My recent post on “B2B marketing’s 10 most common copy mistakes,” attracted many readers. Since copy doesn’t stand alone, it made sense to update and repeat a post from 2009 on common B2B marketing design mistakes.
That post began with me talking about why I love “direct” marketing more than advertising.
Direct marketing is a discipline built on the testing and measurement of every element of a marketing campaign to let the market reveal which approach produces the most response. This ability to learn what works and what does not, gives each new B2B marketing campaign the potential to be more successful than the last — and to make B2B marketers smarter.
Direct marketing has been around for over 100 years, so those B2B marketers who have come before us have tested EVERYTHING. Granted, different products and different target markets can produce different results, but there are some findings that are pretty much universal. That’s because human nature is universal. So here are the design mistakes I see most often that can affect the performance of a Web site or other marketing effort:
1. Treating copy as a design element: Words laid out in a cute shape or design manner are unreadable. B2B marketers want the design to reflect their business brand and style, but the purpose of marketing design is to make the message as inviting and readable as possible. Designing headlines with some words larger than others also diminishes readability. Headlines in sentence case are more readable than those in title case or all caps.
2. Running copy lines across a full page from left to right: The eye moving across a computer screen or printed page from left to right can easily lose its place. The harder a B2B marketing message is to read, the faster a prospect or customer will stop reading it and move on. In fact, in email marketing, the rule is to put no more than 70 characters, including spaces, on a single line.
3. Not including visuals: The message offering a white paper is stronger if a visual of the white paper is included. Using pictures of people on Web site pages, landing pages, printed materials, and emails subliminally makes a company look human and adds a level of comfort to those thinking about responding. A visual that directly supports what is being said makes the message stronger.
4. Presenting the message in big, long paragraphs: Other B2B direct marketers have tested this and proven that paragraphs of over four lines look like work to read and reduce response. Busy B2B buyers don’t want to have to work to get information. Good readable copy is easy to scan. That means using bold subheads, bullets, indents, numbers, and other devices that make the message easy to understand by scanning the page.
5. Hiding the call to action: Presenting links online is pretty easy. But if B2B marketers want a response from any printed material — letters, sales sheets, data sheets, and brochures — the call to action needs to be prominent and clear. Prospects need to see the phone numbers, URLs and/or email address quickly and clearly so that they know instantly what they must do to respond.
This last note was mentioned in the recent “10 common copy mistakes” post as well. It’s frightening how often I see this design error — in fact I’ve seen entire Web sites designed this way.
6. Reversing body copy out of a dark background: This practice reduces readability by over 30%. Web pages, ads, fliers or mailers with all-black backgrounds and light copy are the worst. Reversed headlines are OK, but not body copy. Dark type against a light or white background is always the most readable.