Before someone will buy your product, they have to “buy” your content. Your content is actually your first product, and should be viewed that way. If they don’t like your free content, they won’t pay for your product.
Most CEOs view content as something “out there,” created by people who are not part of the strategic leadership team. They are just seen as “do-bees”: Marcom people, webmasters, copywriters, designers, and nerds. Quite often, there is no top executive responsible for the success of the website as a revenue-generator. The website, even though it is almost always the only contact point that the customer has with your company, is just not accorded the status it deserves.
How stupid! Even top executives, when they want to buy something, start with a Google search, and then click through sites like a hyperactive bee going from flower to flower.
Yet they treat their own sites as if no one was interested, no one was actively seeking information or trying to do something, and the people who did visit were not very smart. The most informative content – if there is any – is buried under confusing navigation and billboard images created by self-important advertising agencies whose egos are inhibiting the customer’s buying process, rather than supporting it.
I used to be in the ad agency business. It used to matter. But I got out of the business, on purpose, in 1991, even though we were at the top of our financial and creative game. The emergence and popularity of the Mac convinced me that companies were going to take as much of their marketing in-house as possible. Made perfect sense to me. Clients were shifting, so I shifted too. I phased out the agency business, my husband retired, and I started helping companies with their in-house marketing and selling efforts.
My agency competitors continued to fight their clients’ shift to in-house marketing, and when the web came along, grudgingly hired a nerd and paid lip-service to the web. Unfortunately too many of them are still lost back in the 80’s, still trying to turn the web into a giant billboard. Even more unfortunately, too many of the larger agencies still have the ear of corporate CEOs, who like their websites to look sexy, when in fact, the higher the sex appeal, the harder it is to do anything on your website, including finding what you want and buying it.
My friend Gerry McGovern* has a great way of describing the difference between “attracting attention” (which is what agencies do) and “paying attention” (which is what great website and business managers do). In his presentations, he shows a picture of a lizard, waving. He then says when you’re walking down the street, and you see a friend, you wave to get their attention. “Hey, Bob! Hi!” Bob sees you waving, smiles, and comes over to have a chat.
If you continue to wave after you and Bob started talking, Bob would think you had gone batty – and he would regret that he had come across the street to talk. Embarrassed for you and for himself, he’d try to cut the conversation short, and get out of there, as quickly as he could.
Advertising, PR, and other attention-getting devices are “waving.” Your website is the “conversation.” Customers come there to engage, to take the next step in the interaction. The waving phase of the interaction is over.
Agencies insist that companies keep waving at their customers, after the customer has come into the website expecting to get something done. Even now, more than 16 years after the web started to emerge as a platform for commerce, the smartest CEOs of large companies are still allowing their agencies to talk them into wasting a third to a half of their home page on a billboard that says nothing and does nothing to help the customer. They keep waving, long after the need for waving is over, and they get in the way of what the customer came to the website to do. The waving is a barrier to the sale.
Why do agencies do this? Money and power. Those billboards have to be filled up with beautiful, first-class photography and type, which is what agencies love to do, and what they charge the big bucks for. They create a big, “integrated” campaign, including TV, PR, and print ads, all designed to “position the company in the market.” And, it’s easy to sell, because it makes the client feel good. The site looks cool and classy.
To the customer, it’s not cool and classy. It’s just more “marketing stuff” that gets in the way. The losers are the companies and their customers, and the winners are the agencies. What a shame.
Your content is your part of the conversation
When someone comes to your website, they are on a mission. They want to get a question answered (or a series of questions), so they can buy your product. They are already “sold” on the idea of your product. Their questions and their quest are their part of the conversation. They saw you – one way or another – and have come across the street to talk to you. Here’s a big hint: Don’t start waving! Answer their questions!!
What do customers want to know when they come to your website?
They want to know how your product is going to work, after they buy it, and how you’re going to treat them, after you have their money. These are the two big questions you should be answering. (They can be summed up by “What’s going to happen to me after I buy?”)
Those who write your content should be interviewing customers before they start writing. That way, the content will be relevant to the buyer. It will answer the questions customers actually have (not the ones you think they are asking, or should be asking), it will speak to their actual intelligence and experience level, and it will be written using the words and phrases they would use.
What do customers want to do when they come to your website?
Get their questions answered, and then buy; find out how to use or fix your product when something goes wrong; find out where you are and how to get there; find out who you are and if they can trust you; and order additional things associated with your product. How easy is it for them to do these things?
Back when the web first emerged, my navigation rule was “two clicks to the payoff.” How many clicks and confusing menus do you make them suffer through before they get to the payoff? When they get to the payoff, is it really the payoff, or do they just hope it’s the payoff – only to be disappointed once they start reading or trying to apply the information? (Gerry calls this a “disaster”).
If you’re making it difficult – and most companies do – you’re losing sales you should be making. They’re not “buying” your content, so they’re not buying your product – or getting best use out of it. They may also be getting very frustrated, and sharing their frustration with all their friends in cyberspace.
What a shame – especially since there is a solution. Your customers can tell you what they want, why, and how they want to get to the information, if you ask them correctly. But first you have to face the fact that your customers are the ones who have the answers (not those tassel-shoed agency folks!). Then you have to be willing to give your website the attention it deserves.
Gerry and I have admired each other’s work for years – and decided recently to enter into a professional collaboration. We are now offering our services jointly to CEOs. He has worked out a great quantitative research method for figuring out what customers want to do on your website (Top Tasks), and I have a great way to increase your Top Line – combining qualitative customer research with 40 years of solving revenue problems. Both of us can help companies make the necessary changes to increase the revenue generated by their websites and their other marketing and selling efforts. You can download our new white paper, “Using Your Customers’ Desired Actions to Increase Your Sales,” at http://www.McGovernAndZhivago.com. It’s free.