Marketing 101: Design vs. Copy

In the old days (the 1970s and 1980s for me), we had a mantra to never sacrifice copy for design (copy being the text information in your ad and the design being how the ad looked). Point being that a great design never trumps great copy. But the real truth was although you never sacrifice copy for design, you should still make great copy look great, too.

There is no reason you need to really sacrifice either

Have great copy and great design. It’s like those Ford commercials – “and” is better than “or.” I grew up designing art for books, a magazine for a publisher, and eventually designing advertising for the company. I then got into copywriting because that’s where the features were discussed, the benefits where outlined, the offer was made to close the sale. I loved it.

I was a photographer and I loved doing advertising artwork. It was all creative and I am a creative. Today, you have about three seconds for someone to scan your artwork and headline copy before the potential customer moves on. So it has to be powerful and compelling—or they’re gone. Just like that. Snap. They’re off to another website, another link. The competition’s product.

I remember some great studies we did to determine how many words could be in a headline before the person moved on. What we discovered was pretty cool. It didn’t matter how long the headline was, only how boring. Same for text, or copy. Today, if you get off to a blog on something that you like, something that justifies your existence, something you resonate with, you will read to the end of the blog. If it’s just a blog with some info you need but not something you like, you will leave way earlier. We did a personal study of the average number of words in specific blogs – that is, not a general news type blog, but something more vertical, like car repair, political, or leadership. The typical blog had between 500 and 1,000 words (I’m rounding) with an average of 755 words (not rounding). Also, the average time a person watches a youtube video? 2.7 minutes (as of 10/15/2014). 140 characters in twitter conceptually shortens all text everywhere.

That tells me I need to keep everything short, sweet, and definitely under two minutes and forty-two seconds (2:42). Same for the written word. Don’t use any more than you have to and less is more. My oldest son Luke, among other things, is a social media expert and constantly telling me “it’s too long—they won’t read it.” So I trim. And then trim some more…

So what is the best rule of thumb today?

Compelling headlines with just enough copy to close the sale. But it needs to be good copy. I know you are probably not a copywriter or a designer, so you might want to get help here. Actually, let me be a little stronger because this can derail your business/sales. Get someone to design you a nice piece based around your original copy. If you think you are good at it, have an expert do one and you do one (do yours first) and test them both in an AB split.

An AB split is where you send half of your ad pieces/dollars to half your list (call that one ‘A’) and half to the other list (Call this one B)—the A being your designed and written piece vs. the pros design. The A list is all the odd number names on the list and the B list is all the even, etc. When the sales come in, keep great records (ask the “question,” See last blog LINK) and see if your piece sells as well as the pros piece. If yours does sell the better (or the same), keep doing it. If not, let the design/copy pros handle it.

This can be utilized with Social Media Marketing and print marketing. The point is the same.

Work to your strengths! I love my dad—I really do. He’s an engineer and does great engineering. But he is an abominable advertising designer and mediocre copywriter at best (sorry dad). And he will tell you so. Not because he notices but because I’ve told him so and because he gets no sales from his advertising. He can’t tell. He thinks it’s great. Good copywriters are much harder to find then good designers. Be careful here. Find the best you can.

Remember, our purpose is to close the sale—or at least move it closer to the sale.

Calibrate your tools

I once had an admin that was a perfectly terrible designer. Not only that, he couldn’t tell what was good or bad. I say perfectly because he was consistently wrong when asked to choose a winning advertisement. That’s okay—that’s not what he was hired to do. But once I found him to be consistent—once I calibrated him—I would pass my designs by him for his approval. I would finish working on a design for a cover of a catalog, magazine, or advertisement of some kind, and give it to him for input. If he liked it, I learned that it wouldn’t do well. If he hated it, it would do very well. I specifically calibrated him and used this as a final check on my design. True story.

We are not all great at everything. There are at least 50,000 jobs I cannot do well. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses is an important part of success.

Reflection and Action

Be careful here. Either get the education to write good copy and design well, or leave it to someone who has the ability to take what you have and make it better.

Work to your strengths and let others work to theirs. You will get farther faster. If it’s a make or buy decision, buy. There is nothing worse than wasting money by doing it yourself while thinking you are saving money. If you’re not good at designing and writing an ad, and you take three hours to do it, you will probably get a poor return. If instead, you pay the right person $1000 to design and write a good campaign for you, you can spend those three hours on your strengths and have a more profitable campaign. There is no guarantee that the campaign will be great, but you will calibrate that. If you’re putting out mediocre sales information, you are hurting your opportunity for the future. You only have one chance to make a good first impression – don’t waste it!

Next up: Plan your Marketing! No Spontaneous purchases!