So...What is Good Marketing Design — and Why Should You Use It?

Good marketing design is a complex set of principles derived from years of testing to find out what people actually pay attention to when confronted with advertising and marketing materials.

The testing included everything from how we read and write (left to right and top to bottom in Western cultures — just the opposite in many Eastern cultures) to the physiology of the eye and how visual perception works in the brain.

Some of the principles that came out of the testing are fairly obvious:

  • Most people won't read anything that looks hard to read, e.g. lots of text,
    no white space, all capital letters, etc.

Others are somewhat counterintuitive:

  • The first thing people look at in a marketing piece or web site is a photo (if there is one) — the second thing is the cut-line* under the photo*...not the headline, not the body copy, not even another kind of graphic. 

Though is seems strange, research has shown that nearly 100% of people will look at a photo and read the cut-line — even if they look at nothing else on the page. If you can get the heart of your message into one photo and a good cut line, almost everyone who sees it will read it.

Whether your goal is to increase sales, or just to get your information out to more people, using this and other principles of good design will make your page more likely to be read and used by site visitors.

{*A cut line is the line of text under a photo that explains what is in it. It is sometimes referred to as a "caption," — though purists will choose to remind us that a caption is text on top of the photo, not underneath. Annoying purists.}

How Good Marketing Design Can Increase Web Traffic/Sales

If your goal is to sell products or services directly from your web site, good design is essential. At first glance marketing on the Internet seems very different from venues such as magazines and TV, but in truth it is not.

In order to sell your products or services from a web site you need people to see the site. This is the reason behind the push to optimize your site (SEO) and increase your search-engine ranking using reciprocal links. But it doesn't matter how many people come to your site if they do not stay to buy.

In marketing parlance, each person who visits the site equals one "exposure." More exposures lead to more customers, right?...Well, not exactly. Marketers and advertising salespeople are not always completely honest about the nature of exposures.

Sure, you can pay big bucks for an ad that goes into a hundred thousand magazines ("Your ad seen by 100,000 potential customers!!!," ) — but what if no one reads it? ("Your badly-designed ad ignored by 100,000 never-gonna-happen customers!!)

Your web site is no different. If it is crowded, hard to read, and hard to navigate, many visitors will move on to something easier. Using good design dramatically increases the chance that site visitors will stay to become customers.

I'm sure you know someone who crows about the success of a site you find difficult or unpleasant to use. And it is true — even badly-designed sites get customers — because there are so many potential customers out there. The web provides exponentially more potential customers than could ever come to any brick-and-mortar store. But badly-designed sites never maximize their success. Why chase customers away when, with forethought and planning, you can make them want to stay, buy, come back, and tell their friends?

Why Are Most Web Sites So Crowded and Hard to Navigate?

Until just a few years ago, web sites had to be created entirely by typing in code and then viewing the result in a separate computer program. This made it necessary for web designers to be computer-code experts rather than visual designers.

Though the software has changed dramatically, most of today's web designers began as programmers. They focus on technology "bells and whistles" rather than customer experience, never realizing that much of what they do may simply drive customers away.

Don't be too hard on web designers, though. Most marketing and advertising designers fail to use the principles of good design as well. The information is far from secret, but many folks seem to have missed or misunderstood it.

That's actually good news for you, though. Whether your site is informational, or meant to sell a product or service, using good design will really make it stand out from most of the competition!

Buying a Blue-Green Widget

Web sites do differ from print, TV, and other forms of marketing/advertising because of their interactivity. If you are selling directly from a web site you are running a store just as much as if you had a brick-and-morter store on a downtown corner.

Regardless of what you are selling, it is essential to be able to put yourself in the place of a customer — someone who knows much less about your business than you do. How your customer interacts with your site is very similar to how they behave in a physical store.

If you were a customer out in the physical world shopping for a blue-green octagonal widget, what factors would affect your decision on where to shop?

Imagine there are two stores selling widgets in your area. The first store crowds the widgets into baskets piled high in narrow aisles. The prices are not clearly marked, employees are elusive, and the store only accepts cash — no credit or debit cards.

The second store is well organized, with widgets separated by color and size, the prices clearly marked, and helpful staff members always available to assist you. They take all major credit/debit cards.

Which store would you choose?

Some people may shop at the crowded store anyway because it is closer to home — but on the Internet proximity is not a factor. You may have literally hundreds of competitors, all of whom are just a click away. You cannot afford to make it difficult to buy or better-designed competitors will get the business.

Meeting Site Visitor Expectations

If your goal is to sell products or services directly from your web site, you must make it easy to do so. Pretend to be a visitor who has never seen your site before. What kind of experience do you have when you arrive at the home page?

  • Can you tell right away what the product or service is? (Click here to take the 4-Second Test)

  • Is the site easy to read, with legible, commonsense navigation and lots of visual "white space"?

  • Does the site use any jargon that an insider would understand but a novice would not?

  • Is there an obvious way to locate pricing and contact information for your company?

Problems in any or all of these areas will drive most visitors away long before they become customers. Especially the large number of visitors for whom computer or Internet use is fairly new. Information needs to be clear and easy to read, navigation must be obvious to the most unsophisticated "surfer"...or they will surf on by.

Make Your Web Site a Positive Destination

Even new web users have become much more savvy in the last few years. They expect to be able to research products online, compare prices, and order on a secure web page.

Sites that require a visitor to contact a store or headquarters for pricing and catalogs will send the majority of web shoppers on to a site where they can get what they need right now. The desire for instant gratification won't change any time soon!

So What Does All This Mean?

A site that is easy to read and navigate, and where purchasing is simple, will stand out in strong contrast to the majority of competitors' sites. Previous customers will come back, and recommend you to their friends; new visitors will stay long enough to have a chance to become customers. It cannot help but increase sales of any good product or service. And that's what your site is for, right?




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