Don’t Let Your Font Sink Your Marketing Ship

Lori Paulson
Feb 21 · 7 min read

I gawked, I stared, I squinted. Then, as I dragged my horrified eyes from the sign back to the road, I realized I was about to run a red light.

Happily, for my insurance rates, I was able to stop in time.

The sign I was staring at was a new one. It was for a local business at a corner that gets a lot of traffic.

However, I didn’t think their new sign was going to get them more business traffic.

It was unreadable. No, not just a little difficult to read…..UN-READ-ABLE.

I took the time to go into the parking lot to see if I could read the sign better as I got closer. Nope. Only after staring and trying to decode the letters, could I read it. And I already knew the name of the business.

Now, you’ve got to understand, I’m a graphic designer, a font-oholic. I love fonts. I load them on my computer just for fun, hoping someday I will get to use that wonderful font in a project (imagine here gleeful chortling, hands rubbing together in delight).

So, I’m not snooty about fonts…well, OK, I too have had it with Papyrus font. I shamefully admit to groaning and then mocking that font for being overused and sooooooo many times inappropriately.

Fine. I’m a little bit snooty.

But there is a reason. You don’t want your font to sink your marketing ship. I may love all kinds of fonts, but I also know that for branding purposes it is absolutely necessary to choose with care.

Fonts express emotion and personality

Now, I do not know why the font on that sign was chosen. Was it because the business owner just loved fonts that are reminiscent of the era of the invention of printing presses and movable type? Do they really miss the 1440s?

I wouldn’t. Health care was lousy, but we won’t get into that.

Perhaps, for some reason, that font spoke to them. And that is because fonts DO speak to us. I’m not simply talking about that when grouped together, they make words, and then we read for fun or information. Fonts have personality and they express emotion.

A font can give you a sense of expressing trustworthiness, fun, anger, quirkiness, romance, friendship, intellectualism, childishness.

So, for your marketing and branding, a font for your logo and the banner of your website can give your audience and potential clients a feel for your business. And you want them to get good sense of who you are.

Font choice affects perception of your brand

A study published originally in Sweden examined typographical trust issues on the question “if font choices affect how text and sender are perceived in the context of online banking websites.” Results of the study showed that font choices did affect the perception of the bank by its customers. The study was done using surveys and visual content analysis, with an outcome that “the most appropriate fonts were strict and structured.”

That makes sense when you think about it. A bank needs to be viewed as solid, well-run, reliable, and honest. You are talking about my money here. I sure want the bank that has my money to be “strict and structured.”

Would you feel the same about your bank’s trustworthiness, its reliability, if you drove up and the sign with their logo looked like this?

Will you say: “Oh, that is so darling, so sweet. My bank loves me. My money is certainly safe there. Yes, indeedy.”

I don’t think so. I think you’ll do a quick search on your phone, grab your bankcard, and get ready to put your money in a real bank!

Fonts speak to us.

You want your font to advocate for your business. That requires careful thought put into some of the different facets of branding.

Some points to be considered when choosing a font for your logo

  • what is your product or service
  • how do you differentiate your business from competitors
  • what is your brand identity
  • what is your narrative
  • who is your target customer

These factors need to play a part in choosing your font. That in the end, your font intuitively expresses those concepts.

So, which font should I choose?

In case you are not a font nerd and haven’t drooled all over the yummy fonts on a font website, here are the basics.

There are four foundation types of font. There are also subtypes but for now, let’s stick with the essentials.

You can use a combination in your branding. For the most part, you want to use no more than three types. Although it is usually the better choice to stick with just two different fonts. You’ll often see logos on signs and banners on a website that use a combination of a serif, script or decorative with a sans serif.

Do make sure you have the legal right to use your chosen font. If you are on a budget, there are some nice free fonts available.

The choice of font for body text has a specific requirement.

Comfort and legibility of your font for web and print content

For your body text, your content, your copywriting, you want a sturdy workhorse of a font that doesn’t make a spectacle of itself.

There have been a lot of studies done on legibility and readability regarding using a serif versus sans serif font. The guiding principle is that you don’t want your readers to be jerked to a stop by your font because they couldn’t decode the words automatically.

You want your readers gliding smoothly through your content, your blog, and your copywriting. You want them thinking about what your product or service can do for them. You don’t want them wondering “what did that sentence say?” or thinking “I hate having to read something three times to understand it” ………….and away they click.

Research has found that on paper, serif fonts seem to do better. The “why” behind that is for a different article.

Serif or non serif on screen

As for reading on a screen, a study published in 2017 confirmed the ongoing viewpoint that “the legibility of sans serif English font was better than serifs.”

The foundation of this perspective came about because of screen quality. In earlier days of computer technology, a sans serif was consistently easier to read on screen than a serif font.

However, the gap in legibility and readability between a sans-serif and a serif font on the monitor has narrowed. And studies show that issues with reading vary depending on where and how these fonts are used.

For use on a screen, your design is not automatically stuck using a sans serif font. With the advances in technology, more and more, a serif font can look good and be nicely readable on screen.

The font nerd in me does a happy dance because I love serif fonts. Yay for me! I don’t absolutely have to use a sans serif font if I don’t feel it fits the design and branding of a project.

However, if it fits the branding, the design concept, and the context of use, I will choose a lovely sans serif that speaks well for my client. I want it to let the readers of your content fully immerse in the marketing experience you are giving them.

Make your font your friend, not your foe

My second reaction to that sign? I felt bad. I truly felt sorry for whoever chose the font and wondered how much it cost the business to put up their new sign. It was big. Probably 8 by 5 feet.

I wondered if any of their regular customers come in to say: “Oh man, somebody put some crazy sign up in your parking lot. It’s terrible. I can’t even read it. When is the sign company going to put the right one up for you?”

Here was a definite case of bad font choice sinking someone’s marketing. A huge chunk of their marketing budget went down with that ship.

If you are needing a logo and branding for a new business or nonprofit, or rehabbing the old one, choose your font carefully. Your font should be your ally. Not something that torpedoes your project.

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Lori Paulson

Written by

Graphic designer and writer with a creative filter informed by art and history nerdiness.

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