Overtake 'Normal Marketing':
Small potent shifts in style
by Dave Simon, 21/02/19
- Marketing for professionals is different to marketing for commercial businesses.
Normal marketing produces disappointing numbers of suitable enquiries through professionals' websites.
The Five Steps of 'Normal Marketing' Don't Fit Professionals
Re-examining the normal list of marketing fundamentals discussed in the preceding article (see above), we saw the problems from the professional's point of view:
- Get Attention – “That doesn't come naturally to us.”
- Promise an Advantage – “But our 'products' are invisible!”
- Prove It – “This is difficult to communicate too.”
- Convince People they will Gain – “We can't guarantee results.”
- Ask for Action – “Informed consent complicates this too.”
Note: these five steps are all about the 'what' you should say. They say nothing about the 'where', 'when' or 'how' to provide your professional services.
Unfortunately, many otherwise up-to-date website design providers focus only on the first step, leaving you to design the rest. And every step is vital:
- “Advertising is not an art form, it’s a medium for information, a message for a single purpose: to sell.” David Ogilvy, advertising guru.
All the steps must work together for your Client-Attracting Pathway to work at maximum efficiency.
Find A Fresh Start
Obviously if too few people see it, you will get limited enquiries. But even so, I advise care:
- The first danger is that you spend more money without much improvement. The most frequently promoted solutions are all about the first step: bigger audiences, increased repetition of your message and wider ways of assailing your audience.
- Another danger is that if your message (step two onwards) is unproductive – mildly off-putting, for instance – and you disseminate it twice as widely, twice as often: would it gain you twice the enquiries... or half?
- The next danger is keeping up with the neighbours. The majority of their marketing efforts do not get that seven-times-as-many-enquiries. So copying the prevailing style will probably get you the same results – which by other standards is disappointing!
- The worst danger is that you may assume that you cannot do any better than you already do.
So Start Where Your Client Is At
To perform better than 'normal', your marketing has to do something different.
Most 'normal' marketing is written as an announcement. Services offered, number of staff, office locations and perhaps awards or other news are all frequently used. This is what I call Generation One marketing: see “Is This Why Your Website Isn't Attracting The Clients You Want?”. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not enough to reach that seven-times productivity.
- But a few firms receive seven times as many enquiries as their competitors. It seems there is too much variability to ignore.
- Small changes in key places change the style to feel more client-friendly, improving website productivity for the benefit your firm.
Let's look at what practical steps you can take to make that difference, and why.
If we swap seats with your potential clients for a moment, we can find a missing element: feelings.
- Many lay-people experience anxiety about approaching a professional for the first time. This is at least because they become acutely aware of how unfamiliar the territory is.
- And it may be an emotional situation that starts them off. These often include negative emotions and perhaps a complex of mixed emotions. For instance, fear of loss, guilt, shame, anger, etc... doubts and uncertainty... and more.
How to help toe-in-water types?
So for instance, in litigation, it might be fear mixed with outrage. In architecture it might be hopes fighting money-worries. In surveying it might be hopes for a fast sale versus wanting a high price.
With all these feelings, it is normal to hesitate!
Remember Newcomers' Nerves
This is about personal psychological experience. People's emotional response as they read your marketing materials is critical to your results. At this 'toe in the water' decision-point when all hesitations come to the fore, their feelings will be paramount in deciding action.
Ease of reading, tone of voice and point of view are the sort of first impressions central in this. These more subtle levels of communication are taken to represent the way your firm's people will respond to them in person – by email, phone or visit.
This makes sense – we would do the same when researching unfamiliar territories.
First we want to know: is the website content relevant; and then: is it trustworthy, user-friendly, nice...?
So when we're searching for a new dentist, a home-improvement loan or a survey of possible subsidence at home. Whatever our logical conclusions, our feelings prompt our actions and our rationalisation explains that later.
Are you relevant and friendly?
To ensure website visitors get the right impression of your firm, you need both aspects working for you. That is, the accuracy of information provided and the feeling tone around it.
After they read your information, the next critical step in their minds is: 'how do I feel about what I am reading?'. If it upsets them, they might stop immediately.
If it makes them feel good, they will keep reading. If it raises little or no feeling, they may skim and then give up.
In business or in private, we are all human.
The more uncertain we are, the more we tend to look for clues to understand the future. And the more confusing the clues, the more likely we are to back off.
Therefore your potential clients must understand your marketing messages and feel a comforting resonance. This is vital reassurance. Some of it will be verbal (text and video) and some of it will be non-verbal (pictures, etc).
Optimise for Human Choice
Most professionals are trained in using language to consider compliance with the law, regulations or protocols. But clients' decision-making is rooted in their own concerns.
Your marketing has to inform and encourage, by starting from where the potential client is at.
This is Generation Two marketing.
Human Choice Optimisation (HCO) pairs with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). You need both to get the best from search engines and humans.
- Search engine optimization is important because we have passed the point where it was an optional extra for ambitious businesses. It is now a requirement, placed on all websites by Google and other search engines.
- Human choice optimisation is important because after all the SEO has been done, humans make decisions for their own, not-necessarily rational reasons. It has always been a requirement, but has been overlooked in the rush for technical progress.
After SEO attracts more visitors to your website, HCO works to increase the number of visitors who actually click or call your office to enquire about taking up your services.
This is what makes the seven times difference.
We're all human.
Faced with a new batch of information following a headline that catches our eye, we give it a few seconds to resonate with us. And if it doesn't raise good feelings, we move on. As a result, we don't get much past step two or three (Advantage or Proof).
And even if we were initially interested in the product or service written about, we would still justify our decision to ignore the rest of the information. We would say it didn't feel right, even though the information was accurate, pertinent and clear. That's intuition at work.
It's little use providing extra information. As marketing guru, David Ogilvy, once said, “You can't bore people into buying”.
It is client-friendliness that matters.
That doesn't need a completely new start. There is no strange or foreign features in this. Small nudges persuade quite adequately. We know about this – humans have been persuading each other for millennia. Nowadays, Governments use nudging psychology in simple, cheap and effective ways for everyone's good.
So without changing those five fundamental marketing steps, let's add this new dimension. This takes us into the copy-writer's kingdom. Journalists report past events... but you need to write for the businessfuture you want to create. It's a small change in style with powerful results.
Let's look at the 'how' you write the 'what' you should write. These are the steps you take to ensure your Promise of good service is read and understood by potential clients... and acted upon.
Use The TWO Keys For Human Choice Optimisation
There are two well-known and fairly simple codes of conduct that make a huge difference here.
They work in all sorts of other places in business relationships, so it seems obvious to apply them on professionals' websites. They are basic forms of etiquette.
There are six steps in the pathway where these two keys are vital.
Putting it simply, I suggest that you write with the potential client's reaction in mind. Optimise your use of the human language you write in to nudge visitor's choices.
It is in your interests, and it may be your ethical duty, to bridge the gap between clients' concerns and your service. This is client-care in action.
Make An Explicit Invitation
We all know this part of the earliest stages of a new relationship. It is the purposeful creation of a deeper relationship.
For hesitant people the quality of the feelings is more important than the quantity of contact information.
There are five basic components of invitation:
- Preparation – unless it is a surprise invitation, a sequence of contacts should lead up to it
- Personalisation – indicate that the invitation is to the reader, not just open to everyone
- Invitational Request – a clear labelling that this is a deliberate and welcoming offer
- Event/Service/Gift/Service/Purpose – the attraction that the invitation leads to
- Call-To-Action – the RSVP confirmation or the means of arrival at the event etc.
There are two places where your invitation is essential.
1. Your Search Engine results should be inviting
Your entry is surrounded by a page-full of competitors that the search engine has placed near to you, using its own logic. It displays three main elements: your page title, your webpage address, and a snippet of 150 characters or less. You cannot guarantee where that snippet is taken from, but a frequent starting point is the meta-description hidden inside your Homepage.
Once your entry is noticed by a potential client searching for your type of services, your invitation has to be most inviting to them, otherwise they will visit someone else's website instead.
2. Your Contact Us message should also be inviting
Your invitation must be consistent with what your potential client expects, with the quality of your message they've already read, and with the timing. You may have many Contact Us messages round your website, and search engines like you to present a Contact Us page.
This invitation has to encourage visitors to make a first direct contact with a real person within your firm. You need to paint a picture of how warmly you greet people when they first enquire. They are in a 'shall-I-or-shan't-I' hesitation place. You want to encourage immediate contact, as delays reduce the likelihood of any contact.
Once your invitation is noticed, it has to speak reassuringly to hesitant potential clients, otherwise they will visit someone else's office instead.
Make An Explicit Welcome
People's feelings about making contact will influence the likelihood of them proceeding to that step.
For hesitant people the quality of the feelings is more important than the quantity of contact information.
There are again five basic components:
1. Instant Familiarity – colours, shapes, names, keywords etc should tie up with the invitation
2. Escape Option – the most constructive (for both) escape route
3. Courtesy – polite acknowledgement of their arrival at least; better, a warm greeting
4. Next Steps Navigation – clear guidance about options and what to do next
5. Personalisation – where appropriate, their name or other relevant information, and yours
There are two key places where your welcome is essential.
3. Your welcome is vital on your Homepage
People waiting for a webpage to load get impatient fast. They give only a few seconds for their stay-or-go decision. Those who stay then allow themselves time to read around 20% of your text on average. So your priority is to confirm as fast as possible that the visitor has arrived in the place they expected to, and that the information you provide later is relevant, easy-to-read and useful.
4. The next key place is your Contact Us page
This welcome is to encourage visitors to make a first direct contact with a real person within your firm. This supports your Invitation. So paint a picture of how you greet people warmly when they first visit your office.
It's the feeling tone of the words you need to get right – the reassurance. Your aim is to help them imagine feeling comfortable during their first visit. Adding in extra dry facts will not change the emotional response for the better.
Make sure you also portray the welcome you give people enquiring by phone or email. Find ways to show their enquiry is acceptable, sought, and useful to them and to you.
Mind you, it must be true!
If a very welcoming leaflet prompts an enquiry that is responded to in a gruff, impatient or irritable way, then your marketing message has been disproved and your reputation damaged – perhaps forever!
Make Sure You Manage The Minimum Sequence
Is your Pathway design system-wide?
Getting the best out of these concepts requires a systematic approach.
There is a danger of treating these improvements as quick fixes because they seem so simple and familiar.
But friendly sentences inserted randomly around a website of dry informationwill confuse visitors even more as their intuition picks up the inconsistencies.
Stepping through the sequence you want on your website:
1. Invite search engines to list you – avoid the methods search engines are known to penalise
2. Get found by searchers – aim for the top of the first page of results
3. Invite searchers to your website – use this mini-advert to encourage them to click-through
4. Welcome searchers to your website – confirm that they are in the right place
5. Invite browsers to contact you – encourage them to phone, email or walk in
6. Welcome visitors to your office – design your greeting to welcome newcomers warmly
Look again at this list: you can see they are all trapdoors.
If the process fails at any step, potential clients go elsewhere.
Check your sequence for problem steps. One missing step is fatal, several wobbly steps will erode confidence...
Prepare Positive Messages
For tentative people, your message needs to be clear and unequivocal to prevent misunderstandings.
- The absence of alarming issues is not enough – active and positive messaging is vital.
- Replace double negatives like “Don't forget...” with “Please remember...”
- Make it personal "You are welcome to..." instead of "Clients may..."
The easiest way to show that enquiries are sought after is to make an explicit invitation in your leaflet, website or advert. Rather than simply providing contact information like most of your competitors, write at least one sentence of unambiguous invitation. Explore “Please call us to explore...”, “We welcome your enquiries...” or “Get in touch now while this is all fresh in your mind...”.
This invitation raises your website from Generation One to Generation Two.
The website that does not clearly invite contact simply looks like an educational research tool, so potential clients will probably then go elsewhere for the services they need.
Useful Starting Point: Your welcome and your invitation can be designed by gathering all your colleague's reactions to the frail psychological aspects of people venturing into the unknown. What questions do they have? What hesitations? What hopes and fears? And you could ask your team to nominate the most welcoming website they've ever seen. Or seek clues from websites ranked higher than yours.
The Full First-Enquiry-To-Loyal-Client Pathway
Your website and the sequence we've explored above is at the front end of a much longer client-attracting pathway. Your leaflets, business cards and public speaking, etc. are other front-end entry-points.
The full pathway can stretch all the way through to boosting the loyalty of your existing clients. And that improves your profitability because clients renewing business or returning later incur much lower costs than first-time clients.
Your website is only the start of your marketing productivity.
In the following two office-based stepping stones, your welcome is also essential.
The next step for potential clients is the reception they get when they meet your staff face-to-face. Every stepping stone helps your firm gain more clients - this means there must be continuity after the website, all the way along your Pathway.
Very few professionals work completely sight-unseen – at least one or two meetings are usual. It is important to your profitability that the full relationship is given attention separate from the professional work, which is often performed without the clients present.
For Chartered Accountants, for instance, once the agreement has been established, almost all subsequent communication can be done by phone and email.
5. Your Reception area at your offices must be welcoming
The greeting everyone gives visitors must tie up with the welcome they had expected to receive. All the welcoming messages from your website and your other publicity must be proved true. Claiming to be friendly and approachable, but bringing visitors into an empty, messy or unwelcoming Reception area is likely to raise their reservations. That contradicts your claims of trustworthiness!
A simple photo of your reception area on your website will easily settle people's hesitations.
6. Your Introduction process must also be welcoming
And much later in the full pathway, once potential clients have agreed to become clients, another welcome plays important function. This is where your introduction to your working methods is crucial for several reasons:
- it will help your clients feel part of the team, and less likely to abandon their project or defect to your competitor
- it will help them feel they understand what is happening so they are more likely to stay the journey with you
- it will help them cooperate with you: provide details more freely and respond in a timely manner, saving you time
We will explore the Full First-Enquiry-To-Loyal-Client Pathway in the next article in this series. One extra benefit of addressing each step is that some provide acceleration opportunities. For instance, one sentence in your first responses to enquiries (arriving by all methods) can quickly and easily make agreement more likely, widen the scope of your instructions and boost your reputation.
Bonus: Your Welcome Also Boosts Your 'findability'
The work you put into your welcoming tone of voice does more than simply impress humans. It also impresses search engines. And a helpful result is that your ranking position gets boosted.
There are over 200 elements that Google takes notice of in its famous algorithm, so it is not possible to identify all the influences on your ranking and click-through rate. But, strangely, more click-throughs boosts your ranking and higher ranking boosts your clicks!
Your welcome will increase the average time visitors stay on that page.
Google calls it the 'Dwell Time' – the longer it is, the better match between the quality of your website and the searchers' hopes and wishes.
Consequently, Google boosts the ranking of your page for the keywords the searcher entered - so you get found more easily.
A recent industry study found that the average Dwell Time for a top 10 Google result is 3 minutes and 10 seconds. That means visitors read a lot of useful (and relevant) information. By implication, there must be no distractions to interfere.
So there is a goal for your welcome: immediately-accessible, easily-digestible useful info', in a warmly welcoming style.
My invitation to you
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Familiarity breeds complacency...
Most professionals only look at their firm's website once or twice a year. Do you remember when you last looked? You may be surrounded by To-Do list demands and numerous routines. It's very difficult to separate woods from trees...
How Do We Integrate These Client-Encouraging Tips Into Our Work?
Your website is the main 'front end' of your marketing Pathway that leads potential clients towards you.
The other steps between the enquiry and the decision to instruct you are also make-or-break.
And there are more steps that encourage people to return when next they have a similar need for your services.
How Every Stepping Stone Helps Your Firm Gain More Clients will help you examine all these steps in detail.