Web site design has always been a fascinating area for me -- not entirely in the realm of graphic design but also of flow, navigation, appearance, and content. I love to surf the web almost exclusively to learn about different feels and flavors. In the process of doing so, it amazes me to see how some sites appear smooth and refined, while others smack of being put together horrendously quick -- even when the company, product, or service is reputably of high quality.
But web site design is, in and of itself, a powerful marketing process. Many people tend to forget that people make UPAs -- unconscious paralleled assumptions -- in all areas of business (and life, for that matter). In other words, when they visit a site, they unconsciously assume that a parallel exists between the web site's design and the business behind it -- not to mention the products and/or services it promotes. If the design is poor, unprofessional or unclear people will assume that the product or company is just the same.
Regard for the human inclination to "judge books by their covers" is of utmost importance on the web, for the design is the only thing that separates you from your customer and thus is representative of the whole. Your site can either emphasize, support, or contradict your marketing message -- and do so almost effortlessly, even inconspicuously, and sometimes dramatically.
A large airline company recently conducted a survey among passengers in order to perform some marketing research. The following question was asked: "If your food trays were dirty, would you assume that the airline also does poor maintenance on its engines?" And the answer was, as illogical as it sounds, "yes" for an overwhelming majority of participants.
In "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing," Ries and Trout made what I believe to be the most powerful notion ever conceived in the world of business, in that marketing is not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions. My mentor used to say "perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself," and I agree. Marketing is all about perception.
The same goes for perceived value. If you place your web site side-by-side with a competitor, and both of you offer the same product in the same way at the same price, the company that will win the customer over will be the one that, through its design, communicates to the customer that there is an implied added value in their choice.
In my seminars, I teach something I call the "Ketchup Principle." Let's say you've just met a salesperson and, after introducing himself, gives you a sales presentation. He is dressed absolutely impeccably, gave a perfect spiel, was thoroughly interested in serving your needs, and conducted a more than perfect meeting with you. But all throughout the encounter, you couldn't stop but notice that he had a little spot on his tie -- a little ketchup stain, if you will. Two weeks later, however, if I would ask you, "What do you remember most about your meeting," more than likely the first thing that would pop into mind is the ketchup stain!
As the old saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression!" This applies to everything you do or present, even to the simplest of things such as your web site's design. Therefore, pay attention to your web site's overall appearance, its appeal, its ease-of-navigation, and -- most importantly -- its content.
Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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