9 Keys to Increase Website Conversion Rate and Turn Visitors into Customers

by Eric Tsai

9 tips to effectively increase your website conversion rate

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you might remember a post I wrote recently called Why Attention is the New Currency Online. When I wrote it, I had been working to create a process to audit website conversions.

Ultimately it turned into an article about capturing attention online because without attention there would be nobody looking at your links, images, videos and compelling content.

And without people reading your content, you certainly won’t get any clicks. When people read your content online, links and clicks follow.

However; you don’t want just any click, you want qualified prospects clicking on your links, visiting your website and consuming your content.

Let’s be clear, getting attention is only part of the equation to help you increase conversions but it does not automatically equals to conversion.

For those of you who don’t know why qualified traffic is important, let me just say that if you want to increase conversions of your landing page or your ecommerce store, this is crucial.

What is a Conversion?

How does the value of a conversion relate to the return on investment of a marketing campaign?

Basically a conversion is an action a user takes on your site that has value to your business.

Typically it’s a sale but it can also be a newsletter sign-up, a download of a file, viewing of a video, or a request for more information.

If you know what a conversion is worth to you, and the percentage of traffic visiting your conversion page versus the traffic that do convert (the conversion rate), then it is easy to calculate your return on investment (ROI) for just about any marketing campaign.

Conversion Rate and ROI Calculation

From the calculations above, you may think that if you want to increase ROI, you just need to increase CR right?

You’re on the right track but that’s not the entire story here because conversion rates typically depend on two factors:

  1. Qualified traffic – The goal is to capture only traffic that’s more likely to convert. This is where direct marketing is heavily used to grab the attention of the visitors. A valuable piece of content, a paid search ad or recommendations from social media channels are just a few ways you can use to obtain qualified traffic.
  2. Landing page – A landing page is a specific area of your website where traffic is sent (via links from online advertisements, organic search results, social media or email) specifically to prompt a certain action or result.  And since a visitor usually lands on a page after clicking on a link, it’s important that the links you use to send traffic to your website is relevant to what that person is looking for. Once on your landing page, it’s basically a tactic of one-on-one selling so if it’s not what people are looking for, you will likely get a low conversion.

There are tons of strategies to get qualified traffic (paid search, SEO, email, display, affiliate, etc.), but today we’re going to look at things that you can do to your website to help you improve your conversion rate.

These tips are easy to implement and can start improving your results immediately.

9 Keys to Increase Conversion Rate

I’m going to give you my recommendations, I also want to share a few principles that I believe are crucial in building a website that attracts thousands of high quality links.

The following steps can also be used for your landing page audits.

Use a simple scorecard format to quickly determine what you may need to do to increase your conversion rate.

Here is an example of a score card (you can download the landing page audit scorecard here)

landing page scorecard

1. Know Your Audience

The most important thing that you can do to increase your conversion rate is to know who you’re targeting and tailor your content for that person.

When a new visitor lands on your site for the first time and clicks on a link or goes to your product page, and doesn’t buy anything (or fill out a lead form), then you’ve probably lost them for good.

In my own testing I’ve found that addressing your message to a specific demographic can give you a nice life in conversions.

In fact, when I tried to cover as much features and benefits as possible (thinking that’s just adding value), I tend to get less clicks and low conversions.

2. Focus on Positive User Experience

A landing page is tailored to fit the specific call?to?action (that you designated) and is often the first page a visitor sees when clicking on a link. The challenge is to ensure that you are optimizing an exceptional online experience for visitors and also producing high ROI.

So what is considered an exceptional online experience?

It’s basically providing visitors with accurate, relevant and useful information to meet their needs. But do it in an entertaining and engaging way to differentiate yourself.

None of the bait-and-switch tactics or hype that’s overpromised and under-delivered.

positive user experience ads

A positive user experience usually focuses on a single message with a strong call-to-action that are written in plain language with no more than 7-12 words.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to combine all the features and benefits of your offer, instead focus on the highest value outcome.

Once you have a clean and precise message, you can make it credible with branding elements such as logos and security icons (third-party verifications) or use stories and testimonials. This will give confidence to the visitor which can have a positive impact on conversion as well.

Perfecting, or at the very least improving, customer experience has replaced customer loyalty as the ultimate corporate PR and brand reputation.

Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes and ask: would I scroll down and read this?

Would I fill out this form and give my personal information?

Why would I click here?

3. Develop Your Value Proposition

A value proposition is basically your offer. What are the main selling points? Why should the visitor buy right there and then? It may sound obvious to you but a clear value proposition is the foundation to your conversions.

Your landing page should address the top questions and concerns prospects have about your offer. And it usually goes back to the four Ps of marketing: product, price, place and promotion.

Too often, marketers focus too much on “promotion” instead of combining the other three Ps.

You may find after studying the competition that increasing or decreasing your price is likely to result in better conversions, for example. Perhaps there is a distribution channel, such as the social networks or email marketing; you haven’t fully integrated into your marketing mix.

And with products, developing a new product or re-package an existing product may provide a lift to your overall conversion as well.

You are likely to increase the chance of conversion if you have a clear value proposition that pushes the visitor to take action with your offer.

Ask yourself whether your landing page is helping people to make their decision.

If it’s not, then why should people do what you ask of them? (Purchase a product, sign up for newsletter or request a demo…etc.)

Don’t forget to research your competition so you know how your value proposition stacks up.

The new consumer-led digital revolution is all about exceeding customers’ expectations via influence.

Simply put, influence is conversion rate.

4. Cater to Online Reading Habits

What doesn’t get read doesn’t get clicked on. This is a simple logic that many marketers failed to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between people reading online and offline.

Accordingly to Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s eye tracking studies, “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.”

Unlike traditional media or what he calls “linear media” such as print and TV, people expect you to construct their experience for them. Basically readers are willing to follow the author’s lead.

However websites are considered “non-linear media“, where the rules reverse. Users want to construct their own experience by piecing together content from multiple sources, emphasizing their desires in the current moment.

In fact, Dr.Jakob conducted an eye-tracking study and found that people are read in F-shaped patterns when reading web content.

F-shape reading pattern

This is why you should use attention call-outs such as headers, subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior.

The idea here is to layout your content so the readers will WANT to read but keep in mind that the F-pattern should be considered descriptive, not prescriptive.

It’s all about giving you the highest chance of grabbing attention.

5. Create Compelling Copy with Clear Headlines

The first things a visitor reads after landing on your page is your headline. This is when you need to pass the smell test.

If your headline is anything less than clear, informative and compelling, you  will bore or confuse your visitors into leaving.

On the other hand, a well-written headline can drive your visitors to take a closer look even if it’s just text.

Have you noticed how some landing pages are super long?

These landing pages are called “long-form” sales letter that typically consists of a title, subtitle, bunch of paragraphs, images, testimonials and a few buy buttons on a plain-looking page that you have to scroll on and on.

Think about it, if it doesn’t convert well why would there be so many long-form landing pages online?

The truth is people only read what they’re interested in even if it appears to be too long!

The key is to do so in an engaging way that will connect with your audience, it can even be fun and entertaining.

One of my ways to start creating engaging copy is to use the five W’s and one H technique. Here is an example of this:

  • Tell them why they’re about to read the page
  • Tell them who’s it for
  • Tell them what’s in it for them
  • Tell them where they’re at or where they can get it
  • Tell them when they can get it (i.e. limited time offer)
  • Tell them how it works or how it relates to them

The goal is to focus on everything you think will push them one step closer to taking your converting and nothing more.
Make sure you get to the point with actionable content (tell them what to do next) that focuses more on the outcome rather than the feature.

You may want to check out the following articles to help you create compelling content:

How to Create Magnetic Copy to Maximize Your Content Appeal.

7 Ways To Elevate The Perceived Value Of Your Content.

If you know your customer well enough, you should know what they want.

Focus on wants at the beginning not needs.

6. Leverage Image or Rich Media to Direct Attention

Images, videos or testimonials can motivate visitors and trigger emotions. This can have a positive impact on viewers to want to read more about your product and explore the site longer.

Studies have showed that people perceived websites as more “professional” or “trustworthy” when they had images of people on the site.
However; you don’t want to just take any stock photos that relates to your message and load it up on your site.

Instead images can be used to effectively change visitor behavior substantially.

According to a study by Bunnyfoot, subtle changes such as using the right images can direct and guide the visitor’s eyes where you want them to go.

Visual Eye Tracking Study

I thought this was an interesting study and one that you should consider when adding images to your landing page.

When using images and videos, ask yourself whether that piece of content is drawing attention away from your persuasive message or adding to it.

7. Create Content with SEO in Mind – SEO Copywriting

A great tactic that you should put in practice is to integrate your copywriting with SEO (search engine optimization).

SEO copywriting is a technique that tries to optimize your site around a keyphrase that can send you organic search traffic. Done right you can even turn research-intent traffic into converting traffic.

The goal is to get search engine rankings for a relevant phrase around what you’re trying to rank for that can bring you “qualified” traffic.

For example, if someone is looking for “men’s running shoes review” and your online store happens to have a blog with articles comparing all the latest running shoes on the market, the visitor may read the article and decide to bookmark and come back later. Or better yet, the visitor reads the article ended up buying a pair of shoes from your online store.

Obviously you need to know the keywords that your audience uses in order to rank for those keywords.

You can get an idea on the competitiveness of your keywords by using Google’s Keyword Tool to see what phrases are popular and the volume of searches on them globally and locally.

Once you have those keywords, simply remember to use it in your content in addition to HTML areas such as the title tag, meta tags, anchor text in links, and permalinks.

Here is an example of my SERP result, notice the bolded words that highlights the keywords that’s in my title and descreption.

SEO copywriting title descreption

If you use a platform like WordPress (what I use), then all you have to do is install one of those All-in-One-SEO plugins and you’re set.

8. Test, Adjust and Repeat

The golden rule of any direct response marketing is to ensure you evoke a measurable, tractable response.

This means constant testing of your landing page using methods such as a/b split testing or multivariate testing.

The concept is simple.

You want to have variations of the page to be tested on an ongoing basis so you can improve conversion rate.

  • What is an A/B split test? A classic direct marketing tactic, A/B testing is a method of marketing testing by which a baseline control sample is compared to a variety of single-variable test samples in order to improve response rates It’s typically performed to determine the better of two content variations
  • What is a multivariate test?
    A slightly more complex test, multivariate test is a process by which more than one component of a website may be tested in a live environment. It can be thought of in simple terms as numerous A/B tests performed on one page at the same time.

By conducting tests on your landing page, you will be able to determine which headline is more effective or what layout works better.

Here is an example case of an A/B split test that I did on my email marketing.

The objective was to determine if removing the sidebar would result in a better overall performance. I also tested two different email subject line to see which one opens better.

split test email

The obvious winner here is the control version. The result indicated that the new version (without sidebar) has a higher open rate compare to the control version (email with sidebar), but the conversion rate was substantially lower.

Keep in mind that with testing you want to make sure you gather enough data (sample size) to ensure that your tests are statistically relevant.

Sounds complicated?

Well, thanks to Google, you can use their Google Analytics Content Experiments to conduct both of these tests for free!

Or for more advanced folks, you can try Visual Website Optimizer, UnbounceMonetate, or Sitespect.

When it comes to testing, here are some ideas you can use:

  • Test different headlines, sub headlines and ad copy
  • Test different version of the same logo, icons, layout of testimonials and even colors
  • Test different call-to-actions and buttons (i.e. try this vs. buy now)
  • Test different images or videos (swap image for video and vice versa)
  • Test different forms (embed in different areas of the site, reduce required fields)
  • Test different offers (use incentives to see how discounts or coupons work differently)
  • Test long versus short sales page
Checkout WhichMVT for a full list of reviews and comparisons on testing tools.
And for case studies and test ideas, visit WhichTestWon.

9. Track and Analyze Your Landing Pages

One thing that you can do to benchmark your landing page is to install Google Analytics. If you are using Google Analytics you will know that it’s an invaluable tool that’s again – totally free!

By using Google Analytics you will know the sources that deliver traffic to your landing pages from pay-per-click (PPC), email marketing, social media, organic searches or even offline advertising channels.

Knowing the source of your most profitable traffic is the key to increase ROI.

The more detail you get with where traffic comes and goes the more clear you will see how visitors reacts to your offer.

There are many ways to aggregate your website data from Google Analytics but if you want to focus on conversion rate, start by looking at the following areas (just to name a few):

  • Traffic source – where are people coming from? This is your channel acquisition strategy.
  • Visitor loyalty – How long do people stay? How many pages do they visit and how many times do they visit between two or more times.
  • Bounce rate – How relevant is your landing page? Bounce rate measures the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from where they landed on. The more relevant your landing pages, the more visitors will stay on your site and convert
  • Keywords – This shows you what queries (keywords) are mapped to your landing pages that sends you traffic. This is a good indicator of what keywords your website is ranked for and how search engines interpret your content.

There are so many important variables to consider when tracking your pages, you can also track clicks or heatmap on your layout and navigations via Google Analytics (In-Page Analytics section) or something like Crazy Egg, Click Density, Click Tale or Attention Wizard.

heatmap analytics

Last but not least, listen and learn from your customers to make sure what you’re tracking matches to the story your data is telling you.

It’s as easy as picking up the phone and call the customers yourself!

If you aren’t able to do that, try conducting regular online surveys or implement some type of post-sale customer feedback system.

The Take Away

In the era of engagement, consumers no longer separate marketing between in-store or online experience—it is the experience.

Whether you’re making a sale in person or receiving a conversion online, conversion rate is the vote of confident that creates personal relationships.

It is trust, likability, authority and ultimately, influence.

Nothing prevents you from trying to increase your conversion rate. If you do nothing, your conversion rate will normalize over time (stays the same).

However; while conversion is an important factor to the profitability of your marketing, you shouldn’t lose sight on the big picture – that’s building your brand equity.

When you have brand equity, you have top-of-mind recalls.

This means you command attention and your message will have a higher chance of cutting through the noise of the increasing irrelevant landscape of “push” advertising.

Conversion rate will eventually reaches the point of diminishing returns – when your investment yields progressively smaller profits.

That’s when you need to take your budget and put it into a higher ROI marketing vehicle.

Until then, keep testing.


How Social Media is Transforming Business

by Eric Tsai

Lately I’ve been researching on how brands are using social media to improve their business.

While doing a bit of thinking on social branding, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend that just launched a web2.0 startup business.

The one advice I gave was to launch it as soon as possible without worrying too much on branding.

The idea is to deploy your initial idea and allow your users to tell you how to evolve the product.

That’s how majority of the new web startups utilize crowdsourcing with an emphasis on the power users then really listen to what they have to say.

The brand development aspect of a startup isn’t as important as the initial user experience.

It got me thinking about business models and how more and more companies are finding it necessary to transform their business model due to the economic crisis.

In addition, the shift in consumer behavior will cause brands to adjust to a fundamentally altered playing field.

In most cases brands will find it hard to transform themselves unless they’ve already got a flexible, dynamic long-term strategy that embraces change.

This means dismantling silo culture within the organization while fostering cross-functional collaboration to spark fresh thinking.

Brands that have this fluid approach are more likely to adapt to change through uncertainty.

Brand Fluidity Creates Advantage

In my previous article “The Emerging Trend of Hybrid Marketing Model,” I pointed out that hypercompetition is no longer allowing businesses to have a sustained competitive advantage, so the idea approach for brands is to have an agile business model.

This happens consistently in the tech industry where every 3-5 years technology evolves and often improves (1.0 to 2.0) leading to a need for adoption.

The key is to stay flexible and scalable because products, services, and business models will evolve over time as knowledge becomes ubiquitous which leads to the path of commoditization altogether.

Just look at the costs of electronics, web hosting, printing, or even internet bandwidth have dropped in price in the past 10 years. In fact, not only are they cheaper, you get more for less even with inflation.

By having an nimble business model, it’s possible to build brand momentum that has relevance in addressing consumer needs.

And relevance is a good predictor of short and long-term success.

However, more focus should be put on proven short-term tactics that aligns with long-term goals.

Short-Termism Is Not Sustainable

The eruption of social media has forced brands to incorporate this new tactical tool as part of the overall brand strategy playbook.

This is indicative of the validity from companies like Intel, IBM, eBay and Wall Street Journal that have moved quickly to publish social media guidelines for their employees.

In a structured brand ecosystem, social media is an unproven short-term scheme because it will continue to evolve as an ongoing, living tool that facilitates real time dynamic conversations.

I’m not denying the success that some brands are having in social media but in general most brands are still trying to figure out the arc of its trajectory in pursing the adequate usage of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even blogs.

Brands that quickly jump on the bandwagon without defining the desire outcome are focusing on short-term solutions that are simply band-aids not cures.

Coupled with a lack of attention to the overall strategy, fundamentals, and conventional approaches to long-term value, it’s simply not a sustainable model.

What’s important is to create an unambiguous structure for brand fluidity while maintaining energy and involvement throughout the organization.

The transformation extends well beyond tactics. Brands must become more engaging by being more social, this means building meaningful relationships that resonates with their audience.

Social Media Accelerates Upstream Reciprocity

Every relationship has a purpose especially on the increasing social web. What social media demands is trust and authenticity.

I see it as doing what you promise and be consistent especially in transactional business. In a recent article “Altruism Repays the Best-Connected Individuals” from Technology Review published by MIT, stated that:

Unselfish behavior spreads through society in a way that most benefits the “hubs” in the network.

The article basically illustrated how being unselfish will benefit you at the end because those who have been helped will likely to go on to help others, then spreads through a group creating the upstream reciprocity phenomenon.

There is actually an entire study done with formulas to support the phenomenon and you can go read the “Upstream reciprocity and the evolution of gratitude” analysis from U.S. National Library of Medicine if you like.

I found the information fascinating because it mimics the structure of a social network.

Apply this concept to social media and you’ll realize that you’re the red dot A and everyone else is dots B and C. Imagine altruism can be any form of your direct or indirect influence in social media.

It could be the content on your blog, tweets you’ve answered, or even products and services you’ve sold (ebooks, videos, webinars, web design, copywriting, consulting, etc).

The takeaway is social media accelerates both upstream and downstream reciprocity especially for reputable individuals.

In business, the act of unselfishness is another form of the Freemium business model. And this immediately hit home with me on how social media is transforming the way companies are doing business.

You can no longer neglect your reputation online because that’s where the conversation about you is taking place.

Social Transformation

Social media has evolved to be the hub for instant and viral reciprocation for any organization’s internal structure and external engagement.

The power of its reach and the openness of its platform commands the kind of transparency that challenges your core value proposition.

It really doesn’t depend on the wisdom of gurus or experts for its dynamism.

That’s the primary reason it will almost certainly withstand the “it’s a fed” challenge.

Social media is transforming businesses and it matters.

From Twitter to Facebook and every web2.0 tool in between, consumers are more and more concerned with the integrity and intent of the brands they interact with, while employees are less afraid to expose how companies work internally.

The challenge for marketers is not to merely appear engaged, but to actually be engaged – to live up to the promise and deliver.

I hope this is helpful in uncovering the implications of social media in business, it’s important to identify the fundamentals and rethink the overall picture.

I know I haven’t analyze any of the specific social media tools in detail, but you can simply conduct a Twitter or LinkedIn search to find every possible tactic and how-to’s out there by the so-called “experts.”

The Evolution of Media Content Distribution: Circulation 1.0 to 2.0

by Eric Tsai

I often get asked on the benefits of Social Media:  “How should we leverage social media for advertising and marketing?” or “What do we need to consider when incorporating social media into our existing strategy?

There are still a lot of questions surrounding social media.

The simple way to get a grasp on it is to first understand how information flows through social media.

Visualizing The Circulation Evolution

I like to visualize information so I’ve created the following graphics to describe how content travels through the traditional media channels.


As you can see in the traditional model, content gets created (by few sources) then aggregated into the circulation 1.0 channel of print, radio, television, and the web.

These “read-only” materials get pushed out on a one-to-many process requiring users to retrieve them.

Take newspaper as an example: it all starts with the editor creating the content, then it goes through a review process before it gets printed on paper, and finally delivers to you so you can start reading the content.

This is a top-down approach for content distribution with maximum control

Now let’s looks at how social media elevates the content circulation in the 2.0 model.


In this model, everyone is a content producer enabling user-generated content to scale efficiently.

When you have millions of people contributing content, it creates a many-to-many race to publish and distribute information.

As a result, the content now comes to you, pulling you to consume.

In addition, the nature of web 2.0 allows content to be syndicated and shared almost instantaneously.

Finally let’s incorporate circulation 2.0 as part of the circulation 1.0 and you get the “hybrid” model:


I call this circulation 1.5  because it retains the traditional media’s channel of distribution while adding web 2.0 into the mix.

The concept is to leverage the best of both worlds from 1.0 and 2.0 to gain maximum impact for brand exposure and brand awareness.

Beyond Circulation 2.0

Most brands are still on circulation 1.0 networks and many are on the path to circulation 2.0 by adding social media to their traditional media channels.

The great thing about circulation 2.0 is that everyone is pulling your content creating a natural word-of-mouth marketing that’s pervasive.

However, as the speed of these dynamic conversation becomes even more instantaneous, in the case of Twitter, the content producer have less control.

Content can get interpreted out of context and then passed along down the line just like that telephone game we all played in kindergarten.

This is why many companies are using social media primary as a service function for reputation management and customer support.

That’s exactly what Zappos, PizzaHut, Intuit, and Dell have done by leveraging Twitter for those purposes.

This creates transparency and adds authenticity to the brand which is where social media has taken us to so far. Moving forward brands must rethink the intend of their products and services and manage expectations carefully through positioning and messaging.

After the financial meltdown last year there is a lack of trust for brands and a definitive shift on perceived value.

That’s why there is such an acceleration in social media because people demand to know the truth and in many ways social media allows us to get closer to what really is happening.

When Twitter was first launched in July 2006 (happy 3 year birthday!) it was intended to be a quick update for your groups of friends.

Today it has evolved to a social networking tool to report, react, and discuss anything from news to random thoughts.

It will probably continue to evolve because of the fluidness of the platform has allow users to take the service in completely unexpected directions.

Now that’s good for innovation, they just need to figure out a business model for monetization.

The fact is traditional media still reaches far more audience than social media as I write this post. I’m sure I’ll circle back in the future as things may change in unexpected ways too.

Let me know what you think.

What is Product Development and How do I do it?

by Eric Tsai

ideabulbThis article is for people that have no idea on what goes into product development, how they can develop a product even without being a designer.

Product development is the process of bringing a new product or service to market.  It typically has a set process called product life cycle:

  1. Idea or concept
  2. Market research and analysis
  3. Product design
  4. Engineering and development
  5. Testing and launch

Your product can be anything from physical goods to software on the internet.  It can also be a service you provide such as washing cars or transporting goods.  My very first product development project started when I was an art student in college. My goal was to put my artwork on to a website so I can showcase my artwork.

I was interested in using the web as a medium to communicate my concept approach to art and it was not about designing a website. My curiosity to learn has led me to study web publishing and the birth of my first website designdamage.com in 2001.  I then continue to develop multiple versions of my website which landed me a job as a web designer after I graduated.  In the years that followed, I was tasked to design packaging, graphics, catalogs, advertising, interactive movies, motion graphics, and even apparels and accessories.

Because of my entrepreneur mindset I never look at myself as a designer; instead, I simply try to solve the problem in front of me.  This attitude has led me to focus on strategic and business approach to product development.

Today I will discuss the different ways you can develop your product even if you’ve never done it before.  If your goal is to develop a product for business, or as your business, you will find the ideas below of interest.


How to Put Your Development Project into Perspective

pdpComing up with new ideas could be easy for you but difficult to execute.  Your goal is to develop a working prototype, or ideally, go to market with it.  Market research and analysis are vital to the decision making process, so your first goal when putting the project in perspective is to define the product from some initial market research.

Obviously no product is perfect especially when it’s a fresh new concept.  It’s through testing and iterations that a product improves usability and provides value to the end user.  It’s important to focus on the ideal outcome of your product and match those to your market research data.  This will enable you to create a list of feature sets that deliver the desire outcome.  Even if you aren’t sure exactly how to achieve those feature sets, having the list will maintain your focus on the benefits you want from the product.


How to Conduct Market Research and Analysis

The easy and fast way to start your research is via search engine like Google or Yahoo.  Simply use keywords with your product categories will do the trick; for example if you are developing a new soda drink, search for “soda market growth” or “annual soda market sales.”  Keyword searching is an excellent starting point, and you should conduct both web and images search as you may find some unexpected results.

Check document repository sites such as Scribd, SlideShare, and even Youtube will also yield some interesting information.

Another method is to research your competition that’s already in the market.  Even if they don’t offer the exact products or services, their customer base may be interested in what you have to offer.  Review their website, catalog or engage people that sell their product, get a good feel for where they stand in the market.  I also recommend identifying the market leaders in your sector that are public companies so you can download their financial reports or listen to their conference call via their website or Yahoo Finance.

If you have cash to spare then paying for a research report is another way to start your research.  If your product concept needs a lot of market data to support the idea, then you better be serious about purchasing some real research and analysis reports from professional firms such as Frost & Sullivan, IDC, Ipsos, Gartners and Forrester.


How to Leverage Outsourcing to Help Design and Development

Once you have a good grasp on what it is you’re going after, you need to start the product design process. If you’re like me, you can certainly utilize design skills to save some costs before you take it to the engineers or developers.  As a visual person I like to create diagrams, charts and tables to lay out the concepts first before I start the actual design.  Use the tools available to you to write up some sample use cases and creating storyboards are the best way to communicate the idea behind your product.

Think of it as narrarating a TV commercial, how would you convey what it is that you’re selling? What are the features and benefits?

If you are not a designer, I strongly suggest that you outsource your product design process.  The key is to have your feature sets ready so you can communicate them to the designer efficiently and still control the development costs.  Provide designers or developers your use cases and have them mockup the storyboards while you evaluate their understanding of your product.

End-to-end solution is what you want so you can reduce the time-to-market factor.  Remember time is money so provide as much information as you can.  Having samples or even your own drawings could make a difference to ensure your developers understand your concept.

Where do I go to find designers? And what if I need an engineer or software developer?

You can use outsourcing sites like Guru.com, Elance.com or CodeSnap.com.  These communities have a proven platform for you to find the right talent and get the project started with competitive rates that includes contracts, NDA and approval processes.  You can also get quotes from independent sources such as Coroflot and AIGA, where you could contact the developers directly.


Product Testing and Pre-Launch

Once you have a working demo or prototype, it’s time to put it through the constructive criticism test.  This is the part where you have to be the most demanding person on your own project.  You need to be strategic about your sample and like my discussion on perceived value, you must be realistic.

You can choose to make changes to your product, launch it in beta mode or pre-launch it to a diverse range of groups for your target audiences to review and experience the product.  During this phase, it is extremely important to document everything and get as much feedbacks as possible.  The more feedbacks you can get the more information you’ll have to plan you next iteration.

The relationship between product design, development and testing are the core drivers of a successful product, so if you intend to take your product or business seriously you need to know your market, put a development roadmap in place and have a solid method of product evaluation.

If you want more details on design principals involving product design I suggest you read my 3 part series on good design.

How Opinions Disrupt and Transform

by Eric Tsai

I read an excellent report on the opinion of the public around the world by Ipsos Public Affairs.  The report covers a wide range of “disruptions” with references, datas, and statistics that had an impact on the public’s perception from around the world.

Click here to download the complete report in PDF.

Public opinions and perceptions dictates how consumers behave, and how businesses decide. Why is this important?  Because we are in the middle of a dramatic transformation of psychology, there will be a major shuffle on how we prioritize and what value means to us. Consumer behavior is shifting and marketers must adjust their strategies and tactics to fit the psychology for when we recover from this recession.

The discipline of consumer psychology draws heavily from marketing, advertising, economics, culture, and social trends.  Marketers must remain focus on public opinions and consumer behavior to have an edge in the future.

Here is a great example of what I mean, watch this video interview with Harvard Business Professor John A. Quelch on his article, “How to Market in a Downturn.”

Design Strategies: Beyond Aesthetics and Function

by Eric Tsai

I read a lot of business related blogs and one of my favor blog is Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World. Typically he blogs about business, startups, entrepreneurship, etc however; last week he had an interview with Hartmut Esslinger, the founder of frog design, a design firm I highly respect and keep my tabs on.

I couldn’t agree more with what Hartmut’s view on design:

Design” isn’t a clear-cut talent profession, but one of coordination and catalyst between human needs, science and technology, business and economy, as well as sociology and ecology. The artistic talent required is more of an enabler at the end of rational and emotional analysis as well as strategic conceptualization. Therefore, it is vital to learn and study as much as possible especially about business, technology and human nature. In the end, there are flavors in design which are more aesthetic—see New York Times “Style Magazine”—but design is only relevant when it improves human lives by appealing both to the mind and the heart.


Context of Design

The important aspect of design isn’t really about the visual enablement, but the the context of the experience, strategies and economy of scale.  I started out my career as a designer and as I progress into different management positions, I’ve come to realize the importance of knowledge, data, business and technology.

Designer chases after the end result, the goal to satisfy as much requirements as possible.  My art professor in college once told me that “art is different, it kind of just sits there on the wall and does nothing. but design must do something even though both are up to the interpreters.”

I was producing conceptual art and I couldn’t care if people understood the meaning of my art, instead I focus on my emotions.

When I started designing, I quickly realized that design has  boundaries but no rules.  There are set requirements but ultimately you could do whatever you want.  The catch is that innovation will come at a price that you are willing to pay: your design may not sell, could have major flaws over time, or get you fired from you job.  Whatever those reasons may be, they become fear.  And fear is what kills creativity, it’s the unspoken corporate rule that slowly deteriorates innovation.

Design is beyond just form and function, it’s solving and improving within a set discipline.  Design is essential from architecture, clothing, automobile, highways, food, technology, right down to your body.  By you working out you’re trying to shape your body, creating a form that you want to match your goal – to be fit or to look a certain way.  Before you start working out you must research and learn about your body and the exercise you’re going to need to achieve your goal.  Then you execute and overtime learn the optimal training routines to reach the condition you targeted.

Moving forward design will become more important as the convergence of technology continues to transform the way we live.  With every new scientific discovery design will be one of the key success drivers for businesses to innovate and rethink our next decision.  Through iterations, design will improve over time adpating to the humanistic and cultural element of our society.

Good Design: Part 3 – Marketing & Positioning

by Eric Tsai

The last element of good design is to maximize the design by selling it – distribute it in the market, execute on marketing.

Picture this: you have a product idea and spent a great deal of time laying down the solid design framework for this innovative product,  you think it’ll be a huge hit.  And finally you developed a production sample and it’s even better than you had imagined!  How would you translate that into success? Can you build a path to optimize the user experience?  Do you have the roadmap to revenue?


Integrate Ideas into Strategies

Great marketing doesn’t make the product great, but a great product usually have marketing built into it already.  It’s not about feature or benefits. This is a highly overlooked area for many creators and designers today, not having a playbook of strategies from start to finish.  The best way to start developing your game plan is to imagine your ideal situation, your desired outcome then work backwards into the design.


For example, you came up with a new type of shoes that can help runners run longer and faster, then you should start your design framework by addressing the needs of your targeted runners.  Perhaps those shoes solve some technical problems or have certain style advantages, they should all be part of the initial research so the end product could easily sell itself.

Think of how your want your users to view your product, better yet what reaction would you want them to have?  Who, where, why and how are just as important questions to ask.

  • Who is it for?
  • Where would they use it?
  • Why would they use it? Want it or need it?
  • How does it work?  How do they experience the product before committing to it?

The more specific market segment(s) you target, the more value you will bring to those customers.   If you can formulate those outcomes and keep them in mind before you start and address them during your process you will most likely have an easier time marketing the product.


Positioning and Messaging

Communication design is about translating the concept and selling the idea.  This is also one of the more difficult task for majority of the designers especially those focusing on aesthetics.  This aspect of design requires a lot more creative juices on the business side and it does not have to be pretty, it just has to be simple, concise and to the point.

There are many approaches in developing the right messaging however; many well crafted messages can sound professional but mundane. It could be nicely written and formatted by some marketing agency with all kinds of overrated phrases like “innovative, unmatched, or amazing,” but it won’t receive the attention it deserves.  In fact, the more you overpraise, the less unique you are.  Ironically what works are the cheesy, low-cost, infomercial marketing pitch that does the trick.

fsimageresizeaspxThe low-end positioning may not add much brand equity to the product, but the message usually is loud and clear not to mention easy to remember.  The objective is simple, reveal the message and show what’s inside, what you are really selling, no tricks of gimmicks because they only work short-term.

High-end positioning is all about sustaining your brand equity over time and usually it takes a lot of resources to maintain the product or services at a high level.  Think of all the luxury brands from Rolex to Bentley, from Chanel to Armani, all had to endure time and competition.  You are paying for character, history, quality and image.

In the long run it’s about incorporating the framework and user experience of the design to the end-user.  Everyone wants to sell good design, you can make money with good design or you can look good doing it, it’s market perception.


Leverage Technology and Networking

In today’s market, the design arena has evolved into a highly competitive landscape forcing designers and creators to utilize every possible resource to maximize the exposure and sales of good design.  The digital world has transformed the way that brands communicate with their audiences. Interactivity and engagement are more important than ever. Marketers are using web2.0 tools such as blogs and Twitter and social network platforms such as Facebook, Youtube and Myspace to reach out to as many audience as possible.

There are plenty of resources on the internet that can educate you on the power of social networking, but it is still only a tool.  If you want to maxmize your next design idea, you must have a solid framework with go-to-market strategies that includes the right message ready to communicate to your customers.  This will allow you to have a higher probability of gaining brand recongition, and through recognition you control the destiny of your design or ideas.

Good Design: Part 2 – The User Experience

by Eric Tsai

Now let’s move into the second important element of good design: The User Experience (UX).

After the framework is laid out, the next step is to orchestrate a path to the user experience. Design variables and objectives can be predefined in many ways, but fundamentally it must connect with the user to form the optimal experience. It’s what makes you say words like, amazing, slick, beautiful, scary, sexy, fun, annoy, loud, obnoxious, or cheap. Words that attempts to describe the experience and just like a picture it’ll never be the exact description.

In order to deliver the best user experience, everything goes back to the framework of knowing who you’re targeting and if you know your market.  Obviously people have different views and opinions, which is why design can be very subjective from one person’s view to another.

For example, (continuing my car theme) someone that likes sports cars may or may not care about the 0-60 mph acceleration speed, he or she may simply enjoy the exterior look and interior design.  On the other end, that same person may have a big family and will need another car that addresses the need of transporting a big family from soccer games to grandma’s house.

So if a automobile manufacturer is to develop a new “affordable” sport car that looks nice but is mediocre in acceleration they are in effect targeting the people that cares more about the look and would preferred to allow that experience to dictate their buying decision.  This car may look fast and sporty but it may not have the most comfortable ride or enough space for utility.  This is why it’s important to now only know your customers, but also know how to market and cater to their personality. Checkout the chart below you will find that Toyota has covered three demographics with three brands to maximize their market share


So how is that related to user experience?  Well, if you know who you’re aiming for you can then focus on those specific areas to engage the interaction to impact the user perceptions resulting in a desirable outcome.  Depending on the purpose of the product, in my example I used cars but if it was clothing, it’s style as well as gender, location, ethnics, age, income brackets, and so on.  It’s always a good to start with analytical data then develop the target groups for each design.

If you know who you’re selling the idea (design) to, it simply comes down to the creation of the information architecture by utilizing as much data as possible to address and integrate all user-facing aspects of the experience from visual to emotion that are needed to connect the user to the design.

It should be noted that no design is timelessly perfect, it can be the best solution for a specific period of time then turns into a classic, or it could just be a short term trend.  The idea is that with every revision, the next generation  should improve the overall usability and experience from the last. Thus the reason why the latest car model will usually retain the good elements of the previous generation completely or attempt to improve upon its success. It is a continueous living proecess that designers embrace as a challenge to come up with better designs again and again.

Good Design: Part 1 – The Framework

by Eric Tsai

A designer is a problem solving artist, creative inventor, functional planner, and a forward thinking strategist. Look around you and you will find that every piece of your surrounding are the designed with a purpose, just different in economy of scale, usability and creativity.

What constitute good design? What are the elements of good design? I can go on and on with a long list of elements but in my opinion the short answer should be that good design creates positive synergy, serves its purpose and improves the overall experience. It has to communicate the intend, deliver with style, and it has to work!

From clothing to electronics, from cars to computers, design has a purpose and it’s not about redefining or innovation but to provide solutions. Design solutions can be anything such as a product, or a marketing message, a piece of music, a meal, or a building – they must bring together key objectives and deliver the end result to achieve the stated goal(s).  The challenging aspect of coming up with the solution is the framework that defines the project.

The demanding part of the job is to solve as many obstacles within the provided framework and still be as creative and expressive. For example, to address the need of an affordable automobile there is now a $2,000 Tata Nano and I can guess on the top of the design priorities list for the car are probably cost, safety, fuel economy, and so on while at the bottom of the list are performance, space, and aesthetics.

On the opposite spectrum checkout the $100,00 Fisker Karma S, a plug-in hybrid luxury sports sedan that exhibits style and luxury linked with the hot new word “hybrid.” Different objectives to address different taste.


You really can not say one design is ‘better’ than the other simply because they serve two entirely different markets, concepts, budget and approach. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, they are not priced the same in the market and to that end, cost(budget) plays an important role in how “innovation” come in play from within a predefined creative parameter.

It’s almost more impressive to actually be able to purchase a brand new vehicle for $2,000 than dropping $100,000 on a luxury hybrid because the bottom line is you can buy a lot of Tata Nanos with that amount of money – try 50 Tata Nanos.