Great Content and Brilliant Design – You Need Both. Now Let’s Stop Arguing.

Great content can get lost with poor visual design. Or, to flip it around, good visual design enhances storytelling. This isn’t news to anyone in the world of content marketing. What’s surprising, though, is the number of people who still need convincing.

Not only does good visual design enhance storytelling, good design is critical to connecting with your audience—and possibly even closing the sale. Why? Because research has shown that buyers associate the quality of your product with the quality of your visual design. In other words, you need great content and brilliant design to succeed.

Some of my favorite examples of this principle – how visual design directly affects customer perception – are found in chapter 5 of Malcom Gladwell’s best seller, Blink. Gladwell writes about the research conducted by Louis Cheskin, a pioneer in 20th-century marketing. As Wikipedia says, Cheskin “observed that people’s perceptions of products and services were directly related to aesthetic design, and named this relationship sensation transference.”

Cheskin demonstrated his theory of “sensation transference” by conducting consumer tests on products ranging from Seven-Up to margarine, brandy, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, and more. Here are just two examples of how the visual design of a product’s packaging affected customer behavior:

  • Without ever sampling the actual products, customers said yellow margarine on bread would taste better than white margarine on the same bread. At the time, butter was yellow – and margarine was new. The association with “known” and “safe” helped Imperial Margarine succeed in launching a completely new product—yellow margarine.
  • Christian Brothers’ brandy was losing market share to a second brand called E&J. In blind taste tests conducted by Cheskin the two brands came out the same. The two brandies were also comparable in price, availability, and familiarity to consumers. The final test Cheskin conducted revealed the problem: the E&J brandy was housed in an ornate bottle—shaped, designed, and colored like an expensive, leaded-glass decanter. You already know the end of the story: Christian Brothers redesigned their bottle to resemble that of E&J and the market share numbers turned around.

Flash forward to the present and a whole slew of studies, stats, and surveys expand on Cheskin’s ideas – and underscore the idea that in our digital world, brilliant visual design elevates mere content alone. You can find Hubpot’s collection of stats here, including two of my favorites:

  • Infographics are “liked” and shared on social media 3 times more than other types of content
  • Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images.

So, let’s stop arguing whether good visual design matters – and embrace the words of another best-selling author, Mike Myatt: “Why present a content vs. design argument? The Holy Grail is found in nesting great content within brilliant design—don’t think ‘either/or,’ think ‘and’.”


Barbara Call is Digital Content Director at IDG. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraRCall1


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