Why There’s No Such Thing as Being Too Obvious in Marketing

September 23rd, 2016

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Lately, many people describe marketing as part art and part science, but that feels like an oversimplification of what we do. The art side of things is the creativity required to conjure a compelling message, develop stunning visuals, or even design a thing—whether physical or digital—that stops a prospect in their tracks. The science is shorthand for the fact that we are now required to use data.

This is not a bad thing because it makes marketers focus on outcomes. If your outcome is not measurable in some fashion, it is hard to know if your efforts were a success. It also makes it hard to know what you should do next time—the same thing? Something different?

It doesn’t matter if your marketing is deployed with pixels or paper or pavement. You still need to follow the key principles of marketing: Who is your audience? What do you want to tell them? What action do you want them to take? How do you measure success? Each of those elements may be made up of multiple tactics, which could require months of planning, but it really all boils down to these parts.

The one I want to address is the action.

The Importance of Action

In the past, I have represented this step on presentation slides with an action figure. That might seem to be too obvious of a visual representation, but that is exactly my point: There is no such thing as being too obvious in marketing.

You are trying to get your prospects or customers take an action. They must understand what you are asking them to do. Have you ever seen marketing copy written so beautifully that it could’ve been lifted out of a nineteenth-century English country novel—but for the life of you, you couldn’t figure out what it was trying to tell you, or sell you? “What am I supposed to do now?” The likely response to this confusion is to move on to the next thing. Close your browser tab. Turn the page. Look back at the road.

Well, I’ve written copy like that. As a writer, it feels great to string together just the right words so they float off the page like gossamer wings. But as a marketer, you’ve failed if you can’t get your target to take the desired action. 

The same is true on the design side. If a designer crafts just the right look and feel for the brand, using the latest trends in minimalist design to create an artisanal user experience, but again, if you can’t read the text or find the thing you need to click on, then it is a marketing failure. Was there a form somewhere? A button you didn’t see? Did you need to print off a coupon?

Marketing is not the place for subtlety. If your beautiful art—written, visual, audio—can’t move your prospects along to the next step in the process, then it is not appropriate for marketing.

Stop Hiding Your Calls to Action

There are plenty of marketers doing great creative work that could be described as art but still needs to serve the goal, whatever that is. Brand marketers building awareness are in this category. But you still have to understand what success looks like and have a way to measure it.

Content marketers frequently leverage calls to action to encourage a download of additional content. That download requires filling out a form. That is a clearly defined action that cannot be subtle. You would not include a text-only link in a blog post as your CTA if your text was not underlined or in a different color. The only way a reader would know where the link was would be if they happened to roll over the text with their cursor, or from the words themselves. But why would you want to hide your desired action?

Make sure you have a clear understanding of what action you want your readers, viewers, visitors, and passersby to take, but make doubly sure that you make it clear to them what action they should take.

That’s good marketing, whether you call it art or science.

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