Put Your Pirate Patch On — 8 Marketing Ideas You Can Steal From The New Basecamp Website.

Paul Montreal
Apr 17, 2016 · 8 min read

This week I’m looking at the new Basecamp marketing website. I love everything these guys do, there’s always a ton of great ideas to be inspired by. And when I say “inspired by”, I mean steal like a pirate. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn…

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1. Know where you want to focus your customers’ attention.

Let’s start at the top. This may seem like a detail, and it is, but I see a lot of people getting this wrong. On the top line, we have a logo, product name and a set of navigation links. They are clear and visible, but they don’t take up a third of the page and scream “look at me”.

When a user lands on your site, they’re rapidly scanning to decide what they should and shouldn’t pay attention to. Far too often we try to get them to pay full attention toeverything. I see it a lot with ready-made website templates. Those templates have to look good without any real content in them. So they often over-design things like navigation bars and social media buttons, to the detriment of your main content — the thing you really want to be drawing attention to.

Tip: Make sure your navigation is visible, but in the background and not demanding too much attention. Be strategic about where you want your users to focus.

2. Try saying ‘anthropomorphic’ after a casket of ale.

Half the battle is helping your audience get to know, like and trust you. Being that cool, likeable person / brand / place, where people feel comfortable.

On the Basecamp site, that starts instantly with the anthropomorphic logo. Who doesn’t feel at ease when they are greeted (and their attention is directed to the headline) by a smiling mountain range, in a snow globe, in comforting childlike colors?

Many sites (including mine) miss an opportunity with their logo. We miss it by trying to look professional, technical or corporate. And in the process bore everyone to death. Remember, a logo is a visual anchor, a symbol, a hook to hang a bunch of feelings on.

Tip: If your logo is all about triggering a feeling, you can’t beat triggering the feeling of friendliness. It’s one step away from trustworthiness.

3. Instant call to action.

So, before we dive into the sales letter, it’s worth noting how prominent the “sign up now” box is on the page.

Should we be asking people to sign up before they’ve even read the sales letter? Sure. Because your users aren’t necessarily first-time visitors. They may have read the page, once, twice or a dozen times before they were ready to push the button.

So, making sure that the primary purpose of a sales page, the one thing you really want them to do, is super visible, is always going to increase sign ups.

In this case, the Basecamp guys go one step further and the sign up form follows you as you progress through the sales letter. Not obtrusive, but always ready to “take your order” when you’re ready.

Tip: Understand the “one thing” you really need your users to do. And make sure they can do it right away. Don’t just hide your call to action in the belly of a sales letter, or at the end of a page.

4. Identify the problem your customers are suffering.

I’ve covered the basic sales letter formula in multiple tune-ups so I won’t repeat it all here. But I love that they are starting with a clear identification of “the problem”.

Too many people think you have to “go positive” when you’re selling something. The reality is, you have to know what it is that’s motivating your particular customer. Do they want relief from some kind of pain? Or do they want to move towards more pleasure? These are two sides of the same coin. But when most people are trying to solve their problems, they are in a lower, slightly more negative state. So they perceive the problem to be a pain or a frustration, and they’re looking for relief.

So, if you want people’s attention, you have to grab it. And you do that by showing them how much you understand the pain and frustration they’re dealing with.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to start your pitch by identifying and illustrating the problem your customers are suffering.

5. Show and tell.

So, the illustration the guys are using is fantastic. It visually demonstrates the idea of “struggling to keep everyone on the same page”. In one friendly cartoon, they are able to highlight 6 different problems. They show us that this is about people communicating. They visualize confusion. And even throw in some humor.

Tip: Once you have your key idea, make sure to show it, as well as telling us about it. We were making sense of the world in pictures, long before we learned to write.

6. Ease your user into the pool.

Getting people to read your copy is like inviting them into a pool of watery salesmanship. Give them a shallow end, and some steps, and make it warmer than the deep end.

All the pieces work together, starting with a big, clear headline. And an image. And then an introduction that provides a general summary of where this is all going.

In this case, I want to point out how the guys have used a double column layout in their introduction. (The rest of the page is a wider, single column).

Why is that cool? Because it makes the copy easier for the reader to digest when they’re just starting out. Shorter lines are easier to read. As are shorter sentences. Once they’re in the flow of reading your copy, you can use fewer headlines and images. But at the beginning, make everything look as easy and un-intimidating as possible.

Tip: Make the first few paragraphs of your copy as easy to read as humanly possible. In order, you should spend the majority of your time working on the right headline and opening image. Then mastering your introduction. Only then, worry about the rest of your copy. If you don’t get the opening right, the rest is invisible.

7. But wait, there’s more! Demonstrate that sucker.

So, here’s another deceptively simple tool, executed really well. A 2 minute walk-through video.

You guys know that I’m currently experimenting with video versions of our marketing tune-ups. And I haven’t developed the skill set yet (I’ll get there). But I do understand how much more engaging it is to hear a real human being talk. There’s something about demonstrating things in real time. It helps us see how the parts move and connect. It helps us understand how abstract ideas fit into our human lives.

We’ve all seen a million screenshots of software. Here’s screen A. Here’s screen B. Here’s screen Zzzzz.

When you can walk the customer through your product, live, using a real example, it makes all the difference. The thing is, you don’t have to go super deep and explain all the details at this point. You don’t need a tutorial. Just cover the basics of what your product does.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to communicate your basic concept from multiple angles. Words, images, video, in person. The more demonstrable your idea, the better. Make your idea as real and human and lifelike as possible. Take it from an abstract idea, to a personal, human solution.

8. Add humans.

So, the final thing I’m going to point out is the “note from our founder” at the end of the sales page.

I’m a huge fan of putting people in the picture. You can’t repeat it too many times — people buy from people they know, like and trust. It’s a fundamental that’s never going to go away. Brands, logos, all these other tools we use are abstractions. They are sometimes necessary, but they are a necessary evil. We need them because we’re attempting to sell in a bigger and bigger market place. A world beyond “the village” where no one knows us personally. We should never treat them as a replacement for people power!

So it’s great to see a real headshot of Jason at the end. I love how they’ve styled this chunk of copy as a letter. It helps break up the page and make it feel like it’s easy to digest. One piece at a time. It also feels very personal. There’s a direct email to Jason and he finishes it with a signature. (I’d make the signature more authentic looking).

But overall this personal way of delivering their origin story (we built this for ourselves, not just to make money) is perfectly delivered by a real human, in a human manner.

Tip: People buy from people they know, like and trust. The more humanity you can inject into your pitch, the better. Tell us a story, tell us about your motivations, show us your face, help us trust you.


I’m excited to see Basecamp’s marketing and product reaching a really high level of polish. There’s a lot of lessons in there for anyone starting out. These guys are like 15 years into this. It’s a long haul. Not an overnight success.

People think they can nail their marketing and understand their customer in a few months, but it takes time. And that time only happens when you’re in the game, testing and tweaking and making mistakes.

So whatever you’re working on, keep studying, work out how to use one of those split testing tools you keep putting off, and start experimenting. The beauty of great marketing is we can see most of it. So, put your pirate patch on, and start stealing great ideas.

If you’ve got a website and a dream but you’re not getting the results you expected, I’ll show you how to turn things around at: www.paulmontreal.com

Paul Montreal

Written by

Working with innovators & rebels to create websites that sell. https://paulmontreal.com/

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