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B2B marketing’s 6 most common design mistakes

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.

Converting B2B marketing click-throughs in 50 milliseconds

Tim Ash, in the latest version of Target Marketing magazine, makes a dramatic point about how critical it is to make sure a landing page follows all the right practices to maximize conversions.

In his article “After the Click“, Tim lays out specific must-dos for landing page productivity. He says, “Getting people to click on your email link or banner offer is irrelevant if they don’t see what they expected to see, can’t find what they came for or are just plain turned off by your landing page.”

As the CEO at SiteTuners and author of Landing Page Optimization, Tim knows his stuff. He reports on research estimating that marketers have only 50 milliseconds to capture a person’s attention. Tim reports, “Recent findings in neuroscience are giving marketers insights into how the brain reacts to new information, what it likes and what it rejects. For example, the brain is frustrated by:

  • Tasks that take too long to resolve;
  • Clutter; and
  • Messages that distract or don’t apply.”

I’ve often written about the importance of keeping messages simple so B2B buyers can “react” to offers without ever having to stop and think. Tim refers it as “first impressions.” That’s why I thought it might be time to repeat the highlights of my “5 Biggest B2B Marketing Design Mistakes” to help B2B marketers creating landing pages make the right visual impression:

  1. Never reverse body copy out of a dark background (headlines are OK, but not body copy).
  2. Keep lines of text short from left to right to maximize readability (no more than 70 characters per line).
  3. Never treat copy as purely a design element.
  4. Use pictures whenever possible.
  5. Don’t hide your call to action.

Tim adds to these instructions on other ways to keep the design uncluttered. He adds:

  1. Keep your colors pleasing and neutral.
  2. Use standard fonts large enough to read without straining.
  3. Make text easy to scan.

The other point Tim makes is one I have also advised clients to remember for years — to have a single call to action. Those who click through will stop and get confused if the landing page gives them choices. Remember, B2B marketers don’t want prospects to have to think. They want prospects to react.

Tim clearly states that the landing page is not an “afterthought.” It’s the biggest part of a B2B marketing campaign that must convert click-throughs into follow-throughs.

Help your B2B marketing prospects get the message.

My colleague and white paper writer extraordinaire Jonathan Kantor, the White Paper Pundit, is now sending out a newsletter called “Short Attention Span Marketing Tips.” His September issue makes it very clear why he picked the name. I suggest that all B2B marketers take note. He explains,

“In today’s ‘sound-bite’ world, it’s getting harder to pay attention:

  • We don’t read articles — we scan headlines and sub-heads.We prefer short SMS text messages to email.
  • Social media platform Twitter is based on messages of 140 characters or less.
  • The ‘3-second rule’ — the amount of time a web surfer will spend on a page — is a key factor in website design.
  • Television news — the industry that invented the sound-bite — has succeeded in reducing a complex news story to a few seconds.”

He’s right and this reiterates why it’s so important to follow these B2B marketing copywriting and design rules:

  1. Make your message scannable. Put the heart of the message in the headline, the subheads, bullet points and the call to action. If the reader is grabbed, then and only then will he or she read the body copy.
  2. Make your headlines strong benefit statements or promises of a benefit. That is, don’t make them information such as “Sarbanes-Oxley Compliant” but deliver a benefit such as “Stay compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley — effortlessly.”
  3. Make your headlines and subheads action statements. Write using words like Save, Get, Win, Start, Learn, Discover and dozens of other words that get your readers involved with your message.
  4. Keep emails under 250 words and keep lead generation letters to one page. I’ve worked with a client who had many lawyers involved in the marketing process and insisted that every possible caveat be included in every message. This approach diminishes the effectiveness of every marketing communication.

Think bullets. Think short paragraphs. Think reader benefits. B2B marketing must be inviting and informative even when it isn’t read word for word.

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company.”

3 Great B2B Marketing Ideas I Read in (OMG) Print Media.

Yes, there is still print media out there, and it still has value for those of us that don’t yet own an iPad and like to sit on a lawn chair and read industry pubs. Here’s what I learned just this past weekend.

1. Over the top’ creative approaches can generate appointments with decision-makers. The July issue of the U.S. Postal Service’s publication Deliver® featured a story on Chris Newman. As the award-winning senior art director at Euro RSCG Chicago, Chris emphatically shows why B2B marketing doesn’t have to be dull.

He uses ‘over the top’ creative dimensional mailers that get decision makers to interact with the marketing and say yes to a face-to-face appointment with sales. As Chris observes, there’s something “powerful about being able to hold something in your hand and explore it on your own . . . it’s definitely a ‘real’ experience, as opposed to a virtual experience.” How does this work?

Here are two of his great (and productive) creations:

On behalf of Sprint, Euro RSCG sent decision-makers a Tackle Box, described as a “solution toolbox” with the clever teaser “Don’t let this one get away.” The box contained typical fishing paraphernalia plus a brochure promoting Sprint’s work grade communications and a business card from a Sprint Sales representative. Mailing to 500 decision-makers, this campaign generated a huge 5% response.

Looking for a “high-impact” way to promote Sprint’s Wireline Convergence Wireless Integration system, Chris and his team created a B2B direct mailer that included a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly, plus a gift card for high-quality steaks. The marketing message was “Not since PB&J has integration been so seamless.” Exceeding the marketing goal by over 300%, Sprint reported that their national account managers loved the concept so much that when they were scheduled to go to the appointments, they were actually bringing loaves of bread to go with the peanut butter and jelly.”

When the value of making a sale is high enough, these approaches are well worth the extra cost and effort. They produce interaction — and response — and make a strong brand impression at the same time.

To read the complete article, entitled “Alpha Mail,” just download a copy of this issue of Deliver.

2. Adding drama to subject lines and headlines produces better results. An article by Robert Lerose in the latest issue of Target Marketing Magazine effectively covers six ‘timeless’ “Strategies for a Great Headline.” When looking at his list, I realized how rarely I see the power of these six approaches used in B2B marketing.

Subject lines, headlines, and the title of the offer content, however, must be powerful enough to draw the prospect into the marketing message. How would these proven headline approaches affect B2B marketing?

Here are a few examples:

Acceptable Subject Line: Seamlessly integrate timesheets w/ invoicing
Dramatic Subject Line: Cut 50% off data entry time and costs

Acceptable Headline: Reduce on-the-job accidents with new innovative training tool.
Dramatic Headline: Build a lifetime of safe behavior in 20 minutes of fun.

Acceptable White Paper Title: How to Move or Expand Your Company’s Network Infrastructure.
Dramatic White Paper Title: IT Manager’s Survival Guide: 5 essential steps to a flawless installation, expansion or move of your company’s network infrastructure.

Robert’s other approaches to making headlines dramatic are all worth reading and considering. But remember, in this day of B2B marketing message overload, the headline can make or break the effectiveness of marketing.

3. Today’s technology buyers still want more savings and efficiency. The June 29 issue of Information Week has some good news, B2B marketers. Chris Murphy’s subhead in his “Return to Growth” article says “The belt tightening isn’t over, but companies are spending more of their IT dollars to drive revenue and gain customers.”

In the article, Chris compares the results of the “InformationWeek Analytics 2010 Global CIO Survey” with last year’s survey, providing the following insight that should guide our current messages for selling to this target:

Here is what 333 IT executives said about their “Innovation Plans for 2010.”

48% — Make business processes more efficient.
36% — Introduce new IT-led products and services for customers.
32% — Lower IT costs and business costs.
28% — Create a new business model and revenue stream for the company.

Looking at these results, I see “making business processes more efficient” to be strongly tied into “lowering IT costs and business costs.” So cost-cutting should probably remain a part of B2B marketing messages along with the growth that can come from new product introductions.