(Fall Applications Now Closed)
After a great trip to the Conversion Conference in Chicago, read my Conversion Conference Liveblog Notes, something important struck me. Selling something when attention is as hard to get, as it is these days, is difficult and likely to get harder before easier. This post is about how almost every startup company website is doing it wrong.
July 3rd Update - People AND Things SellI
I created a "my bad" here. The title should be People AND Things Sell. Many sites are all left brain things because that is what they love. The passion for those things is important and should be on a startup's website balanced with pictures of people who matter in either the creation of those things or the legitimacy of their functionality and use.
This is another way of saying, if you are camera shy, you don't have to have your CEO or Founder pictures on your homepage, but find some people that will add to your product's story and include them in a power position on the page (i.e. above the fold). This post is on a trip around the world via Re-Scoops and ReTweets, so I wanted to be more clear. Like almost all things Internet marketing hard and fast rules don't work well, but thinking about your audience and their concerns and how they learn in your website presentation is always a good idea.
Chris Heivly’s Wisdom
About a year ago I had a chance to sit down with startup investor and coach Chris Heivly. Chris and his partner Dave Neal have created a Y-combinator-like startup incubator in Durham called The Triangle Startup Factory. “What,” I remember asking Chris, “do investors look for in companies.”
“Teams,” was Chris’ single word answer. He went on to explain he and his fellow investors know whatever a team is working on, that thing they are so passionate about and in love with, is going to morph ten times before exit. You can’t invest in the widget because the widget isn’t long for this world Chris shared.
People matter most to Chris and investors because We BUY people not things. This People beat THINGS truth struck me first when I ran a multimillion dollar ecommerce website. Pictures of STUFF, no matter how popular the stuff was, never performed as well as pictures of people. We came to calling our largest image on a web page our “hero” image.
Hero is the appropriate word. We tested different versions of people shots including:
- People engaged in games with each other.
- People with babies.
- People staring lovingly at each other.
- People (usually one person) staring straight out at the camera.
- People (usually one person) looking off the screen into the site.
Like most things Internet marketing there is no silver bullet, no one rule we found for all occasions. Our results showed:
- People looking right out at the camera-increased engagement and had a positive impact on conversion (over the other options and control with was a picture of a product).
- People staring off the screen had the biggest impact on engagement and money WHEN we aligned the eye line with a Call To Action (CTA).
- Babies are TOUGH since they increased engagement, but were negatively correlated to conversion UNLESS they were staring at a CTA.
- Even staring at a CTA babies underperformed people (at least on our site).
Between Chris Heivly’s lesson, my ecommerce experience and published "best practices" you would think startup websites would open with pictures of their team, board members, and/or gurus they follow or some warm, human, intelligent HERO of a picture. You would be dead wrong.
Here are a few of my favorite startup websites:
Daily Digital and KISSmetrics are two of my favorite sites, but I know what they do for a living. Any visitor wants to feel, as my boss so eloquently put it the other day, like they are HOME. Visiting a friend’s house do you walk in the door unannounced or ring the bell, seek permission and look for a guide? If this is your first visit you ring the bell, seek permission and look for a guide.
Of these two KISSmetrics is the stronger, but not by much. KISS destroyed a brilliant, clean design with a laptop in the middle in favor of this faceless silhouette. KISS is hoping we will put ourselves in the silhouette, but that is not how it works. Read Brainfluence by Dooley or Mind of the Market by Shermer or look at Dooley’s excellent slideshare presentation on neuromarketing (all linked at bottom).
What these books prove is what we know in our hearts. We humans love looking at people. What we marketers know in our hearts is people love looking at “like me” people. If I put you inside of a MRI and presented the sites above vs. the startup sites below I guarantee your brain lights up more and in better places with the examples from SpringMetrics and Argyle Social below.
Spring Metrics and Argyle feature founders looking intelligent and like they are about to teach us something. Here are a few nit picks:
- In both cases I would pull Peter (Spring’s CEO) and Eric (Argyle’s Founder and CEO) out into a hero image controlling the quality and gaze better.
- CAPTIONS, CAPTIONS and CAPTIONS – this drives me so crazy, the hottest place on any website is immediately below the pictures yet we never put anything of meaning there.
- I would have the video in close proximity to the hero image with the white triangle. Never and I MEAN NEVER put a white triangle over your hero’s head as Spring Metrics almost does.
- Video is so POWERFUL (just ask my friend Alan at mailVu) you don’t have to oversell it.
- Argyle has way too much going on. I like the use of the Twitter logo but I would eliminate everything else since those charts and graphs make it look like I might have homework.
- Kudos to Spring Metrics for a 100% improvement over their old page that used to drive me AWAY (image of a nerdy looking guy in pain), and for the biggest CTA button I’ve seen.
- Argyle is going for the clinical blue and they are almost there. Too much of anything is not a good thing. I would tone down the blue into an accent role so it doesn’t overwhelm.
Trust, Conversions Start With Trust
I have several reasons why PEOPLE beat anything else for website heroes, but creating trust is the most important. Think about this problem critically for even half a second and you see the answer. Ask these questions:
- When you were a child what was the first thing you remember seeing? Mom? Dad?
- In a time when everything changes all the time what is more trustworthy people or things?
- Who do you follow people or things?
When I arrive at Spring Metrics and Argyle Social there is a wise guide ready to offer assistance (once they introduce themselves with a CAPTION lol). We can buy anything we want now from at least 5 sources. When everything is equal we buy from people we like, from people we respect and believe in, from people we trust.
Just like Chris and Dave, when I review vendors I’m review the team. Will they follow through? Will they help us when life goes bad and going gets rough? I know the answer to these critical questions faster when I look in your eyes, assess who you are and then study if your presentation matches what others say about you.
Since we rarely sit across a table from one another anymore, don't forget how critical it is to greet me, introduce yourself and ask me to come in even if such an invitation is only a metaphor and carried out on a website.
I’ve been trained by the best companies (P&G, M&M/Mars, 4 startups) to see dissonant elements a mile away. If you present your software or THING first my warning klaxons go off. “Engineers,” my klaxons scream at me.
Last time I check when I have something you want there is at least 50% requirement to make it EASY for me, make it easy to buy. Why am I forced to conform MY thinking and needs to YOUR engineer-thinking left brain script? Read Pink's Book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future if you are an engineer and need to be scared straight.
Because everyone does it that way is a poor reason to do anything. In fact, if I were your marketing guy I would explain that our jobs, at least initially, is to use enough convention to create comfort while standing out in a significant way.
How to match convention to your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is a lesson for another day. Today’s lesson is if you don’t have your CEO, President, favorite guru or best looking salesperson as you site’s hero with a CAPTION and an easy to find link to read about the rest of the humans involved in your company then you are doing it wrong :).
Mind of the Market by Michael Shermer (notes studies of linked empathy when people are looking at people and is a favorite book.
Brainfluence by Dooley and his excellent slideshare deck on 90% of my favorite ecommerce secrets.
WRAL Techwire article about Triangle Startup Factory, Chris and Dave.
An article on AttorneySync urging use of people (I mean if lawyers are getting it there is no excuse for startups, none LOL).