Design or Copy? Which Should Do Your Heavy Sales Lifting?

You decide…

A large purchase contract for a new computer system linking its far-flung international operations will be awarded today in Peoria, Illinois by Caterpillar, Inc., the construction machinery manufacturer.

Bidding competition among integrated computer software and hardware firms is fierce, and ongoing… and for good reason. A record-breaking $850 million are up for grabs. Another $600 million in related service contracts are also on the table, just waiting to be snapped up.

The following is what occurred yesterday, as reported in the Wall Street Journal…

“…The top-producing sales rep for Hewlett-Packard, the last in a long line of computer system sales reps to visit CAT headquarters, strides with a quick and confident step into the high-ceilinged, wood-paneled office of CAT’s Chief Financial Officer.

Seated around an oval, dark-wood, highly-polished conference table are the CFO, his two assistants, the IT department head, his two assistants and a bevy of lesser known department heads.

Each one rises with a wane and tired smile, and extends a perfunctory handshake to the HP rep.

The CAT execs are pressed for time, and they’d like this meeting to end even before it begins.

For these harried MBA’s and engineers the entire three month long purchase process has been a painful exercise in perseverance, endurance and patience.

They’ve listened to sales rep after sales rep spew endless superlatives, guarantees and performance statistics that clearly test the limits of credibility.

Nonetheless, they’re eager to choose a system – if for no other reason than to finally move on to other far more pressing matters.

The HP rep understands this, he’s done his research. He’s read the bio’s of all the department heads, and he’s intimately familiar with CAT’s purchasing protocols and decision-making culture.

He also knows that if he can ink the deal – he’ll earn a princely six-figure commission.

He opens his briefcase and solemnly removes a stack of 8″X10″ photos, and without a word passes them around the table.

One photo shows a smiling, smartly dressed secretary working at her computer terminal. Another is a seemingly simple picture of a wireless keyboard and mouse. Another picture shows hundred dollar bills stacked chest-high atop a desk. And still another picture shows two men shaking hands in front of CAT’s Peoria headquarters.

The pictures are printed on heavy grade, high-gloss stock. Color, composition and the orchestration of light and shadow is artful and dramatic. These are photographic masterpieces, and were undoubtedly extremely expensive to produce.

The HP rep glances around the table and then quietly closes his briefcase. ‘Gentlemen, I have nothing else to say…?’”


Yeah, exactly, say nothing – pass out pictures instead. Unbelievably, that was the HP rep’s entire sales presentation.

Wait a minute, you say. No salesman would ever do such a patently stupid thing.

Wanna bet? Most businesses do exactly that – every day.

For some odd reason – a distinctly Madison Avenue type reason – most businesses believe that to drive sales all they need do is literally – literally – present a pretty picture.

For their corporate website they’ll hire a web design company to create dramatic MTV-quality multi-media flash presentations that are extremely adept at selling… what else, the web design company.

Or they’ll load their web pages with graphics and fonts that dazzle and overwhelm if not permanently blind the eye – believing that “eye candy” alone will motivate their visitors to click the “Submit Order” button (if only they can find it).

Or they’ll hire an ad agency to design a full page ad – which will then organize an expedition to the top of Mt. Everest to photograph a smiling Sherpa using their client’s toilet bowl cleaner (while the company’s contact information will be at the bottom of the mountain, buried in the snow).

Or they’ll commission a 60-second TV spot of a digitally created woman running through a digitally created field of flowers with digitally created children and dogs in tow – believing this will prompt viewers to run to their phones to request an auto insurance quote – though no phone number is provided (after all, why ruin the effect.)

Sure, many people (though not necessarily those being targeted) will gush about how imaginative, entertaining, fun and creative these ads, websites or TV commercials are – and, ironically, they’ll win numerous coveted awards.

But the companies that commissioned these expensive misadventures… will quietly and quickly go bankrupt, because…

Pretty Ads, TV Commercials and Websites DO NOT Generate Sales!

You see, for most businesses, marketing and advertising is decoration, corporate ego aggrandizement – the thumping of chests and the hollow bellowing of achievement.

Copy, as in “words that sell”, is viewed as a crass intrusion by these purveyors and consumers of Madison Avenue style advertising. It’s low-brow – an embarrassment that cheapens and detracts from a company’s overall “image and effect”.

And yet, if some bonehead ad exec writes a headline or ditty that’s catchy, cute, indecipherable, and also rhymes – it’ll quickly become the company’s new tagline, though it’ll be roundly ignored by the audience it’s intended to attract.

Why? Because it won’t speak to their immediate needs and wants; suggests no understanding of their situation; implies no benefits, and asks for no action to be taken.

Sure, a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words…

But not when you’re trying to attract buyers and make a sale.

Don’t believe me? Then do what my imaginary HP rep did (yes, Virginia, I made up that whole HP rep, CAT, Wall Street Journal story). Mail a picture of your product to your customers – without any copy on it. Then, mail a sales letter – without any pictures or graphics on it – to those same customers, asking that they make a purchase.

Then tell me which mailing received more orders.

Am I suggesting that you remove all pictures, graphics, flash and dazzle from your marketing materials?

No, absolutely not.


Many Web Designers and Graphic Artists will be Outraged

Because their work, as professional, exceptional and artistic as it may prove to be, should not be the stars of your marketing and sales show.

“Design”, and all that it implies, should be subservient – as in supportive – of your sales copy, not the other way around.

The sole purpose of design is to help the copy sell – whether in a website, print ad, brochure or email.

It is there to simply direct the reader’s eye to the sales copy.

If design overwhelms or in anyway marginalizes or distracts the reader from your copy – your sales will suffer.

Because only words can sell – only words can persuade – only words can ask for the order.

So rather than rely on artificial artifice (overly indulgent design) to create a picture of you, your company, product or service – paint a picture of your product or service with words.

Talk to your customers.

Capture your customer’s patronage and loyalty with sincere, passionate and actionable words.

Tell Them Why They Should Buy!

Frame your sales message with design, and design your sales message with words. You’ll stay in business a lot longer, and make a lot more money than your competitors – who’ve been seduced and led astray by the dazzling dark side of design.