Design is the New Copywriting

Audience Building Strategies for Content Businesses

Audience Building Strategies for Content BusinessesWelcome to the Marketing Show Podcast.

The direct marketing adage used to be “If it’s ugly as hell, it’ll probably sell,” but times are changing.

On this new podcast episode, Clay and Andy discuss a surprising comment by Vishen Lakhiani about how Mindvalley was able to increase conversions by improving the design of their sales pages – and how that redesign outperformed a high-dollar copywriter.

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Clay: So back in the day I was talking to a guy named Vishen Lakhiani. Vishen Lakhiani is the co-founder and now the CEO of Mindvalley. And Mindvalley is the largest publisher of self help of information online. So they do a number of courses on meditation, on healing, on yoga, on a number of different things in a number of different areas. And they basically take authors and distribute their material and market their material online. They do tens of millions of dollars every single year. And they absolutely know what they’re doing.

And I was talking to Vishen. Vishen is the, again CEO of the company and who is telling me that they took one of their sales letters that they wanted to increase conversions on. And they hired one of these expensive professional copywriters that charges thousands of dollars to write a sales letter. And they hired that copywriter, paid them a large sum of money. And they saw no difference in conversions compared to how their house copywriter did.

However, taking another approach and wanting to increase conversions, they hired a professional designer, and saw an 80% boost in conversions. So the professional copywriter charging thousands of dollars for a sales letter produced no difference in conversions. The designer created an 80% boost in conversions.

My name is Clay Collins. This is Andy Fossett, and welcome to today’s Marketing Show podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about why the designer is the new copywriter. So let’s dive deep into this Andy. What is the theory behind what’s going on here? Why does this work?

Andy: Yeah well mostly it’s because design is not simply graphics. When people think about design they think of color choices and they think of I got to find somebody that can use Photoshop. But that’s not what design is. Design is actually the way that visual elements fit together to convey information. It’s a way to organize information. And that could include your copy that includes information about your product. Anything you want to convey to somebody that is looking at your webpage or reading your book or whatever. All of that is affected by design. So that’s the biggest thing to keep in mind. It’s that it’s not just graphics. Design really affects the way everything fits together.

And so that’s why copywriting is really important. But that’s why design is probably going to be overtaking copy in terms of importance from here on. It’s mostly because we live in an increasingly kind of visual culture. People watch TV. They are used to using the internet. They look at things. We have computers in our pockets now. And everything is visual. And so the way that things are organized visually conveys information in a way that is much more subtle a lot of times than just the words that we use, but that makes it all the more profound.

Clay: And as our head coach here, I’ve really seen you work with people who actually aren’t designers, but go over sales letters and focus on using design as a way to simply to emphasize what is valuable about that program. So often you can take a sales letter that isn’t converting at all and simply by adding textual variation by adding background colors, by adding tables, by breaking things up in a way that emphasizes the stuff that’s good and allows people to selectively sift through the information that is not as important to conversion. Just doing that alone can cause a huge increase in conversions.

Andy: Yeah absolutely. I have a very good friend who taught me a lot about typography. And he’s a great designer and very interested in the typography which is where I learned a lot of what I know. But basically like you just said it’s about pointing out which information is important, letting people get indicators of what they should be paying attention to on a page. That kind of thing makes just about any copy you use instantly more effective, if the typography and the design is done well. And it doesn’t take a lot of work. It doesn’t mean that you have to use fancy fonts or that you need to break out the yellow highlighter or flashing red text or anything like that. But it’s just a matter of balancing things on the page and making sure that the important elements have enough space around them. And that the eye is drawn to them. And so yeah, absolutely that can make huge differences in conversion without even touching the copy.


Clay: Here’s a good test of whether or not your sales page or your landing page or whatever page you’re using is effective. Open up that page on your web browser, stand back about 20 feet and just close your eyes and then open them. And if the things that your eyes are immediately drawn to are not things like the sales button your guarantee. The most important elements, the main benefits before and after photos whatever you’re doing, if your eyes are not drawn to the most distinguishing and the most important elements of that page, then you have fundamentally failed in the area of design. Things that you want your customers to do, should be obvious. Opt-in boxes should be above the fold. Buy now buttons should be above the fold. So that is just a really important point that so many people miss out on.

Andy: Yeah and I actually call it the squint test. I don’t get up and move around the room because I’m lazy. But I actually sit in the same place and squint my eyes. And if I can’t tell what’s important on a page with my eyes squinted like that then I know that something needs to change.

Clay: Absolutely, absolutely.

Andy: Another good thing to keep in mind is that the quality design and good visuals are a really important indicator of a quality product because people equate the effort that you put in to design on the front end with the effort that you put into the way you convey things on the back end too. So it is actually a major trust indicator as well. If something looks like it was designed in Microsoft front page on Windows 95’ or something, people are going to be repelled by that.

Clay: Right, and I think we’ve gone from an era of the motto being, if it’s ugly as hell it’ll probably sell right? I’ve heard direct sales marketers say that. If it’s ugly as hell it’ll probably sell. And the notion there is that when everything is beautiful online, when everyone is obsessing about the beauty of the page, that things that are ugly, have the opportunity to stand out and to be considered. And I think back in the early days of internet marketing where there was really just a bunch of rogue pirates plundering human psychology. And it’s kind of stealing if you will as much money as they possibly can.

The notion of someone who has some ugly page that you just happen to find that’s about to share secrets that other people in the market don’t know about. Like that thing it made sense with that kind of business model, to have an ugly page. Because it’s very clear that this isn’t your every day person. This is a renegade. This is someone who’s doing things differently. This is someone who has a picture of themselves in front of a motorcycle and perhaps has tattoos. There’s this whole notion of the renegade marketer whatever who has an ugly page and still makes thousands of dollars and millions of dollars. And I think it’s pretty clear that we as an industry are all fed up with that. We really are.

That kind of thing really doesn’t appeal to most people anymore. We’ve all seen the same templates before. They’re widely distributed. There are a few word press themes that almost everyone uses. And you can see them immediately. And if it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, if it looks like a duck then your market will probably assume that it’s a duck. And if your squeezed page or landing page or home page looks like everyone else’s, and they see the same flashing red arrow pointing to the same yellow button, or the same blue circle around it that has the same texts as everyone else, then that is not a point of differentiation. And if your marketing looks similar to other people’s marketing then there is that implicit assumption that your product is the same as everyone else’s product.

Andy: And I’ll fully admit that I’ve used that arrow, that animated gift before on a squeezed page. I don’t mind admitting that. But I’m reformed now. I’ve seen the errors of my ways. I’m born again in the light of good marketing which is fuelled by good design.

Clay: Absolutely, absolutely. Cool. What else have you got for theory?


Andy: Well mostly it’s just continuing on that theme is that all these visuals, they don’t just affect the way you look at the information and the differentiation and all that. They also just affect the way that we feel inside. And this isn’t a new thing this isn’t because of the iPhone that we’ve become more visual. This is very biological. It comes from… it’s deeply rooted in the limbic system and everything. Like things that are in our peripheral vision affect our breathing without us realizing it. It’s the same way visuals on a webpage can affect the way that we feel when we’re viewing it. Visuals that are really rough and look unfinished and are kind of jagged and edgy are going to set us on edge. We’re not going to be able to trust that and relax very well. Visuals that are very sleek, And I’m not saying that you need to make everything very sleek. But visuals that looks like someone who cares, has spent time on them.

Those tell us that we’re going to have a better experience with this. Than we can relax that we can trust a little bit. Obviously we know that different graphics can make you feel, can change your emotions. Pictures of people’s faces, we all have this mirror reflex or mirror neurons. When we see an angry face we start to… our blood pressure rises a little bit. When we see a laughing baby we feel a lot lighter and happier. And visuals, obviously faces can change our emotions. But the picture of a sunset is known to produce a calming kind of feeling.

So if we’re clever about the way we use visuals and not just pictures but all visual elements, then we can also affect the emotional state of the person who is reading or viewing a page.

Clay: Absolutely.

Andy: And that goes, I mentioned faces briefly and it’s well known now. This has been talked about a lot in conversion circles. And especially anyone who’s studied advertising at all. Faces are really important especially the eye line. We’re drawn to follow the line of sight of a face that we see. So if we look at a picture on a webpage and it’s a picture of a person who’s looking at a button. We’re drawn to look at the button. And this is a really classic old school way to draw attention to visual elements. But it works really well. And that’s an over the top example which is starting to be used a lot more. But there are a lot more subtle ways to do this too. And I don’t mean with quote unquote subtle gradient arrows. An arrow is always going to be unsubtle. It’s an arrow. But there are a lot of subtle ways that you can do this with design and even with the formatting of your text that make people look in different places as well.

Clay: Absolutely. Study after study has shown that the thing that draws most attention in ad’s, in prints, just across the board, and I’m not advocating for this but the thing that draws eyeballs like nothing else is female cleavage. And the reason why is, men of course like looking at that and so do women. Women like looking at women. Men like looking at women. And in terms of over the top example of this, and I would never do this, but I’ve definitely seen it done effectively. At least in terms of the metrics is if you have an attractive woman where a slight amount of cleavage is showing who is looking at the converting point on the page. So if you’ve got a woman in a bikini looking at the opt-in box that is really going to work.

Andy: And in such a case you don’t even need for the opt-in box to flash or blink or anything.

Clay: You don’t even need opt-in text. You don’t even… it doesn’t need to say anything on the button. I’m just kidding.

Andy: No but it’s absolutely true. We’re drawn to attractive people. We’re drawn to attractive faces. And when we see somebody attractive who is interested in something that makes us interested in it too. Otherwise we would not care what Lindsay Lohan is wearing. We would not care what stars purchase. But attractive people are interesting to us. And so we want to find out what they are interested in. And so that’s why that works.

Clay: Absolutely. So here are some tips for working with a designer. The first bit of information is that you’re not off the hook in terms of knowing how to write copy. You don’t need to be the best trained copywriter in world but you do need some copywriting training. You need at the very least have read and carefully dissected the best performing sales pages. And the best performing copy in your market. You need to do split tests. You still need to do all these things. It’s not like you can hire a designer blindly. Let them run loose and everything’s going to turn out ok. So you still need to know some copy.

In the story about Vishen Lakhiani, Vishen still had their in house copywriter writing the copy, someone who’s trained in writing copy. So there were still guarantees. There still were calls to action. There still were risk reversals. There still were pointing out the benefits and emphasizing the features a little bit more than the benefits. There still was a well thought out headline that showed that they were sensitive to what the market was saying.

So this does not mean that you’re off the hook in terms of copy. You still need to be a student of copywriting. But you don’t need to spend multiple months writing a sales letter like I have done in the past. I have definitely to my own benefit. I’m not saying that this is a waste of time but I’ve definitely spent six hours on a headline before. I’ve definitely spent two entire months on one webinar. And that did convert. That did help. Those improvements were made. However getting the same results now in less time merely by implementing design help and in some cases we’re getting no improvement at all when we focus on copy solely. Or the changes are minimal compared to the design changes which can be immediately perceived.

The second thing to know is that you still need to know the basics of conversion design. So just because you have a designer it does not mean that they should be designing necessarily the layout of your page. You should still know things like opt-in boxes are on the right outperform opt-in boxes are on the left. You still need to know that you need to add to cart button or whatever you want the main activity, the conversion activity to be. That should be above the fold. You still need to have a general idea of what the flow should be that the guarantee should be at the bottom. That at the very top you need to hook people with a headline. That then you need to take them through an experience that puts them in a position where they can see the possibility in your product. And so there’s some very specific layouts things that need to happen. You need to be able to draw the layout of your page and then give that to a designer. So it doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of those things.

If you want to start working with the designer what I encourage you to do, is go to a website like 99 Designs. And I’m not saying… this isn’t to diss to designers out there. There are a number of people who hate 99 Designs. It’s crowd sourced. You run a design contest and then at the end of that contest you select a winner. And so only the winner of that design contest gets compensated for that work. Everyone else does not. And I’m not saying long term that you should post every single project on 99 Designs, but what 99 Designs has allowed us to do is actually hire the designer that we found.

So we posted a design project to 99 Designs. We spent about three weeks going back and forth with them on the design projects. Seeing how they responded. Seeing how they responded to our feedback. Seeing how the design changed over time. And when they won that design contest we offered them a number of separate projects outside of 99 Designs and that person is now working with us full time.

So I’m not saying by any stretch of imagination that you should farm out all of your design jobs to 99 Designs. I am saying that if you want to start working with a designer that that is a great way to interview them without actually interviewing them. You can do all the verbal interviews in the world with the designer, but that still doesn’t give you enough information about how they’re going to respond to your preferences and feedback and the quality of the work that they’re going to do and how responsive they’re going to be over time. And because the people who generally put more time into a design contest on 99 Designs are more likely to win it’s also a good measure of their availability, right?

The chances of someone working with you and doing a good job are very low if they’re consistently slammed, if they have a million different clients. And what working on 99 Designs allowed us to do was find a designer who actually had time in their schedule to be responding to an immense amount of feedback. And it worked out well for us. We now have a full time designer and it worked out well for the designer. They don’t have to bid for individual jobs anymore, they have consistent work on a team of people that’s working to make big things happen. And they get to evolve the design of a few brands over time. So rather than working on like 12 different project simultaneously it’s two different projects. And now we have time with him like to spend a month for example on just a few pages evolving those projects over time. And I think it’s a lot more satisfying for him. And it’s a lot more satisfying for me because we don’t have to spend the amount of time that we used to writing copy.

One additional tip that I heard from the folks at 37 Signals, is that you really should start off with what you have to say. Write your copy first and then have the page designed to emphasize your copy. So start out with text. So many people try and make what they have to say conform to some template that they have that they see someone else using. And that is completely backwards. And in many cases that is the formula for writing bad copy that’s just sort of jerry rigged to make a specific design work. So you want your design to emphasize your message rather than trying to make your message twist up in a little pretzel to accommodate for something that may look good, but ultimately does not serve your purpose. So those are our tips.

I believe very strongly that design is making a comeback in the direct sales marketing world. It’s always been pretty big in the general marketing world but in the direct sales marketing world. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Marketing Show podcast. Thank you so much for joining Andy and I and please leave any comments or questions that you have on this page. And we’ll be sure to check them out, maybe we’ll do a Q&A session in the future. Anyway thanks so much for joining us. Thank you Andy and have a wonderful, wonderful day. Take care.

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