The Digital Marketing Strategy Guide
is a http://www.clickminded.com project to make updated, free, easy to use and fun Digital Marketing Guides in seven relevant areas:
- SEO Optimization.
- Sales Funnels.
- Email Marketing.
- Content Marketing.
- Paid Digital Advertising.
- Social Media Marketing.
- Web Analytics.
Inspiration for this initiative was taken from the 90’s Nintendo Power strategy guides and the opportunity to make something applicable, clear and direct among all the noise out there in the web.
Think of it as the equivalent of that time you found a strategy guide on your Nintendo Power magazine that finally cleared all those rumours and time wasting buzz you got as a kid on the schoolbus regarding your favorite Video Games. Yup, the schoolyard just morphed into the Internet.
I collaborated as an illustrator and diagrammer. Through the process I had to learn to use new tools, tamper into web and editorial design, and all with the special appearance of a 6 day national power blackout in my country right in the middle of the project.
It was an overall amazing experience, and I want to share this journey with you. Are you ready? Ok, let’s go.
BEFORE WE BEGIN: This post is about HOW this project got done; if you want to see the result LIVE, just click on this button:
First: the client’s review
“We worked with Manuel on our largest content project ever and the result exceeded all of our expectations.
Users, influencers, and even competitors have complimented us on the designs and illustrations.”
“We failed several times trying to hire for this job (we tested a bunch of agencies and freelancers) before we found Manuel—our requirements were to hire a professional or team that:
- Had both illustrations and graphic design skills
- Understood web design well enough to create layouts that would work both on desktop and mobile
- Knowledge of design <> development collaboration tools (Figma or Zeplin)
- Was able to work with autonomy and minimal back-and-forth
Manuel was awesome at all of these.
Working with Manuel was incredibly easy. We set super ambitious deadlines and gave him a broad concept, he instantly understood what we were trying to achieve and after just a couple of iterations delivered world-class results.
All on his own, Manuel delivered better and faster results than an entire design agency.”
-Eduardo Yi, Clickminded.
With that out of the way, let’s start with this story:
1. How the project found me
I would like to say that I found this gig, but this project found me. It was a catch of this “teacher” personality I assumed on my social media, regarding this, we should look into a preliminary advice:
PROTIP: Have a consistent public personality
My online public persona can be resumed in:
“My name is Manuel, I draw, design and explain things”.
I’ve dedicated myself to explain my workflow; my art, my business strategies, my routines, etc through my Instagram Stories; so people who follows me are like: “That’s the funny dude who draws and knows and explain stuff”; which is pretty much what people who knows me in real life says to think about me.
Look at this post for example: I finished a project where I drew and designed some things, and now I’m explaining it using jokes and analogies.
And consistency translates into TRUST, a person who does something consistently must be good at it, because it constantly practices it.
Ain’t logic cool, kids?
So, it will probably be good for every online artist to see how much consistency there is in it’s public persona regarding these three key points:
- What you do.
- What you say.
- How you look.
With questions like:
- Who am I on my social media?
- Am I showing the kind of work I want to get more of?
- What am I saying through my interactions?
- What does people think when they look at my profiles / portfolio?
Think about your name or “personal brand” as a delicate vase on top of a three legged stool. If the stool legs are not consistent in size that vase is going to look awkward, dangerous or plain broken; so will you if you publish the cutest children illustrations and constantly tweet about how much you enjoy porn.
Cool, back to our story
I got a really nice email from Eduardo in representation of Clickminded asking for consultancy, he needed to hire an illustrator and wanted to know how to participate on this future relationship on an optimal way.
From this experience Eduardo told me they wanted one or more individual freelancers, who could do:
- Web Design.
- Print Design.
So basically they needed:
They just didn’t knew it.
2. How I proved myself worthy
I looked at the requirements and told Eduardo I would like to take a shot at the job; he said they haven’t offered to me because what they were looking for wasn’t “my style”; and this is the moment I pause to give another advice due to something that happened at the beginning of the project:
PROTIP: Break the “my illustration style” mental CAGE
A “Style” can be a LIMITATION.
Let’s think about it this way: Visual communication is A LANGUAGE (a pretty general one) a “Style” is A DIALECT. therefore, something subordinated to the visual communication as a whole, shortly: a dialect is a particular shape that represents a particular (therefore limited) part of a language.
Constraining your craft to just a “Style” (meaning a particular color palette, shapes, etc) and ignoring where it comes from is the equivalent of learning some slang and then throwing the rest of the english language through the window.
Consider this: people who only speaks in slang can only be useful in a slang-speaking context (like jail); people who understand english as a whole can do the slang thing and other things (like jail management).
As an example on our particular case “Anime” (or Superhero comic, Steven Universe kind of thing, Kawaii art) people who only does and studies THAT, well, they can do that pretty darn well.
But people who studies and practices anatomy, composition, color theory, perspective, etc; can do that and then some.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we should present ourselves as “MASTERS OF ALL ILLUSTRATION” we would probably look all scrambly and inconsistent (therefore, non-trustworthy).
It’s actually necessary to be consistent and have a dialect of our own (consistent with our public persona) in order to succeed on the independent illustration business; but denying ourselves to explore outside of our “Style” is missing a chance to grow and improve.
It’s way healthier to make our “Style” a platform to hop on. Consider it just the way our knowledge of visual communication takes shape; a passage on our road to mastery; not a goal itself.
Having said this, let’s go Back to our story:
Eduardo told me they didn’t offer me the project initially because they thought it wasn’t “my style” so I asked for a chance and guess what:
Me and my “Style” MESSED UP.
After being EXPLICITLY TOLD that this project aesthetics was the one of a 90’s nintendo guide and provided with references:
I still defaulted to “my style” and delivered something that was completely off. I wanted to show it here; but I overwrote the file by accident and lost that mockup 🙁
Anyway, I messed up.
But they gave another chance. Why? Because I was easy to talk with and delivered FAST, what takes me to another advice.
PROTIP: Prototype and deliver quick, refine later
Waiting until our work is just “super tight” to show it will likely result in two things:
- A large quantity of time invested.
- Strong emotional attachment to whatever we did.
By doing this, we will probably be:
- And overly defensive.
Meeting deadlines beats delivering “perfect work” almost every time. Why? Because we can’t do a perfect product for someone else by ourselves, we need their opinion, we need FEEDBACK. As much as possible, as quick as possible.
So delivering something before the deadline with good arguments behind it and actively asking for feedback without attachment, unnecessary suffering or whining will be way better than being all “BuuuUuut Whyyy do you Want to ChaNnGe thatT if it TooK me 14 HourSs”.
Wanna know know why? Because it’s not what the client wants and we should have asked instead of thinking we knew better.
Even if the client is all like “uuUUuh I don’t knowWww, therE’s somThing that I Can’t Pinpoint But LikeE I DooOOnt Like Ittt” we can drive it home by asking meaningful questions and actively suggesting changes on the go.
When we do this, we appear as:
- Competent and efficient human beings.
- Someone who has his or her feet on the ground and not his or her head up his or her butt.
Deliver something finished, not perfect. The client itself will guide us to a better result if we ask meaningful questions and hop into specific goals.
Back to our story
I got my mind focused, studied my references better and did a bunch of sketches
and came up with this:
Which was waaaay closer to what was needed. Eduardy actually suggested I used some stock images or graphics to save time if i wanted to, I didn’t. I took it a step further and made up my own concept inside the already established boundaries of 90’s nintendo guides aesthetics for this.
PROTIP: Build concepts with your client
Any competent “photoshop-per” or “illustrator-er” can do the work of assembling something aesthetically pleasing. So can most of the free Artificial Intelligence software for graphic design online. Just go into Canvas or Place It and use a template, you’ll get something that is functional; but probably not MEANINGFUL.
Meaningful work has purpose, is cohesive within a context and advances an overall narrative. Look at it like if we had the cutest sofa in the world but no house, no floor, no city, no planet earth, no universe. What are we going to do with a sofa floating in the void? Furniture needs context to actually have meaning. So does our work.
Creating a context saves a lot of time and effort because it defines where things should go and points to us how will they play out on the overall project. An EVOLUTION road that’s clear to follow.
Back to our story
The areas the guides covered were these:
- An overall Introduction to Digital Marketing
- Search Engine Optimization
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Sales Funnels Optimization
- Content Marketing
- Digital Advertising
- Web Analytics
On our initial conversations Eduardo mentioned the idea of making the guides look like a big game with 8 different levels. That was neat; but I thought it needed a lot of diversity and color to get to that 90’s rad feeling.
Seeing that every knowledge area has it’s particular quirks I figured out that aesthetics could be themed to resemble a game of it’s own on each one. I pushed the idea on the first mockup, but it was not just not quite polished.
So I just improved that by growing them on the overall context; therefore: the following were created:
- The Digital Marketing Sorceress (Because Digital Marketing is Magic)
- The SEO ClickCatchers (Based on those Tropical NES Games like Startropics)
- The Social Media Trainer Master (Based on Pokemon)
- The Email Marketing Master (Based on a mix of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh)
- The Sales Funnel Optimization Scientist (Based on Dexter’s Lab)
- The Content Marketing Magician (Because the OG good context was on stage)
- The Digital Advertising Posh Master (Based on Beyonce)
- The Web Analytics Cyborg (Based on Megaman)
Each one to be a cover for a game; like if this was a special magazine collection, which integrated really nice into the overall concept.
Also included a Super Mario 3 stage selection in-text illustration to play as a “Screen capture” of the game.
Eduardo liked it and all the new feedback was regarding simpler things: how to manage text, fonts, spacing; etc. But the context was ready.
We passed the hardest part: finding something valuable enough to polish.
It was official, I got my first payment, got added to a Slack Channel with company members and IT WAS ON, Houston, we landed the project. (Now we just have to survive it)
3. How all this actually got DONE
So, we had a concept and good feedback regarding:
- Fonts selection.
- Text layout.
And even when the artwork was “Acceptable” I knew it could be BETTER. So i’m going to make space for some quick advice on this:
PROTIP: Always deliver or improve something “Extra”
One thing that makes a creative contractor or employee valuable is its capacity to take the decisions that add true value to the project on its own.
When we take what is declared “acceptable” and find a way to make it even slightly better we’re doing that: adding value to the project and to ourselves.
Even if the decision we executed is not finally integrated into the project we shouldn’t think of it as lost time or wasted effort; it showed our willingness to explore and improve; our enjoyment of the work.
It’s easy: having fun with your work makes it fun to work with you. So go ahead and always find how to deliver a lil’ extra thing with your updates so you can be the coolest on your Slack channel.
Back to our story
The way I found to deliver my extra was this:
- Polishing all character design art to make it look more like a 90s nintendo cover. Those illustrations were all full of airbrushed gradients and over the top glossy colors; so ours should too.
- Making the guides selection section a magazine collecting ad. When we were kids we rarely got a 200 page book, all we bought were slim magazines that had full page ads to buy more magazines; so our project could do that easily.
- Turning the “Screenshot” in-text illustrations into pixel art. They’ were supposed to be In-game captures; and games looked all pixelated and blocky back then; so ours should too.
These were safe decisions because they pushed the overall narrative further. (Read the following on an annoying voice: OMG THE CREATING CONCEPT AND CONTEXT THING WE SAW EARLIER, OMG PEOPLE IT WORKS, OMG, OMG)
I had actually never done the airbrushing-esque and pixel art thing before using Vector Software; I just knew they were possible and that I could do them; so I made them. You know: Screw the comfort zone and Screw my style (Read the following on the same annoying voice as before: OMG THE STYLE CAGE THING WE SAW EARLIER TOO, OMG PIXEL ART WAS SO OUT OF CHARACTER FOR MANBE, OMG)
And after that push everything was running smoothly.
Until it wasn’t
Up to this point I was working on my most favorite tool in the world: Adobe Illustrator; and as long as everything was short and “Samply” it was good. But these guides were LONG, so these mockups were going to be HUGE and I suddenly realized:
- Spacing consistency management.
- Assets export.
- Content delivery to the developer.
Were going to be a DISASTER.
I had always managed web mockup projects using Illustrator, but these projects had small screen sizes, few images and text; this was the first time I had ever manipulated SO MUCH CONTENT. And just now I was realizing I wasn’t going to be able to cut it with my regular tools.
I decided to avoid this bottle neck early and took a risky decision: to move all this work to an interface prototyping software. None of which, btw, I had ever used.
After hours of googling, tutorial watching on Youtube and a couple failed trials (Like: how the hell is Zeplin useful if you have to input stuff from photoshop using a stupid plugin?) I stumbled upon a new best friend I had never seen or used: Figma.
What takes me to my next advice:
PROTIP: If your tools ain’t cutting it, get new tools
You know what’s comfortable? Feeling safe. Doing safe stuff like using safe tools on our safe comfort zone.
This can also be limiting.
Suppose we are wood cutters and we have mastered using a hand held saw. Well, if we suddenly have to chop 1000 planks we would have a choice:
- Force our way through it with ye old trusty saw.
- Get a freaking electric saw and get done with it with way more accuracy, less effort and in a fraction of the time.
Sure, getting an electric saw will involve new costs, new risks, learning and practicing stuff; but it will be better than spend months wearing of your shoulders, back, hands and mental sanity to get the same result.
Taking it to our context: suppose that for some reason we need to do some artwork for a 30 meters wide print (and we can’t buy a new computer); but we have always worked on Photoshop (or any bitmap based design software), we would have this choice:
- Force our equipment and the software to give birth to this massive thing.
- Get Illustrator (or any vector based design software), watching a few tutorials and working on this at a scale without anything exploding.
See? Electric Saw; and in my particular case: Figma.
Back to our Story
From here, thanks to having clearly defined the:
- Information Structure.
It was pretty much just a pattern pushing Job: execute, repeat, refine. Comfy, warm and fuzzy.
Until it wasn’t again.
Turns out that during this phase of the project, Venezuela, (the country where I was at the time) started having TOTAL NATIONAL BLACKOUTS. No power, no internet, no services. First one was about 6 days straight and for about two weeks it was randomly on/off.
This, of course, completely messed up our planned delivery dates. We had to push the product launch further and I had to accelerate A LOT.
Power in and power out I managed to get the Web based part of the project done; right after that the PDF print-like version needed to be out; and we were already late on our launch date. I was operating on borrowed time.
My plan was simple: Going back to Illustrator and making the book there. I had made magazines there before. Couldn’t be so hard, right? Well, turns out that:
- Margins management.
- Text formatting.
- Color management.
Were A PAIN TO KEEP IN ORDER
Keeping consistency would consume A LOT OF TIME
Illustrator wasn’t intended to get a 150 pages book done in a truly manageable way and I was about to hit another bottle neck, a choice had to be made and these were my options:
- Push my way through Illustrator and consume a lot of time, effort and mental sanity.
- Pay the 30USD/month subscription to use InDesign and get an specialized tool. (Oh! Is the change tools thing!)
So if you’ve been following this article you can guess what I did; got InDesign, saw a bunch of tutorials and in a couple hours I was getting the Book part done pretty much like the Web Based part was done: Executing, repeating, refining.
Went into beast mode
adapted most of the illustrations and BOOM, book was done within a week.
In the aftermath, the project got slapped only by the Venezuelan national blackout; but we overcame communism consequences and product launch was a success.
You can read/get the guide for free in here:
4. Project Aftermath: What I learnt / Confirmed
The most important skill is being able to listen actively and carefully.
The second most important skills is being able to make meaningful questions based on what we listened to. Because during a project the situation is not about US, is about THE PROJECT.
If I hadn’t listened to Eduardo’s feedback I would have probably insisted upon my initial design; wasting everybody’s time.
Listening saved my butt on this. To save our collective butts more often than not, we can do the following:
- Asking as many questions as needed and actually listening to the client’s answers.
- Proposing workflows and solutions INSIDER our actual skill set and/or capabilities reach.
- Communicating clearly the possible consequences about an out of character / concept action.
- Accepting criticism and changes that are reasonably on the boundaries of feeling rightly rewarded for our work (don’t abuse ourselves financially)
With that clear, let’s talk about the actual work.
The most important things get done at the beginning of the project
Putting in the effort to create a concept for every guide and taking advantage of the information structure ensured me the possibility to have a rich base to take decisions upon the next stages of the project; creating a lot of artwork with less mental effort without losing consistency.
What if I haven’t done this?
Well, let’s think about how it would be trying to grow a tree in top of a rock with almost no soil. Ok, are we picturing this? Good. I’m Not saying it’s impossible; but it’s pretty damn unlikely to succeed.
With that in mind: executing a project without clear:
- Products to develop and dates to deliver them.
- Concept (or story).
Is an almost sure recipe for disaster, these base elements are the land, nutrients and boundaries of our project; having them clearly defined allows us to just go with the flow and let the concept play out like a story; limiting the spectre of our decisions by pointing to the meaningful ones and laying out a far more foreseeable evolution pattern.
It’s easier to decide upon “how will this behave upon this situation” knowing clearly what is this and what is the situation than trying to come with something “cool”, “innovative” or “jaw dropping” when we don’t know where the heck we are.
If we manage to get that well established, we should keep the following in mind:
Gotta be willing to step out of our comfort zone
There’s a sweet spot right in the middle of what:
- The project needs.
- We can do.
That might not fall inside the reach of everything we already know. Being willing to hit it by doing stuff that is not quite our style or learning how to use new tools will give us awesome results that translate into:
- Better final products.
- New skills for us.
If I haven’t taken a chance with adapting my illustrations and workflow to contribute to the concept and using new tools to be more effective and efficient all this would have probably gone VERY WRONG. So if I could, we all can.
Just have to balance our ambition. We shouldn’t UNDERREACH by surrendering or forcing ourselves through a skippable limitation and we shouldn’t OVERREACH trying to reinvent the wheel; there’s going to be a timeframe and a budget, and meeting deadlines with functional results is better than delivering great products after no one needs them anymore.
The only reason I took a shot at this project is because I was confident on my skills to manage it. I was being respectful with myself. We should always respect ourselves. How? well, for a start we should be confident on:
- Our skill range.
- Our ability to learn new stuff.
- Our capacity to execute over time.
Taking a project where we can’t match the expectations, where we don’t have enough time to get a grip on the tools needed or with an unrealistic deadline is an emotionally, physically and mentally self-mutilation act.
It will result on a traumatic experience for the client and for us; lost time that will not generate a good product nor a good portfolio element.
Respecting ourselves is accepting what we can do and taking advantage of the remunerated given opportunity to grow our skills and fine-tune our workflows. Next project will surely be bigger or shorter, because well be stronger and quicker.
Have a hug kids. Buh-bye.