Setting out your stall

Your website is your market stall – is yours working hard enough to showcase your value?

‘Marketing’ in its earliest form, was setting up your stall, laying out your goods, a place where people came to check you out, see if you were any good, and make the decision whether to buy. A website is today’s market stall – your primary form of communicating to the marketplace, of displaying your wares and of engaging and persuading.

Customers buy value, so the most important job of your website is to communicate that value.

There are seven elements to a value message – is your website doing its job and communicating all of them? Here’s some tips on how to use your site to share your value message:

Connect with emotion – sharing your ‘why’

Business decisions are based on emotion. We want to engage with people or things we like and where we feel a connection. (Check out how the University of Texas carried out research with pictures of chickens – yes, chickens – to prove this). So your website needs to share emotion, personality ‘raison d’être’ and purpose. It’s likely that most of your visitors will come to your site without ever meeting anyone from your business, it has to substitute for a face to face meeting. Key things to look for to check you are communicating your ‘Why’ through your site are:

Home Page – if you’re a ‘For purpose’ business where the ethos is fundamental to what you do – a social enterprise, a charity, or a business founded on a principle, like the Body Shop – your ‘why’ message should be front and centre stage as one of the first things that visitors see.

About – if your business has a story behind it, a reason for existing, the About page is the place to share it

Our team – showcasing the personalities within your business is another great way to appeal to emotions. I worked with a client whose business was founded on the skills and personalities of its people, so we developed quirky profiles of their team build a strong sense of connection.

Your audience and their goals

A message is far more likely to be heard if the recipient knows it’s meant for them. It’s like hearing your name across a noisy room (the cocktail party effect). In the same way, visitors to your site need to instantly ‘hear their name’, so they know they’re on a site that’s meant for them. They need to recognise that you’re talking to them and you understand their goals and ambitions, as well as the problems that stop them achieving them.

Things to check for you on your site:

Name your audience(s) – It might be by industry, or by issue or by goal. Icons and images can be as effective as the words – one of my clients used the very simple device of a series of six icons, one for each industry that they served.

Separate and tailor information – Make your information specific to each audience – the more generic your language, the less anyone will think it’s speaking to them. In the case of the client with the icons, clicking on each image took the visitor to a tailored description of aims and issues and exactly how the product addressed them.

Be consistent – once you’ve targeted your audience, make sure that every aspect of the site consistently ‘talks their language’ – customer testimonials are from people they will relate to, images ‘look like them’.

Your offering

The whole purpose of a stall is to display your wares. If your audience believes the site is speaking to them, and they’ve stayed long enough to take a look at your products, you’re on the road to conversion. But a lot of sites lose people at this point, because it’s simply not clear enough to the potential customer what exactly they would be buying.

This is a particular trap for services businesses, especially ones that sell a tailored offering. We think that the message of ‘whatever you need, we can offer’ is appealing, but in reality, on your website, visitors need a bit of guidance. Ways you can do this on your site include:

Group your offerings – if you have a wide range of products or services, grouping is a great technique. Link back to your customer groupings (e.g. industry (a) offering, the industry (b) offering), or to the size/maturity of the client (entry bundle, through to full service package) or to the type of offering/outcome. I have 25+ products in my portfolio, but have grouped them into four main offerings, based on the where the customer is in the message communication journey.

Name your product groups – naming your product offerings is a great way to emphasise these groupings and ‘productise’ a service. Building the names into a series also helps to position them (think BMW 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series, where the larger the number, the higher the spec).

Case studies – there’s no better way of explaining what you do than telling a story about how it helped another client, and links from product descriptions to case studies will reinforce the product value message.

What makes you good – credentials and differentiators

Your site has to be about so much more than information – it has to convince your visitors that they are in safe hands if they invest their money with you. They have to trust that you know what you’re doing.

The most powerful way to do this through your site is to showcase your existing happy customers. Check whether your site has some or all of the following:

Customer quotes – after they’ve seen themselves on your site, the very next thing your visitors need to see is other people like them, saying they’re delighted with you. Customer testimonial quotes should feature prominently on your home page. They only need be a sentence or two – and if they are from a longer case study, make sure the quote clicks through to the story.

Customer logos – customer logos, especially if they are known in your target industry or instantly recognisable, are another powerful way of boosting your credibility.

Case studies – these give you the opportunity to tell a ‘before and after story’ that really showcases your value. I worked with a business that had great customer stories, which we made into a primary feature of the main website page. You’ll certainly want to ensure you have a page called ‘Customers’ or ‘Testimonials’ or ‘Success stories’ to make sure they don’t get missed.

Blog – a blog is a chance to share, and showcase, your expertise. It’s also an important part of being found – as long as you pick topics that are of interest to your market. A blog should not be an overt selling document, but should share genuinely useful or interesting information with your audience. Think of what you turn to when you read a newspaper – you don’t want to read ads; you want to read features.

Why we’re different – you’re probably not the only business doing what you do, so it’s important to explain why you’re different. It will be woven into your overall message, but I’m a fan of actually calling it out in a ‘What sets us apart’ or ‘The [company name] difference’ section, to make sure it is crystal clear.

Your history – experience is part of your credibility, but not the leading part. You might touch on this in your About page, but leading with ‘The business was founded in 19xx’ is like answering a question about what you do with an answer that starts ‘Well, I started out as a teaboy…”. History and experience is relevant, but not nearly as relevant as your current successes in your customers’ words.

Benefits

Customers don’t buy products, they buy benefits. So it stands to reason that benefits are the most important element of your message. And yet, it’s probably the part that most frequently gets left out of websites. Benefits are only benefits if they solve a problem for the recipient – so you can only describe benefits if you understand your customers. I often use the example of an umbrella – it’s benefit could be to keep off the rain, or to provide shade from the sun. It all depends on who is using it, and in what climate. The benefits of your product and service can be communicated through:

So what? – ensure that your audience specific content and your product information answers the ‘so what’ question. That is, that it doesn’t simply stop at ‘what the product or service does’ but it goes on to cover ‘which means that…’ Keep asking (and answering) ‘which means that…’ until you get to the final business benefit.

Case studies – a good case study will describe how the product or service made a difference to the client’s life or business. Real stories are the best way to illustrate benefits.

Take a look through your website to check whether it’s communicating all the elements of your value message or get in touch for a website audit.