Early in my career, I worked with a software developer who tried to explain a concept to me that I wasn’t understanding. He quickly turned to pen and paper and drew the logic, helping me to understand. As a jokester, his running skit was to explain something, not wait for a response, and then feign frustration and say, “here, let me draw you a map” and then draw a ridiculous and nonsensical diagram. It was hilarious, and it never got old.
I think about it often, because it was funny as hell, but also because the nonsensical visuals stuck with me.
We talk about how writers use the writing process to not just regurgitate fully-formed ideas, but to actually create their own thoughts and opinions. But sometimes writing isn’t enough. Sometimes words, no matter how cleverly crafted, can’t cut to the heart of the matter.
Sometimes you stare at 700 words you puked on a page and say, “what the hell does this all mean?” and “how can I translate this to my busy sales rep/potential client/boss without overwhelming them?”
There’s a time and a place for words. A lot of times and places. They’re my go-to medium, because they come easy to me. But I’ve come to realize that visuals can be far more compelling – “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Visuals are usually a better teaching medium. That’s why video is emerging as a primary form of content marketing and why Pinterest took off a half-decade ago and continues to grow.
What Drawings Can Do
The same way that writers write to clarify their thinking, I believe marketers should draw to help clarify their thinking. Drawings can do two things:
1) Clarify Your Ideas
2) Help Sell Your Ideas
Sometimes, a single scribbled drawing can do both.
“But I Can’t Draw”
Neither can I. Don’t publish your garbage drawings on the internet like I’ve done below. Create them, share them privately with a designer, and throw them in the trash. These “back of the napkin” drawings don’t have to be good – they’re just to clarify your thinking and give a designer a roadmap for a graphic.
That smattering of awful “drawings” has led to some of my agency’s best ideas on paid search and content marketing. Drawing my beliefs about what a great paid search program or content promotion process looks like has both clarified my company’s beliefs about what “great” is, has provided basic expectations for what we mean when we say “x.”
Every one of our pitch decks centers around imagery that was created from these crappy drawings. Say that about your last blog post, whitepaper, or eBook.
“Where do I start?”
Stealing From Others
Go to Pinterest, go to Google Image Search, and do a basic keyword search. In most markets, you’ll find a goldmine of others’ visualizations. As you work through others’ graphics, you’ll begin to find your own. Save off the ones you like. Steal their best elements. Combine elements you like, and start committing some of the ideas to paper.
Everyone’s best infographic could inspire your next best blog post, or an even better infographic
Try “one-upping” or “skyscraping” the best graphics you find. How would you improve them? Note: be sure to credit them if you steal their concept and publish it publicly.
Next, borrow from the master, Dan Roam. Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin is a gem of a book. The whole book is worth reading, but my major takeaways were:
1. The essential elements you need to be able to draw
2. The kinds of diagrams to draw in given situations.
Essential Elements to Draw
All you need to be able to draw to create diagrams is lines, arrows, squares, circles, and stick figures. That’s it. You don’t need any special skills, your circles can be only vaguely circular, and you don’t need any special pens or paper.
Learn What Diagrams to Use
Dan Roam breaks down six situations and six corresponding diagrams, which he calls The <6><6> Rule. In the marketing world, we tend to use charts, timelines and flowcharts quite a bit, but all of Mr. Roam’s diagrams can be used, depending on the situation.
If you’re still afraid to draw with your hand, or you feel like your hand drawings aren’t cutting it, move your drawing to Google Presentations, Powerpoint, or one of my personal favorites – RealTimeBoard, for straighter lines, rounder circles and more legible icons and visuals.
The next time you go to write a “state of the industry” blog post or whitepaper, a service page, an FAQ – try drawing it first. You’ll think a lot more critically. You might actually come up with a useful graphic.