How to Make a Rusty Nail Attractive

A new approach to marketing, or How to make your content more engaging

Rick Mess       |       December 21, 2021

How often do you come across an exciting commercial for car parts or an unforgettable water filter? Do you know any thrilling stories about maintenance or tech support?

I bet you don’t.

But do you want to be someone who can make even a rusty nail attractive?

1. Think like a trailblazer

A marketer is a trailblazer. He or she blazes a trail for designers to follow. Few people realize the inherent problem. Boxed in by your concept, the designers will obediently follow the trail you have mapped like dwarves down a tunnel. And there’s no guarantee they will strike gold.

Let’s say the industrious dwarves have managed to mine something valuable. What happens next? You lead the users down the trail with promises of a treasure hoard at the end of the tunnel. But once you get there, you discover that only one out of a hundred users has made it all the way down. And now he’s tired and thoroughly uninterested in anything you have to offer.

Why does it happen?

2. Know your limits

For a marketer, design is merely a pretty coat of paint on top of her core concept, something purely instrumental and utilitarian.

“I’ve done the analysis, established the goals, laid out the strategy, and picked the content,” she thinks. “Now it’s up to the designers.”

This is yesterday’s marketing; it’s dead and not moving.

“But I work in cooperation with the designers!” you protest.

This kind of marketing will die tomorrow.

Highly specialized work has its advantages. Nevertheless, it limits the way we think and the things we can do. Sometimes, acknowledging these limits is enough to change the way you approach things.

3. Look to the future

Yesterday, all you needed to be effective was to have marketers and designers working together. Today, the idea is different: skills are becoming hybridized. The best designers are those who dabble in marketing, and the best marketers know their way around a design studio.

The time may be near when design and marketing cease to be two different professions. Synergy is the future. In other words, we will be replaced by hybrids.

You don’t need to learn to draw or use Figma. What you need is to think like a designer and put it into practice — today. Apply designer vision at each stage that requires you to put yourself in the user’s shoes, and you will arrive at the best possible solution.

4. Look through a designer’s eye

A marketer with a designer’s eye knows what the motherlode looks like and how to find it. Under her guidance, the dwarves will have no trouble quickly locating the treasure.

A marketing designer will not put the treasure at the far end of a long tunnel. She will display it right at the entrance, and it will look so enticing that excited users will rush into the mountain depths with no added incentive except the belief that there’s more treasure lurking within.

Looking through a designer’s eye means expanding your abilities and generating better ideas. It is certainly worth the time and effort.

You might think it requires learning some basic design skills. It doesn’t.

To acquire designer vision, you need to:

- study the psychology of visual perception;

- develop your visual and associative thinking;

- learn to visualize your ideas;

- closely study various design works (answering questions such as “Why was this done?”; “What purpose does it serve?”; “Why did this particular design catch my eye?”);

- look for visual sources of inspiration;

- develop your creativity and taste;

- take an interest in design trends, art, and all kinds of creative endeavors.

This may be of use:

How to Evaluate Design Quality

How to Perform Competitive Analysis in Web Design. A Step-by-Step Guide

5. Follow the stages of perception

Learning to look through a designer’s eye is not as easy as it may seem. It takes time and patience. Understanding the way people perceive visual content will make it much easier.

First the user looks, then feels, then thinks, and then makes a decision. The first two stages happen in mere seconds. The third and fourth take much longer, as the user digests the content.

The Four Stages of Content Perception:

Follow the stages, ask questions and answer them depending on your current tasks.

For example:

Stage 1 (visual): “What should the user see in the first few seconds?” (logo, animation, video, illustration, photo, text). Which images, associations, or memories should be triggered by the visuals?

Stage 2 (emotional): “What should the user feel in the first few seconds?” (surprise, admiration, curiosity, fear, calm, excitement).

Stage 3 (logical): “What kind of information will be interesting to the user? How will it solve their problem? What should they be thinking about and what conclusions should they reach?”

Stage 4 (actionable): “What action should the user perform?”

Marketers typically focus on stages 3 and 4, leaving the first two to designers. But the order of perception is 1–2–3–4, not 3–4–2–1. And the first two stages are pivotal. They determine whether the user will get to the third and fourth stages in the first place.

Once you start thinking like a designer, your mind will get in the proper groove. You will be able to visualize different types of content for your target audience, different content structures, important highlights, and more. You will know when something is excessive (such as too much text) or lacking (too few images). You will become more observant, inventive, and creative.

Most importantly, your vision will become more comprehensive and cohesive, and your concepts will be more viable and successful.

6. Selling a rusty nail

An old nail lay abandoned at the side of the road. A young man in scuffed jeans sat down at the curb. Absentmindedly, he picked up the nail and fiddled with it.

“The damn party is tomorrow,” he thought. “Frank Sinatra himself will be there. And I still haven’t come up with a name for the new cocktail!” He swung his arm to throw away the stupid nail.

Suddenly he noticed a smudge of rust on his fingers.

“That’s it!” he cried out, scaring a passing old lady. “The Rusty Nail Cocktail!”

A minute later, he was speeding away on his motorcycle, with the lucky nail in his pocket.

The cocktail consisting of Scotch, Drambuie, lemon zest, and ice is officially recognized by the International Bartenders Association (IBA) in The Unforgettables category.

This isn’t an example of a random epiphany, in case you’re wondering. It’s an example of visual-associative thinking (rust color = whiskey color).

A marketing designer has better vision: imaginative, associative, aesthetic. She finds images to trigger the requisite emotions in the target audience. It’s easier for her to see the whole picture, to come up with an original idea, to write a cinematographic story.

Start nurturing your inner designer, and soon you will see your vision transform, your abilities expand, and your professional skills improve.