6 Content Marketing Exercises Inspired by Design School

As a graphic designer in the content marketing industry, I believe content marketers can learn a lot from traditional design disciplines and education. In this post, I’m going to provide some exercises that I used in college to help gain a better perspective on life, and show you how you can adapt them for your role as a content marketer.

These content marketing exercises will help you better understand your day-to-day process, from revisiting your customer’s journey to creating social media images for your latest blog post.

“Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.”

—John Cleese

Exercise 1: Emphasize Your Words


Traditional Design School Exercise:

Take your initials and arrange them 5 different ways in black and white, using only one font family.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Use Canva or Pablo to create 5 social media assets for your most recent blog post, or your next project’s tagline or microcopy.

For each one, try to create a different emphasis:

  1. Size
  2. Colors
  3. Illustrations
  4. Layout
  5. Typography

Why?

Exploring how we present words visually simply by how size and color can drastically alter how we read or speak to one another. I know, this the designer’s job, but there are times when us designers have to deal with spreadsheets, coding, and writing blogs, too. Quid pro quo.

This will help you with practical communication through visual design and layout.

Exercise 2: Illustrate Your Keywords


Traditional Design School Exercise:

Illustrate a word, using the word.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Pick the top 5 keywords you are using for your brand, or next project, and illustrate each keyword 5 different ways, using the words.  Watch this video for inspiration.

Why?

You’re illustrating the word, with the purpose of presenting a better understanding of the word. Push the limits. Push your mind’s ability to comprehend what you’re seeing; rather, what you’re reading.

This is a great exercise to identify keyword modifiers. Pretend you work for a company like Freshbooks, and your audience is early-stage prospects who don’t even know software like yours exists. Most likely these audience members are searching for:

  • client invoicing
  • time tracking software
  • billable hours tracker
  • automated client invoicing

Find ways to explore new keyword modifiers and apply them to your current branded keywords.

This will help you differentiate between how you interpret your brand’s voice, versus how you want your customers to see you.

Exercise 3: Storyboard Your Buying Process

Traditional Design School Exercise:

Storyboard a music video in 30 slides. Stick figures are okay.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Storyboard a well-researched purchase you made recently, and diagram how you did it, from start (realizing you had a problem or a need) to finish (actual purchase, and your experience with the product since).

Why?

There’s no better way to analyze your work, than to break down everything you do into a step-by-step process. Start by: identifying: your need or want, followed by your mode of research (phone, laptop, word of mouth, etc.), modifier or model number, reviews and social media, prices, purchase process (maybe you moved to the back burner), discount codes, packaging, self-review, and self-promotion (“Hey, check this product out!”).

You’ll find yourself rediscovering how to go about your client’s next big project, you may even end up working backward.

Exercise 4: Let Your Mind Do The Drawing

scribble

Traditional Design School Exercise:

Listen to a classical song, close your eyes, and just draw. Let your mind do the work. Use the peaks and valleys in the music to help you illustrate.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Find a podcast about your industry, a potential client, or a new project you’ve been assigned, and listen to how other people speak about the topic or industry.

Why?

This is an exercise that I was very fond of while taking classes at MCAD. Although we listened to instrumental music for the official exercise, it’s something I still do today with my everyday music.

Whether on the bus, in your cubicle, or at your favorite coffee shop — put on your headphones. Listening to the podcast will teach you how other people are talking about the topic and speaking to the same audience. Listen for new phrases, ways of speaking, and pluck out words and phrases that stick out to you, thus expanding your vocabulary to cast a wider net of awareness for potential customers.

Exercise 5: Field Trip!


Traditional Design School Exercise:

Visit a local museum or gallery, and bring a notepad.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Do the same thing – get inspired!

PS: leave your phone in the glovebox, or in your pocket on silent.

Why?

Not everyone is capable of “connecting” with art, but there’s nothing like being surrounded by creativity. If you are at least capable of removing yourself from the outside world for a few hours, you’ll be surprised how much more clear your mind is when you leave.

For my design classes we would visit the Walker Art Museum every year, and often have assignments to visit other galleries. Now, this isn’t some ploy to get you to support local artists. Mostly this is just a tip learned from banging my head against a creative wall during design school

It’s easy to get in a rut at the same desk every day, no matter your line of work.

Exercise 6: Retitle It

Traditional Design School Exercise:

While you’re at the museum, find at least one piece of work, and write about it for 30 minutes – no more, no less.

Content Marketing Exercise:

Find a piece of art at the museum and retitle it. Try to create at least 15 new titles: funny, provocative, insightful, dramatic, resourceful, etc.

Why?

Artists communicate with you visually, among other ways. You may choose a piece that you think is off the wall, or something simple – it’s important to understand the artist’s perspective on things, so this is your opportunity to listen with your eyes, and speak for the piece of art.

Sit in front of the piece, imagine you’re back in creative writing, and tell us about this image. Brainstorm. Write about how it makes you feel, the colors, the shapes, how it’s exhibited, maybe even how you see other people interact with it. Make sure to write down the artist’s name, the title of the piece to look up the meaning behind it later, and maybe a quick sketch.

The goal of this exercise is to distill the various meanings of the artwork into a single title. If you want to extend this exercise out to be more applicable to your day-to-day life as a content marketer, try taking the most recent blog post you worked on and brainstorm 15 title variations. Use different angles from the piece to emphasize the reaction you want the reader to have when they read the title – humor, shock, curiosity, etc.

What Other Exercises Can We Repurpose?

“Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

—George Lois

These are just 6 of many exercises that we would do in design school, and I’m sure there are dozens of others that could be applied to content marketing. What traditional exercises can you add to improve your skillset?