Probably the most common question I get here at Charfish is, “Why does design even matter? What’s the difference between putting out great content and putting out great content that also looks amazing? Don’t they have the same traction?”
We’re going to answer that question in a seemingly roundabout fashion. In fact, what we’re going to be talking about is your greatest competition.
A lot of folks think their biggest competitor is another website in their niche. A big-time consultant in their field. A bigger shop down the street.
Surprisingly these might not pose the greatest threat to your empire.
In fact, to be honest, I never ever pay attention that type of competition. You have much more dangerous foes to defeat than similar businesses, as you’ll see shortly.
So let’s talk about your two biggest biggest competitors:
- Past Experience
Competitor #1: Life
Let’s say you’re a book designer like myself. And Aunt Marge comes to your website looking for help designing the cover of her book of memoirs.
Right now, Billy the Book designer’s website is not your competition.
Right now your competition is Aunt Marge’s life. ‘Cause Aunt Marge is busy as all hell and very very distracted.
She’s got one eye on your website, and the other on her dog Fido. He’s got that super guilty look in his eye like he just left her a present. “Ding!” goes the microwave. She’s also concerned about her big meeting with the boss on Wednesday. Speaking of work she needs to fit in a shower tonight and maybe prepare some lunches for the week. “Damn, I forgot to go shopping,” she thinks. Then “Ring-a-ling!” goes the telephone. She’ll answer but will talk fast so she can watch Jeopardy! She walks to the phone and “SQUISH!” between the toes goes the present Fido left her.
That’s life for Aunt Marge. So way before she hires you to design her book cover, she needs to be lifted out of her coma with some smelling salts and a bit of “ZING!”
This “ZING!” comes from the look and design of your website.
Luckily, you’ve got a badass design. And when Aunt Marge landed on your home page, something happened to her. For just a split second the world stopped turning. There was a sparkle in her eye, a little bit of magic and she forgot all about Fido’s squishy nastiness between her toes.
And thus you have vanquished Competitor #1…Life.
Competitor #2: Past Experience
Now that you have Marge’s full attention, it’s time to make her feel more at ease and get on the way to making a true fan out of her. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when the Past Experience villain rears its ugly head.
See, this ain’t Aunt Marge’s first rodeo. She’s transacted business before with people in stores, car dealerships, online, etc. And a lot of these people conducted themselves in ways you’d never even think of. So Marge is now on guard.
Now that she’s emotionally involved with your site, she feels vulnerable. Because in the past this is exactly when people started to take advantage of her.
She doesn’t want to get hurt again. She doesn’t want to be scammed. She doesn’t want to give her money to you and then find out you’re buying crack with it.
Marge already knows the internet is full of scammers and hackers, pervs and Miley Cyrus grinding on some dude.
Regardless of your business and your niche, you do have this competition:
- If you’re a writing coach, your competition is Professor Dingus. The English 101 dogmatist who ruined the subject for thousands of innocent college students.
- If you’re a salesman, your competition is Sleazy Randy. The used-car salesmen who brags about the day he sold seven rusty Oldsmobiles that didn’t even start.
- If you’re a yoga instructor, your competition is Yogi FooFoo. She was too touchy-feely, burned too much incense, and forced the class into spiritualism when all they wanted was a good stretch.
Whether or not Professor Dingus and Sleazy Randy are still around, these representatives live on in the customer’s mind.
So here’s Aunt Marge on your site, feeling kind of comfy with you but not quite wanting to completely. So if she can’t immediately differentiate you from them (the Bad Guys), she’s going to leave. That’s a fact.
Your design and personality are what will set you apart in her mind.
That means your writing, design, branding, sidebar ads, navigation – everything – has to be easy and fast and right up her alley. The more you appeal to her sensibilities, the more personality you show her, the more she starts to resonate and feel safe with you.
(It’s also possibly she won’t like your personality at all, in which case she’ll leave. But that’s exactly what you want. If she doesn’t like you, she’s not exactly your ideal customer, is she?)
Why Design Wins, A Summary
We have talked about how design and personality break down the walls of boredom, discomfort and alienation your visitors have when they arrive on your site. In essence, they wake people up.
And we’ve talked about how design and personality are like a sympathetic vibrations between you and your ideal customers. They bring you closer together and begin a friendship.
Out on the street, shaking a stranger’s hand, looking into their eyes and starting a conversation will give you a pretty quick feel for the person.
Online, this is done with design. Design is the handshake, the look in the eyes, the first impression.
So right now, for your brand new visitors, design matters more than anything. Because nobody is going to read all your content, subscribe to your newsletter or buy your wares if they don’t like you/can’t trust you first. And that’s how design can defeat your biggest competition. Because your competition is interested, first, in moving product and not necessarily making that true connection.
So make it easy on your visitors. When amongst the cold infinite vastness of the interwebs they find your site, make sure they’re woken up, and made to feel right at home.