How to Sell Technology

I’m going to talk about something which irritates me; you’ll have to forgive me if I descend into a rant at first, but trust me – there’s a point to this!

The dressing up of technology in advertising doesn’t work for me. I like to know how the product looks, feels and works in as short a time as possible. The same principals apply to web design.

Sell It To Me

Think about what makes you buy a product. For me, I’m attracted to a product if I believe it can make my life easier or more enjoyable in some way (and also if I think it will make me cooler… lol jk). For somebody looking for those qualities, it’s important to see the key features of the product very quickly. A common theme I’m seeing in tech advertising is a little worrying, there’s no attempt to build a connection between potential customers and the product in question; what I’m seeing is an attempt to appeal to people’s impulse and sense of “cool”.

I can illustrate this very easily. Look at the following ad for Microsoft Surface, this is one of their launch pieces:

You can also find a similar example with the Surface Teaser and tentatively the Motorola RAZR M Ad.

What does the Surface advert tell us about the product? The answer is nothing beyond some hardware details – I know it has a keyboard and a touch screen but what can I actually do with it? How will it make my life better?

As a comparison (don’t stamp me with “Fan-boy” yet), let’s look at the iPad launch ad:

I won’t make a list but from only thirty seconds of footage I know an awful lot about what the product actually does! It’s exciting. They haven’t even really focused on the hardware, because that’s not what the customer cares about – the customer cares about functionality.

There are other product ads that recognise this too – the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Nokia Lumia. Notice a pattern? They are letting the product sell itself.

I’ll pull up one more set of examples before I apply this to web design. Web Browsers aren’t particularly exciting to anyone outside of web development. However, watch this Internet Explorer advertisement and marvel at its ability to spend a whole minute trying to make a browser look cool:

Then watch even just one of these Google Chrome commercials. Google have a different strategy here, they stop trying to talk about the browser and look at why and how we use it. They tell some very human stories which don’t try to dress up the product, In fact they avoid making their product the centre of attention at all.

So How Does This Apply To Web Design?

The rights, wrongs, and near-atrocities of the highlighted adverts can be applied directly to building websites, particularly when working on a home page or landing page which is supposed to draw potential users/customers in.

The mistake I see in the Microsoft Surface ads is that they focus far too much on presentation over clear information. We’ve all seen this on the web before – the home page where you’re not able to find the information you need because of an overly distracting visual. In the advertisements from other tablet/phone manufacturers, we’re given a list of features which allow you to see the benefit of the product immediately. When designing a landing page your goal should be to deliver information to the user as quickly and efficiently as possible, not wow them with impressive visuals.

With the Internet Explorer commercial, to an outsider it may not even be clear what the ad is about. They’ve made the mistake of trying to make a browser look amazing to regular people, many of whom don’t even know what a browser is. If you’re faced with the problem of promoting a product which is not very easily understandable, then a good way to do this is to tell a story. A story can not only help someone understand an abstract concept, but can also really help them see value in it – they connect with the human element in a story.

To Conclude

So, I probably took quite a long time to get to quite a simple point, but I thought it would be nice to illustrate the importance of user-focused design with a more ‘real-world’ example (and vent a little of my personal frustration).

Next time you’re working on a design (or anything else targeted at customers for that matter), remember to think about the information they need before you think about ways to make your product look ‘hip’ and ‘cool’. They will thank you for it, and I won’t rant about it :relaxed: