2010-01-19_0934Dis­ap­pointed and uncon­vinced, I left their Web­site scratch­ing my head.

Seth Godin has linked to themSev­eral online mag­a­zines have fea­tured them, both in arti­cles and within sea­sonal wish/gift lists.   And, of course, they also have the audac­ity to call them­selves “Best Made Axe,” all of which made me eager to head over to their Web­site to read up on these (self-labeled) best made axes.

And while their Web­site (and mar­ket­ing in gen­eral) does some things incred­i­bly well – these guys are rou­tinely sell­ing out of their entire inven­tory of $200-$500 bespoke axes, after all – there are HUGE gap­ing holes in the site’s con­tent.  Here’s how their site fails the visitor:

1) No dis­cus­sion of the painstak­ing efforts to ensure top quality.

Look, I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you’re going to call your­self “Best Made,” it might be a good idea to sub­stan­ti­ate that claim on your site.  Tell me stuff like:

  • What kind of steel are you using for the axe head?
  • What kind of forg­ing process?
  • What kind of heat treatment?
  • What kind of fin­ish­ing process?
  • Who is doing the forging?
  • How are you attach­ing the axe head to the hick­ory handle?
  • What are the ergonom­ics of the handle?
  • What kind of extreme test­ing did you do to the fin­ished product?
  • How does the axe perform?
  • How does your axe com­pare to other axes?
  • In what ways is it actu­ally bet­ter made than these other axes?

The Best Made Axe site does none of that.  The most I get is the infor­ma­tion that the axe is hand-forged of “fine grain” steel.  Not nearly good enough – at least not when you want me to spend between 2X and 8X the price of a “darn good” axe in order to get your sup­pos­edly “best made” version.

2) No pic­tures of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process

2010-01-18_1747Don’t just tell me about the painstak­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing process, SHOW ME.  Lit­er­ally.  With pic­tures and video and stuff.  Show me the man­u­fac­tur­ing process and the abil­ity of the fin­ished prod­uct to out­per­form the competition.

The pic­ture on the left is a per­fect exam­ple of this.  Sad­dle­back Leather Co. man­u­fac­tures pre­mium, full-grain leather prod­ucts.  And they charge a pre­mium for them.  But their site goes into great detail regard­ing the supe­rior qual­ity and man­u­fac­ture of their goods — con­tent that’s fully illus­trated with zoom-able pho­tos and videos.

3) Not enough con­tent from or about users kick­ing ass with their AXES.

Where are the sto­ries of guys build­ing their own log cab­ins with a Best Made Axe.  Or how it has trans­formed a dreaded chore into an antic­i­pated plea­sure.  Or about how just hav­ing the axe hung on the wall of their office has trans­formed their out­look on things.  Or something!

The best I could come up with was to find Best Made Company’s fan page on Face­Book wich linked to a YouTube video of a guy open­ing a bot­tle with one of their axes.  Not sure how impressed I was sup­posed to be with that, really.

Com­pare Best Made Axe’s Site to Those of Other Pre­mium Products

Go ahead and com­pare the Best Made Axe site to other Web­sites for sim­i­lar top-end/upscale prod­ucts and see how much more thor­oughly these other Web­sites sell you on their prod­ucts’ quality:

Do you see how these other sites go into great detail about the design and man­u­fac­ture of their prod­ucts? How, almost on a point-by-point basis they explain WHY their prod­ucts are bet­ter, and about the ben­e­fits that you, the con­sumer, can expect from pur­chas­ing this higher qual­ity item.

Buyer Con­fi­dence and Buy­ing Rationalizations

While not every­one will click through all of the detailed infor­ma­tion pro­vided on these exam­ple sites, and even fewer peo­ple will read through all that infor­ma­tion, many peo­ple will scan through it, see that the qual­ity infor­ma­tion is there, that the pas­sion is there, and gain the con­fi­dence to make the purchase.

Let’s be hon­est, Best Made Axe wants to charge you between $250 and $500 for an axe.  You can pick up a Grans­fors Bruks (what is com­monly con­sid­ered the Rolls Royce of Axes) at roughly $70-$120 for most mod­els.  You can pick up a very highly regarded, Maine-made Snowe & Nealey axe for even less than that.

What’s the qual­ity dif­fer­ence between the Best Made and these other brands?  What am I get­ting for 2x to 8X the price?

Even when it’s not about the money, it’s ALWAYS about giv­ing prospec­tive cus­tomers some­thing to hang their hat on.   The Best Made Axe cer­tainly looks nicer than those other axes I men­tioned, but most peo­ple are loathe to admit that their money is going towards noth­ing more than sta­tus and brand name.  If you want them as cus­tomers, you need to give them some­thing they can hang their hat on, some other faux-reason they can use to ratio­nal­ize their pur­chase, like (notion­ally) bet­ter qual­ity, dura­bil­ity, and per­for­mance. Etc.

That’s what detailed qual­ity and man­u­fac­tur­ing infor­ma­tion con­tent on a web­site does: not only does it fan the desire for the prod­uct itself, but it pro­vides vis­i­tors with the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion they need to ratio­nal­ize the expense.  It also gives them the fire­power needed to explain their pur­chase to a spouse, sig­nif­i­cant other, co-worker or any other any-sayer.

So what about Your Website!

Is your site closer to Sad­dle­back Leather Co.’s, or is your site closer to Best Made Axe’s?

Maybe Best Made Axe just doesn’t really have the goods when you come right down to it.  Maybe they’re mum on the qual­ity thing for a rea­son.  Maybe it’s a “bet­ter to keep your mouth closed…” kind of thing.

Now, I’m not say­ing that’s the case, but you can see why a website’s con­spic­u­ous silence on the sub­ject invites that kind of speculation.

So if your prod­uct really does have the qual­ity edge, you’d be crim­i­nally neg­li­gent not to make your Web­site into the most elo­quent spokesper­son it can be con­cern­ing the supe­rior design, qual­ity, manufacture/delivery of your prod­uct or service.

teleportThink of trav­el­ling through the web via hyper­links as a form of tele­por­ta­tion.  Now think of tele­por­ta­tion.  Specif­i­cally, if you really were tele­port­ing what would be your main concerns?

1) You’d want to make darn sure you KNEW where you were going

2) Upon “land­ing,” you’d want to ensure you arrived in the right place

Those are two of the most impor­tant things you can learn about craft­ing and struc­tur­ing your hyper­links, and they trans­late as:

  • Word links so peo­ple can fig­ure out where the link will take them, and
  • Match your head­lines, pic­tures, and page con­tent with vis­i­tor expec­ta­tions cre­ated by the hyper­link they clicked on to get to your page.  Let them know they’re in the right place.

And yet these are also the two most fre­quently vio­lated “rules” of hyper­link­ing.  E-mails fre­quently have call to action links/buttons that take you to a page that utterly fails to follow-up on the offer pre­sented in the e-mail.  Call to action but­tons meant to take you to a prod­uct page are often mis­la­beled as if they will place the item in your cart.  And so on.

Mas­ter these two basic lessons and you’ll have learned more than 90% of most Web users, and even most Web devel­op­ers and (sad to say) more than a few copywriters.

And yet, those are just the basics.  Another, per­haps more sophis­ti­cated, way of look­ing at this is to say that every link rep­re­sents a promise and every click rep­re­sents per­mis­sion.

The Promise

The promise comes from the expec­ta­tions cre­ated by the hyperlink’s word­ing or label.  You’ve essen­tially promised the vis­i­tor that,  if they click on the link, they’ll be tele­ported to the kind of con­tent they expect.  Which means that, on an emo­tional level, vis­i­tors will feel a site is “dis­hon­est” if a link “tricks” them by tele­port­ing them some­place unex­pected or unde­sired.  Ouch!

More fun­da­men­tally, this also means that you, as the copy­writer, have to craft links (and con­tent) that offer forth promises com­pelling enough to moti­vate vis­i­tor clicks.  There is no grav­ity to an online con­ver­sion fun­nel; noth­ing will “pull” vis­i­tors through to the next click or micro-conversion except their own moti­va­tion based on promised benefits.

joeisuzu1In other words, you can’t take vis­i­tors where they don’t want to go.  You can’t force the con­ver­sa­tion.  You have to offer to talk about what the prospec­tive cus­tomer wants to talk about — what SHE finds impor­tant.  Ignor­ing a topic of con­ver­sa­tion by not pro­vid­ing the appro­pri­ate link (or by fail­ing to pro­vide the right con­tent on the other side of a link) is like a car sales­man refus­ing to talk about the price of the car when asked.  It kills cred­i­bil­ity and trust.

The Per­mis­sion

The per­mis­sion is what you get when a vis­i­tor clicks on your link, and per­mis­sion is a copywriter’s best friend. Why?  Because the right hyper­link con­struc­tion can give you per­mis­sion to speak about things that you’d never get away with oth­er­wise.  Here’s an example:

You’re craft­ing an About Us page that focuses pri­mar­ily on a company’s his­tory while throw­ing in a few cred­i­bil­ity increas­ing fea­tures like a pic­ture of the actual office and the team of employ­ees, etc.  But what you might really want to do is openly brag about all the home-runs the com­pany has had – except that you feel a self-promoting tone might be “against brand.”

So you sim­ply use self-deprecating link that talks about “our brag sheet” (or some­thing sim­i­lar) that links to exactly the kind of self-promoting copy you knew you couldn’t get away with on the About Us page.  Why?  Because any reader who clicks on a link to your Brag Sheet has men­tally given you per­mis­sion to brag. Fol­low­ing that click, you can brag with­out look­ing like an ego­cen­tric jerk.

Sim­i­larly, you could link to that same kind of con­tent with an “Our track record” link placed most any­where else on the site.  Again, by click­ing on “our track record” clients have given you per­mis­sion to talk, at length, about the company’s suc­cesses.  Nor­mally you’d want to talk about What’s In It For the Cus­tomer and how you can help them, but the link pro­vides per­mis­sion to ignore WIFFM for a bit while you build credibility.

First-Date-ConversationTo give you another anal­ogy, this link per­mis­sion for some­thing like “Our Track Record” is kind of like a date explic­itly ask­ing: “So what about you? What’s your story?”

And if you pon­der that anal­ogy, espe­cially in light of con­text, I’m sure you’ll come up with even more lessons about link­ing, per­sua­sion, and online con­ver­sa­tions ;)

In fact, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that last anal­ogy. Tell me what you came up with…

2010-01-02_2245The daily “gind” of life so fully stuffs our mem­o­ries that it often takes a spe­cial effort to see big­ger pic­ture changes.  You just can’t get a clear “before and after” pic­ture of things with­out tak­ing men­tal snap­shots at spe­cific moments in time and com­par­ing them.

But with­out some kind of asso­ci­a­tional prompt, most peo­ple won’t flip through their gallery of men­tal snap­shots to make that B&A comparison.

Anniver­saries are mean­ing­ful pre­cisely because they pro­vide that prompt; they make see­ing the changes easy.

Nobody looks back on and reviews the last 12 months of their life in June.  They save that for New Year’s — unless of course there’s some other prompt that sparks the com­par­i­son, maybe a col­lege pro­fes­sor see­ing yet another class graduate.

Or maybe the prompt is more asso­ci­a­tional than tem­po­ral, like revis­it­ing a cer­tain place, say your home town, the house you grew up in, or even your col­lege cam­pus.  Inevitably, those returns bring back mem­o­ries of your pre­vi­ous vis­its, thereby high­light­ing the changes that have taken place in your life (and in you) dur­ing the inter­ven­ing years.

So what’s the prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion here?  Three things:

1) We love sto­ries and mes­sages that bring things back “full circle.”

This tech­nique, in fact, seems to be a favorite over at J. Pert­er­man.  Just check out the copy for these three items.  All of them bring you back full cir­cle with the last line or two of copy.

2) Your copy should bring the reader for­ward in time to high­light accrued benefits.

Pro­vide read­ers a men­tal image of them­selves look­ing back on and being thrilled with their deci­sion to buy because of the change/improvements/benefits they’ve reaped over the course X months.

3) You shouldn’t be leav­ing this time-stamping thing to chance.

If you offer a ser­vice that moves your clients from point A to point B over a period of time, you should fig­ure out how to stamp these points into your clients mem­o­ries and how to gra­ciously remind them of the anniver­sary.  This will allow you to high­light the progress and change with­out chest thumping.

Same thing with durable goods.  Let’s say you make flip-flops so darn good that peo­ple fall in love with them.  Would it hurt you to send them a thank-you post-card or e-mail 6 months or so past the time of pur­chase?  Let ‘em know you appre­ci­ate their busi­ness, remind them of all the great fea­tures that they’re still enjoy­ing but may have taken for granted by this time, show ‘em a pic­ture of what a new pair looks like, and let ‘em know that now’s the time to buy next season’s pair at a spe­cial price. By send­ing that kind of e-mail, you’ll have reac­ti­vated every­thing the client loves about your flip-flops while also high­light­ing the not-newness of their cur­rent pair and the oppor­tu­nity to update.

What about you?  How are you tak­ing advan­tage of – or cre­at­ing your own – anniversaries?

MustReadClassicsBookshelfIt hap­pens to the best of us.  As copy­writ­ers, mar­keters, and entre­pre­neurs we get way­laid by our own best inten­tions, by our efforts at learn­ing more about our craft, keep­ing up with all the must-read posts, mag­a­zine arti­cles, and busi­ness books, and so on.

The end result: a read­ing diet way too rich on mediocre prose and way too low on first-rate fic­tion and poetry. Think about the last 10 books you’ve read and tell me that’s not the case.

And, in gen­eral, as you read, so shall you write. Garbage In, Garbage Out. So here’s my vitamin-enhanced fiction-reading com­mit­ment for next year:

  • one short story, OR
  • one chap­ter from a novel, OR
  • At least one poem, OR
  • A chap­ter from the Bible, OR
  • One first-rate play or screenplay

I’ll read at least that much fic­tion each day, every day.

As far as New Year’s res­o­lu­tions go, I think this one is prob­a­bly one of the most pleas­ant I’ve ever made, and will very likely turn out to be one of the most effec­tively life-improving as well. I hereby rec­om­mend it to you.

Any­one else make a writing-specific res­o­lu­tion this New Year’s?

savethecat_bookcover_revised3-200x300I never would have guessed that a 30-second com­mer­cial could be struc­tured on the same sto­ry­telling beats as a typ­i­cal 90-minute movie.

And yet that’s exactly what the late Blake Sny­der demon­strated in his last book, Save The Cat Strikes Back.

If you’re not famil­iar with the Save the Cat series of screen­writ­ing books, let me explain.  Blake Sny­der breaks the typ­i­cal movie down into 15 dra­matic “beats,” that also coin­cide with tra­di­tional 3-act story struc­tures and Joseph Campbell’s monomyth/hero’s jour­ney cycle.

If you’re inter­ested in learn­ing more, you can down­load all 15 beats on the “Blake Sny­der Beat Sheet” along with a dia­gram of how the beats line up with a basic 3-Act Struc­ture over at the offi­cial Save The Cat Web­site.

At any rate, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that these are the struc­tural beats for feature-length movies – that’s what makes it so cool and semi-mind-blowing that they also work for a 30 sec­ond commercial.

So here’s how Blake broke down the dra­matic struc­ture of a Pledge Com­mer­cial, using these same struc­tural “beats” that he uses to teach scriptwriting:

“The Day I Dis­cov­ered Pledge

Open­ing Image – A down­cast house­wife.  Home a mess.  Dust every­where.  This “before” snap­shot depicts the Set-Up, and even a Sta­sis = Death moment, for it looks like things won’t change.

Cat­a­lyst – Then our hero dis­cov­ers….. Pledge!

Debate – “Should I use it?”

Break Into Two – Yes!

Fun and Games – With a spray can of her B-story ally, the delighted home maker flies through the house, dust van­ishes like magic, table­tops glow.  And the “false vic­tory” at Mid­point shows she can live like this all the time.  But there’s a problem….

Bad Guys Close In – To have the “new,” she must give up the “old.”  Can our hero face the truth of what she must sacrifice?

All Is Lost – What “death” has to occur?  What “old idea” must be got­ten rid of?  What is the “All Is Lost” moment of our Pledge com­mer­cial?  Why it’s drop­ping Brand X in the trash!  It’s the fur­ni­ture pol­ish that our hero used to use that is now obsolete.

Break Into Three – Hav­ing dis­pensed with Brand X, the syn­the­sized pair fin­ish up the house­work with delight and…

Final Image – Dressed in her ten­nis out­fit, racket in hand, a newly together house­wife walks out the door, leav­ing the pri­mally named Pledge atop a very shiny table to guard her home.

The End”

So what’s the point of all this?  Three things:

1. To rein­force the impor­tance of script­ing your online videos.

That pledge com­mer­cial prob­a­bly had very lit­tle dia­logue, but the mes­sag­ing was still scripted as intensely as a feature-length film.  And the same thing occurs with the vast major­ity of high-conversion prod­uct videos and viral videos.

More impor­tantly, if you can and should script an inter­ac­tive video, shouldn’t  you also “script” vis­i­tor inter­ac­tion with your Web­site?  Surely you’ve given thought to what hap­pens on this or that page, but have you con­sid­ered the over­all “per­sua­sive arc” that would take place as the vis­i­tor moves through your site?

2. To rein­force the impor­tance of Story in your online messaging

We may claim to be “just the facts” kind of guys and gals, but we’re not.  We wouldn’t be human if we were.  As a per­sua­sive tech­nique, Story rules, even in:

3. To rec­om­mend Blake Snyder’s books to you if you haven’t read them.

His Save the Cat series is well worth the read, regard­less of whether or not you have any aspi­ra­tions toward writ­ing film scripts.  Just check out his Ama­zon reviews for his first and sec­ond books and you’ll see.

Wel­come Back from the Holidays

Oh, and I also wanted to wel­come every­one back from the hol­i­days.  Hope all of you enjoyed some much-deserved time off.  Thanks for read­ing my stuff.  I’m res­olute in my com­mit­ment to bring you as much great mate­r­ial as pos­si­ble in the com­ing year.

P.S.  If you have any sug­ges­tions for top­ics or any­thing you’d like to see cov­ered, feel free to e-mail me.

2009-12-23_0111Con­ver­sion Opti­miza­tion con­sul­tants, more than a few copy­writ­ers, and most SEO experts used to look down on Flash-based sites.

Flash sites weren’t well indexed by search engines and had a bad habit of turn­ing a pull medium into a not-so-interactive video.  Oh, and their con­tent was often more gra­tu­itous than per­sua­sive in a flash-animated splash page sort of way.

Most all of that has changed, and we’re really start­ing to see inter­ac­tive video come into its own, as is the case with Eloqua’s new promotional/lead gen­er­a­tion video.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you really should take a few min­utes out of your day to take a look.  And maybe spend a few more min­utes to poke around dif­fer­ent path­ways and responses.

Another great exam­ple is Boone Oakley’s “YouTube Web­site,” as demon­strated by their home page that I’ve embed­ded below:

YouTube Preview Image

But make sure to look past the tech­nol­ogy to see the copywriting.

Yes, you read that right: I said copy­writ­ing. That video — includ­ing each and every one of it’s forked paths — was planned out, scripted, and sto­ry­boarded. The video is cool; the mes­sag­ing is brilliant.

Viewed through that lens, you’ll notice that most of the core per­sua­sive points remain the same regard­less of whether you click on “Mar­ket­ing” or “Sales” or “Exec­u­tive.”  What changes is the focus on this or that fea­ture set, the videos order­ing of tak­ing points, and the per­spec­tive in which some of the mate­r­ial is cov­ered.  Bril­liant.  And a tech­nique that Bryan and Jef­frey Eisen­berg pio­neered with text-and-hyperlink-based sites.

So while I love the video and I think it rep­re­sents new oppor­tu­ni­ties to inject per­son­al­ity and charisma into inter­ac­tive “con­ver­sa­tions,” keep in mind that tech­nol­ogy has to sup­port mes­sag­ing, and the core inter­ac­tiv­ity involved is no dif­fer­ent than that of reg­u­lar old embed­ded hyper­links.  Proper per­sua­sive plan­ning is still required.

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