At a time when most SEO Conferences have been running for more than a decade, we’re just now having our very first Conversion Conference next week.
Which isn’t to say I’m not excited to be speaking at Conversion Conference West – I’m thrilled! – but that the inaugural nature of the conference indicates both what had been the prevailing industry inattention to conversion rate optimization and how dramatically things have changed in the last two years:
- Competition has increased for attention, business dollars, and everything else,
- The economic climate has changed dramatically,
- Paid traffic has become increasingly more expensive,
- Social Media has dramatically altered how people spend their time online
- Online testing platforms have become ubiquitous and their use de rigueur for any serious Website / web marketer
In response we’re witnessing:
- Newfound popular interest in Conversion Rate Optimization
- Greater attempts to engage early stage buyers, and along with that…
- The emergence of Content Marketing / Content Strategy as a buzzword-worthy marketing topic
- Increased interest in persona-based marketing techniques
- Increased employment of intelligent customer retention strategies as a way to deal with higher customer acquisition costs and to boost overall conversion rates
If I wanted to be smug, I’d say that these were all things that Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg were stressing as far back as 1999 and early, post-dot bomb 2000’s. But that’s beside the point. The point is that if YOU’RE not doing these things – or at least busily getting smart on these topics – doing so is now a matter of survival.
Why not jump-start your efforts by attending Conversion West in San Jose, May 4th and 5th?
You can even get a late-bird discount by using Promo Code CCW565
I hope to see you there.
Whether you’re selling car washes, copywriting, carpet cleaning, or kitchen remodels, you’ve likely noticed the once-burned aspect of your best customers. The clients who pay your premium price most willingly and are most appreciative of the differences between you and the price-based competition are usually the clients who already tried the cheapo-charlies and got burned.
And you also probably still pull your hair out when never-burned prospects pass you up for the cheaper option. Or for no-option and procrastination.
This is where fortune-telling can fill your pockets with gold.
Because you’ve seen this movie before, you know how it ends. You can predict the precipitant event that’ll jar your prospects from procrastination, or the exact moment of clarity and regret that’ll send them screaming back from the “cheaper” alternative. And you can describe it with eerily vivid detail and precision – all long before the prospect ever makes his wrong turn.
That way, when your words prove prescient, your dearest prospect will want someone who understands the jam he’s in and who can help him fix it. So with just a little intelligent planning on your part, you can weave into your storytelling the exact “script” for his return to you, including:
- The best points in the process for your prospect to switch service providers
- Justifications for his change in mind
- Exactly how to contact you
- What information he’ll need to have on hand
- What to expect for a solution, etc.
Yes, you can do this in person. But you can also do it with your Web copy, which will give you 3 major advantages:
1) You reach early stage buyers who are just doing research and potentially re-frame their buying criterion to your advantage. A few vividly told horror stories sometimes swings decisions around and increases immediate sales.
2) You forewarn even the prospects who still chose the cheaper alternative. After reading your story, prospects who do chose the cheapo charlies are a lot more wary of what can go wrong and head the warning signals earlier in the process, when stuff first starts to slide.
3) You gain instant credibility when newly-burned clients find you from a pain-driven Google search. You may not pop up for google searches on “inexpensive fashion haircut,” while easily placing 1st for “fixing horrific hair cuts.” And when that happens, everything you wrote about the daners of the $5 haircut will ring true for the visitors coming to you from that kind of search. You’ll have just created all kinds of credibility for yourself.
Just do yourself a favor and be as specific and vivid as possible. Because when you’re describing a future event, specifics make the event feel closer.
And make sure to emphasize your ability to pick-up the pieces when prospects experience a cheapo-charlie disaster. Direct the movie in your prospect’s head. Give them a new ending to the film. Give them a happy ending and watch them flock to your theatre to see it – higher ticket price and all.
– Cowboy Wisdom as quoted by Warren Buffet
Your website, e-mail, and direct mail copy all suffers from a flaw that kills reader belief. And there’s no real way to prevent that problem – only workarounds and partial solutions.
It’s the nature of the copywriting beast to suffer the fate of the barber telling people they need a haircut – the vested interest of the speaker works against his believability.
And that’s why stories come in so handy. While the right story won’t prevent the problem, it will overcome it with a double whammy of psychology capable of crushing this credibility gap like an empty beer can. Here’s why:
1) Flattery works, even when you know the flattery isn’t sincere.
Or so says recent psychological research titled: “Insincere Flattery Actually Works“. Even though we like to think that we’re too smart to be influenced by insincere flattery, our intellectual understanding of the intent to persuade doesn’t stop the emotional influence of the message.
And the same also extends to a story that flatters the listener. A story that flatters your prospective customers’ sensibilities, suspicions, judgements, or aspirations will emotionally influence them, even when they recognize your vested interest in telling the story.
This stands in sharp contrast to bragging, which never works regardless of how sincere it might be. So why does most copy brag instead of flatter? In the words of Bryan Eisenberg, why is there so much we-we copy?
While emotional-directed advertising has historically performed twice as well as purely rational ads, the key to making those ads work is to focus on the buyer’s emotion, not the seller’s.
2) We unconsciously “see” things through the eyes of the story’s protagonist
When listening to a story, we understand the narrative by picturing the experience as it occurs to the protagonist. When we hear a story, we identify with the protagonist, not just visually, but emotionally. That’s why we love happy endings, and why watching an authentic tragedy leaves us feeling devastated and drained.
Put these two psychological principles together with the right kind of story and you’ve got persuasive dynamite. Here’s a perfect case study demonstrating just how effective this can be:
Beckley Automotive’s 30% Sales Jump
My friend and colleague, Chuck McKay, works with a 15-bay repair shop in Des Moines by the name of Beckley Automotive. Steve Beckley’s shop works on the European Imports he loves and drives himself: Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover, Mini, Volkswagen, Saab, and Volvo (along with Acura, Lexus, and Infinity).
For years Steve has purchased lists of European Import owners in Des Moines and has used multiple post card mailings to remind owners that someone in town understands all the ins and outs of the cars they drive. Over the years those cards have payed off handsomely.
But the cards suffered from the “barber telling you you need a haircut” problem: it’s just not very credible when anyone brags about how great they are – especially when they’re out to get your business.
So Chuck advised Steve Beckley to do two things with his mailings:
- Stop appealing to European Import owners and start appealing to owners of specific brands. In the words of Chuck: “A Range Rover owner doesn’t think of himself as a ‘European Import Owner.’ He thinks of himself as someone who drives a Range Rover. Speak directly to him.” In other words, appeal to emotion& self-identity.
- Stop speaking like an advertiser and start communicating more like a good friend. Start telling stories.
So to Steve’s immense credit, he took that advice, ditched his old copy, and wrote awesomely effective stories for each of the European marques he works on. Stories like this one he sent to Mercedes owners:
Wouldn’t You Feel Smug?
Can you just imagine how self-satisfied you’d feel upon reading this story if you owned and drove a Mercedes Benz? You might just feel downright smug after reading that story. And even though you’d know, in the back of your mind somewhere, that Beckley Automotive was trying to flatter you with that story, it wouldn’t matter: you’d still walk away a heck of lot more likely to call them for your auto work.
Indeed, that was exactly the case for recipients of these story-based postcard mailers, whose increased patronage of Beckley Automotive led to a 29.9% increase in sales this March over March of last year.
And that’s the power of smug.
It’s also a great way to sell a man a haircut when all the world can see that you’re a barber.
P.S. Chuck McKay does a lot more than advise clients on messaging and copy. He’s also a superb Business and Marketing Strategist who manages to combine those rare-enough-on-their-own traits of clear thinking, small business savvy, and creative execution. If you’re looking to grow in spite of the current economic climate, do yourself a favor – check out Chuck’s blog and drop him a message.
Of course, that’s nothing against Web designers – there’s also a lot of atrocious Web copy out there, too. The difference is that everyone thinks they can write well, while most everyone believes they can’t draw. Moreover, the popular perception of good writing centers on clarity, whereas the popular perception of designcenters on creativity. All of which means bad design gets unleashed on the world, and goes un-optimized, more often than bad web copy.
Having dropped that turd in the punchbowl, let me admit that I’m no designer myself, with any knowledge I do have coming from self education.
Yet precisely because I am not a designer, I’ve always aimed my self-education at developing a knowledge of design fundamentals rather than of design tools. And this has left me continually scratching my head when I consistently see those fundamental design principles violated by Web designers.
Sometimes I wondered if it was just me and my own deeply-ingrained Conversion-centric view of Web design, pounded into me by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg. But as it turns out, it ain’t just me…
- This Smashing Magazine post shows at least a few designers who feel similarly
- And Tim Ash’s recent ClickZ article re-confirms my long-held bias towards clear over “snazzy” design
Why does this matter to a copywriter?
Because your Web copy’s effectiveness will be dramatically affected by page design.
So what do I recommend if you’re a copywriter who is forced to work with a mediocre designer? Educate yourself, learn to speak design, and force designers/clients to test disputed design decisions.
Here are 14 Starter Resources to Begin Your Design Education:
- This Andy Rutledge article on Contrast and Meaning
- Jakob Nielsen’s Website
- Mark Kennedy’s Temple of the Seven Golden Camels blog – tons of great stuff here
- This Free Design and Layout Tutorial by the Poynter Institute
- Bryan Eisenberg’s post on Revenge of the Pixels: The Battle for Screen Real Estate
- Anne Holland’s A/B Testing Site, WhichTestWon.com – getting a feel for what design elemts out-pull others is crucial!
- ABTests.com – more A/B split tests
- Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug
- Save the Pixel by Ben Hunt
- Type & Layout by Colin Whieldon
- Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, et al.
- Picture This: How Pictures Work, by Molly Bang
- Before & After Magazine
- Always Be Testing by Bryan Eisenberg and John Quarto VonTivadar
When you can articulate your objections to bad design more eloquently and professionally than the designer can advocate for his design, you’ll have a huge leg up. And when that fails, you can always demand a split test between the simpler, cleaner design and whatever creative layout your designer has come up with.
So what about you? What design resources have you found invaluable? What do you recommend when working with a less-than-stellar Web designer? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. The “Bad Design Kills” icon was created by Von Glitschka and used with permission.
P.P.S. Sorry for the lapse in posts. Had some health issues and am just now feeling on the mend.