17 top tips for creating content for digital channels and social

Whether you work for a big brand or sell your own products, prints and T-shirts online, Tom Lancaster of Topman has some great tips for creating the most effective content to showcase your wares

As Senior Digital Creative Manager, Tom has led the digital design and photography studios at Topman since 2014, directing the look and feel of the online store, trend content and segmented campaigns.

Here he shares his 17 top tips for creating content for digital channels and social.

  1. Go landscape

– When shooting creative aim for an equal balance of wide landscape shots to go alongside the closer portrait shots traditionally demanded by print

– Landscape formats work well for many homepage and feature formats – as well as for many social channels – eg. Facebook and Twitter

– It’s also easy to crop squares (perfect for mobile and instagram) from a wide landscape shot – making it ideal as a hero format

– This can increase the chance that a partner or media title gives your brand online coverage

Photo of model wearing Topman sunglasses
When Topman moved from shooting sunglasses as a flat product shot to shooting each pair on a face model too it led to a large uplift in conversion as it helps customers understand shape
  1. Shape and scale

– At Topman when we moved from shooting sunglasses as a flat product shot to shooting each pair on a face model too it led to a large uplift in conversion as it helps customers understand shape

– Shape and scale continue to be the things that customers struggle to understand. For example, you may know what size an A2 screen print is – but your customer buying it as a gift might not be able to imagine it

– A simple way to show scale is to have an extra product shot of someone holding a product, or shoot your product styled with something else that is always the same size – eg. a Coke bottle, a tennis ball, a biro…

Cover of Join our Club by St Etienne
St Etienne cover
  1. Be inclusive

– Think how your customer would describe a product or service and then use those ‘real world’ words when you talk about it

– Using inclusive language in file names, descriptions, even social media updates can make your content more findable. For example, many people use Pinterest as a search engine

– Avoid trend terms or technical jargon where you could use something more charming and simple

Screenshot of New In page on Topman website
‘New In’ is consistently Topman’s highest traffic page, as it is for many retailers
  1. First

– At Topman ‘New In’ is consistently our highest traffic page, as it is for many retailers

– More and more it makes sense to plan in a continual drip feed of new products rather than releasing a whole product collection together

– This little and often approach increases the chance of catching a customer’s attention in crowded channels, especially social

– Using colour variants and limited editions can help create planned newness from a core product

Cut-out shots of Topman shirts and tops
Mannequin and cut-out shots make it easier for customers to understand products
  1. Easy

– Mannequin and cut out shots are easy for customers:

– easy to understand,

– easy to scan through on category pages

– easy to share on social, with no implied approval of a model or stylist

– easy for press and media to use

– So it pays to spend time making them as good as you can

Word Payday set in Gill Sans
Payday – always a good time to promote products
  1. Payday

– Payday is a great time to show your customer something they might like to buy when they’ve got money in their pocket

– Whether you’re a sole trader or a bigger business it’s a good time to plan to show something new or a bestseller on your site, on social and through email

– Language on the theme of rewarding yourself can work really well at this time

– If you sell to students think about when loans drop

Christopher Raeburn animal bags
Christopher Raeburn animal bags
  1. Themes

– With all this drip feeding of content and multiple channels it can be easy to dilute your message or lose your way, with different channels looking disparate

– Having core themes will help add consistency to your messaging – these are the things that you stand for – anything from a core colour to a place or an emotion

– Themes can be established at product level too – the animal bags at Christopher Raeburn and the tiger collection at Kenzo give customers something they recognise and love that bridges the gap between different collections and concepts

BBH Levi's ad featuring one black sheep among many white sheep
BBH Levi’s ad
  1. Difference

– It’s good to look at competitors and review how your creative stands out from them – many people following you will be following your competitors too so you can often be appearing next to them without knowing it

– Think about the kind of imagery you use – not just what your ad campaign looks like, but the real content that you post every day – the tone of voice, the typography and so on

– Anything that starts to feel a bit generic probably won’t stand out in a feed and might lower your overall quality compared to others

Topman fashion photograph of Rat Boy
Topman location shoot in Clacton with ‘Rat Boy’
  1. Location

– Customers like to see products in a real world environment, especially for menswear as its shows a trend in an everyday setting

– Shooting on location rather than in studio can be a great way to create a mood and add intrigue to a shoot

– It doesn’t have to cost a fortune either – we shot our recent Rat Boy feature in Clacton and Jaywick – only an hour and a half out of London – but with incredible day-long light and many different settings available

Screenshot of Paul Smith's Instagram feed
Paul Smith’s Instagram feed
  1. Personal

– Creating content that is personal can make digital content richer than an unbroken stream of salesy products or messages. It creates a more intimate link between the viewer and your brand

– The evolution of social commerce will only make this more important as part of the mix

– Paul Smith’s instagram is a great example where the content is creative and inspirational and gives an insight behind the scenes

– Illustrators and designers are perfectly placed to create and share exclusive and individual content as they are creators themselves – Peter Judson and Rob Lowe are a couple of great examples of this

Topman photo collage referencing 90s Manchester music scene
For Topman’s 90s trend a Manchester location shoot was collaged with visual references from the Stone Roses Spike Island gig, the Hacienda, and 90s album covers
  1. Cultural

– As brands move to behaving like publishers it’s important to keep a customer engaged when they’re between purchases

– Using cultural references helps create a story beyond product that a customer can engage with

– For our 90s trend we collaged our Manchester location shoot with visual references from the Stone Roses Spike Island gig, the Hacienda, and 90s album covers to create a rich visual story

Illustration of different coloured fish
Orange mobile phone shops would have fish tanks with different coloured fish
  1. Mystery

– When I used to work in an Orange shop there were eight fish in a tank in each store – six orange, one white and one black. I’ve always thought it was an inspired idea. The fish filled a store that didn’t have a lot in it, created a zen atmosphere that differentiated it from tech competitors, attracted young families into the store, made the fish a mascot that could be used in comms, and created mystique

– It was rumoured if the black fish died that the store had to close for the day

– That element of mystery can quickly turn into brand folklore – a valuable asset

Screenshot of Topman website showing five different models
Topman creates campaigns for five of our customer personas with a different model for each group to show them how a new trend is relevant to them
  1. Personalise

– We’re all aware of the value of segmentation – breaking down your audience by behaviour or taste level – so that we can give them more relevant content

– We create campaigns for five of our customer personas with a different model for each group to show them how a new trend is relevant to them

– Then we use programmatic advertising to optimise the creative in channel to show the persona creative most relevant to that media

– We also curate our selection for the personas so that they are offered product that is more relevant to them, which naturally tends to perform better

Shot of mobile phone with Topman website
‘Add to bag’ should always be your clearest call to action on-site, as with the Topman mobile site
  1. Add to bag

– This should always be your clearest call to action on site

– If you don’t sell products online you can always mention stockists or ways to get in touch in social updates

George Nelson clock
George Nelson clock
  1. Timing

– Little and often is the best approach with digital content to catch attention

– Be disciplined with your timing – think about the time zones your customer or viewer are in and post content so it’s best timed for everyone

– Try out different timing of updates and messaging – eg. days of the week – and learn from what gets the best reaction

Models wearing Topman tuxedos styles in three different ways
When Topman shoots a tuxedo, it is styled in three different ways – for UK, US and wholesale customers
  1. Localise

– Where you can it makes sense to localise your content

– For example when we shoot a Tux we style it in three different ways – one for UK customers, one for US customers and one for wholesale partners that have a more conservative customer

– Doing this can increase the chance that someone features your product if you sell on marketplaces – and it helps a customer see how a product can work for them

Screenshot of Mr Porter website
Mr Porter website customised for Tom Lancaster
  1. Surprise

– Surprise and delight is the reaction you may get if you do something fun, unusual, uncommercial and unexpected for your customer

– I really like how Mr Porter’s masthead turns into Mr Lancaster when I log in – it’s simple, it’s not trying to hard sell anything and it’s tailored to me.

– It’s worth thinking about where you can use spaces in a journey to be charming, witty, generous or kind – and then your customer might like you even more.

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