Form vs. Function: Getting Your Designer To Make an Ugly Graphic with “Stickers”

The world of graphic design can be a pretty fickle space. Most people who go into the area are artists at heart, and have spent years honing their aesthetic to perfection. Over the years I’ve worked with quite a few extremely talented designers – but in working with them there’s one area where I’ve gotten more pushback than anything else … and that’s when I ask them to make their images a little uglier.

Now when I say “ugly” I don’t necessarily mean that it looks too pretty, but instead I’m referring to instances where the design is so perfect and flawless that it blends directly into the rest of the project. In particular, this matters when working on call-to-action promotions or advertisements. The issue you run into with these types of assets is that they are meant to be noticed – meaning they are meant to stick out. Sometimes even like a sore thumb.

A classic example of this is the “sale” promotion. Many times in the past we’ve run into problems where a promotion for a sale on a specific product has a great creative asset put together by our team, but the “sale” portion of the creative is made to match the rest of the project too closely. In these cases I’ve gotten into near arguments about trying to get the designer to make the “sale” stick out more. After all, from the marketing and promotions angle, the whole point of the promotion is to get people to see it and take action (i.e. click, or go to the store, etc). The problem is, many designers hesitate at this, as it breaks the aesthetic.

The way I’ve learned to deal with this is the take the “sticker” approach, by which I mean the designer puts together creative for the product being promoted, but without the “sale” call-to-action. Then, we take the old approach from brick and mortar and put a “sticker” on the artwork with the sale. (By “sticker” I basically mean an additional layer that gets placed on top of the creative).

If your designer can’t bring themselves to make their work “ugly,” put a sticker on it.

Obviously this still doesn’t make the designers completely happy, but it does take them somewhat out of the equation. I’ve found that designers are happier when providing a quality asset, and then at the point where they relinquish control, the sales and promotion team takes over and can then add their extra “sticker” layer on top. Yes, it might be an “uglier” end product, but the designer hasn’t had to try to force themselves to alter their designs to match an aesthetic that may not come naturally – and they take pride in the product they delivered.

Invite your designers to also have a hand in designing the “sticker” assets.

One additional trick I’ve learned with this is that it can be very helpful to invite your designers to also have a hand in designing the “sticker” assets. Make it clear what the sticker is for – to call-to-action and to go on any promotional asset you have. By divorcing the “sticker” from the individual promotions you are able to get a design that still matches your brand appropriately, is up to standards that both your marketing team and your design team are happy with, and that can be easily leveraged going forward on any future assets you receive from your design team.

Just remember, when it comes to promotions, the point is usually to have something that stands out. It can be tempting to make your designs integrate nicely into the overall promotion, but in many instances all you’ll end up with is a pretty picture that’s nice to look at, but ultimately doesn’t do anything. In marketing, you generally want people to take action – and if not action, at least take notice.

If your design team has a hard time allowing themselves to make promotional designs that stand out from the rest of a project, try the sticker approach. It’s worked for me in the past.

Of course if you can find a designer who can deliver the right aesthetic and also understands how to integrate call-to-action / function into design, that’s a better approach – but if you’re working with a designer who you just adore, but can’t bring themselves to “uglify” their work, the sticker approach can work wonders.

Using Retargeting for Customer Acquisition

As a digital marketer, your job is a bit different now than how we used to define “marketing.” No longer is marketing simply trying to build awareness of your company or product, but it encompasses a much larger portion of the customer experience: all the way from initial awareness to on-site/in-store experience to checkout and post-purchase follow-ups. It’s part of why you see more and more articles like this one: Should the CMO Be the Chief Experience Officer.

Marketing is more and more focusing on the entire “customer journey” – and one of these areas where the focus has particularly shifted to is from simple traffic generation to actual sales, including conversion rate optimization and new customer acquisition. Marketing now owns more and more of the sales process, and in some instances it owns the entire sales process (and I only see this continuing to move in that direction).

So as marketing owns the sales process, it also owns the task of getting all these people you’ve “marketed to” to actually convert (aka “buy”). Of course this requires a marketing strategy that drives qualified leads in the first place, but what about what happens when those leads actually get through your front door?

In web marketing, the ideal situation would be that you convert all these people instantly (the pipe vs. funnel I talked about here) but that’s not the way it works. A lot of people aren’t going to convert right away. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that if your awareness marketing efforts are on-target and you’re driving qualified leads to your site, a large portion of those visitors are potential customers. They just may not be in market yet, or might still be in the “shopping” phase. This is where remarketing can come in very handy.

With retargeting, the basic concept is this: Someone comes to your site, looks at a product, and then sees ads for that product (and your site) all over the Internet reminding them to come back. (While this was once considered “creepy” I think people have gotten fairly used to it, so I recommend not worrying about that.)

Of course there are more subtle methods of retargeting, some of which I do recommend you consider, such as general branding messaging or product feature messages. But the basic concept is the same: someone comes to your site, then you show them ads for your site elsewhere.

Specifically target the visitors who appear to be new to site, and haven’t made a purchase and adjust your success metrics accordingly.

The one method I don’t see people doing a lot though, that I have seen very good results in is this: Specifically target the visitors who appear to be new to site, and haven’t made a purchase.

As I said earlier, a large percentage of these people who abandoned came to your site for a reason – and it is very likely that that reason was they were interested in the product you were selling. Some might have come through expecting something different, and they aren’t of much interest, but the vast majority came with some intent. They may have left to go comparison shopping, they might have left because they were only researching the product for future purchase consideration, or they might even have left because they had to get to their dentist appointment – but the point is, they were there with some intent, and you should be treating each of these people as potential new customer leads.

Since the majority of these “new visitors” are anonymous to you by their very nature as “not customers yet” your best method to follow-up is through retargeting ads. You can use any approach you want as far as the creative and message go – that depends on if you can determine why they left in the first place. Maybe they were tempted, but couldn’t pull the trigger. Just dangling that carrot in front of them might be enough. Or if it’s a more considered purchase, a series of product benefit ads might work better. Either way, to let these leads go is to miss out on maximizing the return on your initial marketing spend that got them there in the first place.

Retargeting an existing customer may see higher initial returns, but retargeting a “new customer” is worth much more.

A tip: As you build out these campaigns, try to separate them from your other remarketing and retarketing efforts, not just so you can see their effectiveness, but so you can also adjust your spend accordingly based on potential ROAS. Remember, remarketing to an existing customer will generally see a higher conversion rate and immediate return on your spend, but remarketing to a new customer lead will get them into your customer set to begin with, meaning you should be looking well beyond the return on that initial sale and instead looking at a return based on your total average lifetime value for a new customer.

Treating your retargeting prospects differently based on data point segments and adjusting your bids, cadence and messaging is a key part of any retargeting strategy. Know what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and segment accordingly. As a general rule, if you’re looking for new customers, then build campaigns that target them and look at new customer acquisition as your success metric. If you’re looking at maximizing the value of an existing customer, look at direct ROAS and how you might be affecting total LTV.

There’s a lot more to retargeting, obviously – but just think of it this way: Is the person on your site someone who might need additional communication? Is what you’re offering of value to that person? If so, do whatever you can to stay in front of them until they make a decision to either buy from you, or not. Until then they’re a potential customer.



Finding Leaks With Customer Pathing / Flowcharts

As you build out your marketing campaigns and how they integrate into your customer lifecycle flow, one of the first things you’ll do is lose people along the way to achieving your preferred end goal. Face it, you’re going to have fall-off, but not all those people who fall off should be lost. Take a look at your conversion rate. Somewhere in the single digits, right? Yeah, that’s a lot of people then who aren’t converting, and while a good chunk of those people may not have intent to purchase and may actually be people who aren’t worth even trying to sell to, there are a lot who are good potential leads, but they’re getting lost along the way.

Think of it like this: All the people who come to your site go into a bucket. That bucket has a funnel at the bottom and at the end of that funnel is a conversion. Ideally your funnel wouldn’t be funnel-shaped at all, but instead a pipe just as wide as the top, and everyone would flow through quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. Along the sides of the bucket, as well as within the funnel itself, you’ll find a lot of little holes. These holes are where customers leave you. And once they’re gone, once they’re out of your bucket, they fall off into the nether. These are the leaks in your bucket and funnel.

Your job is to find out where your bucket has leaks, and how you can plug those holes. Or, at the very least, you have to redirect the flow from those holes into a whole new bucket with its own funnel, or pump the lost customers right back up into the bucket and give them another chance to convert (make it through the funnel).

This is where pathing diagrams (aka flowcharts) can come in extremely handy. Explained simply, a pathing diagram is a flowchart of how you want users to go through your experience, from any specific starting point you can define (A),  through any specific “success metric” that’s important to you (B). Your goal is to figure out how the customers go from A to B, mapping out all the ways they might not make it from A to B, and then look for ways to redirect those unsuccessful paths back into a new opportunity to succeed. Each of these unsuccessful paths signifies a leak, and it’s up to you to find a way to capture and recycle as much of what’s leaking as you can.

For example, if a customer lands on your product page, your goal is probably to get them to add to cart, then to go from the cart into checkout and then complete the order.

Of course the customer doesn’t always do that. In many instances the customer is going to just bounce from your site. But you’ve identified that customer as someone potentially interested in what you’re selling, so you try to recapture some of those shopper “leaks” by introducing an email signup so you can reach out to them later with other offers, or you could set up retargeting ads to show that product to the customers as they browse other websites, trying to lure them back. Each of these presents new pathing options for you to design, such as what happens when a customer signs up for an email. Maybe you give them a discount, or maybe you explain your product/service better. Then you try again to get them to convert.

As you draw out your paths and you look at all the potential fall-off points, you’ll likely be overwhelmed with all the possibilities of what a customer could do. My recommendation is to only look at the ones that seem most likely – and you can get a good idea of people’s actual behavior by looking at your web analytics or simply watching some people use your site or app.

The point is this: Until you start really looking at and drawing out all the potential paths customers could take, you’re going to miss some opportunities. If you don’t see those opportunities, you’re never going to address them. It’s easy for us to build out a preferred path for how we want our customers to act, and even to continually optimize to make those paths easier to follow. What you can’t forget though is that not everyone is going to go down your predesigned paths, and unless you want them to wander off, you need to find other ways to help them still arrive at your preferred destination.




Never Underestimate the Power of a Simple Survey (+ a Few Survey Tips)

As digital marketers, we spend a lot of time digging through analytics. And if you’re anything like me, a good portion of that time is spent trying to better understand the customer, their intent, hang-ups on site, or if you’re offering them the right kind of content/product/experience. Of course, analytics can tell you a LOT, especially once you start learning how to die different data sources together to get a more holistic view of the customer.

The one thing they won’t tell you though, is exactly what the customer is thinking. Yes, you can extrapolate and build hypotheses and test for correlations, but in my view the one true way to find out what a customer is really thinking is to just ask them.

Yes, it is true that customers don’t always know what they want, but by asking questions you’ll at least find out what they think they want. And that’s pretty valuable, especially when it comes to determining how customers are making decisions in the conscious part of their brains. But to ask them questions, you need to actually get out there and ASK.

The simplest, and in my opinion, most effective of these is the basic anonymous poll. Put together a question or two and trigger it to display for the people you are trying to understand. Make it as easy to answer as possible, with a limited amount of answer fields so it’s easy for them to make a decision. I also recommend including a free text form for those who don’t fall into the specific categories. You’ll find that some people didn’t quite understand the response options and typed in a variant of one of the existing responses, and you’ll also find additional answers that you never even considered to begin with.

Most importantly though, try to make the answer options as unbiased as you can. Include options that you don’t want to hear (i.e. “I don’t trust your company” or “your prices are too high.”)  Remember, the point of asking questions is to get as honest of feedback as you can so that you have actionable insights you can take back to your team to continue to iterate and improve.

A few tips:

  • For online surveys, try – they have a great system that’s easy to set up, has great insight and analysis tools, and is cost-effective.
  • You can also do surveys/polls directly on Facebook or Twitter, but remember that the only people who will be answering there are the users who actually use those services, which does lead to some potential bias.
  • Use your surveys to build better surveys. As you do a few, you’ll start to understand better how to word questions and responses so they make sense to the customer (as well as avoid leading them to answer with the option you prefer).
  • Your customer support can be a survey. Don’t be afraid to ask your support staff to ask customers questions. Just remember again that you will only be having responses from people who are contacting support, which is not indicative of your overall userbase (unless you have a really bad product and everyone calls support!). Also remember that people are less likely to give honest answers when they are talking to a real person than they are in an anonymous survey.
  • Don’t survey too often. Like anything else that’s not key to the experience, the survey does get in the way of the customer’s goals. Be mindful of this and respect the user.
  • A survey shows you care. Make it clear that you’re asking questions to make things get better. Customers do care that you care about them.

Have you had any positive or negative experiences with surveying? What other ways have you found effective to get direct customer feedback?

Ends-Focused Marketing: Your Business is Really a Service

One of the things marketers struggle most with is what message they want to portray to their customers. Oftentimes this turns into a list of features and benefits of the product, or simple positioning of the brand in comparison to competitors.

When I talk to others about marketing though, the one biggest piece of advice I can give is this: figure out what your customer is trying to accomplish.

In the end, the products we promote as marketers are in almost all instances, the means to an end. For Musicnotes, that end is simple: someone wants to play a song. For a book store, the customer wants to read something. How they discover your brand and how you help them discover the right product is part of the marketer’s job, but the most important thing to remember is that they have a purpose and its your job to help them fulfill it.

This is why I push so much for marketers to focus on customer experience, and in particular, an experience that gets customers to where they want to be as simply as you possibly can. It’s also why I shy away from cross-sells and up-sells, as they can be distractions to the purchasing process. Distractions in the process are just that: distractions. Unless you’re providing true discoverability where discoverability is actually wanted, skip it. Otherwise you’re just getting in the way.

My theory is this: If customers can rely on you to fulfill their needs, with a product they trust and in as painless as a way possible, you’ve just delivered joy. That rush of dopamine they get from actually doing what it was that they set out to do (read a book, learn a song, run a race) was catalyzed by you.

So, keep these purposes in mind at all times when you’re marketing. Don’t just list features or come up with pretty graphics. Show the customer how you’re going to solve their problem. Make the customer happy.

If they’re happy, they’re going to come back. And their going to tell their friends. And you’re going to be successful.

Remember their goal and help them reach it.