If you’ve ever read or watched a good mystery story, you know how it works. Somebody commits a crime (usually murder), and then some smartypants detective arrives on the scene to collect clues, interrogate guests (or neighbors or train passengers or family members), and generally make a nuisance of themselves until the mystery has been solved.

So what does this have to do with website messaging? Elementary, my dear reader. Elementary. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Please don’t stop reading.)

The thing is, prospective customers who visit your website are basically detectives who are attempting to hunt down the best solution for whatever it is they need. In order to do this, they use the same six interrogative words that any good detective does:

Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?

In the case of a detective solving a murder, the questions might include “Who is a suspect?” or “What was the murder weapon?” or “When was the time of death?” But for a prospective customer, the inquiries are never quite so macabre.

Here are six critical questions Detective Prospective might ask:

  • Who is this company?
  • Why do I need what this company is offering?
  • How can this company solve my problems?
  • What makes this company unique?
  • Where does this company fit within the broader scheme of my business goals and current needs?
  • When I’m ready to commit, how do I do it?

What sets this detective apart from the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, or Encyclopedia Brown, however, is that a prospective customer should never have to walk around with a giant magnifying glass or use a forensics kit to find the answers to any of these questions.

If anything, your business should endeavor to be the worst “criminal” since the beginning of time. You should go out of your way to be like the inept thief who leaves fingerprints on everything in the house … who is spotted by five witnesses while leaving the scene of the crime … photographed … and who clumsily drops their wallet with full photo identification in the middle of the living room floor.

In short, the story of “Detective Prospective and the Case of Your Website” should take no more than a minute to read.

We’ve all seen the alternatives. Maybe it’s the website for which it takes five minutes just to figure out what the company does. Or one that uses an inordinate number of superlatives and exclamation marks to tell the world how amazing they are, but very few to describe the problem they solve or what actually sets them apart in their field (besides being amazing). Or one that buries or obscures any calls to action, making it hard to do business with them if you wanted to. Or the infamous “red herring” website that seems at first to deal with something you need, but turns out not to.

Any of these sites would give even hard-nosed private detective Sam Spade a run for his money, and would most likely send the confused gumshoe weeping into a glass of scotch whiskey.

In order to avoid this sorry outcome, let’s discuss how each of the questions listed above are critical to an effective website messaging strategy.

“Who is this company?”

This may seem obvious. After all, your company’s name should be at the top of the site and (hopefully) in the domain name. While it’s entirely possible that your company’s name is already creating messaging problems for you by not accurately reflecting what it is you do, that’s really more of a branding issue, and so a topic for a different article.

“Who” in this case is a much broader question that includes sub-questions like:

  • Who runs the company? Who works there?
  • What is its history? What is its mission statement?
  • Where is it located? Which geographic areas does it serve?
  • When was it created and by whom?
  • Why was it created and why is it still around?
  • How does it make a difference or give back to the community?

These details may not be the first thing Detective Prospective needs to see, and they don’t even need to be on the homepage. But they should be easily available, and a visitor to your site should have a clear and consistent sense of your company’s identity and mission no matter which page they’re on.

“Why do I need what this company is offering?”

This question has less to do with the company than with the product or service it offers. Another way of phrasing it is to ask, “Is this company solving a problem that I have, and if so, what is that problem?” While it muddles the analogy a bit, think of this as what detectives like to call The Motive.

If a prospective customer has landed on your site, usually it’s because they need something. They have a motive. And if you are able to state that motive right up front, then they will be more likely to form an immediate need-based emotional connection to your company, product, or service.

Some (vaguely worded) possible motives include:

  • “Are you not making enough money?”
  • “Are you not growing fast enough?”
  • “Is doing this thing costing you too much time or money?”
  • “Does doing this thing give you headaches?”
  • “Do you wish you could do more of this thing and less of that thing?”
  • “Would you like to know how to do this thing better?”

Emphasizing early on what a prospective customer needs is a far better “hook” than bragging about how amazing you are, because it shows empathy, letting them know that you are more interested in them than in yourself.

“How can this company solve my problems?”

Having identified what your prospective customer needs, what their pain points are, it’s then important to let them know sooner rather than later how you can help them solve their problem(s). Please note, the important word in that sentence is “how.”

Too often, websites focus on “what” they do (and the fact that they do it well). And while discussing features is certainly important, it’s not quite the same thing as connecting the dots between their need and your solution.

Compare these two statements:

  1. “We do these three things really well! [INSERT BULLET LIST]”
  2. “We do this and this and this, so you don’t have to, which will save your employees time, and help your business make more money.”

Which is the more compelling statement for a prospective customer? 1 or 2?

Again, it’s important to start from the point of view of the customer, to acknowledge what they need, and then connect that need to something you have to offer. To do otherwise means you’re leaving it up to them to infer a connection, and that is always a bit of a gamble.

“What makes this company unique?”

Odds are, there is some other company either doing exactly what you do or doing something else that can also resolve your prospective customer’s pain point. And there’s a good chance that Detective Prospective has already visited their website too, and has asked all of the same questions you’re being asked. So what makes your company unique? What are you doing to differentiate yourself from those other solutions?

In order to answer this question, of course, it’s important to take the time to learn all you can about your competition. Put the detective hat on yourself from time to time and visit their websites. See what they’re doing and how they’re positioning themselves. Identify what you’re doing that they aren’t. What makes you different from them (in a good way)? Whatever it is, be sure to call it out on your own website.

It’s also important to note that your competition may not be somebody who does exactly what you do. For instance, for a company that makes snow shovels, their competition will not only be other tool-making companies that produce snow shovels, but also companies that make gas-powered snow blowers. Both solve the problem of removing snow from a sidewalk.

“Where does this company fit within the broader scheme of my business goals and current needs?”

No matter how great your product or service is, and no matter how well it seems to fit your prospective customer’s needs, it still may not. This is because any business is a constantly moving target with changing business goals, budgets, and priorities. What they needed last year may not be what they need this year.

In order to address this, you may need to think about how whatever you’re offering can be diversified to cater to a variety of scenarios. For example, if a business is dealing with a restricted budget this year, can you offer a limited version of your service for less money, with the option to upgrade next year?

When considering a prospective customer’s current needs, it’s also important to remember the three stages of the customer buying cycle:

  • Awareness: This is a purely passive, information-gathering state. If a prospective customer is at this stage, it’s no good trying to convert them. If you do, you’ll likely just scare them off. Any company site should include enough “free” (no cost or sign-up required) information for businesses at this stage to consume.
  • Consideration: At this stage, a prospective customer is aware of all options, including those offered by your competitors, and is actively comparing them. They are more likely to “dig” through your site for deeper information now, and may even be willing to sign up to download something like a white paper if it will help them make a final decision.
  • Conversion: At this stage, the prospective customer has done all of their homework and is ready to commit. If you’ve managed to convince them you’re the best option, then this commitment will mean purchasing your product or service (or performing whatever action it is you need them to perform).

If you’ve managed to align the messaging on your website with your prospective customer’s needs, and if they happen to be at the third stage in the buying cycle, then odds are they will be asking themselves the sixth and final question …

“When I’m ready to commit, how do I do it?”

Every other question on the list means nothing unless there’s a satisfactory answer to this one. It’s where the Call To Action (CTA) comes in. For a detective in a murder mystery, this would be the equivalent of a big neon sign that reads “Here’s the Killer!” with an arrow pointing at the suspect.

Since it’s impossible to predict exactly when a prospective customer will hit that moment of commitment and conversion, it’s critically important that it be easy for them to act on it when they do. Imagine you’re the detective, and the neon sign mentioned above is one block away from the street you’re walking on. It won’t do you any good. Timing is everything.

Also, in order to avoid confusion, there shouldn’t be more than a few calls to action on any given page of your site, and in some cases (like a landing page), there should be only one.

In all cases, CTA’s should stand out on the page (preferably as as button), should use clearly worded, imperative language (like “Download Now” or “Register Today” or “Sign Up for Free”), and the user should understand (through accompanying text) what the implications of clicking the CTA are.

Wrapping Up the Case

If you’ve successfully managed to be the worst criminal ever, and made it easy for Detective Prospective to answer these six questions as quickly and painlessly as possible, then the mystery will be solved and you may get your just rewards. Which in this case would be a new customer.

If not, and if your website “reads” like a complex mystery novel, with lots of twist and turns and surprises … written in a foreign language … with some pages missing … then it may be time to revisit your messaging strategy.

To reiterate, below are the key elements of an effective messaging strategy:

  • Who are you? What’s your story?
  • What is the problem you’re solving?
  • How are you solving that problem?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Is what you’re offering and communicating inclusive enough to address businesses at various stages of conversion readiness?
  • Are your calls to action clear and easily found?

Need help with the messaging on your website? Not sure if you need help but would like a complimentary website messaging analysis? Drop me a line here or connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s have conversation about it.

As a reminder, this is Part 2 in a series of 3 articles on the topic of website messaging strategy.

In Part 1 of 3, “Not an Afterthought,” we discussed why messaging strategy is a crucial first step for any website, before either design or development, and why it’s important to work with the right professional for the job.

In Part 3 of 3, “Is It Too Late?” we wrapped things up by discussing what to do if you’ve already got a website with either no messaging strategy or one that isn’t working for you, but rebuilding the site from the ground up simply isn’t an option.