A lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.
They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.
They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”
Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots.
They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”
On the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.
So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.
Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.
The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.
It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.
Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.
Tom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values. Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”
As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.
Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.
If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.
If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.
If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.
Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore.Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.
If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.
I grew up on the creative side of the advertising industry. In that world, big ideas produce big bucks. Agency creative teams toil endlessly to come up with the spark of an idea that can be leveraged into a giant, category-busting campaign.
When it comes to winning new accounts, ad agencies pit their ideas, head-to-head, with the big ideas from competing agencies. Winner takes all. In that business, big ideas are the currency of success.
Big ideas are also the bread and butter of the start-up world. Entrepreneurs and VCs are constantly searching for innovative, disruptive ideas that solve a problem, attract venture capital and produce teaming hordes of 28-year old billionaires.
And in Hollywood, producers are aways searching for high-concept movie ideas that break out of the normal, predictable patterns and produce box-office mega hits like Avatar or Titanic.
There’s absolutely no doubt that big ideas can transform a brand — from bland to brilliant. And there’s no doubt that your website is great place to showcase that big idea.
But you’re going to need a new approach to website design.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the typical website project, big ideas are as rare as a Harry Potter blockbuster.
Most small business websites are nothing more than bad corporate brochures in electronic form. Everywhere you look there are cookie-cutter templates, lousy stock photos and “keyword-rich” copy that sounds like it was rendered by a robot rather than written by a pro.
You wouldn’t take a generic ad template that all your competitors are using, fill in the blanks, and then spend $20,000 to run it in a national magazine. But that’s essentially what a lot of companies are doing with their website design projects. It’s like paint by numbers, and the results are mind-numbing.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a whole new approach to website design.
Because the current standard operating procedure for website projects is all wrong. It shouldn’t be a project at all, it should be an ongoing initiative. It should always be evolving and improving, just like your business.
“When’s it going to be done?” is the wrong question to ask. It should never be done.
Instead, ask “What’s the big idea?” What’s the novel concept that will differentiate this website from all the rest, and move viewers to action?
Everyone in the web development world knows that web projects get bogged down by one thing: “Content.”
The tech guys who build sites are always waiting for interesting headlines, engaging copy, uncommon offers, authentic stories and brilliant graphics to arrive from the client. Sometimes, it seems, for an eternity.
Because that’s the hardest part. Building a site on a WordPress theme is easy compared to the work that has to be done, up front…
First you need some Strategic Insight. Then the Big Idea. (Think “Got Milk” or “Where’s The Beef.”) THEN execution… That’s where all the elements come together. 1-2-3.
Unfortunately, most companies jump right to Step 3.
In the web design arena, the tail is definitely wagging the dog. It’s technology first, process second, content third. Nowhere does the big idea come into play. It’s the most commonly overlooked element of any web project.
So here’s my advice for any business owner or marketing person who’s thinking of “doing a new website”:
Forget about that website design project, and instead, launch a campaign that starts with a big idea. Think of it as a long-term marketing program, not a short-term project. Think of it as a new approach to web design that’s more wholistic, more integrated, and more effective than the old way.
Yes, paddling back upstream is often difficult work. And you often need outside help to come up with the strategic insight and big idea you really need. But the effort will pay off.
The big idea is the branding thread that connects all your marketing efforts… It’s not limited just to your website. It should carry through to your social media campaigns, your paid advertising, your PR and even your customer service procedures.
When you begin with a big idea, the website falls into place quite naturally. It’s just another tactical execution of the big, strategic idea. When it’s done right, it obviously aligns your marketing strategy and tactics into one, kick-ass idea.
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.
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.”
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.
2. 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.
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.
Early 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:
I 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.
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 and continually evolving. Websites should never really be “done.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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:
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 stories.
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, your audience, 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.
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.
Adman 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.
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 exclamation 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!!!
Really? 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.
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.
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 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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.”
So 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.
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.
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
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 written 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.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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.
In 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.
3. 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.
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!