As sound-bites and sight-bites rain down like those proverbial cats and dogs (maybe worse!), folks are becoming hypersensitive to hype. Collectively, we are just not buying it.1 Yep, our bullshit meters are meticulously calibrated to ring when messaging sounds over-the-top, and we stand only too ready to believe that if it sounds (or looks) too good to be true, it probably is.
Hype lives in your copy, in words that beg comparison but never get substantiated: better, best, more, most, must-have, no comparison, greatest quantity, greatest variety. It lives in numbers that never get explained.
Hype is your enemy, and hype-y copy is like "friendly fire." Shooting yourself in the foot? Heck, it's more like committing seppuku!
Come see what I mean.
I really don't know much about high definition television (HDTV), but my buddy Bryan has been raving about his new HD purchase. So HD has been in the back of my mind. When I saw a flash ad for Dish Network HD programming on lifehacker, I took notice:
The flash part of the ad went something like this:
If you don't have high definition programming, your HD TV is faking it ... get the full HD experience with America's largest lineup.
Note the words: full experience, largest lineup, twice as many, better TV. Yeah, I want the most bang for my buck. And this copy prepared me for some serious substantiation. So I clicked through and landed here (eventually ... had to suffer through more flash first):
Okay. It's Dish's HDTV page. I saw the area that claimed "DishHD offers the most HD content available today." 1700 hours of programming per week? Sounded impressive, but what did it mean?
I counted ten channels, none of them local networks. Ten? I seemed to remember my cable company sent out a paper ad on their lineup a coupla weeks ago. I checked their website:
Hmmm. No mention of how many hours of HDTV programming per week, but Comcast lists sixteen channels, including my local ones for news and network shows. Comcast's site is maddeningly flash-intensive and copy-poor, but it had me believing already that Dish was playing the hype game with me.
I returned to the Dish site to follow the lineup/programming path from the banner ad. Dish tells me there are three must-have HD essentials. One of them is HD programming. Nothing on the essentials list is clickable, so I clicked on "Learn More":
Great (not)! I landed on an utterly useless page that only reiterated what I already knew. I did get a little animated butterfly, except I wasn't in the mood for cute. Dish had just committed the faux pas of wasting my time. The copy?
High Def. HD. High Definition. HDTV. There are many ways to say it, but it means just one thing - high definition TV is better TV. To get the full impact of HD and see it the way it's meant to be seen, you need the following 3 'must-haves.'
Hot air (a logician would call this a tautology). This circular copy tells me nothing. Worse, there are no "following" anythings except empty black space ... the links are above. Little things like this really bug me.
Any sane person would be long gone by now. The path was not delivering. But you know me. For the sake of a good story, I sighed heavily and clicked on "DishHD Programming." I was hungering for some honest-to-goodness meat:
Huh? That freaking animated butterfly again and more useless copy:
DishHD Programming. Add entertainment made just for the HD experience. DishHD has the greatest quantity and variety of HD content, and offers the industry's most extensive HD line-up with over 1,700 hours of HD entertainment each week.
"Add entertainment"? What would I add it to? "Greatest quantity and variety"? C'mon dudes, cough up! This is my third click, and I'm still no wiser. Oh, and there's that number again. 1700. Totally suspicious, I reached for my calculator. Let's see ... 10 channels, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's 1680 hours. Which is not "over 1700."
I keyed in Comcast's numbers for comparison. 2688 hours. By now I was thinking total hype. Sixteen channels are more than ten. 2688 hours are a lot more than 1680.
I really didn't want to click anything but the outta-here button. (Tell me, Dish, what are your page rejection rates on this scenario?) But I resolved to "learn more:"
Mercifully, the butterfly was gone. But this was the end of the line, and all I had got for my dedicated efforts were the questionable claims and the image of the ten channels I had seen on the landing page.
This scenario does not:
Deliver on the promise of Dish's banner ad
Provide evidence that supports Dish's claims
Offer the customer anything beyond shallow entertainment and hype
Establish and develop credibility
Even if Dish's claims are correct, they still utterly failed in their persuasive mission. My head is filled with images of that classic sleazy car salesman, and I don't believe Dish for one second. In fact, I feel major cheated and manipulated. Dish isn't getting a single penny from my budget. Not today. Not ever.
See what I mean? Hype is your number one enemy. The only thing hype persuades folks to do is walk (or mouse) away. So terminate hype with extreme prejudice. You don't need to rely on superlatives if you indisputably can deliver the goods. What you need to focus on is providing the information your customers really want to learn from you.
1 "The Ad-Busting Brain." David Cohn. seedmagazine.com. March 22, 2006. http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/03/the_adbusting_brain.php.
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The purpose of persuasive online copy is to present information that offers your customers relevant answers to the questions they are asking and motivates them to move forward in your conversion process. I can't shout this loud enough: YOUR ONLINE COPY IS CRITICAL!
We've just been talking about Dish Network, a company that competes with cable for the high definition television audience (among others). Up against cable, Dish is kind of like Avis ... they need to try harder.
So how could Dish do a better job persuading customers to buy into their HD programming lineup?
It starts with personas. A careful uncovery yields lots of information about the nature of a company's customers. This information is the backbone of the persona creation process.
Personas are archetypes that represent different customer segments based on your business topology, demographics, psychographics, behavioral data (if you have it) and the complexity of your sale. When we create company-specific personas, we ascribe to them detailed motivations and questions. We evaluate their angles of approach. We determine the sort of language they will find appealing. And we map out specific scenarios (online and offline) that are finely tuned to their individual needs.
You can't market persuasively to "averages." You met your average "average" lately?
One element that goes into persona design comes from scholarly inquiry into dominant personality types and temperament. Failing any other information, you can create profiles of your audience based on these four dominant types: Methodical, Humanistic, Spontaneous and Competitive. Why? Because each type leads with different sorts of questions that reflect their information priorities.
The Methodical focuses on HOW-type questions:
What are the details?
What's the fine print?
How does this work?
How can I plan ahead?
What proof do you have?
Can you guarantee that?
The Humanistic focuses on WHO-type questions:
How will your product or service make me feel?
Who uses your products/service?
Who are you? Tell me who is on your staff, and let me see bios
What will it feel like to work with you?
What experience have others had with you?
Can I trust you?
What are your values?
The Spontaneous focuses on WHY- and sometimes WHEN-type questions:
How can you get me to what I need quickly?
Do you offer superior service?
Can I customize your product or service?
Can you help me narrow down my choices?
How quickly can I take action and achieve my goals?
Why will this let me enjoy life more?
The Competitive focuses on WHAT-type questions:
What are your competitive advantages?
What makes you the superior choice?
What makes you a credible company?
What can you do to help make me look cutting edge?
What are your credentials?
What can you do to help me achieve my goals?
With these basic personality types and some of their questions in mind, let's reexamine Dish Network's HDTV presentation. What's the bare minimum Dish needs to accomplish through its copywriting? Remember, the banner ad that lured customers to Dish claimed, "Nearly twice as many national HD channels as anyone."
This scenario is all about programming content. Naturally, that means Dish needs to deliver every potential customer to a landing page (not a generic page) that specifically talks about programming. Then Dish needs to start acknowledging their customers' needs.
Methodical. A Methodical customer is going to want all the facts. Every specification. Solid proof that every one of Dish's claims is accurate. And she'll be willing to scroll or go an extra page deeper to find this information. She'll want charts identifying what channels Dish provides compared to other HDTV providers. She'll want to know how Dish came up with those 1700 hours of programming. She'll want to know the company's plans for including more channels in future. She'll definitely see this little note:
* New DishHD programming packages require ViP211™ or ViP622™ DVR receiver. Additional equipment and costs may apply. Please call 1-888-284-7116 for more information.
When a Methodical sees something like this, she wants a link, not a phone number, to an explanation. She will value a statement of guarantee about the programming lineup. And she will also look at things from the what's-not-included angle - why no local network stations when her cable company lists them in their programming lineup? Dish needs to be prepared for the fact that the Methodical customer does all her homework.
The cool thing about meeting the needs of your relentless Methodicals is that you pretty much cover the corollary questions your other types might ask!
Humanistic. Dish's Humanistic customer will want information about other people's experiences using DishHD. He'll look for testimonials and evidence of satisfied customers who wouldn't dream of looking elsewhere because DishHD meets their every programming need. He wants to know what sort of people you appeal to and information about your committment to service and his experience. He would like to feel you're in it for more than the big bucks. He'll value learning how convenient Dish is to use and how Dish's programming lineup enhances his quality of life.
Methodicals and Humanistics are fairly patient; they're usually willing to look for the information that's important to them. They tend to deliberate when making their decisions. Not so for the Spontaneous and Competitive customers. These folks want to get their information and make their decisions quickly.
Spontaneous. Dish's programming is largely about style for the Spontaneous customer. He'll want to know how Dish supports or improves on his lifestyle. Does DishHD carry the specific channels he watches? If not, how long before they do? He'll look for options that allow him to personalize his Dish experience. He'll want Dish to help him with his choices. And he'll want to accomplish this with a minimum of fuss and bother. Dish cannot waste this customer's time (of course, Dish shouldn't be wasting anybody's time!).
Competitive. The same is true for Dish's Competitive customer. Don't dare waste one precious moment of her time. Not a single click more than absolutely necessary. This customer wants to know the bottom line. If Dish is going to say stuff like best, most and greatest, they'd better back it up on the spot. Quick comparisons with competitors will help. If Dish cannot communicate to the Competitive that the company knows its stuff, is the best in the business and appears in the dictionary as the image of credibility, she's gone before Dish can blink an eye.
My little exercise here isn't a fully fleshed out persona review - there's a lot of uncovery information about Dish that I simply don't know. So this is pretty simplistic. But it's a start. And even as a start, it goes a long way to providing Dish with meaningful directions for copy that persuades and motivates actual customers.
The credibility Dish hopes to instill begins by acknowledging and answering the customer's questions. Not with hype, but with relevance and substance. Each dominant personality type bases their feelings of credibility and trust on different factors, but they all must feel Dish is credible and trustworthy.
Without this, they're not going to take the step Dish wants them to take.
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