Language is constantly changing. Marketers understand this, as they continuously adjust to align with their brand's personality and their audience's habits. Visual components like colors, images and design support that language, and can help set the tone for how people perceive a brand across devices. Even the nitty-gritty of deciding which font to use can make or break a brand's first impression on an audience. That's where typography comes in.
In the interview below, which took place at the South by Southwest conference earlier this week and has been edited for readability and length, Dr. Nadine Chahine, U.K. type director at Monotype and typography expert, highlights how shifts in language — like the emergence of hashtags and emojis — shape the way marketers communicate with audiences amid the rise of mobile.
MOBILE MARKETER: What is typography? How does it relate to marketing?
CHAHINE: Typography is the visual component of text. It's part of the voice of a brand in that it plays into first impressions and shows off personality — like wearing sweatpants versus a suit to your first day of work.
There are an astounding number of subconscious connotations that play into fonts and colors and brands' broader visual packages. Typography is part of that. We naturally react to brands' typography and notice when something's off or something's not consistent with what we know to be that brand's personality. What you want in a brand is to come across the same, irrespective of the medium or the device.
MOBILE MARKETER: Marketers have a lot on their plate, so why is typography important to talk about in 2018?
CHAHINE: We're seeing a rise in a variety of platforms through which brands interact with their customers, especially now with smartphones and tablets. It's no longer that brands just have a logo, brochure and a couple of leaflets here and there that make up the visual aspects of a brand. That world is gone. We're in a world where brands have websites, they have apps and they're on social media. There are many ways for their audience to interact with them, so brand signals are no longer confined to one medium.
This creates a challenge because as a brand, you want to come across the same whether you're interacting with an audience in an app or on your website or whatever the medium may be. The ability of a brand to present the same voice across these different devices is essential, and typography is part of the voice of any brand.
MOBILE MARKETER: Obviously, there's more taking place behind the curtain when a company looks to change its image or go through a brand refresh. What do marketers need to consider when taking on this task, which often includes selecting or designing a new font?
CHAHINE: As typography experts, we're involved in a lot of rebranding efforts and are part of that conversation with agencies and brands. What's important for marketers to do is first consider the reason why there needs to be a rebrand in the first place. Is it just for the sake of change? Are you trying to reach a new audience? Do you have a new persona you're trying to project, signaling a new era for the brand? There needs to be a good reason for this overhaul because it takes time for consumers to get accustomed to the new look.
Normally when you undergo a rebrand you'll have a campaign announcing that new look. That's where marketers can tell the story of why the new look is part of the brand's personality and aspirations — and this is where the typeface comes to life. It becomes one of the characters that tells that story and can help bridge that transition for a brand's audience.
However, it's important for a new look to remain true to the brand's personality. If it doesn't, you'll lose connection with your audience, and they'll lose trust in your brand.
MOBILE MARKETER: Many marketers are working toward 1-to-1 communication with SMS messaging and chatbots. But most mobile devices don't let you customize how text appears on-screen. Is this idea farfetched? If it's possible, how might it affect brands' effectiveness in communicating with customers over messaging platforms?
CHAHINE: We're not far from brands getting to select their signature font in messaging to fit their broader visual package alongside their logo and colors. It would be really cool if brands could use their corporate branding, typeface and colors in their social media and direct messaging to consumers, even text messages. But for now, most platforms don't allow that. Facebook Messenger and Twitter want their own consistency on their platforms for the same reason. But that could certainly change. It'll likely depend on whether enough brands tell these platforms that they want the ability to customize and personalize. That might be enough to nudge the platforms into allowing this.
For now, brands can do this on their app. That's the first step. When you chat with a chatbot or customer service rep on that brands' app, the conversation could take place in that brand's typeface, and you reply in the default font. That lets you feel like the brand is talking to you because when you see their familiar font, your brain naturally associates it with that brand.
It's hard to make projections around the evolution of language, but one thing we know for sure is that the future will bring us modes of communication and things that are unexpected in unimaginable ways.
U.K. type director, Monotype
FlipFont, a mobile app for Samsung smartphones, is already doing this. Users can select from font options, so you see we're already getting into the phase where phones can be personalized to a user's preferred font, which are optimized for mobile and digital. The fonts can't be entirely customized, of course, because that's costly and time-intensive, but you can pick from a few choices.
MOBILE MARKETER: Let's talk about the latest evolution of language: emojis. They've become a daily part of our communication with friends, and now they're creeping into the professional world. Should brands hop on the trend and use the emoticons when interacting with customers?
CHAHINE: It comes back to the reason behind it. Does it fit the brand's personality? If my bank is sending me emails with lots of emojis in it, I might be a bit suspicious because that's a more formal communication. But if it's a stylist or a fashion brand, that might be fine.
MOBILE MARKETER: Emojis might hold a different meaning from person to person, so their use seems risky for brands. How can marketers overcome that?
CHAHINE: In every part of marketing, you need to know your audience. If you're able to understand what an emoji means to a specific audience, you can apply it properly, in the same way you'd adjust words to fit the audience. You wouldn't tell Americans to stand in a queue, like in British English, you'd tell them to stand in line.
MOBILE MARKETER: Names of cultural movements, such as #MeToo, have begun to include hashtags — another evolution in language — and we've seen potential for URLs to contain emojis. Do you think we'll see emojis popping up in brands' official names?
CHAHINE: There are names for emojis (unicodes) but the average person doesn't know them. That's a whole new language, but perhaps that will become normal.
The way we live today is so unexpected, so who knows if speaking through emojis will become the norm. It's hard to make projections around the evolution of language, but one thing we know for sure is that the future will bring us modes of communication and things that are unexpected in unimaginable ways. This has been our one constant in language.