Tag Archives for " web marketing "

1

Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation.

I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. 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 boring marketing cliche 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! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of 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!!!

Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a 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.

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You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on 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.

 

 

 

 

 

2

How to create a website that works for your brand.

For 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 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’re going to 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. 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. 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’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.

 

too much information in your advertising

TMI. How information is killing your advertising.

Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. 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.

imagesInformation 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. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

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 bullshit.

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.

too much information in your advertisingAdvertising 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. “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.

yellow-blue-primroses-18237652“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 underlyintoo much information is killing your advertisingg 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.

 

2

Making websites work — on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to witness the progression of web design over the last 20 years. Trends come and go at a fashion-runway pace. Technology changes even faster than that. The graphic style is continually evolving, but there’s not a lot that I would really call strategic web design.

Regardless of the latest trends or technological bells and whistles, there are some timeless facts about strategic web design that will always apply. First and foremost: The most effective websites are multi-dimensional. That is, they communicate on many different levels…

The phonebook level.

yellowpagesIn case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book is fading faster than you can say “ok google.” Now that everyone has a computer in hand at all times, Google IS the phonebook.

So on the most basic level, your website needs to function as a phonebook listing. There’s nothing fancy about that.

Cover the basics, front and center on the home page, and make it very simple for people to access more information if they want it. Just like a phonebook listing: who you are, what you do, when you’re open, where you’re located, and of course, the phone number and links to where prospective customers can learn more.

But that’s just the first 5 seconds of engagement. Effective sites also work on a 50 second level and in many cases, the five minute level. That’s strategic web design.

Here’s an example: Say you’re locked out of your car on a cold night and you’re searching for a locksmith on your cell phone. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up that offers emergency service. Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

yellowbookpittsburghBut six months later you might find yourself searching for a locksmith with a completely different set of expectations. For instance, if you need new locks on all the doors of your office building you’ll probably sit down at the computer and compare a few locksmith websites before calling anyone.

Same, exact unique visitor — different context. Different search criteria. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of strategic web design is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, you’ll 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?

strategic web design leo burnettFamous 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 almost impossible for small-business owners who are muddling through a do-it-yourself website… “Choose a color. Insert logo here. Put content there. Proceed to check out!”

BECONVINCING_VThe fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 50-second marketing level. They’re not memorable. They’re not simple or fun to read. And 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. The site doesn’t make a good first impression. In fact, most make no impression at all.

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 Exctinct.”

Being distinct is what branding is all about.

Unfortunately, most business owners have no idea what “distinct” looks like in a website. They are only comfortable with designs they’ve seen before. Plus, web programmers have a hard time disrupting the conventions of their tech-driven business, so you can’t rely on them for 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

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, like “U. O. U.” It’s navigation design that’s both intuitive to use, AND distinctly different. It’s clear, compelling messages each step of the way.

It’s good, old-fashioned craftsmanship in a high tech world.

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, 2349098787_2cd660c18csingle-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

The deepest level of engagement is content that educates. People are hungry for information and quick to examine the details of just about any purchase, 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 decision they face.

On business-to-business websites this level include webinars, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. (Strategic web design ties in closely with content marketing.) On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This content is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.

The conversion level.

Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, conversion will happen quite naturally.

So the bottom line is this. Great sites aren’t’ just pretty. They aren’t just factual. They aren’t just chock full of content. They’re all those things, tied up in a package that’s delightful for the user.

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.

5 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 client 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.”

Begs the question… what ARE they looking for?

bend ad agency blog post about long copyIf 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.

And guess what… When you do give them substantial, well-written copy, your website will perfoLong copy sell the sizzle and the steakrm 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.

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.

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.

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.

Here’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.

There are more tools at our disposal than ever before. Use video for presenting meaty customer testimonials — they’re proven to move the needle, especially in B toB applications. 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.

For more insight on copywriting, check out this post.

For examples of great copywriting, click here.

6 Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s speech 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 simply sling it back.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. 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. Continue reading

7 The corporate head shot vs. good personal branding.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”

In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.

The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible. Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality. Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts. Continue reading

3 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, articles, blog posts, 24/7 Tweets, Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.

In many cases, it’s just too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.

In an effort to “push valuable content” to prospects, some internet marketers are inundating people with more and more information. And there’s something troubling about the quality of that content: Continue reading

10 Yes, when it comes to websites, design matters!

There was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Web design is a waste of money.” It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline provoked quite a debate.

It’s interesting to see graphic designers on one end, and web programmers on the other, arguing their respective positions. One group believes web design should take a back seat to web marketing and functionality. After all, what good is a website if you’re not driving traffic to it. The other believes you should make sure the site is well polished before you drop a dime to drive traffic.

I’m pretty well stuck in the middle.

As a traditionally trained advertising copywriter, I tend to side with the designers. As “creatives” we’re trained, from birth, to make sure every detail is perfect before we deliver the work to a client. Because we know details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean” is word of the week. Their mentality is, “just get something up, and we’ll 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 that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” approach that entrepreneurs favor. We need to get web designs done quickly, AND do them really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty.

One comment in that discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.”That’s ridiculous crazy talk from someone who thinks we go through life making decisions line by line in an orderly, logical fashion.

I 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.

Poor design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is that you don’t know what the site’s about or what to do next, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites out there 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 “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 usability.

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 conversion 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. “web 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 professional.

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 increase your bounce rates, which indicate how many people abandon you in favor of some other, more appealing site.

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 site 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. HTML programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible.

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 mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. 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 video script. Or TV spot. But that’s a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the skills they need to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

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

 

5 How to make your website work — on many levels.

It’s been very interesting to watch the progression of web development over the last 20 years. Trends come and go, technology improves, 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.

yellowpagesIn case you hadn’t noticed, the phone book is fading 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 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 where prospective customers could learn more.

The same can be said for your home page. 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 site 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 on your mobile phone. You’ll probably call the first company that pops up that offers emergency service .

Comparison shopping doesn’t come into play.

yellowbookpittsburghBut six months later you might find yourself searching for a locksmith with a completely different set of expectations. For instance, if you need new locks on all the doors of your office building you ‘ll probably sit down at the computer and compare a few locksmith websites before calling anyone.

Same, exact unique visitor — different context. Different search criteria. Different behavior. So in that case, the locksmith’s website needs to work on another level.

The first impression level.

The most basic rule of marketing is to make a good impression. Quickly! If you don’t, you’ll 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!”

BECONVINCING_VThe fact is, most small-business websites fail miserably on this basic, 50-second marketing level… They’re not memorable. They’re not fun to read. And 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.

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 Exctinct.”

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 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, 2349098787_2cd660c18csingle-minded brand idea.

The research or “how-to” level.

The deepest level of engagement 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, white papers, videos, articles, blogs and tutorials. On retail sites it’s third party reviews, product comparisons and user-generated content. This is where you site can get very deep and very relevant for serious prospects. Don’t overlook it.

The conversion level.

Lest we not forget the ultimate goal of most sites… to persuade, sell, motivate and move people to action. If your site’s working on all those previous levels, it’ll happen quite naturally.

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.