A few week’s back Jef­frey Eisen­berg sent me the fol­low­ing video clip taken from mtvU’s show, Stand-In. And after watch­ing the clip, I instantly con­sid­ered it a must-watch for those inter­ested in sto­ry­telling and/or online mar­ket­ing.  [If you don’t see the embed­ded video right away, give it a moment. Or watch it over at mtvU.]  At any rate, here it is:

For those of you who don’t have the two min­utes to watch the video, here are the main takeaways:

1) Every Scene Has To Be Entertaining

You can’t get away with a scene that’s noth­ing but expo­si­tion, or that flat out isn’t enter­tain­ing, isn’t funny, etc., as a shock­ing amount of your audi­ence sim­ply won’t stick around past the end of that scene.  Like they say in jour­nal­ism, “The eas­i­est thing in the world for a reader to do is stop reading.”

2) Your Sto­ry­line is Bro­ken If the Words “And Then” Fit Between Any Two Scenes or Beats

So if you say, “this hap­pens AND THEN this hap­pens” you’ve got a bro­ken sto­ry­line. There’s no causal­ity in the plot­ting of things. Instead, between every scene you should have either a “there­fore” or a “but,” as in, “this hap­pens and THEREFORE this hap­pens,” or “this hap­pens BUT (instead of the expected out­come) this hap­pens (caus­ing complications).”

That’s a HUGE insight baked into a very easy to under­stand and action­able for­mat. And it’s also, in my opin­ion, THE “hid­den in plain sight” key to mak­ing your Web­site ana­lyt­ics action­able.  So let’s trans­form this from “story” lan­guage to Con­ver­sion Rate Opti­miza­tion language:

Every Page Should Have a Per­sua­sive Pur­pose for your Visitors

If any page on your site is non-persuasive or irrel­e­vant to your vis­i­tor, you run the very real risk of los­ing that vis­i­tor; the eas­i­est thing in the world for your Web­site vis­i­tor to do is to exit your site, as an inter­net full of com­peti­tors is no far­ther than a Google search or a click away.

So if your home page or prod­uct page or about us page is filler con­tent that you’ve just kind of put up because you’re “sup­posed” to have a ____ page, you’re vio­lat­ing the “every scene has to be enter­tain­ing” rule, which I’d trans­form into “every page has to per­form a per­sua­sive role for the vis­i­tor who links to it” rule.

That means that you need to know:

  • WHO is com­ing to your site,
  • WHY they’re com­ing (i.e., what they’re hop­ing to accom­plish), and
  • WHAT they need to know, feel, and believe in order to convert.

Then you have to fig­ure out the kind of mes­sag­ing and con­tent you need for each page that will ade­quately inform, impassion/reassure, and per­suade your vis­i­tors into tak­ing the next step towards con­ver­sion. Because if you don’t know what a page is sup­posed to be doing for a cus­tomer, how do you expect to tell when it’s fail­ing to do it?

So that’s Rule #1 for Online Per­sua­sion and Action­able Ana­lyt­ics. Here’s rule #2:

Your Ana­lyt­ics Should Tell A Story — And YOU Have to Sup­ply the “There­fores” and “Buts”

You need to look at the behav­ior of your vis­i­tors as indi­cated by the ana­lyt­ics and then attempt to explain the behav­ior. Except that you can’t let your­self get away with “and then” link­ages.  Peo­ple don’t land here, “and then” go to this page, “and then” go to that page, “and then” leave.  You have to use “Because” and “But” linkages.

For exam­ple, if you see peo­ple going straight from the home page to the gallery page (on say, a site for a pro­fes­sional Web devel­oper), and you then see them leave, you’re job as the ana­lyst is to use your knowl­edge from Rule #1 in order to con­struct a rea­son­able hypoth­e­sis of WHY peo­ple are leav­ing.  Some­thing like:

You have a bunch of peo­ple com­ing to the Home page of your site after search­ing “Pro­fes­sional Word­Press Design” BECAUSE Google’s organic search results direct them to your index page. BUT, your Home page doesn’t talk about Word Press above the fold.  In other words, a vis­i­tor has to scrolled down below the fold in order to get con­fir­ma­tion that they are in the “right place” for “Pro­fes­sional Word­Press Design.” THEREFORE these vis­i­tors look to get con­fir­ma­tion of your Word­Press Blog-designing skills on your gallery page. BUT these vis­i­tors don’t yet real­ize that lots of Web­sites (rather than just blogs) are now cre­ated on Word­Press and not just blogs. THEREFORE, when they only see pro­fes­sional look­ing Web­sites on your gallery page, this CAUSES them to con­clude that you don’t really offer what they’re look­ing for (“Pro­fes­sional Word­Press Design) and to then leave your Website.”

The Bridge Between Ana­lyt­ics and Action Is a Testable Hypothesis

This exer­cise not only forces you to explain the whys behind observed vis­i­tor behav­ior (aka ana­lyt­ics), but it also high­lights your assump­tions behind visitor’s moti­va­tions, con­cerns, and pos­si­ble objec­tions.  Assump­tions that can then by hypoth­e­sized, tested, and cor­rected through optimization.

Gop­ing back to our ear­lier exam­ple of Pro­fes­sional Word­Press site devel­op­ment, the “there­fore” and “but” nar­ra­tive pro­vides us with a hypoth­sis that can then be tested: sim­ply make a vari­ant of the home page with “Word­Press Devel­op­ment” mes­sag­ing placed above the fold. And/or you could split test hav­ing a sep­a­rate “Blogs” gallery, or at least a “blogs” sec­tion of your gallery, or even a header for the gallery pro­claim­ing “Wordpress-Based Web­sites We’ve Built”

Now, if the tests are pos­i­tive, you’ll have some indi­ca­tion that your hypoth­e­sized moti­va­tions were cor­rect.  And if the changes test neg­a­tive, you’ll have learned some­thing — namely that your vis­i­tors’ moti­va­tions are dif­fer­ent than what you thought. And the elim­i­na­tion of a false assump­tion can be every bit as valu­able as a lift in con­ver­sions. Now you can go back and try to fig­ure out what the real moti­va­tion is.

And that’s the key to mak­ing your Web ana­lyt­ics actionable.

Before the big iPhone unveil­ing today, if some­one told you that they had real pic­tures of what the next gen­er­a­tion of the iPhone looked like, and they just showed you some pho­tos, totally devoid of con­text, would you believe them?

Of course not. The claim lacks all credibility.

You can’t pos­si­bly look at pho­tos like that with­out wondering:

  • How could you pos­si­bly have got­ten these, given how pas­sion­ately Apple pro­tects their upcom­ing projects?
  • Even if you DID get legit­i­mate pho­tos, why aren’t Apple’s lawyers send­ing you a cease and desist letter?
  • What evi­dence do I pos­si­bly have that these are real, and weren’t sim­ply photoshopped?
  • And so on.

In short, the con­text is all wrong, so we just know the pho­tos are fakes (or “artists ren­di­tions,” at best). But what about this video?

YouTube Preview Image

Some­how, this video fooled a lot of peo­ple and cre­ated quite a stir before it was proven to be faked. But why? Why is this video so con­vinc­ing when the typ­i­cal “leaked” pho­tos aren’t?

Con­text.

The video pro­vides a con­text which pre­emp­tively answers all of these credibility-killing ques­tions and more.  Accord­ing to the non-verbal sto­ry­telling in the video, the guy who made the video acci­den­tally dis­cov­ered an “unre­leased” page to Apple’s Ger­man Web­site, and took a screen record­ing of it.  That’s how he got the pho­tos, that’s why Apple can’t stop him, because they’re the ones who put the con­tent on the Web, etc.

More impor­tantly, the very style of the Web pages cre­ated by this hoaxster con­vinces us.  When we look at these “acci­den­tally dis­cov­ered” Web pages, they look so faith­ful to Apple’s own design aes­thetic, and the pic­tures of the phone look so faith­ful to the rumors about the new iPhone (curved, metal back, larger screen, thin­ner, etc.) that we tend to believe that maybe the video is for real.

Mak­ing This Dynamic Work for You

The truth is that we ALL rely on con­text every day for almost every deci­sion we make.  Manip­u­late con­text and you manip­u­late people’s per­cep­tions and, ulti­mately, their deci­sions, too:

  • If you’re an ice cream par­lor and you sim­ply put can­is­ters of sam­ple spoons up on the counter, that con­text will cue peo­ple to ask for free tastes, with­out any other change required.
  • An HVAC guy who shows up in a corporate-branded truck and uni­form will look like he’s from a big com­pany, even if the com­pany con­sists entirely of him, his cell­phone, and that truck.
  • Tell me you have the best food in the city, and I’ll be a lot more likely to believe you if you serve that food on linen table cloths rather than plas­tic trays.

Good fic­tion writ­ers know the impor­tance of this instinc­tively, which is why they go to such lengths to estab­lish the right pre­text for their big moments — they “set you up” and then “pay it off” later. Though I am absolutely not advis­ing any­one to hoax their cus­tomers or to adopt a conman’s mind­set, I am ask­ing you to think about the believ­abil­ity of the claims you make, and how the right con­text can cre­ate cus­tomer con­fi­dence that you might not cre­ate any other way.

So what con­text cues are you using now, and what cues should you be using going forward?