By Jim Rulison
For this week, ISM will feature another Guest Blog Post from Jim Rulison concerning the option of using templates vs. custom layouts for marketing campaigns.
To have a successful marketing campaign, there are plenty of important decisions to make along the way. From narrowing down and defining a target audience, deciding how to research the audience and market, and crafting the all-important promotional message/materials, it can feel like the list of choices is never ending. One choice, however, has the promise to actually lighten the load under the right conditions. Should you use templates or custom layouts for your promotional materials?
Effective advertising most often comes down to effective design. Regardless of the amount of research and strategizing you do, if you can’t successfully communicate the message in a persuasive, engaging manner, none of it will matter. Graphic designers and marketers create promotional materials in many different ways, most commonly using either a premade template that can be used several times or with custom-made layouts that will be completed later on.
The choice between templates and custom layouts can be a contentious issue depending on who you ask, but the only really deciding factor is a practical one. What makes the most sense for your marketing campaign? Whether it is a digital or traditional direct mail campaign, both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so you will need to think about the particulars of your campaign to understand which choice is in your best interest.
Templates In Marketing Campaigns
Templates are simply premade layouts for marketing materials that designers can use time and time again. In some ways, you can think of them as a graphic mad lib: you fill in the blanks while the particular colors, layout, and overall style are already set. These layouts are common for typical visual marketing assets such as websites, social media profiles, digital/printed ads, and more.
If you need to save time and money, templates are the best way to go. Whether you make them for your campaign or find them online, their reusable nature will speed up the whole process by eliminating several critical design and implementation steps.
At first, you may think your options will be limited when it comes to finding the right premade template for your marketing campaign. Depending on the type of promotional visuals you need to create, the selection may be more restricted. The sheer amount of visual templates online, however, means you are more than likely to find something that will fit your specific needs.
A simple internet search will usually reveal template directories and resources that contain many options you can browse to find the best fit.
Designing a custom layout requires time and money to get a good result. Premade templates, on the other hand, are more economical since they can be reused. If you buy a template for your exclusive use, you will usually pay more but will save in the long run the more you use it. Common-source templates that are available to anyone are often less expensive or are even free in some cases.
One common myth about templates is that you are stuck with what you get. Depending on the type of template (i.e., html, Photoshop, or Illustrator), programmers and graphic designers can change the source file to tailor the final look to your project’s guidelines. This can include changing colors, pictures, logos, and text to make something unique without having to start from scratch.
The biggest advantage with templates comes from repeated use. The same template can create several different web pages, printed ads, or social media platforms with just a few quick keystrokes. These templates can also be used in the future, which will keep new costs down while retaining a similar look and feel for branding consistency.
Using Custom Layouts
Despite the numerous advantages to templates, they have their limitations. No matter how much tinkering and tailoring you can do with a template, custom layouts will always give you the most amount of control over the final look and design of your promotional materials. They take more time and money but might be the right decision if you need the ultimate, most unique final product.
When you start from scratch, you can create the final look of the layout without being bound to the underlying structure a typical template may present. For websites, this will allow you to create a unique layout that may better fit the business, brand personality, and/or needs of your visitors over a template that has been crafted for general use. If a unique marketing presence will help your value proposition, the best option is one that provides full control from start to finish.
One area that custom layouts really shine is the branding potential of your marketing materials. Most templates do offer some degree of branding, typically in the form of colors and logo placement, but can be restricted in the final look. Custom layouts, however, provide a blank canvas where you can maximize this branding potential. Some even take this to the extreme by creating a layout or design that is born from the branding itself.
With interactive content (i.e., websites and social media profiles), a degree of personalization is becoming a greater expectation in digital marketing. In other words, content consumers want to have an easy way to get the content they want without having to sift through various links and folders. Custom digital layouts offer the potential to build functionality into the design. Using code snippets, for example, your layout can personalize user content to promote increased engagement that templates may lack.
One major limitation with typical templates is a lack of consistency across several marketing channels. For example, you might have to use two or three separate templates to cover the visual design of a website, social media platform, and printed marketing materials at the same time. Each template might look the same but will rely on completely different file formats, scripting, or design assets under the hood. With custom layouts, however, you can start with a single layout and branch out as necessary, making small tweaks along the way to fit the particular channel.
Deciding Which One To Use
The best way to decide between templates and custom layouts is to reflect on what your marketing campaign actually needs. Think about what the final product should look like and where it will be displayed. The variety of marketing materials will also tell you how flexible your layouts need to be. Finally, time and budget constraints are important since they may limit or open your options.
Choose templates when time and money are restricted. If your marketing campaign is using only a few marketing channels, you can easily find a couple of templates for the relevant channel to tailor to your needs. This will speed up the project and keep costs down as much as possible.
If you have the time and budget, a custom layout should at least be a consideration to maximize the look and functionality of your marketing materials, especially digital assets you need to create. Custom layouts will give you the most freedom to create something that is truly tailored to your target or existing audience.
Either way, the best choice is one that will make your campaign more effective. Forget what may be considered “trendy.” Choose what works best for your project.
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Jim Rulison serves as the CEO for Media Loop LLC. Jim oversees the day to day operations for all lead generation accounts, with concentration in the health care industry. Before joining Media Loop, Jim was the CEO of PME Home Health and was the founder of one of the nation’s first virtual call centers.