design and creativity in
developing a digital marketing strategy

Problem definition and environmental context

Digital marketing is a relatively new marketing approach, which has developed due to an explosive growth of information and communication technologies (Gale Encyclopedia of E-Commerce, n.d; WSI, 2013). As such, the Internet is now among the dominant communication mediums and one of the most important marketplaces for transactions of goods and services. If a business does not have an internet presence, it is now likely to be ‘non-existent’ to consumers (WSI, 2013).  Therefore, digital marketing is promotion of one’s own goods, services or brand through digital channels, which includes the use of websites, application, internet advertising, search engine optimisation, content and social media marketing (Financial Times, n.d.). However, as the content from print, television and big boards has been migrating to the digital channels, it has oversaturated the medium. This has formed a huge gap between the availability of information and humans’ ability to find, process and remember it (Endsley & Jones, 2011).

As such, humans biologically have a very limited capacity to focus attention and process data (Chang, 2015). Moreover, a recent study by Microsoft suggested that due to the plethora of information, one’s average attention span has further decreased from 12 to 8 seconds (Microsoft, 2015). Therefore, modern digital users are less patient in information search. This leads to distressing results: an average online conversion rate is 2.95%, meaning that less than 3% of one’s website or application traffic leads to an online purchase, or other business goal accomplishment (Chaffey, 2016; WSI, 2013). Therefore, human attention became a new scarce resource, where comprehending and leveraging the attention mechanisms is among the biggest determinants of one’s digital strategy success (Chen, 2016). In fact, design has recently become an essential strategic asset in addressing this issue. As such, judgement of one’s website or post acceptability, aesthetic appeal is made unconsciously, within 50ms of being exposed to an image (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). This means that design is paramount for attention grabbing in digital environments, affecting users’ decision to either engage or leave the site (Cyr, Head & Ivanov, 2006).

Moreover, it was found that even during prolonged digital channel exposure, users prefer aesthetics and high-quality designs, stating that visual appeal helps to maintain their attention. Additionally, approximately 38% of users will stop engaging if they find that content is unattractive in layout and imagery (Adobe, 2015). Thus, interface design and visual content provide a virtual environment or ‘servicescape’, which supports engagement and goal conversion after the initial visual exposure by further moulding customer experience and perceptions (Ballantyne & Nilsson, 2014; Degen, Melhuish & Rose, 2015). Subsequently, to explain low conversion rates, it could be argued that most businesses fail in making their digital communications visually engaging and valuable, rather than failing in developing and launching them (Straker, Wrigley & Rosemann, 2015). Therefore, study of design could be applied to digital marketing to identify principles and approaches to grab attention and increase the success of one’s marketing strategy and the conversion rates.



To understand how design could be used to increase goal conversion rates of digital marketing strategies, it is important to acknowledge the needs and wants of new media users. In the digital medium, user behaviour could be classified as either utilitarian (goal-oriented) and hedonistic (experiential) (Sanches-Franco & Roldan, 2005; Nili, Delavari, Tavassoli & Barati, 2013). Goal-oriented users are rational decision makers, who are goal-driven and prefer to perform their tasks quickly and without distractions. They also tend to conduct narrowly defined product searches, and nearly a third of them tend to make a purchase decision while browsing (Wolfinbarger & Gilly, 2001). In contrast, hedonistic users’ main browsing intent is to seek excitement and entertainment. They tend to enjoy surfing and trying new sites, look for ideas, experience novel designs without a set goal (Wolfinbarger & Gilly, 2001). Therefore, for hedonistic consumers, experience is just as important as a goal is to utilitarian users, and they receive emotional gratification through satisfaction of their hedonistic needs (Nili, Delavari, Tavassoli & Barati, 2013). User segmentation, therefore, shows that online consumers have different motivations, needs and preferences. Consequently, businesses must evaluate these distinctions and execute their internet marketing strategies accordingly to expectations of their consumers, to be able to increase return on investment (Fan & Tsai, 2010).


Utilitarian Design

As such, utilitarian users value the ease of navigation, which decreases the number of clicks needed to achieve their goal. Here it important to note that information search requires both physical and cognitive effort. People have a limited ability to make rational decisions and may experience decision fatigue if exposed to unnecessary distractions (Gardner, 2016). Therefore, research has found that even rational users are likely to emphasise reduction of cognitive effort over decision accuracy (Häubl & Trifts, 1999). Notably, approximately 65% of all transactions are not finished because people fail to find the necessary information to complete their purchase, thus getting frustrated and leaving the site (Wolfinbarger & Gilly, 2001). Consequently, although highly creative content has been found to attract attention in advertising, it may not be a relevant approach for utilitarian consumers (Leeflang, Verhoef, Dahlström & Freundt, 2014). If consumers can make an aesthetic judgement at a glance, goal-oriented users are likely to prefer visual attributes that increase the perceived ease of browsing experience (Microsoft, 2015; Gardner, 2016). Consequently, design for utilitarian users should reduce information processing efforts, prevent distractions and direct attention to goal-conversion items (Microsoft, 2015; Krug, 2014).

As such, a concept of attention-driven design aims to decrease the visual complexity and aid comprehension (Gardner, 2016). As goal-oriented users tend to minimise their time and effort, they skim through online content. Thus, attention-driven designs create visual hierarchies, visually break down content, eliminate unnecessary distractions and emphasize which elements are clickable (Krug, 2014, Gardner, 2014). For instance, it is recommended to use limited colour schemes to prevent gaze drifting, while contrasting colours ought to be used to attract attention to conversion elements, thus creating a focal area (Parkhrurst, Law, & Niebur, 2002, Gardner, 2016). Similarly, size difference, spatial positioning (amount of white space, visual symmetry, content proximity), directional cues (such as arrows, perspective and gaze) and encapsulation should be used to help the user’s eye navigate to the conversion-centred elements. For instance, a study by Unbounce revealed that removal of the cartoon characters and navigation bar from the JellyTelly (child entertainment streaming service) landing page, has increased the engagement rate by 105% (Gardner, 2016).

Notably, marketing concept of AIDA, could be used to guide utilitarian design. It stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action, which correspond to a typical decision journey from product awareness to its purchase (Kotler, Keller, & Brady, 2016). The similar flow could be used in effective landing pages to convey a story and persuade a user to make a purchase. This could include an attention-grabbing title in the beginning, which creates Awareness. It is ought to be followed by an image or video to create interest, proceeded by descriptions of benefits of the product to create Desire. The page hence should be concluded by a call to an action – either a button or link, which allows users to Act (Gardner, 2016). As a result, attention-driven designs tend to be aesthetically appealing, yet simplistic in their visuals, as shown in Figure 1. This is particularly relevant for B2B consumers and professional services, who are frequently time-constrained and have an unambiguous goal of seeking professional solutions (Gardner, 2016).

‍Figure 1.  While the example on the left confuses the gaze, the right example affords easy navigation and comprehension (Gardner, 2016)

However, having such rigid rules in utilitarian could design could suggest the decreased reliance on designer and other creative personnel. This would also contrast the increasing importance of creativity as an economic resource, which is a current industry trend, as creativity is seen as a source of innovation and problem-solving (Florida, 2002). Yet practice shows that website or application design is frequently a time and resource-consuming matter, where such design guidelines would help to reduce risk and improve efficiencies. This is not meant to stifle creativity, but to guide it and increase its utility (Robins & Holmes, 2008). As such, creativity is defined as production and implementation of both novel and useful ideas (Amabile, 1996). Therefore, attention-driven design involves exploratory creativity, which is a search for new possibilities and opportunity spaces by making recombining familiar elements (such as rules) in novel ways (Boden, 1990).  Therefore, creativity here offers a way to progress from these guidelines to their successful implementation of utilitarian digital marketing strategies (Chebbi & Yahiaoui, 2013). As a result, a digital marketer either have to have a creative flair themselves or rely on designers to convey their vision.

Hedonistic Design

Unlike utilitarian users, experiential consumers are likely to view fewer sites but spend more times on one domain (Huang, Lurie & Mitra, 2009). Moreover, as they are predominantly driven by emotion, their main aim to pursue “fantasies, feelings, and fun,” which increases the likelihood of impulsive decision-making (Nili, Delavari, Tavassoli & Barati, 2013, p. 12). Hedonistic consumers are found to increasingly expect engaging experiences, which include emotional, sensory and cognitive stimulations (Jeong, Fiore, Niehm & Lorenz, 2008). These include the use of rich media, namely appalling imagery, videos, virtual tours and animations – elements which would otherwise distract utilitarian users, yet deliver emotional and aesthetic delight to hedonists (Rezaei, Ali, Amin, Jayashree, 2016; Coyle & Thompson, 2001). In such case, business ought to challenge the norm, violate expectation and surprise customers with their visuals and content (Microsoft, 2015). This could be used through vivid design, which aims to engage the most of the human senses through digitally-facilitated interactivity (Coyle & Thompson, 2001).

Vivid design is based on the notion of ‘expressive aesthetics’ the purpose of which is to produce sophisticated, highly creative and original works (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). This could be done by using bright colours, elaborate patterns, sounds, animations, interactivity to primarily stage experiences, rather than to explicitly sell goods (Jeong, Fiore, Niehm & Lorenz, 2008). Additionally, due to the expectation of novelty, the design could even challenge the convention of web experience, involving novel website navigation, visual storytelling and even gamification. Some notable examples include National Geographic’s interactive experience built to promote its movie about the assassination of President Kennedy. It allows users to explore photographs and videos to learn about Kennedy’s life accompanied by movie soundtrack (National Geographic, n.d.). Similarly, Magnum has developed an interactive campaign called ‘Pleasure Hunt’, which allowed users to manage a character to collect the most “pleasure across the Internet” (Ferri, 2013). In total this campaign has attracted 7 million players with an average engagement of 5 minutes per each visitor (Ferri, 2013).

‍Figure 2. Left: National Geographic’s ‘Killing Kennedy, Right: Magnum ‘Temptation Fruit’. Both website do not have conventional navigation, but feature music and animation to encourage users to explore (National Geographic, n.d; Ferri, 2013.)

These are only a few examples, yet they illustrate how rich media and vivid design allow to create more fun and ‘fantasy-driven’ online environments, which focus user’s attention in one place (Bilgihan & Bujisic, 2015). Moreover, such exciting and creative environments not only attract and ‘stick’ attention, yet also create more memorable positive experiences. Therefore, unique imagery and use of creativity facilitate more intense brand experience, incepting a strong feeling of delight, which is strongly correlated to repeated online patronage and the spread of the positive word-of-mouth (Hamby, 2014; Chitturi, Raghunathan, & Mahajan, 2008). As a result, hedonistic digital campaigns may not directly induce customers to make purchases, but indirectly encourage to be emotionally invested in the brand, which also leads to an increased return on investment. As such, Pulman & Gross (2004) state that even a small percentage increase in customer loyalty, increases purchase intention and retention, resulting in a much higher percentage increase in profits and value of the brand.

The creativity used for hedonistic browsing is known as transformational (Boden, 1990). Transformational creativity aims to challenge rules and principles, to arrive at more novel ideas, thus “producing what might be thought of as a paradigm shift” (Maiden, Jones, Karlsen, Neill, Zachos & Milne, 2010, p.60). This implies a more unconstrained approach to design requirements and creativity. Yet this presents another challenge: demand and acceptance of creative goods are not easily predicted. This is known as a ‘nobody knows principle’ (Caves, 2000). This is because creative productions are judged not by rational appeals but by their symbolic value, which is subjectively interpreted. For instance, Nesquik has developed an augmented reality app allowing to put its chocolate bunny ears on people’s selfies.  Although, creative in description and implementation, the campaign has hugely failed, generating only two posts on Instagram (Parish, 2013). Otherwise, businesses in desperation to attract attention may be judged as offensive or inappropriate. For instance, to tribute Carrie Fisher’s death Cinabbon has posted a photograph of its cinnamon bun with a cinnamon-made portrait of Princess Leia. This may have been a creative idea, yet the post has faced a social media backlash due to user-perceived commercialism and inappropriateness (Mooney, 2016).

Consequently, it is imperative that businesses recognise the importance of the use of transformative creativity for hedonistic users, yet understand that excellence in this respect is not easily achieved. One way to offset this effect is through collaboration between different department members, which have divergent expertise and experience, such as marketing, design, production, etc. On average, collaborative efforts in creative industries results in higher financial return in creative projects (Perretti & Negro, 2007). This is to the contrary to the myth of a ‘creative genius’, which is a belief that the best creative outcomes stem from certain creative personalities, such as Michelangelo or Picasso. Yet, this may lead to bias or lack of innovative thinking (Bilton and Leary, 2002). In contrast, collaborative creativity allows a number of people with diverse perspectives to generate more ideas and critically reflect on them, thus being able to come up with alternative and on average more thoughtful creative problem solutions (Perretti & Negro, 2007). Therefore, digital marketers should involve a various people in idea generation stage to achieve best experiential results.


Mixed Design

The described above dimensions nevertheless represent extremes in the segmentation continuum. It is still frequent that both utilitarian and hedonistic users meet on certain e-commerce sites, meaning that those must appeal to both. This typically involves lifestyle products, such as apparel and appliances, and personal services, including holiday planning, beauty salons and restaurants (Huang, Lurie & Mitra, 2009).  Research suggest that although most online shoppers are indeed goal-oriented, it is not sufficient to merely address utilitarian needs (Bilgihan & Bujisic, 2015). For instance, it is likely that both goal-oriented and experiential users visit a resort website to book a holiday (Gretzel & Fesenmaier, 2004). However, due to the multi-sensory nature of personal products and services, simple graphics and textual descriptions may not be able to fully convey the benefits that one or another seller may offer. Consequently, it was found that website and apps that feature both design attributes tend to perform better (Bilgihan & Bujisic, 2015).

Consequently, the best practice for e-retailers is to preserve the ease of navigation as per attention driven design, but allow a possibility to engage with rich media in product depictions. Notably, it is found that consumers tend to rate product representation as the most important factor to them when purchasing online (Reibstein, 2002). For example, Four Seasons Bali uses resort photographs and videos, to create a virtual tour for the experience to simulate user’s direct experience with the service (Four Seasons, n.d.). Similarly, Nike allows customers to creatively customise its trainers and watch them in action (Nike, n.d.). However, none of these websites forces the user to participate in reach media, and the media content is highly relevant to the goal of making the sale, while the rest of the web interface is very simple and minimalistic (Scarpi, 2012). In fact, it was found that utilitarian design features of reliability, functionality and orderliness are needed to create customer commitment in online shopping by capturing attention and directing gaze to product representations (Bilgihan & Bujisic, 2015). Rich hedonistic content hence allows experiential users to immerse themselves in the portrayed environment or envision their future use of the good, keeping them on the site. Simultaneously, rich product representations provide supplementary information about the product to the goal-oriented users. Ultimately, this encourages a deeper information processing for both categories of users (Jeong, Fiore, Niehm & Lorenz, 2008).

‍Figure 3.  NikeID website features a combination of vivid animation, simplistic and intuitive navigation with a clear call for action (Nike, n.d.)

Finally, all of these findings suggest that design and the ensuing aesthetic creativity could be utilised in varying ways to increase the success of digital marketing campaigns. Yet it also suggests that digital marketing employs economic and technical creativity (Donskov, 2010). Economic creativity is the process of deciding on the strategic direction of the digital campaign, who would it address and what message it should deliver. Technical creativity refers to the implementation of the artistic inputs, such as writing the code for the website design (Donskov, 2010). Therefore, it is imperative to overlap these kinds of creativity to conceive, develop and deliver the best results. This means that digital marketing increasingly involves people with various skills and expertise, who must be working together to achieve their goal.  For example, a study of OPERACOM group (a telecommunications business) found out that digital marketing and product development all require close collaboration between various kinds of knowledge, such as design, information systems, technology and marketing (Chebbi & Yahiaoui, 2013). As a result, digital marketers also need to possess not only the creative flair, but communication and leadership skills to be able to effectively guide and leverage various production stakeholders (Angulo, 2016).


This report has illustrated that the increasing prevalence of digital tools and technologies is threatening the existing business models and calls for change (Leeflang, Verhoef, Dahlström & Freundt, 2014). Therefore, it is imperative to enrich traditional marketing techniques with new knowledge and adapt one’s mindset to address the changes in purchasing behaviour, globalisation and technological advancements. Notably, this research has greatly contributed to my understanding of the importance and methods of development either sensible or emotional user experiences, which is greatly applicable to my chosen role as a digital marketer.  Identifying the fundamental design principles for utilitarian and hedonistic users provides me with the guidelines and inspiration to use my creative skill in either exploratory or transformation way to help develop the best experiences for the target demographics, and ultimately increase return on investment.

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