The product is you
I ordered some nicer clothes in April, and they finally got here last week. According to Joe, this makes me a yuppy (despite my distaste for lattés), but it actually helped me realize something that I've been preaching for years.
Design matters - as much, if not more, than content.
Oooooh. The journalists didn't like that, I bet. Read on. I'm about to contradict myself.
These nicer clothes that I speak of are a new custom merino wool suit and three custom french cuff shirts, which is great, because I have a weird, ape-like build that makes it very difficult to buy off the rack. Prior to this acquisition, I didn't dress badly, but I was definitely more business casual than I am now. I like it all - they're good quality, and I'm a fan of french cuffs. They're just ostentatious enough.
The clothes changed how I look, if only slightly, but something else changed, too - and that's what surprised me.
The way people interacted with me changed dramatically. All of a sudden, salespeople were flustered when talking to me, random people were greeting me, opening doors for me, smiling at me. The property manager of the building I work in apologized to me about the carpet in the hallway not being finished on time while I was on my way to the little boy's room. In general, I've been treated far better since I've started wearing slightly more expensive clothes.
To me, this proves a very important point. People decide whether or not they like someone before they interact with them at all. We make snap decisions - it's our nature. As Seth Godin put it in All Marketers are Liars, if we had to spend a half hour deliberating whether or not cro-magnon man was friend or foe, we're pretty dead.
Marketers would be stupid to ignore this idea. Look at the iPod and iBook. Everyone I know who owns one of these has, at some point commented on how "cute" they are. How many times do you think you didn't pick up what would become your favourite book because you didn't like the cover?
Of course, design isn't everything. But it is everything for that first impression where people are deciding whether or not they like you, or dislike you. If I turned out to be a complete ass, or completely incompetent, all the shirts in the world wouldn't make them like me. But, assuming I'm a worthwhile product (which my mom assures me I am) then I've crossed that first hurdle of making people like me, and once they interact with me more, that suspicion will (hopefully) be confirmed.
Have a great product? Skimp on design, and you're doing yourself a disservice. The reason iPod is successful is because it combines "cute" with a really well-made product that delivers what it promises.
The lesson is far more important in the world of advertising, where first impression is everything. It would be strange for someone to warm up to an ad, or learn to like it after they got to know it a little. The greatest copy in the world won't help a badly designed ad sell your product.
Think about that next time you have a college student design your corporate stationery.