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?


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?