Design is frequently recognized as an essential aesthetic element, but it is often overlooked as a fundamental business strategy. What leaders need to remember is that design sends a message to customers, and it is critical to be intentional about the content of that message. With the right design, you can stand out from the competition, connect with customers, and give them the confidence that you can solve their problems effectively.
Vistaprint is a great example. Despite the size of the custom printing organization, details such as the hero image on the homepage and the font used throughout the site are no accident. Instead, they are calibrated to resonate with small businesses and entrepreneurs, and they work.
The design also profoundly affects the customer experience. Instead of merely making things pretty, you can leverage design as a valuable business tool that can not only attract customers but also convert them into your advocates.
Thinking Outside the Design Box
Whether you are selling products online or have a physical retail space, you rarely have a lot of time to convince customers that your products are worth a second look. As a result, you need to make purchasing decisions easy.
A user experience that delights the customer and improves ease of use begins by ensuring your design complements your value proposition. In doing so, your company’s differentiators are embedded into a consumer’s mind when he or she checks out your competitors, ultimately increasing the ROI of your marketing spend. Other benefits of a well-designed user experience include increasing referrals and reducing churn.
But be wary about where you seek design inspiration. For example, we worked with a client whose leadership team loved Apple and wanted a similar design feel. Unfortunately, the team ignored that Apple offered a completely different value proposition to creatives in consumer electronics. Its target segment was Fortune 500 back-office executives who expected well-established services over “sexy” leading-edge products and software. By ignoring its customers and clinging to inspiration, this client hit a plateau in its growth and stagnated.
However, when we helped a similar client update its branding, its leadership team focused on its target audiences’ needs. We combined its technological prowess and enterprise values with dark colors, space imagery, and a feel similar to the world’s most prestigious consulting firms. Additionally, we updated the brand’s tone and messaging hierarchy. When we pushed its new face to the market, revenue nearly doubled in two years to achieve more than $100 million.
4 Steps to Use Design as a Business Tool
Design is about using visual cues to send a clear message to your customers. Using the following strategies will ensure you are sending the right message:
Communicate Your Mission
Why do you go to work every day? The first step toward creating clear, effective design is to codify the answer to this question in your company’s mission statement. Make your mission statement aspirational, like Zappos or Amazon, because it will be your organization’s guiding light in decision-making at every level.
Creating a mission statement is far more than a box to tick off. If everyone is on board with the mission statement, it establishes alignment across your business functions. As a senior leader, do not allow interpretation to differ across the organization. This is commonly seen in siloed departments. To ensure alignment, schedule a series of working sessions focused on honing your mission statement. Invite all the key players in your business, even those individuals working on the ground level. To keep priorities on track, consider including a facilitator to guide the process.
2. Understand Your Customers
Why do your customers come to you? What problems do they hope you will solve? You should leverage quantitative and qualitative tools to answer these questions.
Seek out answers by using website analytics. What are the top traffic drivers? Which are the most visited pages? How does your conversion vary as you test different messaging? You can also use hot-spot analysis that tracks users as they navigate through your site. By using path analysis, you can pinpoint where they drop out of your funnel so you can focus on improving the right areas of design elements that positively impact the user experience. Always verify that you are moving in the right direction using A/B or multivariate testing.
Focus groups and surveys can be very helpful. You can get surprising insights from yes or no answers if you structure the survey properly. Talking to your distributors, retailers, partners, or salespeople is also important to get into the mind of the customer.
3. Differentiate From the Competition
Regardless of your industry, you should know who your competitors are. When it comes to design, it is crucial to complete a competitive analysis to determine the best way to stand out. For example, you might learn that most companies in cybersecurity are blue, so you decide to opt for a different primary color in order to not be camouflaged with competitors.
Business leaders like to skip this step and assume that they are better than the competition in every aspect that counts. However, your team needs to be brutally honest as you measure your company’s strengths and weaknesses against the competition. A facilitator who has performed a competitive analysis — whether a third-party individual or a member of your marketing team — can guide you through the analysis process to illuminate what makes you different from an outside perspective.
4. Start the Design Process
Unless you are starting from scratch, most design is actually a redesign. But be cautious about your redesign — customers can get uncomfortable with new branding. Think about how attached customers are to your brand and then decide how much you are willing to deviate.
IHOP’s recent “IHOb” rebrand is a great example. It was an important part of an overall strategy that focused more on the customer than on making something “pretty.” The update was the restaurant chain’s response to falling profits as pancake popularity declined. While the change is small on the design side, this will have major implications to its customers. Time will tell how effective it is.
Design goes beyond aesthetics. While it is true that good design can lend an air of legitimacy to your business, its role should focus on standing out in a way that provides visual cues that communicate your value proposition and boost your credibility with your target segment. Ultimately, good design — when done right — can accelerate growth and increase ROI.
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