Imagine you’re up late watching cable television (for those of us out there who still do such a thing), and the show cuts to a commercial. You see a small appliance of some kind on a kitchen counter, then hear a calm, off-camera voice:

“This is the Randomatic 3000 Egg Cracker. It cracks eggs really well. In fact, it’s better than every other egg cracker on the market. Lots of people like it because it does its job well and because we’re an awesome company. We’re good at making things. Here’s a long bullet list of all the things the Randomatic 3000 does really well. It includes cracking eggs for breakfast, for baking, and even for quiche. Oh, and did we mention it can crack both white eggs AND brown eggs? Pretty cool, right? So if you think you might like one of these, simply call this number to learn more about it.”

Pretty bland, right? Not terribly compelling. The odds of somebody buying the Randomatic 3000 based on this commercial are slim to none. But why? After all, it discussed what the product is and what it does, as well as the fact that it’s the best, made by a good company, and that people like it. And it provided a phone number at the end for more information. Isn’t that all somebody needs to make a buying decision?

I’m being facetious, of course, to make a point. Because so many websites I run across these days follow this basic approach. Facts and features only, interspersed with a bit of boasting that too often comes off sounding like, “We’re pretty great, if we say so ourselves.” It’s a form of “push” marketing that mostly centers around creating awareness of a product or service. Which can work perfectly fine in a couple of cases:

  1. You’re a business that already has a strong, well established brand identity, like Coca-Cola or Pepsi; or
  2. Your website is essentially “brochure-ware,” designed to impart information or build buzz, but not actually market or sell anything.

For most other sites, though, if the goal is to build business or convert people from visitors to customers, a more compelling website strategy is required. One that imparts information about features, yes, but also leverages everything we know these days about basic human psychology and effective marketing techniques.

Now imagine you’re watching that same TV show, and it cuts to a video of a woman standing at a kitchen counter, an egg in her hand, staring at a bowl. A deep, off-camera voice bellows, “Has this ever happened to you?!” At which point, the woman smashes the egg roughly against the edge of the bowl, spraying the guts of it all over the counter and herself, and sending a piece of eggshell sailing across the room, where it hits the cat, which protests with a loud shriek. “What a mess!” the voice says.

The camera then cuts to a smiling man in a different kitchen, looking directly at the camera, a small appliance on the counter in front of him:

“Introducing the Randomatic 3000 Egg Cracker! Individually hand-crafted by Tibetan monks, the Randomatic 3000 takes virtually all of the frustration and mess out of cracking eggs perfectly every time. No muss, no fuss.

“Watch how easy it works. Just place the egg in this slot … push the big red button … and voila! Look at that. Not a shell in site, and the yolk is perfectly intact. What’s more, the Randomatic 3000 cracks brown eggs, white eggs, chicken eggs, duck eggs. And with a special attachment, it can even crack ostrich, emu, or velociraptor eggs.

“This miracle of space-age technology was designed by Rando Monkeywrench, a NASA technician who worked for the space shuttle program. Sadly, Rando was forced to retire when his cat lost an eye to a rogue eggshell while preparing a spinach quiche for his wife’s birthday. The next day, he built the prototype for the Randomatic 3000, and vowed to donate 20% of all proceeds to the Foundation for Egg-Injured Pets.

“So if you’re tired of disappointing your family with crunchy omelets, then call the number on your screen to get the Randomatic 3000 for the low, low price of only $29.99 plus shipping and handling. But wait, that’s not all! Order in the next five minutes, and we’ll throw in a second egg cracker, absolutely free, along with this convenient carrying case. Use it to take your Randomatic 3000 to work … to the beach … on picnics … or even to the ball game.” (See the woman from the beginning at all of these locations, smiling as she cracks eggs.) “Your friends are sure to be impressed. And if you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll give you your money back. So don’t wait. Call now!”

Big improvement, right? So what did this commercial do that the first one didn’t?

  • Established a problem that a potential customer might have. In this case, the tragic egg-cracking example was somewhat exaggerated, but it’s still a powerful strategy. What is your potential customer’s pain point? What is the issue they have that your product or service will help them solve? Start there, and you begin to create an emotional connection that will “pull” them toward your marketing message.
  • Offered a solution to the problem. Following right on the heels of establishing the problem, while the potential customer was most susceptible, a product or service that can solve the problem was identified. Not only that, but some objective assurances were made about the egg cracker: that it takes away all of the frustration, and that it perfectlycracks eggs every time. Such assurances will build trust, and thereby carry far more weight than subjective statements like, “It’s the best!”
  • Showed the product in action. It’s easy to say how somethings works, or to insist that it works well. But as they say, a picture–or in this case a video–is worth a thousand words of marketing copy. What’s more, this particular ad showed examples both of somebody having a bad experience cracking eggs and a good one, thus reinforcing an emotional connection to the product that helps them avoid the bad experience.
  • Told a story about the product and the creator. Not every product, service, or business has a compelling story to tell. But if there is one, it should absolutely be shared. Are you carrying on a family tradition? Share that. Was your product born out of some kind of frustration or adversity? Share that. Is your business strongly connected to your community or a charity or a cause? Share it. Again, it’s about creating an emotional and trusting connection with potential customers. And that’s easier to do if they know something about you.
  • Offered an explicit call to action. Sooner rather than later, you want to tell the potential customer what they should do next. Odds are, if this were an actual infomercial, the phone number would have been on the screen the entire time. For a website, it may mean putting an “Order Now” or “Subscribe Now” or “Register Now” button high up on the page, and then repeating it several times throughout. Because whenever it is that the customer reaches that moment where they are ready to buy, they shouldn’t have to go far to do it.
  • Showed a happy customer. Last but not least, the commercial showed the woman smiling as she used the egg cracker. Assuming it’s appropriate to your business, the use of photos of people smiling on your website is great way to go. Again, it’s all about triggering a positive emotional response, and Psych 101 tells us that people become happy when they see other happy people. That said, you’ll want to avoid using the same generic (and often cheesy) stock photography that everybody else does. If you have the option of using quality original photos of your staff or customers, do it. If not, then at least find stock images with a natural, unforced feel to them.

To be clear, I am by no means suggesting that anybody pattern their website after a cheesy late night infomercial (even if it is a $250 billion industry). Although for the right kind of business, I suppose it could actually be a creative marketing angle, in an ironic way. In this case, however, I’m simply using TV commercials as a way to illustrate some critical web marketing elements, which can be summed up as follows:

  • Establish a Real World Problem
  • Offer a Solution to the Problem
  • Show, Don’t Just Tell, What the Features Are
  • Share Your Product/Service/Company Story
  • Include Multiple Explicit Calls to Action
  • Show Images of Happy People (if appropriate)
  • Make an Emotional, Trusting Connection

So does your website incorporate any or all of these elements? If so, why not? Was it a conscious decision, based on research, or simply an oversight? I’d love to hear what others have to say on the subject.

If you need help bringing these or other elements (like original content) to your site, or would like a free website messaging analysis, feel free to drop me a line here or connect with me on LinkedIn.

(Oh, and please note that no cats were harmed during the writing of this article.)