serif fonts

Sans serif fonts, on the other hand, don’t have these tails. They’re cleaner to look at. There’s less visual information to process. That’s why most but not all modern fonts tend to be sans serif. “Sans” is the French word for “without”, in case you wondered where the name comes from. They’re “without” serifs.

However, when used with paragraphs of text where the letters are close together, serif fonts can be difficult to read. For closely spaced text, you need the serifs to break up the text. If you use serif fonts in paragraph text, you should adjust the font size and / or spacing between the letters to make it easier to read. For example, most of our website text is in Poppins, a sans serif font. But we use an 18 size, which is slightly larger than the size you find on most website pages.

In headlines or logos, serif fonts create a more minimalist and toned-down feel. Well-known sans serif fonts would include Arial, Futura and Helvetica Neue.

Script fonts

Another font grouping of fonts is script fonts. These are designed to look more natural as if they were written by hand. They add a more artistic and human feel to written text. So, they’re helpful where you don’t want text to appear too robotic or machine-like.

Script writing is mainly used in headlines and often in logos. It’s rarely used in paragraph body copy. It’s hard to read script fonts when used with a lot of copy. But compared to more blocky serif or sans serif fonts in headlines, it often provides a dramatic contrast. Examples include Bradley Hand, Pacifico and SignPainter.

Special fonts

The final group of fonts are Special or Specialist fonts. These are fonts created by specialist font designers. They create a strong association with a specialist use. So in the case above, you can see the Top Secret font which looks like the stamp you see on “Top Secret” files in movies and TV shows.

Look at the lines across the top of each letter and the way each letter has a small split in the middle. This is a specialised font. It doesn’t quite fit any of the other categories. 

Often, these specialised fonts are associated with a particular theme or visual image. For example, there’s a font called Papyrus which looks like ancient Egyptian writing. There’s a font called Seaside Resort which looks like the type of writing you’d see on 1920s beach posters. There are many more examples like these. 

Understand combination of fonts

If you only use one font style on everything, you run the risk of making it all look the same. Nothing stands out. But in design, you usually need to use contrast to differentiate between different visual elements. That’s why it’s common to use more than one font on the same piece of communication, whether that’s a logo, packaging, advertising or your website.

However, it means you have to learn how different combinations of fonts work together. For example,  if you use similar fonts with each other, you create what’s called a concordant combination of fonts. It’s harmonious but dull and is usually best avoided. 

In particular, take care with the default fonts in the writing software you use. 

On their own, they’re ‘safe’ choices. They’re widely used, after all. But, when used in designs, the fact they’re so widely used counts against them.

You can't stand out if you're the same as everyone else

You see these 6 fonts everywhere.

They’re all good in terms of legibility and fine for printing stuff in the office to read.

Typography in marketing - beware defaults

But look how similar Arial, Calibri, Futura, Gill Sans and Helvetica Neue look to each other. And while Times New Roman at least looks different, it suffers from being the default choice on Microsoft packages. It looks like you couldn’t be bothered to pick a font if you use any of these. That’s probably not the impression you want to create. 

You shouldn’t use these fonts on something customers will see. Not on your logo. Or your packaging. Or your website. They’re so common, that they’ve become safe, dull, boring, lazy and predictable choices. Who wants customers to think of their brand like that?

Use contrasting font styles

On the other hand, pairing font styles that contrast well increases visual appeal and adds excitement.

As per our design principles guide, contrast is desirable in design. It helps the audience distinguish what’s important. 

Let’s look at some examples of how you can use contrast in marketing typography to improve visual impact. 

First, you can use different weights such as bold to make words stand out when the font is all the same. 

You can also use contrasting serif headlines and sans-serif body copy. Or a Sans Serif headline with a Slab-Serif sub-headline. These contrast each other well. 

ypography style combinations

Other solid combinations include a Script headline with a sans-serif sub-headline or a thick sans-serif headline with a thin sans-serif headline. Scan your eye over the left-hand side examples in the image above. It should be easy to know where to focus because of the contrast.

Avoid conflicting font styles

In the contrasting font style, it’s the difference between the styles that makes the visual easy to read and appealing. 

When font styles conflict with each other, it’s normally because they’re too similar or have similar weights. There’s not enough contrast, so it’s hard to tell them apart. For example, look at the Calibri – Microsoft Sans Serif and Raleway – Avenir text combinations above. There’s not enough contrast.

Also, watch out for when there are too many styles which fight with each other or are difficult to read. So a combination of 2 script styles, for example. Or if you use multiple fonts at the same time.

Typography combination - basic rules to remember

Commonly used rules when it comes to font pairing include :-

  • Combinations of fonts from the same font family but with different weights work well (e.g. pairing a ‘regular’ and an ‘extra bold’ version of the same font).
  • Having one typeface with a lot of detail and one that’s very simple works well.
  • Avoid using fonts that are too similar to each other.
  • Avoid using fonts with similar weights.
  • Two script typefaces together rarely work well.
  • Too many fonts in the same design can be confusing.
  • Choosing fonts that clash or compete with each other for attention is a no-no.

Marketing typography - spacing

Another important concept when it comes to marketing typography is spacing.

There are 2 important terms to learn. Kerning. And leading. 

Kerning

Kerning is the amount of space between 2 letters. (When it refers to the spacing between letters in a whole word or paragraph, it’s called tracking).

By default on most software, fonts are mono-spaced. Every letter is given the same amount of space, no matter how wide or narrow it is. 

Typography spacing

For example, if you look at the first word Kerning in the image above, the first red line indicates the space between the letter K and the e. But all the following red lines are the same width as the first red line. And whereas the red line “fits” between the “K” and the “e”, it doesn’t fit so neatly between the other letters. There are white gaps like around the letter “i”. 

In day-to-day use of fonts, this isn’t too big a deal. But in cases where your marketing typography will be used repeatedly and over a long time, you should adjust the spacing to make it more visually appealing.

Look again at the letters K and e. Because K has a white space where the < part of the letter is and the e essentially curves away, the letter K looks separated from the rest of the word.

You could make the whole word have tighter spacing as in this example, where we adjusted the tracking. But this then has the effect of ‘squashing’ the r,n,i and n together. However, you could go the other way and go for a w i d e spacing effect, where all the letters are stretched. This is common in logo design as it has a minimalist style feel to it. Though it doesn’t really work here, because it accentuates the gap between the K and the e.

Manually adjust the kerning to "fit"

The most common approach is to manually adjust the kerning so letters “sit” together in a more visually appealing way. In this example, we pulled the “e” into the white space of the K so they feel better connected. We’ve kept relatively tight spacing between the other letters. But given the “i” extra space as it’s thin and needs to stand out more.

These are small adjustments. But the cumulative effect of them in key areas like packaging and websites helps make your typography look and feel more professional and polished.

Leading

Leading is the name for the space between lines. Like kerning, there’s a default spacing which may or may not work. You can adjust it to make it tighter or wider and make manual adjustments so words or letters “sit” better together. 

In this example, the default spacing leaves the 2 words far apart. But go too tight and the top of the bottom line encroaches on the bottom of the line above. So, the “i” and the “g” overlap with the letter above. Not so good.

In fact, the wide spacing option is so big, you can squeeze in a separate piece of text between the 2 words. 

But with manual adjustment to the leading and also shifting the alignment, you can make the words “fit” together in a more connected way. So, we’ve used the natural gap from the top dot on the letter “i” and the bottom of the letter “n” to slide in under the curve of the letter “g”. This makes the words feel more connected. Compare it to the default leading where they feel separate. 

Check your software to see if you can adjust the kerning and leading to make more ‘connected’ layouts. There’s a great article here to learn more. 

Marketing typography psychology

We’ll end this marketing typography guide by looking at the mental associations different fonts can create.

As we said above, your typography helps reinforce your brand identity. But part of that is through the mental associations it creates. 

Different fonts evoke different thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the people who see them. 

This font psychology means you should look at your intangible brand assets like your brand personality, essence and values, and choose fonts that are consistent with those. 

Examples to connect typography and brand identity

For example, serif fonts have been around for a long time, so are associated with tradition, respectability and trustworthiness. Serif fonts would be good marketing typography font choices for businesses or brands who want to dial up those values. For example, well-established banking or legal businesses would typically use serif types of fonts in their designs to reinforce their historical standing and authority. 

Sans serif fonts on the other hand are much newer. These are associated with modern, clear, simple, minimalist design. These types of associations play better in businesses like technology and design companies. They want their style to look cleaner and more modern.

To make a bolder statement as you might want with your logo, you can go more into script and specialist type fonts.

For example, Coca-Cola’s script logo is casual, fun and approachable. That wouldn’t work with a serif or sans serif font. Disney’s logo is another example of a script based font used to convey fun and approachability.

It really comes down to the image you want to convey in your graphic design.

Making a good choice amplifies the impact of your marketing typography. It feels consistent to the target audience, and it’s more likely to make a positive impression. 

Access more fonts resources online

You should also check out online downloadbable resources so you have more choices than just the Office default fonts. These can help you raise your marketing typography game. These specialist font sites will also often have articles and guides around the use of fonts.

When you do download new fonts though, make sure you check out the licensing and usage terms of each font before you use it. Fonts can vary from free for all uses (including commercial) to free for personal use only to having to pay a fee or license to be able to use the font. Here are 3 sites to get you started :-

Our ‘go-to’ source when looking at fonts. Each font is also clear on the licensing and usage rights. This makes it easy to avoid making mistakes around font licenses. It has lots of ‘any use, 100% free’ fonts to choose from.

Has a comprehensive list of fonts. Many are free for personal use, but there are less available for commercial use.

If you have a license to use any of Adobe’s Creative tools (e.g. Photoshop or Illustrator), you have access to Adobe‘s extensive font resources.

It’s also worth looking at both My Fonts and fonts.com if you’re looking for something more specific. Although these are mostly pay-to-download fonts with fewer free downloads.

Conclusion - Marketing typography

This article covered the basics of using typography in marketing. For example, its role in reinforcing your brand identity. The different types of fonts and where and how to use them. The role of spacing including kerning and leading. We also briefly covered the use of font psychology and how you can then apply it to specific areas like typography rules for logo design

Typography isn’t taught on many marketing courses. But learning the basics can help you make sure what you write, and how you write it is done in a more visually appealing way. 

Three-Brains and Graphic Design

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