7 Web Design Trends to Watch for in 2017
In 2016, the Internet celebrated its 25th birthday, which means it’s older than 2/3 of our interactive team. In that time, technology has evolved at unprecedented rates. We’ve gone from slow dial-ups on bulky desktop PCs to razor thin smart phones with access from virtually anywhere (except your cabin Up North). While technology advances at lightning speed, design has made a slower evolution. It has to make sense to everyone—from those for whom the internet has existed for a lifetime, to those who consider it to be somewhat newfangled. This has lead to a little bit of, well, samey-ness in design.
In 2017, designers are officially tired of the samey-ness of the web. Here are some ways designers are breaking the mold while keeping their eye on usability.
1. Death of the conventional header
For most of the Internet’s life, website headers were pretty standard—logo on the left, navigation and search, identity and titles, nav links, etc. This does not translate well to the mobile-driven modern web. Today everything is more visual. We tell our stories through images more than words. Hero images, video and animations are the new convention for telling your brand story.
2. New navigations
With the conventional header going by the wayside, navigation is inevitably changing along with it. Like it or not, the hamburger menu is here to stay. It’s practically the new standard at this point. However, it’s not the only option. Users are becoming increasingly tolerant of unique website navigation. Designers are now creating full screen, header and footer sticky navs that work with the textures of more complex imagery. We’ll continue to see even more innovation with navigation in 2017.
3. Enhancing the grid
Once mobile technology allowed us to carry PCs in our pockets, grids emerged as a popular design. They’re clean and allow for simple responsiveness. As we move into 2017 we’re going to see websites break out of that original fixed-width design. Designers are using more modular layouts, either layering boxes of various widths or interrupting the grid pattern with horizontal white space. These designs allow for the simple responsiveness, but they also break out of the dreaded “samey-ness” of years past.
If you’re old enough to remember the early years of the Internet, you surely remember Netscape’s preloader—that hourglass of doom letting you know your page is still loading. Preloaders have come a long way since then. They’re being used as design elements that set the tone the overall experience of the site.
All modern browsers now support SVGs and we’ll be seeing more and more of them in 2017. SVGs, which stands for Scalable Vector Graphics, are pretty ideal for web usage. They load better than your standard PNG or JPG, they size perfectly across all devices and you can add filters that give movement and texture to your images.
6. Getting bold with type
When we say “getting bold with type,” we don’t necessarily mean bold type. It’s more about being bold with messaging that focuses on website content. We live in a world of 140 characters. We pack a lot of messaging into relatively short sentences, and using those rich statements as design elements drives your brand story throughout your site.
7. Creative microinteractions
Microinteractions are the moments on your website customized to your users’ experience in real time. They can function as anything from a subtle nod to the fact that the website is responding to the user — more info pops up when the user hovers over a button — to a call to action — “tweet this!” As interactivity in user experience becomes more important, expect to see more, and more creative, microinteractions in the near future.
With advancements in technologies and a desire to break the mold, it’s an exciting time for web design. There are so many unique ways to tell your story. Use these tools, but be careful to avoid style over substance. In our next post, we’ll discuss how a strong brand strategy drives effective web design, allowing you to make the right choices for your brand.
Brands Are Like People: The Breakup
As we’ve been saying in this blog series, brands are like people. Unfortunately, sometimes people break up. It’s a sad reality of both our business and personal relationships. Everyone goes into it with the best intentions. Things click. Profits are made. But then…something changes.
Breakups don’t happen overnight. Rarely does one catastrophic event kill an otherwise perfect union. Usually it’s something small that turns into a million something smalls that build up over time until your customer “just can’t take another three-day wait on finding out if you can do one simple upgrade to your standard package, Paul! I mean, it shouldn’t be hard to answer that very simple question. It’s like you don’t even want to try anymore!”
The best way to prevent the breakup is to understand what causes business to break up in the first place. That way you may be able to fix things before they’re too far gone.
Here are the Top 10 things that lead to a breakup in business:
Anyone who has ever had any kind of relationship has experienced a breakup at some point. When you do find yourself in that situation, recover with grace. Take an honest look at what lead to the breakup and how you can improve. Look at each dissolution as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes so you can be a better partner to future customers.
Previous in the series: Brands Are Like People: Partners
Brands Are Like People: Partners
In this blog series, we’ve been discussing how forming brand relationships are closely tied to the very human process of forming lasting friendships in one’s personal life. As humans, were are incredibly social creatures drawn to those around us whom we can relate to and feel a strong connection with. Think about it, how many people have you become best friends with who share nothing in common with you? In friendships, there’s often a common thread or tie that bring two people together. It could be that you share the same hometown, have a common hobby, or live life by following a shared set of beliefs or values. The same is true for brand relationships.
Our blog series now culminates with the moment when a person has now “done the dance” with a brand, and has made it through those first important stages of relationship development—the handshake, the first date, and acquaintanceship. It’s the moment where a person not only knows your brand, but chooses your brand above all others because they not only feel a sense of common ground but know that they can rely on and trust your brand—like a best friend and partner.
Partnership. It’s the pinnacle point of any relationship that brands and people alike strive for. In a partnership, two parties cease to think in terms of “me” and “you,” but begin to think as a mutually beneficial team—”us.” This emotional connection and way of thinking is clearly evident between close friends, significant others, spouses and families—but how can it be applied to brands?
Believe it or not, this partner-centric thinking between brands and customers is much easier to see than you may think. The following infographic shows the progression of a brand relationship from both a B2C and B2B perspective.
As you can see, the aspect of partnership is present in both B2B and B2C brand relationships. A noteworthy point of discussion, however, is how the partnerships differ. While brand loyalty and trust are certainly at the core of both engagements, the B2C engagement is more promotional than emotional. At THIEL we’ve long-held the belief that B2B relationships often have a stronger human element making relationships and successful partnerships critical to brand growth and success.
It’s important to remember that behind every “business-to-business” transaction is a relationship between two or more people. While comfort and ankle support was at stake for the runner in our example, the individuals in our B2B example had their company’s success and future at stake (not to mention their own career). Having a valued partner they could trust meant they could make a confident decision in a brand that they knew could come through for them in a tight situation. Ultimately, whether you’re B2C or B2B—selling shoes or brewery equipment—partnership is a valuable end goal for not only people, but brands who seek to maintain lasting, positive relationships with their customers.
Brands Are Like People: Friends & Acquaintances
If you’ve been reading this blog series, you’ve made it through the introductory phase of building customer relationships, which is like getting to know someone. Now you’ve become acquaintances and friends — or, more accurately, they’ve become customers. They’ve chosen to spend time with you, get to know you and grow to rely on you. You’re now in the trust-building phase.
As you’re building trust with your new customers, the key is to remain consistent. Consistency creates lasting impressions. It should be approached holistically in order to build trust. The Four Cornerstones of Consistency — Messaging, Culture, Service and Delivery — let customers know that you’re someone they can rely on.
Your customers are beginning to know your personality, your skills and what makes you different. They’re becoming accustomed to how you talk and act. Build trust by maintaining a consistent voice and message. Every communication — verbal, visual or experiential — should express the brand that drove your customers to you. If it doesn’t, people become uneasy with your brand.
Today’s top leaders know that they get the best results by putting employees first. Strong cultures inspire strong relationships with customers. While places like Google and Netflix have popularized things like spa services, in-house gyms and fully stocked bars, strong cultures aren’t built on having the best perks. They’re built on trust. Foster that trust with a strong strategy that is carefully communicated throughout the organization. Your employees are just as important of an audience as your customers.
Great service leads to long-term relationships. As you’re building trust with your customers, service is perhaps the most important component in how your customers think and feel about your brand. If you’re consistent in the service you offer, your customers feel they can rely on you.
When it comes to delivery of your product, being consistent in quality and timeliness are vital. Customers chose you because of a promise you made to fill their needs. They expect that promise to be met the first time they purchase and each time after. Your product fits into a much larger ecosystem, and customers rely on delivery of your product to maintain their own efficiency.
Each of these Four Cornerstones of Consistency helps carry the load of the next. When one area weakens, it throws the rest off balance. A strong brand keeps each of these pieces in place, and keeps customers with you for the long haul.
Brands Are Like People: The First Date
In this blog series we’re discussing parallels between how you think and feel about brands and how it’s similar to how you think and feel about people. We’re exploring the delicate balance that occurs in the mind and the heart of your market, and the personal relationship with your brand. This blog entry is about a “first date.”
Once someone has met you and has become familiar with your face and your name, the relationship goes beyond first impressions. They experience things beyond how you look and any attributes they may associate with your name. They become aware of what else you bring to the table. They may begin to sense other meaningful connections beyond just the surface details.
Connections may be building based on how you talk and what you talk about. A chemistry may become evident, based on common goals, common beliefs and similar activities. Things click. They find you pleasant to be around. They may want to just “hang out.” That could result in a “first date”—a time when you can further enjoy each others company and explore common interests.
The very same thing happens with your brand. After people come to recognize you, they become more familiar with your personality and who you are. They learn what you do and what you have to offer, unique from others. They come to realize how you’re different and how you stand out. However, they also come to realize meaningful connections based on how you align with their needs and interests. They become aware of what you stand for, and may choose to spend more time with you, one-on-one, exploring where the relationship could take them.
Consistency in communicating your brand’s difference and your brand’s unique value, and finding meaningful connections, are critical in getting to a first date—a first meeting. Up to that point, what people think and feel about your brand and your brand story have connected. Now it will be up to you to build on that connection and take the relationship to the next level, during that first meeting, and beyond.
Consistency in key messaging remains critical in demonstrating your brand’s intentions and your brand value. Emotion is also critical in building trust and in building the relationship—living up to expectations and providing evidence of living out your brand values. Without establishing trust during that first date, and reinforcing meaningful connections in the mind of your market, getting to the second date may be next to impossible.
Brands Are Like People: The Handshake
The handshake. It’s one of the most expressive forms of communication. It’s a hello, a good-bye, or the sealing of an agreement. When someone shakes your hand, it marks a turning point in your relationship, an agreement to take the next step.
Your handshake says a lot about you. If it’s too firm you can come across aggressive or insensitive. If it’s too weak you can come across immature or disinterested. Your handshake helps people decide how they feel about you. What impression do you want new customers to have of you the first time they shake your hand?
When introducing new customers to your brand, the handshake takes many forms. It occurs when someone decides that you’re not just another face passing on the street, you’re someone they want to know more about. They may have seen your logo or heard your name, but now they’re ready to click through and read a blog post, scour your website or make a sales inquiry. There are so many ways to meet. You just have to create the opportunity.
To create the opportunity for an introduction, you need to consider the big picture. There are so many ways to meet — so many first impressions to make. What’s the first thing you want customers to think and feel about you? Knowing this means understanding your brand. It means carefully designing each of your communications in alignment with who you are and why you’re here. If you don’t know who you are, how will your customers?
In order to attract an audience that becomes customers, you need to connect with them in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their lives. Understand who they are and why you want to do business with them. Learn about their challenges, wants and needs. Discover where they go when they need information, and offer your voice to that community. Be a trustworthy source, and soon potential customers will be extending their hands to you in introduction.
When Country Financial came to THIEL for branding work, they were known as Country Companies Insurance. They were adding additional financial services beyond insurance, and they needed to rediscover their brand with the expanding of their capabilities. During the launch of the new brand we focused on the introductory handshake as a key point in relationship development process. They were not only attracting new customers, they were re-introducing themselves to existing customers and asking to build new areas of trust in their relationship.
Country Companies Insurance built its reputation on being a friendly, homegrown insurance provider that locals could trust. While a new identity established change, the brand needed to reflect the values that made them successful in the first place. The name was changed to Country Financial with an identity that conveys professionalism, but not elitism — what one would expect from a company called “Country.”
For Country Financial, their handshake happens right at their literal front door, so great care was taken in designing the onsite customer experience. The first moments of walking into of one of Country Financial’s branches should reflect company’s homegrown values. We developed a footprint that was adopted across all locations so that Country Financial feels familiar no matter where you are. Since employees exemplify the brand, an employee brand book was created to help employees understand the brand direction and how they contribute. We even recommended they have fresh baked bread every day so that the entire experience evoked warmth and hominess. When customers walk into any branch of Country Financial, they should feel right at home.
Knowing your brand, your values and your audience will allow you to make the best first impression. It will ignite interest and inspire trust. Spend some time thinking, researching and planning and you’ll attract an audience with whom your relationships can grow and flourish.
Brands Are Like People
Before you meet someone, you may know their name, but not their face. Or, you may recognize their face, but not know or remember their name. However, once you put the two together, it often sticks in your memory. The same is true for brands. But it goes way beyond that.
Once you get beyond a face and a name, and get to know them better, you perceive and become familiar with other things. Their personality. Their skills. Their habits. Their lifestyle. Maybe their quirks? And, especially, you get to know what’s at their heart. You come to know their personal brand.
If you find common ground and things click, you choose to spend more time with them. You enjoy being around them and look forward to what they bring to the relationship. You start to form meaningful connections and develop a meaningful relationship. If they start to look different, act different or become inconsistent in what you’ve come to expect, you notice. And, it may distance the relationship. The exact same sequence of events happens with brands.
Brands are based on what you think, what you feel and what you’ve come to expect. Consistency is important for lasting relationships; in people and in brands. Consistency goes way beyond just the visual elements and aesthetics. A meaningful connection happens mostly in the mind. Brands exist in the mind, based on what you think and what you feel. Not just what you see. Strong brand perceptions and meaning encompass and require both sides of the brain, in balance.
In this blog series we’re going to find and discuss parallels between how you think and feel about brands and how you think and feel about people. Whether you’re concerned with business-to-business branding or business-to-consumer branding, consistency, expectations and performance is everything. If things change, you notice! Let’s explore that delicate balance that occurs in the mind and in the heart of the market, and their personal relationship with your brand.
Your brand is every . thing!
In this series:
Establish a Difference
It’s at the heart of any branding effort—to stand out, to stand apart, to stand for something. And in the end, to connect with your target audience.
It’s likely that your audience has already defined you. Like it, or not, they’ve already defined your brand—how you’re different from others that do what you do. They may have already defined what you bring to the table. Without any effort from you, those existing perceptions are likely to remain. Our process is designed to discover and identify those existing perceptions, as well as the opportunities to establish a unique position relative to competitors, and a unique position in the mind of the market.
Some clients that have engaged with us to develop or refresh their brand have said, “Good luck trying to find something that differentiates us. We’re just like the others that do what we do!” In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. During the internal interviews with those clients, the same people that made those observations are describing why they exist, why they’re unique, what they do differently and how they are of value. Similarly, during external interviews, their customers are explaining why they prefer working with them and what they bring to the table that’s unique and beneficial. All that was needed was to discover those unique truths and sometimes making intangibles a little more tangible through key messaging. And then, using those words to guide and direct the design of all brand communications, helping to establish a difference both verbally and visually.
Rather than letting your audience define you, or settling on the misperception that you’re just like everybody else, it’s time to be proactive in a branding effort to define your difference—your space in the market. You have the opportunity to speak your truth, to break free from the competitive clutter and to tell your story. And, in the end, choose to define what’s at the heart of your brand, and not let your audience or your competitors do it for you!
Earlier in this blog series, we’ve described how the design of a branding program should begin with purpose. By uncovering and identifying your goals and opportunities, and by defining why you exist and stating your unique benefits, your brand perception and communications can speak with purpose and meaning. A purpose and meaning that connects and builds trust with your target audience, brings life to your brand and establishes your difference.
In previous posts, we discussed how to purposefully design your brand in order to identify opportunities for your business and then make the necessary adjustments to capitalize on those opportunities. Once you’ve completed these steps, it’s time to build integrated communications that tell your true story to your target audience. When you know who you are and what your customers need, your communications can connect you meaningfully with your customers. Instead of chasing the newest trends or relying on click-bait headlines, you can target relevant information to the appropriate channels. Let’s get started.
Map your communications. Start by outlining the complete communication landscape, identifying all of the potential points of engagement between you and your customers. At THIEL, we call this the Marketing Map. It’s a visual representation of all communication touchpoints and how each one relates to another within the context of communication flow — inbound and outbound. When building a Marketing Map, do not leave anything out. This exercise serves as your ongoing strategic guide.
Prioritize your communications. You don’t have to be everywhere all the time. In the more than three decades that THIEL has been working with clients, we haven’t had a single client who’s marketing plans include every single one of the touchpoints on their Marketing Maps. Simply be where your customers need you when they need you. Prioritize the touchpoints that are most relevant to how your audience is making their purchase decisions, as well as activities that you can do most consistently with the resources your organization has. If you can only do one thing, do that one thing thoughtfully and consistently.
Keep consistent design. One of the most important things you can do to attract and retain customers is to be consistent in your look and feel. It builds trust and makes engagement with your brand more intuitive, continuously building on the impact of the last communication. Simply having a logo isn’t enough. Develop usage standards for maintaining the color and placement of your logo and continue to follow those standards every time your logo appears. Build from the geometry and design elements in your logo to establish a look and feel architecture. Create layouts and color themes that can be pulled through across digital, print and mobile applications. From your website to your invoices, ensure that every point of communication looks and feels like your company.
Stay true to you. When amplifying your brand across your media touchpoints, it’s important to maintain your brand voice. Your tone and the stories you tell should be relevant to who you are. Being consistent with your messaging both builds trust with your audience and allows you to guide your narrative.
Integration is the key to properly communicating your brand to your target audience. When you’re consistent with how you look, feel and sound, your audience is able to strengthen their relationship with you over time. They know what to expect from you and why you’re important to their lives. When they have a problem you can solve, you will be top-of-mind for that solution.
Finding opportunities and capitalizing through branding
When clients come to us with brand challenges, we often uncover operational business challenges as well. Inevitably the two are intertwined, because any effective branding activities must reflect the total brand experience — every verbal, visual and experiential touchpoint with customers and stakeholders.
As an example, THIEL addressed both branding and operational business challenges with our client Bridge2, a custom dental product manufacturing business that THIEL helped launch. In this case, the identified opportunity was bringing together two dental product manufacturers for the benefit of OEMs. THIEL developed the identity, messaging, brand look and feel and critical marketing tools that launched Bridge2 to a prominent position in its market.
We create breakthroughs by listening to both internal stakeholders and voice of customer opinion to uncover compelling truths about our client’s brand. THIEL facilitated collaborative whiteboard sessions with the Bridge2 team to define the service capabilities and value proposition of the new business —identifying how the business would differentiate itself in the market.
We create breakthroughs by differentiating our client’s companies. An effective name breaks through the clutter of competitor names. While reviewing the names of other dental manufacturers in the market, we consistently saw literal, descriptive names like “Dental Product Manufacturing Inc.” The Bridge2 name itself differentiates from the competition; it begins to tell the story of how the company offers both preventative and restorative custom dental product manufacturing, and provides OEMs the bridge to get into the dental product category — taking them from where they are to where they want to be.
We create breakthroughs by understanding how our client’s business fits into the competitive landscape. With Bridge2, as with all of our clients, we make sure the client’s messaging stands out from the competitors. THIEL’s proprietary Brand Profile® process uncovers and defines our clients’ brands, giving them their differentiating story to take to market and the tools they need to capitalize on opportunities.
We create breakthroughs by strategizing. One example, with Bridge2, was the incorporation of keyword rich web videos that allowed the new company to stand out among search results in a saturated market. We integrated print and digital marketing materials, focusing on driving prospective customers towards the videos on the website. Bridge2 now owns the first page of search results—we were able to help them break through that clutter.
THIEL guides clients along the journey from identifying opportunities to capitalizing on the priorities. THIEL brings ideas and recommendations while collaborating with our clients. We achieve results for our clients by helping them understand their brand story, deliver messaging that resonates with their audience, and stand out in the crowded marketplace. THIEL’s branding process allows our clients to break through.