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April 28, 2008
Saying the Right Things in Marketing Your Business

Sometimes, it isn’t the carrot on the end of a stick that persuades a customer, it’s the direction that carrot is swinging.

I recently found myself in the middle of a conference call with the CEO of a young Internet company, in preparation for a consumer research project we’re about to launch. The company, a west coast-based service firm, allows customers to securely file emergency contact information and medical files online for an entire family (pets included). Backed by a 24/7 call center, the business is a slam-dunk in giving caretakers peace of mind should any emergency arise.

Our initial work for the company had been to help create more compelling content for their website, with the goal of converting more visitors into customers. At the time of our conference call, web stats showed that while most people were following the content all the way through to the sign-up page, they bailed out before actually signing on to the service. The CEO was flummoxed.

As we sat there talking, I kept flipping back and forth between the homepage and the sign-up page. Suddenly, it hit me – they were saying the right thing, but not the right way.


CEO: “I don’t get it. Our service costs less than $35 a year, yet the process comes to a screeching halt when visitors have to sign up. What’s the hang up?”

MM: “Well, your service is still a fairly new business model and perhaps with all you’re promising, it seems too good to be true. Have you thought about offering a free trial?”

CEO: “We do… you can see it on the sign-up page. We give two months for free.”

MM: “That’s great – so why aren’t you advertising this on your homepage? Surely there are those folks who are a bit more impulsive and will want to check it out right away.”

CEO: “You’re right – we’ll get on that, first thing. Where do you think we should put the info about the $4.95 handling fee?”

You can see where this is going, right? The client was making two common yet potentially dangerous marketing mistakes. Mistakes that are easy to make, yet simple to rectify:

Dangle the Carrot Right in Front of Their Nose

With an Internet business that is appealing yet unfamiliar to the consumer, this company needs to work a little harder to convince people it’s worth their time and money to buy the service. The company does offer an option to break through the price-resistance barrier, but they hadn’t thought of placing it on the most important page for price-conscious visitors – the homepage. By creating a graphic on the homepage that links to a detailed offer, the company will see an immediate increase in sign-up; customers looking for an easy way to dip their toe in the water can try the product without obligation. And the company now has a customer’s information to not only follow-up and sell a yearly subscription, but conduct ongoing consumer research directly with users of the service.

Swing the Carrot to Make It Irresistible

Then there is the matter of that $4.95 handling fee. In a world where individuals are barraged with advertising and special offers everyday, consumers are highly sensitized to hidden fees and obligations. The customer’s first reaction to a “free trial” with a $4.95 handling fee is going to be, “Free, my foot!” Hyped advertising or offers with strings attached, either intentional or unintentional, will often do more harm than good. In the case of my client, I recommended either offering a “two month trial for $4.95” or, better yet, removing the handling fee entirely, depending on what their marketing budget can handle.

Honest, informative and persuasive copy is the key to convincing customers to take action. If you are the person responsible for marketing your business, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “being stuck inside the bottle.” You are hindered by tunnel vision and can’t objectively view your marketing campaign. What can you do? Well, for starters, share your strategy, message and copy with a small group of colleagues that can be trusted with giving you objective feedback. If they support you, they’ll work hard to look for holes in your message and make suggestions for developing an airtight strategy. Take what you learn from your support system to create a powerful, honest message that comes from your heart and resonates with consumers, convincing them to do business with you. Finally, don’t expect your message to be perfect the first time around – the most successful marketers constantly tweak and develop their marketing strategy with research and feedback from customers.

Spend some time with your advertising, website and peripheral marketing materials. Does the most important part of your message reveal itself in all the right places? And what is it you’re actually saying to customers… is it really what you meant to say? Only when you take the time to carefully develop and place your message will you have a carrot worth biting into.

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Michele Miller is a partner in the Wizard of Ads marketing firm, with clients that include Best Buy and Timberland. She is an international speaker and the author of "The Soccer Mom Myth." Her blog on marketing to women, WonderBranding, has won numerous awards and is included on the prestigious “Best of the Web” list compiled by Forbes.com.

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