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Picture it. How your business can survive the swipe

Colin Jowell
Monday, January 13, 2014

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by Colin Jowell

Whenever a new technology is invented, the first companies to make the most of it are inevitably the ones that make their money from dating and sex. You won’t see a huge amount written about it. It’s not polite conversation after all, but this has been going for literally thousands of years - from the high artisans of ancient temples, to early photographs, video, the internet and now mobile, our most basic instincts are the ones that are catered for first, and often best.

There’s no good pretending it doesn’t exist, because you’ll miss some vital marketing lessons. Dating sites were some of the early pioneers of the web, but repurposed for mobile, an interesting revolution has happened in the last 24 months. What began as a complicated process of images, questionnaires, and the requirement that one write a pithy, meaningful pitch on their eligibility has become somewhat simpler.

Meet Tinder, the mobile dating app taking the world by storm. If you are still feigning ignorance as to what I am talking about, click here. Don’t worry, its very above board, your I.T department won’t mind, though if there were an academy award for visual metaphor, these guys would clinch it for sure! Empire State Buildings and Floating balloons aside, the thing you should be looking at is the visual interface: a few swipes, and your dream match could be yours. For a marketing communication industry that spends millions on crafting messages, unique selling propositions, detailed copy and so on, we really need to take notice of this.  The opening message is not what matters. The opening image is. And if you don’t pass muster, you are swiped away in a split second.

If millions are willing to make one of their most important life decisions, the choice of a partner in this way, you can bet that the choice between your product or a competitors is unlikely to get more consideration. We can lament what this will do to our society all we like, but in the mean time, millions of customers are getting trained to Swipe. Some may argue this will affect physical products rather than intangible service, but to do that would miss the opportunity.  Services have even greater opportunity to visually differentiate, unconstrained by the physical functionality that a product still has to provide.

Malcolm Gladwell saw this coming in his 2005 book, Blink. In it he described “thin-slicing”: our ability to make decisions from extremely limited experience. Instant choices we make can be better than ones we think about for some time. I always thought the theory was a great one, but a terrible way to sell a book, since if you believe the hypothesis, you’re really just wasting your time by reading further.

But since you are reading further, the key implication for your business is this: first impressions are more vital than ever - it’s no good to have some convoluted benefit that’s buried in the detail. To an extent this has always been true, but the trick now is how you make this visually, rather than verbally apparent. This is about more than good photography, or pretty design. Rather, it’s about design with single minded intent. While it’s still important to define your core values, benefits and whatever else may use to understand your brand, we have to accept that it is all for your understanding. As far as your customer is concerned, if they can’t see what they are looking for right off the bat, it’s not going to happen.

The time has come to picture your business differently.

For why being 100% authentic is important read Colin Jowell's: Holden's future: Aussie designer vs. Aussie made

Published: Monday, January 13, 2014

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