Friday, October 30, 2015

5 secrets that website designers don’t tell you

By Sharon Lee

You want a website that captures interest, holds it and brings you sales.

It’s easy to say, but not necessarily simple to do. Creating a website that becomes a major revenue driver can be fun. Or it can be a nightmare.

Have you ever had a run-in with a website developer who promised you a brilliant design but all you got was a big mess? No, you’re not an expert, but you know what’s good and what’s not. You also know when you’re being taken advantage of. All you wanted was a website that would help you succeed online, and what you got instead wasn’t worth the pixels it was painted on.

In this post I will share some secrets that can help ensure you end up with the best website possible. 

1. You don’t need to spend a fortune
People say you get what you pay for, and sometimes, that’s true. But it’s not true that you need to spend your life savings on a good website. There are too many designers out there preying on your ignorance, charging exorbitant rates for their own profit. They blind you with jargon and fancy coding terms. Don’t put up with it.

Decide your budget and find graphic designers who can work within it. Look for designers that fit the style of site you’d like for your business. Visit other sites you like and see who designed them. Ask for quotes, take your time and shop around.

It’ll save you thousands of dollars.

2. Design is about psychology
A graphic designer needs to know color psychology and the associations people make with specific shades and tones. She needs to know what imagery will appeal to people, the type of people it’ll appeal to, and why it appeals to them. She needs to know what’s going on in people’s minds when they land on sites and as they navigate through yours.

Are smooth curves better than concentric circles? Is IBM blue the best color or is deep red a better choice? What will draw people to the right or the left? What emotional state should the site create? Should the design be modern and simple or colourful and bold or soft and comforting? Where do a person’s eyes travel, and what will make them stop?

Good designers know all this and much more. They understand that their goal is to influence a visitor’s psychological state of mind and perception of your business. The more designers know about how people behave, what makes them take action and ways they react to different elements, the better they can implement persuasive strategies into your site.

3. You don’t need to be totally unique.
It’s true that you need to stand out these days and look different from all the rest. The problem is that some designers take it a little too far, and they design you a site that’s so unique it breaks all the rules – and not in a good way. Your stunning site ends up being a confusing experience for visitors.

Designers need to create sites that follow web conventions and usability rules, because these are the ultimate guides to navigating your site quickly and easily. If you break them, you’ll confuse your visitors.

Shun conventions and you’ll create a visitor experience that’s similar to walking into an alien world.

4. Branding is a special skill, and not all designers do it well.
Most designers aren’t skilled in developing brand identities. They’re good at developing graphic design that reflects your brand identity, but if you haven’t supplied them with that crucial information, they’re just assuming.

They’re assuming your target market, and what appeals to those ideal customers. They’re assuming the values of your business and its marketing message. They’re assuming its personality and the type of experience your customers will have when they work with you or buy from you. You know what they say about assuming, right?

It’s far better to work with a specialist to build your brand identity before you hire your web developer. Otherwise you’ll just attract the wrong kind of people, and the entire website will be a waste of money.

5. Maintaining a website isn’t expensive.
Since graphic design and website development is usually a one-time expense, unethical providers try to loop you in as a customer they can bill every month for recurring charges.

When someone offers you an upsell maintenance package, ask what they’ll do for that money. Then go to Google and find out just how easy it is to do what they’ve offered you.

Not interested in maintaining your site? By all means, hire someone to do it for you. Just be sure you’re not being overcharged for quick and easy jobs.

Designing a website involves many factors and, when done right, produces results. There are pitfalls, however, and I’m hoping this post will help you avoid them.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The most neglected concept in marketing

By David Ronald

One of the most overlooked and rarely implemented concepts in marketing is that of the company persona.

No, I’m not talking about buyer personas, which are vital and a key contributor to the efficacy of the outbound marketing of any company—spending time and creativity in the creation of accurate buyer personas is an investment that will yield results (more on this later). Instead, I’m recommending that you craft a vendor persona that describes your company.

Think of it as the foundation of your brand.

One of my former companies, a startup that introduced several game-changing technologies to the cable television industry, selected the persona of a visionary magician. It was a perfect way of encapsulating the innovative spirit of the company. All of the content created by the marketing team from that point onwards adopted a tone-of-voice that reflected the visionary magician persona.

Not only did this approach improve the consistency of our outbound marketing, it also informed the way the sales team pitched the product; and also how we spoke about the company to analysts and media. And a serendipitous side-effect was it hinted about exciting future product developments without requiring the company to commit to roadmap specifics—which is ideal for a business in the early-stages of its life.

Life is hectic and anything that simplifies it is good, and that is where the power of a company persona comes from—it enables both company outsiders and insiders to “get” what you are about faster and more easily.

This is why I recommend that you consider coming up with a personality for your business.
And, while we’re on the topic of personas, let’s consider buyer personas, which are the other side of the same coin. Don’t hesitate to invest in crafting 3-5 buyer personas as this will increase the success of your outbound marketing.

Why do buyer personas matter?

Here’s an example of what can happen if they’re overlooked: when I started working at the cable television infrastructure vendor described earlier in this post, the company used the same messaging foundation across all its content (data sheets, white papers, presentations, press releases and so on). The sales cycle for its process lasted 12-18 months and required approval from multiple teams within a cable television company.

The key influencers involved in buying its product included technical, financial and user personas. Some personas were attracted to the company’s products because they were game-changing but others were intimidated—resulting in meetings being delayed endlessly.

Specifically, adjectives such as “game-changing” and “revolutionary” that resonated with the technically-oriented employees were disconcerting to people in operations and support inherently wary of new and untested technologies.

Consequently, we segmented our messaging according to persona—a new segment for the operations persona focused on ease-of-use and the availability of 24/7 technical support. These attributes were evangelized on the website, in solution briefs and blogs, in the trade press and at tradeshows. And, consequently, half a dozen opportunities that had been stalled were successfully closed.

The creation of buyer personas isn’t onerous and, indeed, can be fun. Start by identifying the 3-5 key issues that your target personas focus on. Next, determine how your solution mitigates these issues (and be creative if you have to). Add credibility to these benefits by mapping specific features of your solution to each benefit.

Ask your most experienced sales person to review this messaging architecture and incorporate changes. You’ll be ready to go once you’ve done that.

Thanks for reading.

Leave us a comment if you found this information useful.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Beware of so-called experts

By David Ronald

Sometimes it feels that there are types of people—those claiming to be experts and those willing to believe everything that a so-called expert tells them.

And I confess that I am occasionally guilty of falling into that second category.

We are surrounded by so-called experts—people with opinions, but very little actual expertise. Often I am willing to defer to the opinions of someone speaking about a topic with confidence. Sadly, however, confidence seldom equates to actual expertise. 
 According to one dictionary definition an expert is someone possessing special skill or knowledge and trained by practice.

The key part of that definition is “trained by practice”.

So here are some thoughts on how to get the most the relationships with any consultant who you invite into your business:
  • Be a student, don’t be a follower. Consider all valid viewpoints and embrace opposing views. Seek the conflicting counsel of several experts—don’t just drink the Kool-Aid because the “expert” said to. Be a learner; a researcher, not a disciple.
  • Only take advice from those who have done what they are advising you to do successfully and often. Find practitioners, not just teachers, even if you’re eager to learn the topic. Vet your experts / consultants by results, not pontification.
  • Ensure that your decision is the product of your own conclusions. Ultimately, you know best. You were designed with a built-in intuition to sort, vet and determine what’s real from what’s counterfeit. Trust yourself.
There are good, even great, business consultants, and using them can be very helpful (if I didn’t think that we provided real value to our clients, my business partners and I would close our collaborative tomorrow). But when you use an expert, don’t automatically assume that he is smarter than you, or that they know more about your business strategy than you do, or even that their advice is necessarily true. As you work with any consultant, continue to apply your own common sense, reflect on your own experience and weigh the benefits of their recommendations.

Be like the one little kid in the story of the emperors’ new clothes; the only person in the kingdom who was willing to call out, “But mommy, he isn’t wearing any clothes.”

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Friday, October 2, 2015

7 ways to prove your startup using lean concepts

By David Ronald

Although opinions differ about the merits of the lean startup philosophy, originally championed by Eric Reis, there can be little doubt that any entrepreneur will benefit from acquainting herself with its concepts.

The key principle behind this approach is to view your startup as a scientific experiment in search of a business model. This concept began as a new idea and then became so popular people now consider it common sense.

The lean method moves beyond favorable opinions and towards gathering valuable, usable evidence. Using it enables an entrepreneur to measure what works and what doesn’t. Think of lean as a scientific method, with change grounded in data from behavior, not whims.

Here are seven experiments, inspired by an article by David Teten, partner at ff Venture Capital, that you can conduct to test your business hypotheses.

Step I: Explore the market

1. Create surveys. Sending a questionnaire to your customer base is a great way to elicit feedback and discover needs. For instance, try evaluating response an incentive like: “$100 off our product when it first hits the market.” If people are eager to apply that discount to a product that doesn't even exist yet, it’s further validation of customer demand.

2. Collect pre-orders. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have made it much easier to measure market demand for a product or service. By describing the product's features and offering it to the masses, entrepreneurs can get an idea of how the market outside of the crowdfunding platform would respond.

3. Run test ads. Utilize Google AdWords, Yahoo!, Bing and other platforms by creating ads that take viewers to a page soliciting email signups and possibly pre-orders. Test which ads are most effective and, instead of simply collecting emails, try to also collect data in the form of a mini survey. I suggest checking out QuickMVP, an all-in-one tool for building launch pages, driving traffic through Google AdWords and analyzing customer demand.

Step II: Explore the solution

4. Test multiple iterations of your website. Design and user experience definitely play a role in how the prospect views your startup and its offerings. So experiment with it. Launchrock is a great site for building launch pages and analyzing user data. Or try experimenting with different A/B testing campaigns using Optimizely.

5. Talk with real users of your beta product. Beta testers can potentially be your lifeline when launching a new product. To get people interested in testing out your startup, check out websites like, Erli Bird and

Step III: Explore the marketing 

6. Analyze which campaigns get the most traction. Just as you need to understand your end users, it’s also important to understand the behavior of the influencers who touch your end users. There are several social-media analysis tools out there that can help you with this, including Copromote and Bottlenose.

7. Analyze website usage. Testing what words get the most hits can give you insight into the target market. Drill down in Google Analytics, taking advantage of goal tracking, demographic information, interest segmentation and cohort analytics.

Remember, when it comes to going lean you can be a fan without being fanatical. Like all business approaches, nothing is set in stone. That’s the beauty of lean—it encourages constant analysis, adaptation and refinement.

Take as much or as little from it as you want.