Let’s shake hands on a deal.
I’ll number the main ideas with headers (big and bold text).
I know it’s a long article and time is limited. I’ll make the main ideas of each point in the list quoted. You’ll see it stand out from normal text.
If you’re in a hurry, skim through the list points, see what stands out for you and spend time on that.
On a global scale, we’re drowning in information — and every day it gets “worse”.
Everything out there, it seems, is fighting for our attention coins.
Let me define that term.
Meaning: A way to metaphorically quantify a person’s limited attention span.
Every second, products fight to get as much of our attention coins as possible. An advert that we overlook in a feed takes very little of our attention coins. If we are to scroll back to have a double look, that moves our attention-coin spend from “very low” to “low”.
Attention coins cost. The bigger an advert banner is, the more it will cost — but the more of a chance it will have for our attention coins.
Attention coins have value, like other currencies. They are dictated by
1) Real estate —the bigger the attention coin magnet is, the likelier it is that we might look at it.
2) Relevancy to the end user. Hence the new advertising world lies in Social Media Platforms, since this factor is a variable now. With old-school advertising like newspaper or TV, relevancy was not as flexible.
A lot of the concepts I write about gravitate around this term I’ve just defined. Your company needs to be aware of this term as well. And if you get the attention coins from the right people, you can trade them for some other types of coins.
How to make sure that happens? This is what my written piece aims to show.
1. Explain to me like I’m a Labrador
I’m all about explaining to people as if you’re talking to a Labrador — that is, if you want their coins (be it attention or financial).
The iPod’s release in 2001 is a classic example. It didn’t say:
- “Two ARM 7TDMI-derived CPUs. Running at 90 MHz!”
- “The Walkman killer”
- Even worse, this trend that seems to be very popular these days: coming up with something that sounds abstract but says nothing. No, Apple did not call it “the elegant solution for the challengers of tomorrow”.
They called it very simply “1,000 songs in your pocket”. It told the reader what it does for them. That’s the way you’d explain it to a labrador or a five-year-old. And they’d get it.
How can you claim you’re saving me time (which is what a lot of companies claim, especially when “time is money”) if I need to spend visibly more than needed to understand what you’re about?
Picture it this way: someone asks you what it is that your product does.
So you might say “Oh, we help people keep track of their finances more efficiently”.
And then they say “Oh? How?” — in other words, they ask for the next level.
To which you might reply “We create elegant solutions for complex problems.”
That sounds ridiculous as hell and won’t ever happen in real life. Therefore, there’s no excuse for having this happen anywhere. That’s how it sounds when your website’s headline sounds like that. Instead of going the simpler way, for some reason the explanation goes for “more complicated”.
2. Don’t fall into the trap of following big companies
This one is a consequence of #1.
If you’re not explaining what your product can do for the person in the first few seconds, the game’s over — we can agree on that, I hope. But it doesn’t stop there. Most startups think that’s it, but then again most startups fail. Since you’re at this point in the article, you don’t want yours to be “most”.
Let’s talk a bit about Twitter and LinkedIn. If you’ve ever been on any of these, then you’ve got a bit of a sense of their “atmosphere”. They all have their culture and people need to pay respect to that.
Here, 1–2 liners work brilliantly, as people write motivational ideas and arrange the “paragraphs” in a very aired manner.
This is the culture of the place.
There is a 280 character limit — yes, people make threads/chains but you, as a reader, find it easy to stop reading at any time along the thread if it didn’t catch your interest. That’s the advantage of segmenting posts.
The opposite of a tweet is an article, where paragraphs can have more than 10 lines — you need to commit to more if you start it. 1 line though? Sure, easier to drop it. In a sea of 280-words-max posts, we’re attracted (i.e. our eyes go first here) by those that may look like this:
Or like this:
This is the culture of the place. There’s a common thread amongst the examples I gave. We, as humans, like two things:
- Easy-to-digest content
Why? They need a lower level of commitment. A lower level of investment from our side. As a consequence, they’re easier to disengage at any moment.
Which makes me finally get to the relevance of what I’m saying. Your homepage is a place as well, much like Twitter or LinkedIn are. It’s got its “culture”. Too much text and it will mean too much commitment needed, which is not what’s expected in this case. In the case of a homepage, people are quickly assessing whether you’re worthy of their time or not.
Why? Because they know they’re sold to. Subconsciously, at least. So the “place” in the case of a homepage has to be a low-commitment engagement. Our behaviour is different when we know we’re sold something. I know, you’re predisposed to want to tell everything about your product.
You might look at big companies: Apple, Stripe, Uber etc. You might say “Yes Daniel, that’s cool, but look at big companies! They don’t do that all the time. Why shouldn’t I do it?”
We must be careful not to do what works for big companies all the time. They got to that level/size because they’ve been through a “Labrador explanation” , at one point.
Nike doesn’t need to advertise their shoes at this point — this is why they can pull off “Just do it”. It makes sense why it wouldn’t be the best move for you.
3. The structure of a homepage is proof of evolution
Having a look at the current typical structure in web design, you would notice this pattern:
Text Here ————————————————Picture Here
That’s a block. You see it as one chunk and it reveals to you a bit more of this quick presentation of a concept. Then you scroll and you’ve got:
Picture Here———————————————Text Here
This kind of structure exists because of one thing: readers find it easy to digest, on one hand, and the creator is locked into using 50% of the screen’s real estate with an image. The consequence? Less text.
The structure worked because it enforced people into this idea of quicker explanations (and more visual). We hear about these new startups that succeed and notice they’ve got this structure — we don’t hear about those which failed and didn’t. We infer using this structure is the way to go. And thank god, it is! At least for the moment.
One improvement on top of this was to create “module tabs” — we’ve layered information, so only if you’re interested in more you will be shown more. That came as a solution to “How do I write more, but still be clean and actually have people see that more only if they’re interested in it?”
Here’s an example from sketchapp.com:
That’s an example of putting everything out there in order to make sure a 5-year-old will understand. Big titles, easy to digest content: “From ideation to realization” and “Design with Data at your fingertips”.
It respects one of the main concepts in design (and life, I’d say):
When it comes to design, it’s okay to have a mess as long as you need to go through something orderly in order to get there.
It would be messy to have all that text and those 3 videos taking over the whole homepage. Put them like this? They’re going to auto-play into each other or you (the reader) can click on them only if it’s relevant to you.
Now, I’m saying all this but… why do that? Here’s my thinking, I’ll play the role of a visitor to your startup’s presentation:
“I’m on your website and I know I’m being sold something. I just want to invest 5 seconds or less to know whether it’s worth investing my other 30 seconds. Don’t delay my first 5 seconds or it’ll be a lose-lose scenario.
For all these to line up, I need mainly the surface. I’ll go deeper, if it’s for me. But first I need to qualify whether it’s for me.”
4. Aim, target and focus
Sell to everyone and die. On the opposite, be smart and thrive. Anyone who’s in the gap between the two will very quickly fade into the first category.
What I’m proposing through my thinking is against human nature. The math thinking makes it pretty clear: the wider you go, the better the chances.
The math doesn’t make sense when I say this: if your speech is addressing fewer people, your chances of conversion will increase. Hear me out why.
Vegan leather is a good example. In essence, it’s what we called 5–10 years ago faux/synthetic leather. But the first name is a way of saying “fake” i.e. it’s “capitalizing” on a word with negative connotation and the second one is another way of saying artificial, so it’s not getting any better.
Vegan leather is an amazing word since it self-selects the audience. It shows a vision of the world and it speaks directly to those who have adopted that mission in their life. Does it mean that if you’re not a vegan you’re not allowed to wear it? Absolutely not. In fact, what I didn’t say in the aforementioned articles is that once your focus is narrower, somehow it just so happens that the reach is wider.
This is what happens when you aim broadly. Consider the target market penetration. In direct terms, when you’re “selling to everyone” — you aim irregularly and more often than not, land nothing.
In practical terms, this would mean having a headline like “Accounting Tool”.
However, once you focus, you may not land the bullseye but we’re looking at an arrow that’s on the board.
Aim narrow and you’ll find your shots on the board. Aim wide and see what happens — but if you’re smart you’ll just look at the sea of companies who do that instead of learning by burning yourself.
Nootropics — the drugs that make you smarter.
Everyone saw Limitless and thought it’d be cool to have something like that actually exist (Spoiler alert, in case you haven’t seen the movie but want the idea: a guy takes a pill that “increases his IQ” and makes him super smart. The obvious consequence is that he becomes very rich and influential). People created communities around the closest thing on the market to that pill.
Some drugs are for people with ADD. Call them nootropics? That’s direct-speaking language for productivity/efficiency obsessed people. And selective, as it keeps away those who don’t have the knowledge of this concept.
I think nootropics are a good example as they also show how it’s creating more social acceptance. If you’re telling someone you’re taking ADD medication to make you work more efficiently, they’ll look at you some way. Nootropics? Yeah, that’s a different story.
Teas that were cleansing your body existed way before 2014 but it’s only then that this wave started to rise tremendously.
Sure, it’s not just a matter of changing one word while the product is exactly the same, like in the case of vegan leather. However, we can all agree on the fact that the impact on people was increased once a specific niche of teas was created.
Tea that helps you with digestion? Meh. Tea that detoxifies you body, cleansing it of what’s bad within you and keeping the good? Sign me up right now.
What does that mean for startup people?
In practical terms, that means having a headline like “Helping CFOs manage their SaaS product’s finances better”. It has a focus: CFOs of SaaS companies. And it’s self-selecting language.
There’s this thing called “buyer resistance”. You know when you’re walking down the street, someone with a coloured vest and some flyers asks you “Do you have 2 minutes to talk about this?” and by default, without even thinking, you say “Sorry, I’m a bit late”? That’s buyer’s resistance.
Buyer’s resistance happens only if you don’t qualify yourself (back to point #3) as a match for what you might be sold. So if you see “vegan leather”, you might think “I’m a vegan, yes, tell me more!”, proven that you are one.
If someone stops saying “Do you have 2 minutes to talk about leather?” you say you’re busy. Translation?
Keep people out. Those who are “in” will feel a stronger impact. And since you don’t have to be a vegan to adhere to the vegan leather idea, it seems like those “outside” don’t have buyer resistance anymore.
Sell to everyone and die. On the opposite, be smart and thrive. There’s no in-between gap.
5. In B2B you have a luxury
You can either do what I said in point #3 or, if you’re in B2B, you can make use of a luxury. And trust me, if you’re looking for investment, you are in B2B, at least for a short period of time. The luxury:
You only need to sell to a handful of people. Therefore, you can user very specific direct-language.
Your website is not meant to “sell to everyone”. It’s a pitch for the decision-maker. It speaks directly to her (so it can use jargon) and once she’s sold on the idea, she will use this pitch (i.e. the website) to convince her decision-makers. She will use the website to support her claim in front of the CEO. The website will serve as the PowerPoint slides serve a speaker’s keynote.
The website pitch is one of the last pieces within the funnel, not the first. And every time these decision-makers have doubts, they go back to it to reinforce their disbelief.
6. Sell a solution, not a tool
“Subscription Billing On-Demand” sounds cool but that’s a tool. Once your startup can solve a problem, then we’re talking higher revenue figures. And of course, the bigger (and harder) the problem you’re solving, the higher the payments you’re receiving.
All SaaS products solve problems, you might say. And that’s true. But the way you present yourself makes a difference because it implies the level of responsibility.
MailChimp’s headline isn’t “Newsletter creator” — that’s a tool.
MailChimp’s headline is: “Your business was born for this. Become the brand you want to be with smarter marketing built for big things.“
You might think it’s all glitter, no gold. But “become the brand you want to be” is the key. Yes, marketing is a tool. But they say it’s smarter marketing and they also mention how it’s used for “big things” — because that solves a problem of a Chief Marketing Officer (back to point #4)
Here’s the funny thing. MailChimp’s title tag (what you see written in the Chrome tab) is “Marketing Platform for Small Businesses” — that’s exactly how they would go if they were naming themselves as a tool.
See the correlation? Naming the tool is only relevant for SEO purposes but they didn’t put that in the headline. They took higher responsibility and looked at making SMBs “become the brands they want to be”.
Zoom is very loved these days and their IPO has been raved about. Here’s what they say in their headline:
“Flawless video. Clear audio. Instant sharing.”
They make a promise that bears a lot of responsibility on their side. If your video is not flawless, you talk to them and they get it done — it’s their promise.
And once again, their title tag shows us what headline they could have gone for but chose not to: “Video Conferencing, Web Conferencing, Webinar, Screen Sharing”. Add the word tool at the end of this and that’s what they dismissed.
They said no to that, chose more responsibility, chose to solve a problem and here they are $8 billion later.
Trello is not the best example as they’re not an expensive tool and a lot of users are on the freemium side but we can still have a look at them.
Their headline: “Trello lets you work more collaboratively and get more done.”
Trello doesn’t say “Product Management tool” — it tells you what you can get done with it. Work collaboratively is one and then “get more done” is number two.
An imaginary example
Zoom, MailChimp and Trello are cool for examples but you might say “I’m not a big company yet”. That’s cool, here is one extra example.
Bad: Team management tool
Good: “ProductName — helping Human Resources VPs organise their teams better” (assuming organising teams is one of their pains)
Change your website to convert that person whose problem you solve. Maybe it’s the Head of HR — talk directly to her with your text. Your website becomes her PowerPoint deck of slides that he’ll present to the CEO.
Name a solution, not a tool. Don’t let people think. They won’t think the way you want them to think all the time. Plus, the more responsibility you take, the more value you’ll create.
Which one of two would you prefer? “Someone that fixes your watch” or “screwdriver”?
These are my lessons.
They can save you time (mental health as well?), and maybe up to $10,000,000. And if your startup’s value is below that, it can save it from death.
But don’t listen to them, unless you resonate with what you just read. You know something is true when you’ve got a certain feeling on the inside: it’s as if you already knew that all this time, you’ve just been reminded. That’s when something is true deeply within yourself.
If that doesn’t happen with any of these points, no worries. Here’s my last pair of “training wheels”: don’t be conflicted and without a doubt, listen to yourself. It can go two ways. Either:
- You do it, it works, and you’re happy
- You do it, it doesn’t work and you will learn at the expense of “your own skin” — but trust me, that’s the best type of lessons. It hits you 10x harder than anything you read online or hear from someone’s mouth.
As one day we might compare ours to another one, here’s to advancing the human species as a civilization 🍸.