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Marketing typography

Why read this? : We look at how to use marketing typography to create a bigger impact for your brand. Learn the different styles of fonts. How best to combine different fonts. And how to apply them to your designs. We also look at how to use the psychology of typography, and show where to find online typography resources. Read this to maximise the value you get from marketing typography. 

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Marketing typography

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn where typography has an impact on marketing.
  2. Make better decisions about marketing typography by learning key definitions and theories.
  3. How psychology plays a role in typography and what that means for marketing.

Typography is the art of making the written word easy to read, understandable and visually appealing.

It has a long history tied in to the skill of printing. Printing required the arrangement of letters and symbols on the page. To most people, typography conveys images of printing presses and old men in overalls 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 high quality, low cost printing, the metal presses are mostly gone. But typography as an art and a skill has never been so accessible.

And yet, most people never take the time to understand the basic concepts behind typography.

Learning and using typography, can create make a big marketing impact without a lot of effort.  

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

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about marketing typography?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains marketing typography quiz and see how much you know about marketing typography already.

Where to apply marketing typography

The ideal place to start applying 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 all your written materials, like adverts, brochures and your website

The typography rules you set for both your logo and written materials does 2 jobs for your brand. It creates a consistent look and feel. And it reinforces your brand identity.  

Brand identity asset classification - intangible - tangible - rules - playbook

Consistent look and feel

A consistent look and feel for all the materials you produce is important. When you specify and use the same typography consistently, this consistency helps consumers recognise those materials as yours. It helps build a visual short-cut 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.

The Coca-Cola typeface script for example is instantly recognisable because they’ve been so consistent in applying 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

Logos and important product information use marketing typography in a consistent way to help customers identify and recognise products. 

But it also extends to other key areas like advertising and websites. When you use a consistent typography style across all your touchpoints, it helps to link them all together in the mind of your target audience.

Reinforce brand identity

The second key job typography in marketing does is to help build your brand identity

Different styles of fonts create different impressions. They provoke different thoughts and emotions for customers. 

For example, some fonts are traditional and dependable. Others are modern and stylish, or fun and casual. These types of perceptions of different font styles should match the values and personality you want in your brand identity. 

But before we go into the detail of this, let’s cover some basic typography terms and concepts. 

Understand styles of fonts

The best place to start with typography in marketing is with fonts.

Typography also covers how you use fonts, like layout and spacing. But the basic building block of typography is the font.

There are 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 a long time. They’re recognisable as they imitate the writing style you’d 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.

If you look at the word Old-Fashioned written in Garamond font in our example above, look at the “O”. 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 development of typography where machines rather than humans produce text.

It’s more uniform in its use of stroke thickness. Compare for example the “d” in Modern written in Helvetica font with the “d” in Old written in Garamond. Modern fonts tend to look “cleaner” when seen on their own. They have less flourishes.

Serif vs sans serif

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

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, which is in the Sans Serif font of Poppins. 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 are 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 would 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” by the way, 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 as a way to break up the text. If you use serif fonts in paragraph text, you generally need to adjust the font size and / or spacing between the letters to make it easier to read.

For example, most of the text on this website is in Poppins, a sans serif font. But we use an 18 size, which is slightly larger than the standard 16 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 grouping of fonts are script fonts. These are designed to look more natural, as if they were written by hand.

They add a more artistic and humanistic 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 can be difficult 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 would 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.

If you look at the lines across the top of each letter or the way each letter has a small split in the middle of each letter, this is a specialised font. It doesn’t quite fit any of the other categories. 

Often, these specialised fonts associate with a particular theme or visual image. So 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’s loads more when you start to look.

Understand combination of fonts

When you use typography to design a logo, packaging, advertising or your website, it’s common to use more then one font on the same piece of communication. 

Using the same font or style of font everywhere and on everything creates consistency. This is a good thing.

But, it makes everything look the same. And when everything looks the same, nothing stands out. And that’s not a good thing. You need contrast to make visual elements stand out from each other. 

If you want to create something harmonious but dull, then use the same or similar fonts. This is called a concordant combination of fonts. You should generally try to avoid this combination. 

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

On their own, these are ‘safe’ choices. They’re widely used, after all. But, when it comes to using them for design, the fact they’re so widely used counts against them.

It’s hard to stand out when you use the same font as almost everyone else. 

These 6 fonts you see in so many places.

Judged on their own, are all good from a legibility point of view. They’re fine for stuff you print 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 does at least look slightly different, it suffers from being the default choice on most Microsoft systems. So when you use any of these, it looks like you couldn’t be bothered to pick a font. And laziness is probably not the impression you want to create. 

You shouldn’t use these on something the wider public will see. You’d never use them on a logo for example. And you should be wary of using them on packaging or websites.

They’re so commonly used, that they’re in fact safe, dull, boring, lazy, predictable and sedate choices. And who’d want their brand to be associated with those attributes?

Use contrasting font styles

On the other hand, when you combine font styles which contrast well with each other, this leads to visually appealing and exciting combinations.

As per our design principles guide, contrast is a good thing in design. Contrast helps the reader or viewer to distinguish what’s important. 

So, let’s look at some examples of how you can use contrast in typography in marketing to create better visual impact. 

You can use different weights such as bold to make certain words stand out when the font is all the same. 

You can use contrasting serif headlines and sans-serif body copy. Or a Sans Serif headline with a Slab-Serif sub headline.

ypography style combinations

Other solid combinations include a Script headline with a sans-serif sub-headline or a thick sans-serif headline with a think sans-serif headline. Scan your eye over the examples on the left hand side of the image above. Your eye should easily pick out where it’s meant to focus in the text.

Avoid conflicting font styles

In the contrasting font style, it’s the difference between the styles and the simplicity of one style contracting with another which helps the visual appeal.

When font styles conflict with each other, it’s normally when it breaks one or both of these ‘rules’. That is, when you have styles that are similar but not quite the same, or have similar weights. There’s not enough contrast.

Look at the Calibri : Microsoft Sans Serif and Raleway : Avenir examples above. 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

In general, the following are good rules to follow when it comes to font pairing :-

  • 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 that has 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

As well as which fonts work well together, there’s another important concept when it comes to typography in marketing and that’s in terms of spacing.

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

Kerning

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

By default on most software systems, most fonts are mono-spaced. That means 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 example of the 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. 

But 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 may not be too big a deal. But in cases where your marketing typography will be used repeatedly and over a long period of time, you can adjust the spacing to make it more visually appealing.

So, in this example, look at the letter K and e. Because the letter 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 choose to make the whole word have tighter spacing as we’ve done in this example, where we have adjusted the tracking. But this then has the effect of ‘squashing’ the r,n,i and n together.

You could however, go the other way and go for a w i d e spacing effect, where all the letters are stretched. This is quite common on 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"

What’s more common is manually adjusting the kerning so letters “sit” together in a more visually appealing way. So, 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” some extra space as it’s the thinnest character in the word. It needs the space. 

These are quite small adjustments. But overall when used in key areas like packaging and websites, they can help a lot to make your typography look and feel more professional.

Leading

Leading is the name given to 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, wider or to make manual adjustments so words or letters “sit” better together. 

So, in this example, the default spacing leaves the 2 words quite far apart. But when you go too tight, the top of the bottom line can start to encroach on the bottom of the line above. So, the “i” and the “g” in this case overlap with the letter above. Not so good.

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

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

Check the software you use to create typography and see whether you can adjust the kerning and leading to make more ‘connected’ layouts. There’s a great article here if you’d like to find out more. 

Marketing typography psychology

To close off our guide on how to use typography in marketing, we’ll look at the mental impression different fonts can create.

As we mentioned above, your typography in marketing can help to reinforce your brand identity. But let’s now go into that in a bit more detail. 

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

This font psychology means that you should look at your brand identity, in particular intangible assets like your brand personality and values, and pick fonts which are consistent with those elements. 

Examples to connect typography and brand identity

So, for example, serif fonts because they have been around for a long time are associated with tradition, respectability and trustworthiness. They get this because those are associations with the word “old”. So, these types of marketing typography font choices would work well for businesses or brands who want to dial up those values. 

So for example, business in the banking or legal areas who are well-established and have been around a long time would typically use these types of fonts in their designs to reinforce their standing. 

But compare that to sans serif fonts which are much newer. These are associated with modern, clear, simple, minimalist design. These types of associations might play better in businesses who need to convey those sorts of connotations. So most technology or design companies for example use sans serif fonts. They look cleaner and more modern.  

However, when it comes to more bold statements as you might want to do with your logo, you can go more into script and specialist type fonts.

Coca-Cola’s script logo for example is casual, fun and approachable. That position wouldn’t work so well 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 covey in whatever piece of graphic design or communications the font needs to work in.

But when you make a good choice, it helps you reinforce the impact of your marketing typography. It feels consistent to the target audience, and makes it more likely to have a positive impression. 

Access more fonts resources online

We recommend you check out online resources and download some more fonts than the default ones which come with standard Office packages. These can help you raise your marketing typography game. 

Specialist font sites where you can download fonts will also often have articles and guides around the use of fonts.

When you do download new fonts though, we recommend 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 we use to check out fonts, and all are worth checking out :-

Font Squirrel

Probably our ‘go to’ source when looking at fonts. Each font is also super clear on what the licensing and usage rights are. So it makes it easy for you to not make any mistakes around font licenses. We’ve found a lot of ‘any use, 100% free’ fonts available here.

DaFont

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

Adobe Fonts

If you use any of Adobe’s Creative tools (e.g. Photoshop or Illustrator) and have a license with them, you have access to a whole suite of font resources through Adobe itself. 

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 less emphasis on free downloads.

Conclusion - Marketing typography

In this article, we’ve covered the basic knowledge you need to work with typography in your marketing activity. But, you can take your knowledge a step further by looking at font psychology, and then applying 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 what you write, and how you write it are done in the right way. 

Three-Brains and Graphic Design

We coach and consult business on how to best meet their graphic design needs. We can help you find a graphic designer, manage it in-house or help you build your own graphic design skills. Our goal is to help you develop the skills which will make your creative visual work have a bigger impact.

Contact us to find out how we can support your graphic design needs to grow your business via our coaching and consulting services.

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