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Startups: I’m not sure what you’re selling, or why I should care

Why your site should lead with what I’m getting, rather than what you’re doing.

Show me the dream. Credit: @jasonbcarr

So, I was browsing Greg Head’s amazing list of Arizona software companies the other day, and I noticed something that made my judgemental inner copywriter go crazy. Almost every site I looked at, there it was. I’d call it a trend, but it’s more like a pervasive issue. Possibly a plague. A plague of bad homepage messages.

To be fair, it’s not just Arizona startups that have the plague. It’s not even just startups. Agencies do the same thing all the time, as do other businesses. Lackluster leads are everywhere.

Note: I had cherry-picked some examples from local firms to throw in here but then I felt like a jerk for calling people out so I nixed those. If you’d like to talk specifics hit me up and we can discuss.

What I’m talking about is the Headline That’s Mostly About Us (and not so much about you). The ubiquitous formula that looks kinda like this:

We do This Thing for These Folks
Our Software Helps Blah Blah do Blah Blah Blah

And then the subhead is like, “Zwizzlty’s cloud-based, SaaS software does boring junk for businesses using mobile technology.”

Great. That sounds…fine? Do I need that? I dunno. Will I check out your free demo? No, because I got so bored that I started browsing Reddit.

But Jason, you might yell, what’s wrong with telling people what we do? Isn’t that what they came to our website to find out?

NO. It isn’t.

Well, ok, kinda. They came to your website to find out not what you do, but what you could do FOR THEM. Very important distinction. Critical. Like the difference between chocolate and poop.

Here’s an example that might help illustrate my point. Take a look at these two possible headlines for Mailchimp:

We help small businesses send great emails
Send better email.
Sell more stuff.

That first headline is totally accurate, but what do you think the average internet person’s reaction would be upon reading that? Here’s a hint: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Maybe I identify as a small business person, and maybe I want to send great emails (am I not already?), so maybe this is something I might want to look into. I guess. Right now I’m going to go eat a bagel.

The second headline (which is what’s actually on the Mailchimp site, as of this writing), gets right to the point and tells me exactly what I want to hear, which is: the outcome I’m going to get. More sales. Yay money!

This might sound crazy, but your website is not about you. It’s about the outcomes that you provide for your customers. It’s about the results they get. It’s about the Magical Dream Life they’re going to be living once they buy your crap.

Think about Chipotle: Their ads don’t say, “We’re an assembly-line-style fast casual mexican restaurant with a focus on burritos.” No. They just show you a picture of a gimongous burrito:

Mmmmm, Chipotle.

Now you’re hungry and you want a burrito. “No,” your brain says. “Those will give me e. coli and make me fat!”

“Shhhh,” says your stomach. “We’ll get the tofu one, it’ll be fine.” And then you drive there and get a barbacoa burrito that’s smothered with guac.

Ok, let’s stay on track here. Look at Nike: They don’t lead with, “International footwear manufacturer specializing in trend-setting, high performance athletic shoes.” Because no one cares about that. They just show you what you get from a pair of Nikes:

Look how fast he is, wow! img credit: www.designyourway.net

Sure, people want shoes I guess. But really, and much more importantly, they want to perform better at sports things. Run faster. Jump higher. Hike longer. Score more goals, or baskets, or touchdowns. Whatever. That’s what people want.

Nike knows this well: Sell the dream, not the thing.

You can tell people what you do and how you do it later. In fact, you’re probably going to have to tell them so that they believe that you can make good on your initial promise. But first you need to get their attention by showing them the vision.

Hot tips to help your headlines:

Ditch the “we”

Instead of saying “We make great websites” try “Make great websites.” By removing the “we” you shift the focus from yourself to your audience and add strength to your headline. Now it’s an active statement about the customer and an implied promise (you, fine human, are about to start making great websites).

Cut the “-ing”

“Find your purpose” is better than “Finding your purpose.” Finding is vague — Who’s finding my purpose? You? Me? Huh? “Create magic moments” is better than “Creating magic moments.” You get the idea. Don’t be afraid to be clear and direct. Now’s not the time to get all vague and whimsical.

Think about the end result

That’s what you’re really selling. Airlines don’t sell plane rides (no one wants to be trapped in a fart-filled pressurized cylinder thousands of feet in the air), they sell the ability to travel, escape from the mundane, freedom, vacation, etc. That’s why Southwest’s headline is “Wanna get away?” and not “Low cost plane rides.”

Crib from the pros

Here’s a few examples of SaaS companies with great intros that you can pull from:

www.sendowl.com — Sell More Digital Products With SendOwl

www.google.com/drive/ — A safe place for all your files. (note the number of times it says cloud or saas on that page: zero)

www.spyfu.com — Download Your Competitors’ Most Profitable Keywords and Ads For Paid and Organic Search (everyone loves to hate SEO guys, but they’re all about results)

Farewell and good luck!

P.S. If you wanna hear more of this exact same crap (but in more detail and you can ask questions!) you should come to CO+HOOTS on Weds April 5th cause I’m doing a free copywriting class.

P.P.S. Can’t make the class? Missed it because you’re seeing this 3 years too late? Well dang, guess you’re out of luck.

Just kidding, you can hire me! Fix your messaging and get more sales. ;)




Stories, thoughts, and news from the Greater Phoenix startup and entrepreneurial community.

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Jason Carr

Jason Carr

Copywriter. Entertaining person. Follow me for ridiculous stories and strong opinions about chips & salsa.

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