Tag Archives for " web marketing "

branding sites that sell

The Allure of Ecommerce (4 reasons why small retail brands often fail at online sales)

These days, everyone wants a piece of the Ecommerce action. I understand the temptation… There are many stories circulating about the demise of brick and mortar stores and the rise of the bricks and clicks model.

It’s a shiny penny that many can’t resist. But if brick and mortar retail is the heart of your brand, you better be careful when it comes to ecommerce.

First of all, the tales of retail armageddon are greatly exaggerated.

According to The Economist, only 10% of all products sold in America in 2017 were sold through online retailers. So if you have a retail store, don’t give up. Ninety percent of all the stuff in the world is still being sold though brick and mortar stores, many of which are small, locally owned establishments.

retail marketing Amazon Go store

According to The Atlantic, the retail industry isn’t dying, but it is at an inflection point.  “Some brick-and-mortar retail brands with large footprints are struggling, while some e-commerce brands, like Warby Parker and Amazon, are now realizing the value of storefronts. Indeed, Amazon sees an uptick in online shopping in regions where it has a physical store, according to CNBC.” 

So it goes both ways.

More on retail industry branding.

One thing’s for sure… There’s an inevitable march toward the “bricks and clicks” model, where all retailers have elements of both ecommerce and traditional retail sales.

Here’s why: It feels better to buy from a real person. Simple as that.

We all appreciate the infinite information available online and the lazy-ass convenience of one-click buying, but it leaves us feeling empty. Unfulfilled. Vaguely dissatisfied when compared to traditional retail shopping.

Which leads me to 4 common problems that arise when successful little retailers try their hand at ecommerce…

1. They forget what they’re really all about.

If you have a successful, specialty retail store, chances are you provide a fair amount of personalized service. You wouldn’t stay in business without it.

For many of the retailers I know, that personal touch is a core element of their brand promise. That’s what they’re all about, and it’s impossible to duplicate that online.

Even if you devise the world’s greatest online shopping user interface, the shopping experience will always feel better in real life.

So when it comes to ecommerce, your value proposition no longer applies.

too many choices BNBranding Brand Insight Blog2. They don’t differentiate their online store from the sea of competitors.

There’s a ton of competition in the wide, wide world of ecommerce, but very few companies do anything to differentiate their online store from all the rest.

It doesn’t make sense… They wouldn’t open a brick and mortar store that’s exactly the same as the store across the street, but that’s what they do online.

They use the same Ecommerce website template. They offer the same products for the same MAP price. They even use the exact same wording for the sales page of every product.

You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same product specs and expect good results. You have to differentiate yourself somehow. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit. You need to give people a reason to buy from you, instead of Amazon.

So how are you supposed to do that?

You could offer a unique mix of products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer. So scratch that.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Actually, most MAP pricing agreements preclude you from doing that.)

You could use different technology. (There are many different back-end Ecommerce systems these days, and they all work pretty well. A good user interface is the cost of doing business in this space.)

You can have better content presented in your own, unique way, based on brand values that prospects will actually care about.

That, you can do!  Learn how with this post.

3. They fail to see the difference between Ecommerce transactions and in-person sales.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want?

Information. Insight. And peace of mind.

Even if they’re ready to pull the trigger online shoppers want facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps make the purchase decision a little bit easier.

But amazingly few e-commerce sites actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content. Most offer no insight. No salesmanship. No differentiation whatsoever. They just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel and hope for the best.

In fact, most online ecommerce sites aren’t really retail sites at all. They’re more like virtual warehouses.

If you want to establish a successful Ecommerce store you need to act like a real retailer, but in the online world. That means content marketing. That means sharp, convincing copy, and inspiring product stories. That means salesmanship.

ecommerce differentiationEarly in my career I wrote copy for Norm Thompson. Before J. Peterman ever became famous, Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We produced long, intelligent product pitches that went way beyond technical specs and pretty pictures.

For instance, I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses. You could buy Serengetti’s in many different places, but no other sales outlet was as thorough as Norm Thompson.

Those spreads were helpful. Heroic. Practical. Luxurious. Readable. And convincing. It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked.

The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the direct response industry. It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson has failed to maintain that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. There’s no “Escape From the Ordinary” on their websites.

4. They’re not prepared for the added operational complexities of Ecommerce.

It’s a lot of work, running a profitable store. And guess what?  It’s just as much work running an Ecommerce store.
That’s what you have to get your head around before you dive into ecommerce… It’s like having two different businesses.
I know at least one retailer who thinks she can just “put up a website to take care of her excess inventory.” It’s never as easy as that. Here are just a few of the operational challenges you’ll face:
Buying gets more complicated, since there may be items that you sell online but not in your store, and vice versa.

There are technical issues galore… You better make sure that your POS system syncs seamlessly with your ecommerce platform. You’ll need a webmaster and someone to handle continual site updates as well as SEO, SEM and all the other components of digital marketing. You can easily get sucked into doing a lot of behind the scenes management that you’re not qualified for, and you really don’t enjoy.

Labor costs will increase. You’ll need more help to get those orders filled and the website maintained. You have to run a pick, pack and ship operation out of the back of the store.=

So ask yourself this: Do you have the bandwidth for ecommerce? And will your traditional retail business suffer if you’re pulled in another direction?
According to Gartner Research, 89% of marketing leaders predict that customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation in the coming years of retail. Here’s an example of how well the customer experience of bricks and clicks can work:

Bricks & clicks REI coopI recently bought a new pair of walking shoes.  I could have purchased them online — I certainly did enough research — but I wanted the front-line opinion of a good shoe salesman. I wanted to talk with a human being, have a conversation and get a read on the three different shoes that I was considering.

I wanted to feel the difference.

So I went to the local REI and made a great purchase.

I trust that place. I love what the brand stands for. The salesmen know their shit. And REI’s site was a great source of information that started me on the path to purchase.

REI’s website was more credible than the manufacturer’s website, and it had better info on hiking shoes than Amazon or any other online resource that I could find.

The manufacturer’s brand and the local REI store both benefit from REI’s online presence and the REI brand ethos. The REI brand benefits from the expertise of its local salespeople to help close sales that started online.

That’s how it’s supposed to work! Bricks and clicks.

It’s a great model that can work for a big company like REI. But it’s not so easy for a small retail chain or an individual store. So before you start fishing for new customers through ecommerce, I’d suggest that you do some soul searching. Maybe you’ll find your brand.

3 BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

Website Design & Development – How to make websites work on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of website design and development over the last 25 years. A lot of trends come and go, technology improves, entirely new platforms have been developed and the graphic style continues to evolve.

These days it’s much easier to do it yourself, and that DIY trend seems to be producing a lot of cookie-cutter, template-driven websites that are wearily one dimensional.

The fact is, your site needs to be multi-dimensional. In this age of mobile computing it needs to function as an on-line calling card, a customer service tool, a lead generation tool, an educational tool and, for many companies, a storefront.

So let’s look at a few of the most critical levels of website performance…

The good, old-fashioned, phonebook level.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book has faded faster than you can say “Blackberry.” Now that we all have a computer in our hands at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website design needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that. Phonebooks provided only the basics; who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number.

The same can be said for your local listings on Google. Cover the basics, front and center, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. In many cases that same website design has to work much harder than that, for 50 seconds, or even five minutes.

Here’s an example:  Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up on Google that offers emergency service.

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

website design on the brand insight blog

Six months later you need new locks on the doors of your office. There’s valuable stuff in there,  so you find yourself searching, once again, for a locksmith. But this time you have a completely different set of needs and expectations.

Same search terms. Same exact unique visitor. Different context. Different search criteria. Different emotion. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level. What served the purpose in an emergency doesn’t work for a more thoughtful purchase. It requires a little different website design.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, your prospects will never make it to conversion. Doesn’t matter if it’s a business card, a Powerpoint presentation, any other tactical marketing tool… the first step to success is making a good impression.

So how do you do that on a website?

Famous Chicago MadMan, Leo Burnett, once said, “Make is simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” There you go. That old-school thinking still applies.

Unfortunately, that’s a tall order for web developers who are accustomed to writing code, not copy. And it’s impossible for business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

The fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 30-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And there’s no differentiating features… they look just like a million other websites built on the exact same design template.

That’s why the bounce rate from home pages is so ridiculously high.  They don’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

The conceptual, branding level.

Pliny The Elder once said, “Human nature craves novelty.”

More recently, marketing guru Seth Godin said, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. Not standing out is the same as being invisible.” The whole premise of his book, Purple Cow, is “if you’re not Distinct, you’ll be Extinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. And web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for design innovation.

The conceptual level of your website revolves around your core brand concept — that one, engaging idea that goes beyond your product and price, and touches on a deeper meaning for your business.

bmw_uou

Brilliant, one-word ad that says it all for BMW.

For example, BMW’s core brand concept is stated very clearly: “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” It’s about engineering, handling and speed. It’s not a brand for soccer moms. The first glance at their website makes that clear.

When communicated consistently, a core brand concept will provide three things: Differentiation. Relevance. And credibility. Every great brand maintains those three things over time.

Often it’s not an overt statement, it’s a collection of symbolic cues and signals that come together to provide the ultimate take-away for the web user.

It’s the use of iconic, eye-catching images rather than stock photography.  It’s a headline that stops people in their tracks and questions your competitors. It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way. And most importantly, it’s craftsmanship!

When your site is well crafted your conversion rates will dramatically increase. Guaranteed. So rather than just jumping into a quick, do-it-yourself site, stop and think about your brand. Do you even know what your brand stands for?  What your promise is? Can you communicate your idea in one sentence? Do you really know your market, your customers, your value proposition?

Those are the fundamentals. That’s the homework you need to do before you even start thinking about HTML programming. Because no amount of technological wizardry can compensate for the lack of a clear, single-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

BNBranding - too many marketing opportunitiesThe deepest level of engagement in website design is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of even the smallest purchases, so give them the meat they need to make an informed decision. Don’t make them go to your competitor’s website for honest insight on the purchase decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this often takes the form of webinars, videos, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons, user-generated content and the story behind the story of your products or organization.  This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects.

Don’t overlook this deeper level of informative web design. Don’t assume that everyone’s just going to buy right from the product page that they first land on. Many will snoop around and learn more before they click on the “buy” button.

The conversion level.

Of course, the ultimate goal of most websites sites these days is to sell stuff. Which means the definition of a “conversion” isn’t just gathering an email address, it’s sidestepping the middleman and moving product. So the site isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an integral part of your entire operation. Therefore, it needs to be integrated with your inventory management system, your POS system and your accounting software. It needs to be a living, breathing operational feature of your selling strategy.

Not only do you have to persuade, motivate and move people to action, you also have to provide a user-friendly shopping experience so people don’t jump over to Amazon and buy your product from some crummy, third-party reseller. So you need website design that’s both “On Brand” and easy to use.

If you want to improve the performance of your website, and transform your ordinary business into a powerful brand, give me a call. 541-815-0075. If you want more on Website design and development, try THIS post:

marketing strategy BNBranding

1 positioning strategy BNBranding

The secret, missing ingredient of content marketing.

It’s the age of information, and much of the marketing buzz these days revolves around content marketing. Especially for business-to-business marketers, it’s all the rage.

We have YouTube videos, webinars, blog posts, slide sharing Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, tweets, podcasts, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.

In many cases, all that content just adds up to too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.

The model that’s emerging seems to rely on dry, analytical information. Curated data, not original stuff.

BNBranding Data, data and more data. Most of it is totally devoid of emotion.

Occasionally, when someone gets really creative, they take the data and spruce it up with an “infographic.” So it looks a little cooler, but that doesn’t make the data any more interesting or relevant. It’s still just boring, factual stuff written for 20 bucks by someone in a faraway land who doesn’t know your business or your market or your brand.

What’s missing is a compelling narrative. A relevant story. An inkling of copy that will touch a nerve, make an emotional connection, and persuade people to do something.

As the old saying goes, facts tell, stories sell.

content marketing blog post from BNBranding in Bend Oregon

For better content marketing, be novel – tell a story!

Nothing teaches more effectively than a good story. Stories suck people in and involve the listener/reader/user on a gut level.

The use of character archetypes, metaphors, plot and drama can bring any subject to life. Even if you’re in a highly technical, scientific market niche, you can still use narratives effectively in your content marketing.

And that applies to all forms of content marketing, from cheesy little YouTube videos to elaborate webinars. You need to forget about information for a minute, and think about entertainment.  How you can involve the audience, so their eyes don’t just glaze over?

The trick is taking all that data, and pulling a story out of it that will resonate with the target audience.

There aren’t very many people who are good at that.

If you have a marketing staff of ten people, you might find one who can do it. If you’re a department of one, or a business owner/Chief Marketing Officer, forget about it. You don’t have time to research the articles and craft good stories.

So you better outsource it. Very carefully.

You need a good copywriter who can translate all your insider information, market research data, and “repurposed” sales material into something that actually engages people.

It doesn’t matter what type of content is is… could be a script for your next video production, or an investor pitch, or a trade show presentation. You need someone who can come up with a big idea and spin information into a memorable, relevant tale.

Nobody’s better at that than advertising people.

Many business people these days seem to think there’s no redeeming value in advertising. They think content is better, and that consumers will rail against anything that smacks of advertising. But people aren’t dumb… they know your “content” is just advertising in disguise.

branding blog from BNBranding in Bend Oregon about content marketingAdman George Lois said it well in his book, What’s The Big Idea: “I think people are absolutely brilliant about advertising. They have a microchip in their heads that places any ad in marketing context in lightning speed, enabling them to judge astutely what they see.”

So if they know it’s really advertising, you might as well make it great advertising.

Ad guys know how to tell stories that originate from one big idea. We can synthesize a whole bunch of client input into 30-seconds of entertainment. We can engage an audience quickly and effectively with repeatable sound bites and compelling, memorable images.

“Advertising can crystalize, in a few words, what the client’s business is all about,” Lois said. “If you create both visual and verbal imagery, one plus one equals three. Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system.”

I bet your content marketing doesn’t do that.

Content marketing, like traditional advertising, needs both a strategic foundation and  exceptional creative execution. It should be one part science & technology, three parts art.

Advertising people are the only professionals who can bring those elements together. Journalists can report on what’s going on at your company, but they can’t deliver the missing ingredient in most content marketing efforts… art.

Advertising is an artistic mix of images and copy. It’s big, game-changing ideas based on savvy business insight. It’s craftsmanship in design, typography and copy. And it’s painstaking attention to detail.

If companies would apply those same standards to content marketing, we’d all be better off.

For more on George Lois, try this site.

For more lessons from the advertising greats, try this post. 

1 BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation.

I’m an advertising guy… a writer from way back. Here’s the fastest, easiest way to get better ad copy: Forget about the exclamation marks.

Ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. (“Got Milk?” is not proper english, but it’s brilliant advertising.) We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach. So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related.

But someone has to speak out about all the excexclamation_mark1lamation points popping up in marketing circles.

If I see one more marketing cliche or list of features punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.

Exclamation points are everywhere these days — in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.

“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”

I have news for you…  There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy.  Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.

Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Brakes! Air bags!”

Putting exclamation points on your list of standard features is not going to make them more compelling.

Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)

Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of  exclamation points at the end of  a sentence…

You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!

The longest, straightest driver ever!

Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!

Your whole family will love it!!!

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsReally?  Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility.

If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.

In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.

If you have to use an exclamation mark, you’re not using the right words. Go back to the well. Find words that punctuate the point in a dramatic fashion so you don’t need the extra punctuation.

3027633

You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy and social media posts without adding exclamation points. Or worse yet — emojis.

Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest.

Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test the microscripts on real people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.

I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever.

So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.

It’s not easy. If you need help writing better ad copy, call me. Or if you want more info on how to improve your advertising copy, click here.

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

 

2

Dual Purpose Websites – How to create a branding site that sells.

branding sites that sellFor some reason, many people think that “branded websites” won’t sell product or produce a steady stream of leads. And on the other hand, they don’t think “Ecommerce sites” will help their branding efforts.

As if the two are mutually exclusive.

Well, here’s the good news: You really can have a branded website that converts well AND presents a strong brand message. But you’re going to have to go beyond the template driven who-what-when-and-where approach that’s so common these days.

Here’s what you need to build a branded website that works on both levels:  The 4 critical elements of website design and effective web development.

1. A concept.

A concept is the foundation of every great site, and probably the single most overlooked element for all business owners. And let me be very clear…

A wordpress theme is not a concept.

A new logo is not a concept.

A photo of your product is not a concept.

A photo of the exterior of your building is not a concept.

A photo of your team is not a concept (unless they’re doing something rather unusual that conveys an idea about your brand.)

See, a concept is an idea.

In web design it’s an idea in the form of words, visuals and technical features that come together in compelling way. It’s image and presentation and persuasion and storytelling all coalescing to make a great first impression. So even the most casual website visitor says “hell yes, I want to know more about this company.”

branded websites that convert well - Mini Cooper

A concept from the Mini USA website homepage.

And isn’t that the job of your website? Make a great impression. Engage people. Impress them. Leave them wanting more. That’s marketing 101.

If you have a concept behind your site all the other elements will come together seamlessly. The problem is, most website builders don’t have the creativity, or the sales skills or the knowledge of your market, or the necessary budget to actually develop a cohesive concept for your site. That’s just too much to ask of one person. They can’t do all that, and then write the code to boot.

That’s like asking the architect of your new house to also pour the foundation, do the framing, the plumbing, the electrical and the heating system, all by himself.

You need a team to do a good site. But let’s look at the other critical elements of web development, and then come back around to who’s going to do all these things.

2. A clear call to action

This one’s pretty simple, and it’s not just a big ass button that says “buy now.” Every page of your site should have an objective and a preferred action for the consumer. Think of it as leading them down the primrose path. You want to take their hand and show them the way…

Click here. Read this. Watch this. Listen to this. Order that.

Give the user something to do that leads them deeper into the site, and further along in the sales process. They will seldom behave how you want them to, but the alternative is a hodge-podge of pages and elements that lead nowhere.

3. Differentiating elements

A good story is your best differentiating element.

As the old saying goes, facts tell but stories sell. Narrative, characters and plot twists are universally appealing, and very few companies present compelling stories.

So find an interesting way to tell your story. Maybe it’s animation, or video, or a prezi-style slide show, or even a game.

A game can be a differentiating element as well as a concept. Can you transform your web experience into a relevant game? Would that be appropriate for your brand?

branded websites for mini cooper

Differentiating elements: Concept, photo, copy, call to action.

Photography can also be a great differentiator. The human brain skips right over familiar images, so don’t settle for the $10 stock photos that everyone else in your category is using. Hire a pro and make your stuff look better. Sexier. More graphic.

Copywriting can be the difference between a boring branded website and a lead-gen machine.

Don’t let anyone convince you that great web copy is only about keywords, search engine optimization and factual “content.” Every sentence is an opportunity to stand out — or be thrown out. (One quick click and they’re gone to the next site.) Your copy should be sharply crafted. Persuasive. And convincingly genuine, so it doesn’t sound like any other brand.

Here’s a test for you… pull up your branded website and the site of your biggest competitor. Side by side. Then imagine that the logos are swapped out. Are the sites interchangeable? The images the same? The copy comparable.

Are you saying anything they cannot say? If not, you better go back to the drawing board and get a differentiating concept.

4. Reasons to believe

Stories, concepts and images are important, but you also need some facts to back them up. That’s where some branded websites go wrong… they’re all fluff. You need proof that your brand delivers, as promised.

For instance, post some testimonials or reviews from your happy customers. Release engineering data. Competitive reports. White papers. Market research. Anything that’s credible that backs up your value proposition.

People make emotional decisions, but they often need facts to justify what they’ve already decided. So give them what they need, and do it in various forms on multiple pages. When they’re checking out, remind them that they’ve made a great decision.

A very clear brand message... this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

A very clear brand message… this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.

So this is all great, in theory. But how do you get it all done?

Part of the problem is who’s doing the work… If your web developer doesn’t have anyone to collaborate with, you’re not going to get an big idea, or great imagery, or well-crafted copy.

You just get code.

It might be great code and a functional site, but it’s not going to contain the five critical elements of effective website design.

You need that programmer, but you also need a writer who can devise the concept and write the copy. Then you need an SEO specialist, a project manager and a designer. That’s the team. (Sometimes the writer or the designer can double as the project manager.)

The team approach may cost a little more at first, but it’ll produce a better ROI. It’s cheaper in the long run because you won’t have to re-do your site 9 months later when it’s not performing as you had hoped.

These days your site is a critical part of your business infrastructure. It’s your storefront and your main form of advertising. You can’t do without one, so you might was well invest in a website that builds your brand AND sells product.

Note… this is NOT a paid post for Mini Cooper, just a nod to their agency and their web design team. This is great work. Plus, it’s a cool brand.

For more about successful website design, try THIS post. 

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

TMI – How information is killing your advertising

Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. In fact, too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.

Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.

Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep with blog posts and white papers. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

too much information in advertising and marketing

Lead them gently down that primrose path to conversion.

Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.

Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the factoids.

Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively.

Terrible execution though! The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.

Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.

If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.

Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will.  Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.

A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information… unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

“Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”

The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.

And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.

“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.

“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”

I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”

The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.

So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!

For more on this subject, check out THIS post.

 

4 give 'em the sizzle. BNBranding.

Who reads long copy these days? The hungry ones.

I’m really tired of people telling me no one reads anything anymore. “Copywriting doesn’t matter.” “Long copy is dead.”

A prospect recently said he didn’t want professionally-written web copy because, “no one reads it anyway.” He insisted that “People go to a site looking for something very specific. They don’t want to read, they just want to find what they’re looking for and move on.”

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSo instead of a sharp, well-crafted message on his new website, he threw together a series of meaningless, self-serving “blurbs” that he could pick up and and Tweet.

None were authentic or compelling in any way. Good for nothing soundbites, to quite frank.

That’s too bad.

Why spend good money on a new site, and then cut corners on the message development and copywriting? It makes no sense.

If a user has found your site, and has gone to the trouble of clicking in, they’re obviously looking for something they think you have… Information, products, services or insight of some kind. They’re hungry, and they’re following a crumb of promise, and you darn well better feed them something tasty.

When people are serious about a purchase, they read plenty!

It’s self-selected relevance… ONLY people who are interested in your product, company, or niche will feast their eyes on your copy. There’s absolutely no need to address anyone else. And it’s been proven, time and again for more than 100 years, that people will read long copy if it’s relevant to their needs.

So to that client, I suggested he think of his website as a catering gig… The home page is the appetizer. You can’t just tease them with the first course and then leave the party. At some point, you gotta give them the meat.

give 'em the sizzle. BNBranding.And guess what… When you do give them substantial, well-written copy, your website will perform better from an SEO standpoint. (Google it!)

Many companies invest big money on the design and programming of a new site and then insist on using free,“factual content” from inexpensive third party sources. Or they have an intern cut and paste “keyword rich” copy into the site.

But the faulty logic of “free content” leads to a detrimental, self-fulfilling prophecy… A couple months later that business owner will look at his Google analytics and see that users aren’t spending any time on those pages of the site. Inevitably,  he’ll say, “told you so. Long copy doesn’t work.”

Of course no one read that free content. It has no flavor!

There’s no connection to your brand, your company’s culture, your product or your unique selling proposition. It’s the exact same tasteless corporate blah, blah, blah that everyone else in your niche is saying.

BNBranding long copy is more convincing

It left a bad taste in their mouths, and they went elsewhere. You had them at the table, and you left them hungry and disappointed.

The argument for free content reminds me of the business owner who says, “Oh, I tried radio and it never worked.” How many times have I heard that one? My response is always the same: “Uh-huh. Let’s hear it.”

Inevitably, the radio spot used to prove the point involved two on-air “personalities” and some inane dialog that’s about as natural as botox on a Pug’s face. Boring, vanilla flavored crap. Or worse yet, a locally produced jingle.

The fact is, people will  respond to a well-written radio spot if it’s relevant to them. If it’s not relevant, or incredibly entertaining, they’ll simply change channels.

Same with web copy.

long copy still works brand insight blog from BNBranding bend oregon

long copy still works

People have been debating the benefits of long copy since Claude Hopkins made millions writing ads in the early 1900s.  Later, David Ogilvy, the grandfather of modern advertising, was a big proponent of long copy.

He understood the need to do two things:

1. Strike an emotional chord that resonates within the deepest, reptilian recesses of the brain.

2. Back it up with enough proof to hurdle the objections of the analytical mind. Often that means long copy.

There’s abundant A-B testing that proves long copy outsells short copy. But it’s not that simple. Crappy long copy won’t work better than well-written short copy. It’s not the word count, it’s the quality of the message, the concept, the story and the choice of words that really matter.

It also depends on the product, the category, the value proposition, the context and many other variables. It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition.

Unfortunately, there’s a trend right now toward one size fits all web design. It’s a move away from anything wdon't settle for plain vanilla copy. Bend Oregon ad agency.ritten to a more visual approach with a lot of  boxes, buttons and clipart info-graphics. It’s a template-driven, paint-by-numbers approach that guarantees a big, homogenized playing field of similar-looking sites. All vanilla.

Most companies are trading differentiation and persuasion for the convenience of off-the-shelf execution. And they’re getting lost in the process.
If you’re making a complex, business-to-business pitch, your site should not look, feel or behave like a site selling a simple impulse item. The higher the level of involvement, anxiety or skepticism about your product, the longer the copy should be. In that case, the old-school idea of “the more you tell, the more you sell” still applies.

Let’s say you blow out your knee and you need ACL surgery. Chances are, there are several knee specialists in your market to choose from.

If you’re an orthopedic practice you could load-up generic medical info about the statistical outcomes of ACL surgery.  Or you could provide the facts, wrapped with some emotional reassurance. Call me a whimp, but if it were me, I’d want a friendly little pat on the back that says, “It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to be okay. Here’s what you can expect. Here’s the PT you’ll have to do. Here’s what others have said about the experience.”

You can’t do good beside manner in one paragraph.

Plus, in that scenario, facts just don’t cut it. The tone of the copy and the overall presentation need to do more than inform, they need to put the patient at ease. For that, you need well-written copy not vanilla flavored content.

positioning strategy BNBrandingHere’s another example… I have a client who has a very involved, do-it-yourself product sold exclusively online. It involves a long selling process and full weekend of yard work after the purchase.

Do customers want the facts about installation and detailed instructions? Of course. But they also need a friendly nudge to actually get the job started. They need reassurance that they won’t get stuck in that Ikea-like hell with a half finished job and lots of left-over parts.

In that case, it’s customers who will be hungry for the long copy. And if you don’t provide it, they may end up paying for a product that’s just collecting dust in the garage.

These days, you can’t just tell them. You also have use every modern marketing devise to demonstrate, illustrate, persuade and prove your case. Long copy still sells, it just has to be served up a little differently.

Use video for presenting meaty customer testimonials or show-and-sell product demonstrations.

Use white papers to present deep, elaborate arguments that prove your value proposition.

Use YouTube, Twitter and everything else in your power to deliver the appetizers. But don’t forget the main course. There HAS to be some meat on that bone, somewhere.

You can’t just keep leading people through a site, deeper and deeper and deeper, without ever delivering the whole story.  It might only be a small percentage of users, but there ARE people who hungry for that. And often it’s your best brand ambassadors.

For more insight on copywriting, check out this post. 

For examples of great copywriting, click here.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6 truth in advertising BNBranding

Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s post on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll just sling it back. Or the populace will simply look the other way.

In business, it doesn’t work that way.

Consumers are quick to call you out, via social media, if your advertising is BS.  And if you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass.

truth in advertising BNBrandingBut in marketing, branding, advertising and selling, there’s a big, gaping grey area when it comes to the claims you make and the image you portray.

Many people believe “truth in advertising” is an oxymoron. Burgers always look bigger and juicier in ads than they do in real life. All women are rail-thin and perfectly endowed. And it’s always clear skies and mai-tais in the travel brochures for Kaui. (No one really expects them to show the island in downpour.)

So critics jump to the conclusion that all advertising is false advertising. That all marketers use dishonest “trickeration” to get us to buy things we don’t want or need. There is no truth in advertising. Alternate facts, maybe, but not truth.

Not so.

Great brands are built by business owners (and their agencies) who know how to tell good stories. And good story telling always involves elements of truth, plus a little “creative license.” Even the most well-documented non-fiction stories are not 100% true.

Ken Burns, the famous documentary filmmaker once said, “all story is manipulation. Truth is a by-product of our stories. And emotional truth is something you have to build.”

As marketers, that’s what we’re really after… emotional truth. Nothing works better.

When your brand story strikes an emotional chord that matches someone’s personal world view, you have a truth in his mind, and a winning campaign.

It’s more like suggestion than manipulation. In this age of instantaneous customer reviews, manipulation won’t fly. You have to be more subtle than that.

BNBranding truth in advertisingIn Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” he reminds us that the brand story you tell isn’t really your story at all. It’s the consumer’s. You might try to “sell your story,” but in the end it’s the consumer who convinces himself why he wants or needs your product.

In a recent 60-minutes episode, the producers tried to paint the Italian eyeglass company, Luxottica, as irresponsible and phony because they make eyewear for dozens of different brands, including Oakley, RayBan, Prada, Polo, Coach, Vogue and many others.

60 Minutes says it’s misleading, that all those fancy brands are made out of the same factory. Perhaps, but I don’t think anyone cares. The factory that produces the glasses, and the parent company behind the factory, are not the story that’s relevant to consumers.

Sometimes truth just doesn’t resonate.

Regardless of the fact that all those glasses come from the same factory, consumers will convince themselves that their brand is better. Different. More desirable. That’s the power of great, long-term branding.

When you buy designer glasses from DKNY or Tiffany & Co. you’re buying into a different story than if you choose Oakleys. For some people, the Oakley story is more personally meaningful. More “true.”

For me, it’s not Oakley or any of the designer brands. It’s the Maui Jim story that rings true. Or at least, the most truthful for me.

As consumers, we constantly frame and reframe “truth” to fit our own values and beliefs. 

Marketing helps the process along, basically enabling us to continue telling ourselves stories that justify our purchases. Even ridiculous ones like $300 sunglasses.

The famous, old Avis campaign is a good example.  By adopting the tagline “we try harder,” Avis helped people reframe the truth… that Hertz is #1 in the market. Suddenly, that market leadership position didn’t equate with the best.

That long-running campaign rang true for millions of people, and helped Avis grow tremendously.  It was an idea that lasted more than 40 years.  Was it absolutely true? No, probably not. I doubt that every Avis employee actually tried harder than the guys at Hertz.  But inside the company it was truthful effort.

So here are some tips for truth in advertising, marketing and branding:

1. Facts are far less interesting than stories. If the facts are truly on your side, that’s great, your marketing job will be a lot easier. But you still need to find a creative way to present those facts.

2. If you have a me-too product, you’re going to have to “bluff with fluff.”  That’s when your advertising messages are even more critical to success. You have to come up with something beyond the product or service to hang your hat on. That’s what Avis did. That’s what Allstate’s doing with the “mayhem” campaign.

truth in advertising anchored in truth BNBranding3. Make sure your marketing communications are anchored in truth. The premise of your campaign, and the meat of your message, has to hold water. Otherwise, consumers will tag it immediately as B.S.  The mayhem campaign for Allstate is anchored in a common truth… that trouble lurks around every corner.

4. Be consistent. Once you figure out what that emotional truth is, stick with it!  You can vary the execution, but the underlying message and the “voice” of the campaign needs to stay the same. The more you change, the less credibility you’ll have. Click here to get help from BNBranding.

5. Always portray your product in the best light possible. Being “authentic” doesn’t mean you should use crappy photos of your product, or cheap packaging. If you have to, leave out the facts that point to another choice. Steer the conversation your way.

6. Admit it when don’t know or can’t stack up. Admitting a true shortcoming of your company or your product is a great way to disarm prospects and build trust.  Be truthful about what you don’t do, and use that to your advantage.

truth in advertising BNBranding

7. Never pay people for “reviews,” and don’t write fake testimonials. Verbatim comments from happy customers carry a lot of weight, but people can tell if you’re writing them yourself.  There are subtle little language clues that give you away, every time.

8. Remember, your story is what the consumer believes it to be. And one person’s truth is another’s lie.  You’ll never please all the people… Just those who share the alternate reality of your particular market segment.

9. Business is about relationships. Relationships hinge on trust. So lying, cheating or doing anything that betrays trust, also hurts the brand. As Marty Neumeier said, “Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision, and the bedrock of modern branding.”

10. Remember that consumers are deeply, contagiously skeptical.  And if they feel they’re being duped, they’ll shout it out any way they can.

11. Be Novel.  Great novels aren’t true but they reveal truths. They involve deep, meaningful characters and a storyline that grips, moves, builds. Brands should do the same.  If you’re staying static, you’re losing relevance. And great writing is a differentiator, all by itself!

For more on how truth in advertising, check out this post.

Click here to get help from BNBranding.

7 BNBranding use long copy to be authentic

Effective Personal Branding — The corporate head shot is not the ticket.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. She didn’t appreciate the fact that we had done something different than the usual, corporate head shot. She said they didn’t look “professional enough”  — didn’t think it was good personal branding.

The problem is, her idea of “professional” translates to invisible. Because everyone has a boring “professional” portrait. And doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts.

Just because you’re in a professional job, such as real estate, insurance or law, doesn’t mean you have to look professional in a boring corporate sense. That’s classic, rear-view mirror thinking… “well, that’s how they’ve always done it in my business, so I better do it too.”

Nonsense.  If that’s how it’s always been done, do just the opposite. Differentiation is the name of the game. Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility. Those are the fundamentals of personal branding.

truth in advertising BNBranding

You’d never differentiate yourself on Match.com with a stiff, corporate photo, so why would you sell yourself that way in professional circles? What sells on Match.com is the same thing that sells in the corporate world: Real life. Personality. Emotions. And Honesty.

Deceptive images might get you one date, but they won’t work in the long run.

Realtors are acutely aware of their personal branding efforts. And yet, they’re notorious for using crummy, outdated photos.

I rejected a realtor once because of her photo. I interviewed her because she had done a lot of advertising. Her face was everywhere! But when I met her in person I was literally taken aback.  She didn’t even look like the same person. She was at least 25 years older than she appeared in her photo.

I didn’t discriminate because of her age, I rejected her because she wasn’t honest with me. She purposely — knowingly — misrepresented herself. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.  It’s not a big leap to think she would also mis-represent my house, or my position in a negotiation.

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

So, no thanks.  Next candidate. There are plenty of other realtors waiting in the wings.

I suspect a lot of hiring managers think the same way. It’s human nature in a superficial world. We make snap judgments without even knowing we’ve made them. We are all biased, especially when it comes to looks.

So unless you’re super-model hot or as handsome as George Clooney, why would you want to show your face on every ad, every card, every page of the website? Besides ego.

A headshot does nothing to differentiate you from the rest of the realtors, lawyers, consultants or insurance agents with boring corporate headshots.

On the contrary.  It lumps you in with everyone else. All the bad moustaches and lousy suits on the guys make you look like you belong in a police line-up. And 90 percent of the women look like they’re trying way too hard. (Can you say “photoshop?”)

Successful personal branding hinges on authenticity, and there’s nothing authentic about most corporate head shots.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSome have argued that Realtors should include a portrait because “they don’t have a product to sell. They are the product. “

I suppose that’s true to some extent. The problem is, they’re all “me-too” products.

That is, they all do exactly the same thing, in the same basic manner. There’s no difference in service from one to the other, and most head shots shot confirm that suspicion.

Realtors, dentists, attorneys, and millions of other “professionals” perform a service. How a head shot looks has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to provide a good, valuable service.

A head shot may, or may not, help establish credibility. Someone might say, “well she looked trustworthy,” but unless you look remarkably different than everyone else in your market area, it will not help differentiate you from the thousands of competitors.

Rosey is a symbol of strength for our client, Morris Hayden. Works much better than the client’s photo ever could.

Instead of showing yourself, why not find something that’s more meaningful…  an image, graphic or a logo that means something to you, and possibly even conveys a benefit.

Use a symbolic, conceptual image that isn’t so darn obvious. A bit of mystery is a powerful marketing tool.

Or better yet, devise a service that actually IS different, and then show that. Find a simple image the conveys that difference at a glance.

If it’s not a relevant photo, it’s not good personal branding.

If you’re selling your services as a bouncer, your physical looks are absolutely relevant. You have to look like a bad ass, so your portrait should be shot in dramatic, intimidating fashion. Black and white. Forced perspective. Arms folded and straight faced.

Same thing if you’re a personal trainer. A photo of your physique is proof that you know what you’re doing.

But that doesn’t work for realtors, lawyers or accountants.  No one says, “Wow, she looks like a great realtor!”  No one makes a purchase decision based only on your photo, but they will judge you, for better or worse.

So if you absolutely must use a headshot, here’s some advice for getting a photo that doesn’t look like it came from the Sears portrait studio:

1. Remember, image matters. Execution matters. If you use sloppy, poorly-lit photos on your website or your LinkedIn page, that’s going to reflect poorly on you. You’ll get judged for that, like it or not.

2. Get a life, and show it.  You’re not a robot. Get photos that are an accurate reflection of the real you. Use props or interesting settings. Do something that conveys your personality.

3. Save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a pro the first time.There’s a HUGE difference between accomplished amateur photographers and professional photographers who can actually make a living from the images they sell.

4. Realize that women are almost impossible to please when it comes to portraits.  If you have a staff of 10 women, nine will be unhappy, no matter what. Show them 90 proofs, and they’ll reject every single one, out of hand. So if you’re running the show, don’t give them too many choices.  Trust the photographer and just show the top three. And whatever you do, don’t let them take the photos home for a consultation with their sisters, girl friends or daughters.

5. A good photo reveals your frame of mind. If you’re feeling confident, sexy and intelligent, it’ll come through. (Assuming you’re using a good, professional photographer)  If you’re defeated, depressed, or angry, that’ll show too. So do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot. Have a glass of wine. Loosen up. Have fun with it.

6. The camera is just not kind to some people. The minute the lens cap comes off, they freeze up faster than a popsicle in Nome. If that’s you, look for a photographer who has a photo-journalism background and let them do some candid, newsy shots. Don’t pose! Do something natural and let him capture the action.

7. Remember, photography is an art.  So be open minded and let the photographer be creative.  If you go into a photo shoot with very specific, pre-conceived notions, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity to shine.

Bottom line: There is a place for portraits in the marketing world. People like to know that they’re dealing with a real person, so the “about us” page of your website is a natural place for those head shots.

Anything beyond that is probably ill advised. Why show your face at all?  It’s brand recognition you want, not facial recognition. They can always just Google you if they want to see what you look like.

For more on branding fundamentals, try this post. If you want some help with your personal branding, give us a call. 541-815-0075.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

7 website design BNBranding

As long as first impressions matter, website design will matter.

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website design is a waste of money.”

It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.

One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.”  Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?

website design BNBrandingThis is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.

The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.

This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every website design is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.

As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean”  and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.

We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.

If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.

One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.

website design BNBrandingI guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse.  There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.

Poor website design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”

When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding.  It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “website design.”  In that case, balance is the key.

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.”

If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it.  The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.

One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good website up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a very pretty mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog