The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss
“Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking…”
The $80 Embroidery, by Lacoste (poem by me)
Now, some polos have emblems and some have none.
And those emblems resemblems all critters under the sun
Moose and Crocs and Sheeps and Ponies,
All set-up to cost you more monies
Why should those emblems matter at all?
Those critters are cute but still rather small…
But they’re sure to win the approval of cronies
So search out those emblems and join all the phonies
P.S. I’m not really calling Polo and Lacoste wearing folks phonies. I’ve got my favorite brands like everyone else. But, hey, it fit in with the rhyme scheme and general theme. Also, if you’re interested in the subject of mimetic desire (and you should be) you can read more about it here and here.
“…it is James Thurber’s Walter Mitty who, in the space of a single afternoon, is the commander of a navy hydroplane, a life-saving surgeon, an expert marksman, and an intrepid army captain. Walter Mitty isn’t crazy. He just has trouble convincing the outside world of who he is inside.
‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a favorite American story because it speaks to the Mitty in each of us. Who among us has never played cowboy, astronaut, princess, or nurse? Like Don [Quixote] and Walter, each of us has a secret life, and it is silly to pretend that our outward choices are not influenced by the people we are inside.
In we are to insist on intellectual honesty, we must urge Don and Walter to abandon their childish dreams. But if we would sell our products and make two customers happy, we will speak not to a tired old man and a henpecked husband, but will eloquently address the needs of a chivalrous knight and an intrepid army captain.
It’s called ‘Advertising.’”
Roy H. Williams, The Wizard of Ads
In my last Practical Tactical Tuesday post, I mentioned that features might be dramatized to show something other than immediate, objective benefit, that features might be dramatized, instead, so as to tie the product into the values and self image of the prospective customer. When you choose this other path, you end up advertising to the felt needs of your prospects’ inner Walter Mitty, rather than to their actual, real-life needs.
SUVs vs. Minivans
Examples of this abound, but here’s one we’re all familiar with: the millions of mothers driving around in SUVs instead of minivans. They chose the more expensive SUV despite the fact that SUVs cost more, guzzle more gas, are more likely to roll-over, and just generally aren’t as well suited to the actual commuting demands of most moms. By all objective standards, the minivan (or, maybe even the station wagon) is the better choice.
But does the average mom see herself as a minivan-driving Soccer Mom?
So why would she want to drive a vehicle that’s stigmatized by such an unflattering stereotype? Well, quite a few of these moms wouldn’t. So they opted, and continue to opt, for a vehicle that better fits their inner image while retaining most of the seating and cargo capacity they really need. Hence the cross-over SUV craze.
But I’m far from picking on mom’s or SUV drivers — I’m saying we ALL have at least a few areas of our lives where we pick the objectively sub-optimal choice in order to chose the product or service that better fits our inner values and identifications.
2 Ways of Making Decisions
Copywriters need to keep in mind that we have two ways of making decisions: one is the self-interest, pros and cons model, and the other is the identity model:
- The Self-Interest Model asks: “What’s In It For Me?”
- The Identity Model asks: “What Kind of Person Am I and What Would That Kind of Person Do In This Situation?”
Best of all, your copy doesn’t have to exclusively choose one over the other. In fact, a blend of the two is usually your best option, when you’re fortunate enough to have options. But if you’re really hankering to see an almost pure use of identity in ad copy, go read a J. Peterman product description or two, and you’ll see this style of copy at work.
Seth Godin posted this with more of a “consumer protection” spin on it, but I think it’s fundamental to marketing as well, so I’m going to quote part of the post here, and then elaborate on it a bit. Here’s the excerpted quote, but you really ought to read the entire post:
Here’s one reason we mess up [big decisions about money]: Money is just a number.
Comparing dreams of a great [car] stereo (four years of driving long distances, listening to great music!) compared with the daily reminder of our cheapness makes picking the better stereo feel easier. After all, we’re not giving up anything but a number.
The college case is even more clear. $200,000 is a number that’s big, sure, but it doesn’t have much substance. It’s not a number we play with or encounter very often. The feeling about the story of compromise involving something tied up in our self-esteem, though, that feeling is something we deal with daily.
Here’s how to undo the self-marketing. Stop using numbers.
You can have the stereo if you give up going to Starbucks every workday for the next year and a half. Worth it?
If you go to the free school, you can drive there in a brand new Mini convertible, and every summer you can spend $25,000 on a top-of-the-line internship/experience, and you can create a jazz series and pay your favorite musicians to come to campus to play for you and your fifty coolest friends, and you can have Herbie Hancock give you piano lessons and you can still have enough money left over to live without debt for a year after you graduate while you look for the perfect gig…
Do you see the connection with marketing?
Making numbers, or more commonly features, tangibly and compellingly real to the buyer is exactly what good copywriters are paid to do. And they do it the same way Seth does in that quote:
- By converting numbers and features to human-scaled concrete measures
- By identifying the benefits that really matter to the customer
- By dramatizing those same end benefits and creating identifiable scenarios around them
Telling me that this lightweight luggage is X pounds lighter doesn’t do much for me. It’s just a number, unconnected to anything I might really care about.
Telling me that the saved weight equals the combined weight of an extra sport coat, shirt, and pair of dress pants, basically an entire extra change of clothes without incurring any weight penalties, and I just might become interested in the luggage for an upcoming extended trip.
Remember, a number, unless it’s a dollar-figure that’s going into my bank account, doesn’t directly address the all-important What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) question. But a vision of me enjoying some tangible benefit does.
That’s the obvious part — the tactical practical, must-do part. So if you’re not converting your features into “which means” benefit statements, and then converting those benefits into dramatic, visualizable scenarios, then get on it… and start answering WIIFM with load, clear, and vividly dramatized benefits.
And then, of course, there’s the more subtle part: talking about what this or that feature or characteristic means not in terms of immediate benefit, but in terms of self-identity and shared values. It’s a bit less practical-tactical, but perfect for Theory Thursday…
Sounds like a “duh” piece of advice, but it’s amazing how often this advice gets botched. And it usually get’s botched in one of two ways:
1) The copy doesn’t make it easy for the customer to realize WHAT she would be saying yes to.
In other words, the site doesn’t clarify:
- WHAT is being offered for sale,
- WHEN or in what FORM the customer should expect the actual deliverables to arrive
- WHY this is a good deal and better than the other options
- HOW MUCH the offered product or service will cost
2) The copy doesn’t make it clear HOW to say yes and take that next step.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of having different conversion points for early, middle, and late stage shoppers (where appropriate), but you shouldn’t let that get in the way of having a nice, clean, simple Call to Action. If prospective customers have to decide between 14 options just to buy, you’re making them work too hard, and your sales will suffer accordingly.
You Might Be Messing This Up If…
What’s really insidious about this particular conversion flaw is that your marketing and Web teams are unlikely to know about simply because they’re suffering under The Curse of Knowledge. To them the offer seems perfectly clear, and the different options for buying are a bonus rather than a burden. So even if you don’t think you suffer from this, you might want to check to see if:
- You have unusually high bounce rates on your home page.
- People are clicking on your Calls to Action and then backtracking to “How it Works,” “FAQ,” and “About Us” pages — almost as if they’re looking one last time to see if they can’t find some answers.
- You have unusually high exit rates from “How it Works,” Services, and Product pages
- Your cart or checkout abandonment rates stay high despite a high-quality check-out process and repeated optimization efforts aimed at this portion of your Website.
I’m not saying these issues are proof positive that your messaging and basic offers need work, just that the represent a good reason to look into it.
How to Fix It
The best advice is to hire an outside expert. I realize that sounds a bit self-serving, coming from a messaging-driven Website Optimization professional, but, well, what can I say? It’s the simple truth.
But if you’re trying a DIY approach, here’s what I recommend:
A) Try the “Here’s the Deal” Exercise.
Imagine that you’re at the bar with an acquaintance who knows almost nothing about your product or service, but who would benefit from it, if only she understood a few things. If you were to turn to her and say, “so here’s the deal,” what sort of short and sweet pitch would you give to her that would get her ready to say yes or commit to learning more in 120 seconds or less?
Also, make sure you don’t use jargon — remember, this prospect isn’t an industry insider — during your “so here’s the deal” speech, and make sure the benefits are dramatized and compelling.
B) Try Using Schemas
I had Baba Ghanoush for the first time a few months ago, and when I asked what it was, a whole bunch of people started to explain it to me, with varying degrees of success. But then Bryan Eisenberg — a consumate marketer and my personal Website Optimization mentor — nailed it when he said it was “eggplant guacamole.” Boom. Suddenly everybody got it.
Because Bryan invoked a schema we already recognized, guacamole, and then modified it with eggplant. Isn’t that a much more elegant explanation than Wikipedia’s, “a Levantine dish of eggplant (aubergine) mashed and mixed with virgin olive oil and various seasonings”?
The same thing happens with movies, too. According to Chip and Dan Heath, Speed was initially pitched as “Die Hard on a Bus.” Boom. You get it. Aliens is a science fiction movie, but it’s nothing like Star Trek. Totally different feel, right? But if you say “Jaws in Space,” you instantly grasp both the concept and the feel of the movie.
So what schema could you use to describe your product or service?
Caution — the schema you use can greatly impact the customer’s expectation of value and price, so choose wisely.
C) Streamline Your Call to Action and Conversion Process
Now, don’t get rid of your lead nurturing program or anything, but do consider whether you might narrow down your offerings and options. Or at least consider making one option the “default” and most promoted option. And as with any piece of Web Optimization advice, test it out. See what actually converts the best. You might just be surprised at the results.
And that’s today’s Practical Tactical Tuesday Tip
When it comes to Advertising, Marketing, and Persuasion, are you a student of what’s come before you?
- Do you know the history?
- Do you try to learn from the greats by reading their books and studying their works?
- Do you look at all of it? Or just a narrow slice?
If you didn’t answer Yes to the main question and the first two bullet points, you can stop reading now. Really. There’s no hope for you.
But I find that quite a few serious copywriters get hung up on the third bullet point.
These copywriters have studied the direct mail lineage — Hopkins, Caples, Collier, Schwartz, Halbert, Kennedy, et al — but haven’t looked at any of the giants of Madison Ave style advertising beyond, maybe, Ogilvy. And vice versa for broadcast advertising guys who’ve never studied Direct Response marketing.
In other words, they dismiss stuff that’s not directly in their field or that they don’t “get” right away. Big mistake.
So today’s lesson: be a student of the game — the whole game. Learn what’s great from the past. Study it. Note that “study” doesn’t mean passively reading it. When in doubt, figure out what other great talents that you DO like see in the “greats” that you don’t get.
And here’s two great links to get you started on the path:
- This New York Times article on Ed McCabe [hat tip to The Escape Pod for turning me onto this article]
- This Invisible Ink post on learning from legends you don’t “get” at first contact.
P.S. That NYT article mentions the same Volvo ad I used as an example in my last Theory Thursday post and I managed to snag a screen shot of it. Here it is:
I’m guessing you already have at least one guarantee or risk reversal element to your main offer.
Maybe it’s in the form of a money-back or satisfaction guarantee, a free shipping guarantee, or maybe a free estimate or free diagnoses. Whatever it is, the point is that you already have it in place. After all, it’s common sense to use something like that to reassure your customer and win more business.
But chances are it’s not doing you very much good because you don’t promote or repeat it often enough — especially at those crucial moments of buying decision.
Assurances Need Repetition
You assume that displaying or speaking of your guarantee once is enough, and, well, it’s just plain not.
It’s not enough because the buyer is juggling too many other factors in her mind to hold onto that piece of information so that she can recall it when the moment of truth comes. Plus, it’s not really her job to remember it, either — it’s YOUR job to remind her.
Testing this On Your Website
Online, this is an easy thing to test: simply run a split test where you test repeating your satisfaction or money back or safe shopping guarantees in your cart and checkout process vs. not using those points of action reassurances. For lead form Websites, you can use your privacy or non-call or free-diagnosis guarantees. Whatever is most appropriate.
Again, chances are you’ll see a big lift by using these points of action assurances because, truth be told, this is one of those go-to tools that us Conversion Rate Optimization Professionals bank on to drive results.
Implementing it Offline
But what about off-line?
Guess what, it’s even MORE important offline than on.
I used to work for a fabulous consulting company that coaches hospitals on improving their patient satisfaction scores. And one of their go-to tools was a scripting acronym called AIDET, specifically used to manage patient anxiety through reassurance.
AIDET stands for:
- Acknowledge — Acknowledge the patient. Look them in the eye and say hello.
- Introduce — Introduce yourself and give a quick background of your experience and qualifications. Don’t assume that the patient will assume that you know what you are doing just because you are wearing scrubs; TELL them you have umpteen years of experience at whatever it is you are doing.
- Duration — Tell them what you are doing and how long whatever your task is will take — i.e., how long you’ll be bothering them
- Explanation — Tell them WHY you are doing what you are doing, HOW it works, and What is involved. Relate everything back to their care. Example: I’m waking you up at 4:00 am to draw blood for tests that will provide “real-time” lab results to your doctor when he comes to check on you at 7:30 this morning.
- Thank You — Thank the patient for seeking care at your hospital, for being patient during your procedure, etc. Then ask if there is anything else you can do for them, specifically stating that you “have the time” to answer their questions or do whatever they might request.
So what does all this have to do with Point of Action Assurances?
Notice that the Introduce part reassures the patient that they are in good hands, and that the “I have the time” phrase said during the Thank You part reassures patients that it’s OK to ask. The assumption is that it’s the nurses job to remind and reassure the patient during critical transactions and not the patient’s job to know or remember.
Your in-store staff can use similar techniques. I’d advise you to come up with your own acronym, but you would definitely want to remind customers that:
- Your stores satisfaction guarantees or return policies
- You have additional items or sizes in the back and would be happy to bring them up front for the customer
- You are an official distributor or whatever for this or that brand
- They have been specifically trained in how to fit customers for this or that item
- They themselves are passionate chefs/bikers/hunters/stereophiles/etc. and/or have been trained on the products
- Provide free estimates, drawings, samples, etc. to prospective customers
So what are you doing at your business? Does your staff have anything like AIDET to fall back on to ensure that they are consistently reassuring customers during the moment of truth?
If not, you might want to do a little “offline” testing of your own…