The truth is, looks really DO matter!

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Growing up, we were always taught that “Looks don’t matter” and “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Now what I tell you may come as a shock, but the truth is, looks DO matter. Let’s not sugar coat the hard facts any further. In today’s heavily saturated and highly competitive marketplace, it is more important than ever to create visually-appealing, professional and compelling marketing collateral. You can have a powerful product and/or service, an award-winning team, and strong messaging, but as Coughter (2012) mentions, based on a previous UCLA research study, 55 percent of our communication takeaways are derived from visual elements. Let’s think about that figure for a second, over half of what you and I take away comes from visual devices such as symbols and other non-verbal forms of communication. Gulp…no pressure marketing professionals out there, but it’s clear some efforts and resources are needed to ensure that a company’s collateral is making full use of its potential.

With this in mind, here are a few tips:

Keep it simple and clean. Ever hear of the term cognitive overload? In case you haven’t, let me explain. “Jane” creates a marketing piece with loads of text, unreadable fonts, and endless clutter. There are no message headings, no clarity, and no key takeaways. We, as her audience, have no idea what we are supposed to be looking at, no direction, and feel lost. This, my friends, is cognitive overload.

As marketing professionals, it’s our duty to give our audience a user-friendly map that guides them to the key takeaways we are striving to highlight. How do we do this? Simplicity is key. As Coughter (2012) explains, using concise, provocative and colorful language is important in creating a powerful image for your intended audience. Eliminate irrelevant content, add headings, highlight key takeaways, and make room for a little white space (Coughter, 2012; Mindtools, 2015). Easy enough and I promise, you’ll thank me later.

Use visually compelling images and meaningful charts. When using visual devices, choose wisely. Some companies (particularly in the investment management industry) often select the most complex and incomprehensible charts in an effort to assert their intelligence. Agency Post’s Content strategist, Jami Oetting explains “Charts and graphs should clarify information. When you choose the wrong type of chart or simply default to the most common type of visualization, you could be going against this principle: you could either confuse the viewer or lead to mistaken data interpretation.” Furthermore, like charts, images used in marketing collateral should also be chosen carefully, as they too hold the key to an emotional and powerful connection with your audience (Coughter, 2012).

Consistency across all marketing collateral. As part of a company’s integrated marketing efforts and overall brand strategy, it is important that marketing professionals maintain a consistent look and feel across each communication channel (CMGT 541, 2016). As we transition into the digital era, more businesses are focusing their efforts on website design and social media, and falling short on other communication fronts like print ads and collateral. The reality is that successful marketers implement a consistent strategy across all communication channels, recognizing that not only does each medium complement one another, consistency across media also renders the deepest penetration into target markets (Stokes, 2014)

As Creative Designer, Mark Stokes puts it, “marketing collateral that feels tired and outdated gives the impression that your business is falling behind its competitors,” thus further substantiating the reality that looks really DO matter.


Coughter, P. (2012). The art of the pitch: Persuasion and presentation skills that win business. Palgrave Macmillan.

CMGT 541. (2016).  Integration. Retrieved from (2015) Creating Effective Presentation Visuals: Connecting People With Your Message. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

Oetting, J. (15, May 10). A Simple Guide to Choosing the Right Chart for Your Data. Retrieved January 28, 2016, from

Stokes, M. (2014). Marketing Collateral Tips | Marketing Collateral Still Matters! Retrieved January 27, 2016, from

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5 Responses to The truth is, looks really DO matter!

  1. huanlin says:

    I think this is a really great article that demonstrated how to make communications work more effectively. The tips you provided are really useful and easy to understand, especially the last tip you provided really connected with what we’ve learned in 541. I also love your creativity in naming the article. The title is really interesting that attracted me and made me want to learn more about the article. Last, I think you did a really good job in “using visually compelling images”, the picture you used is interesting and at the same time, related to the title and the content of the article. It seems that you are executing the tips really well. Great job!

  2. Christina says:

    Hey Amira,
    Cognitive overload is a great point to address. I think ads that fall into the example you describe are especially challenging because the marketing environment is so heavily saturated that chaotic ads blend into the cacophony. In contrast simple and clean ads pop, standing out against the pandemonium.
    In addition to the need for simplicity, consistency is another smart observation. Consistency makes it easier for the consumer to recognize a brand in the marketing environment today. I really enjoyed your blog, I thought you made such a strong case for the direction marketing professionals should direct their ad efforts.
    Fight On!

  3. Brita says:

    Hi Amira,
    I appreciated your observation that companies sometimes try to show off how smart they are by including overly complex charts, graphics and other images. In conjunction with what you pointed out in your first tip, keeping it clean yet visually striking will be the best way to engage customers, as well as inform. As they say, the smartest people usually have the least to say because they’ve been able to condense it down into fewer, more meaningful words (or charts!). Mentioning consistency is another nice tie-in to what we have been learning in class and is something that I think we need to be reminded of frequently because of how important it is to presenting a well-polished campaign. Before I even got a chance to read your insightful content, I was immediately drawn to your post because of its catchy title and interesting pictures – great job getting me hooked with your copy and creative! Great job!

  4. Chen-Chih says:

    Hi Amira,
    I think that you are very right – looks do matter – you kind of extrapolated that to mean more than just our own physical appearance which I liked. The truth is – looks matter. In interpersonal relationships, in business, in marketing, in most things. However, I think it is more important to remember that this doesn’t mean looks define anything whether it be a business or a person – whats on the inside defines someone and the substance of really any entity. For example, if Apple still looked the same as it is now, but without the apps, without the convenience, without the speed and capabilities, without everything else that people love about Apple, then the looks would be nothing more than a successful and fleeting attention-getter. Also, its also important to remember that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Thus, from a business standpoint, you need to know who your beholder is. If your goal is to show that your company has a huge growth in sales, you want to design your charts to portray this in the most instantaneous way that catches the eye. Great post!

  5. Allison says:

    Nice Post Amira, I am glad to discussed how to convey financial information. This is something that I struggle with every time there is a leadership meeting. The CFO gets up people immediately tune out. Not only is the content dry at best, but like you said the charts and graphs are often complex with tiny details. I am curious if you have tips or resources for communicating financial information? I am also curious with your last paragraph on consistency across media what you think of the new single page web design that is essentially one page that scrolls? It is presented as a better way to tell the brand/campaign story, but I often find myself disappointed in these types of websites.