This article is the second in The Anthill Guide to Online Marketing for Small Business (and Startups) series. Last time, we covered the reasons for bothering with online marketing in the first place and asked you to set some measurable benchmarks. Today, we discuss How to create compelling offers online.
Content is still king. It’s also one of the cheapest ways to create a compelling offer.
For the first article in this series, I asked ‘Why are you bothering with online marketing in the first place?‘ My purpose, of course, was to emphasise the importance of creating measurable goals.
For example, you may wish to attract more traffic to your website, collect prospective customer data and, presumably, generate sales. These are all outcomes that can be measured (and, therefore, budgeted and improved upon).
If you’re using a funnel approach, you’re likely to want to pursue all three of these goals as part of a broader strategy. You might even want to incorporate additional equally measurable stages, such as the collection of Facebook Fans, LinkedIn Group Members or Twitter Followers.
But, be warned, even the most splashy, expensive, creative, courageous marketing initiative will fail if it is not built on a suitable foundation. To generate any interest in the online space, whatever your goals or approach, you must first develop a compelling reason for your target market to actually want to engage with you.
That is the focus of this post: How to devise offers that are compelling to your target audience on the web. If you do this well, the traffic, leads and sales should follow.
Fortunately, the steps to achieving this outcome are largely the same irrespective of the industry you represent — from software to soft-toys — or the tactics or channels you wish to use — from email marketing and banner advertising to social media experiments and even online games or iphone apps.
What is a ‘compelling’ offer? And how will it fit into my strategy?
Let’s start with the latter part of this question: How does a compelling offer fit into your strategy?
In most cases, irrespective of the specifics, your goal will be to trigger an action (or reaction), something you can measure and, therefore, benchmark.
Naturally, you’ll need a ‘prompt’ to trigger this action and this prompt will need to be of interest to your target market. This prompt usually arrives in the form of an offer, sometimes also referred to as a ‘call-to-action’ (for reasons that should now be obvious).
Your new goal, therefore, is to create a prompt that will trigger a reaction. Let’s call it a compelling ‘call-to-action’?
Often marketers start this process by ‘brainstorming’ creative concepts that they find compelling (‘Let’s give away a trip to Paris!’) or debating offers that they have seen elsewhere (‘Let’s give away an iPod!’). At least, this is invariably what we hear when we discuss this topic at our online marketing workshops.
But, naturally, the most effective (and often cheapest) option will start with the needs of your target audience. That’s right. An effective offer need not to be ‘compelling’ to everyone – just the type of person you have a desire to interact with.
So, what problems are common to your clients and/or customers?
If your organisation is good at delivering a service or if your product serves a genuine need, the answer to this question shouldn’t be so hard.
For example, if you are selling a painkiller, such as paracetamol, the problem you are solving is obvious. Your target market usually only has one all-consuming interest when in the appropriate mindset to engage with your brand: Get rid of my headache!
Your challenge will be to find channels able to reach your customers when they are in pain and, therefore, in desperate need of your solution.
Unfortunately, however, very few businesses are involved in the sale of painkillers – actually and metaphorically. Most of us are consumed by the business of selling vitamins.
Our clients are unlikely to beat a path to our door, even if they know they will benefit from what we have to offer.
This inconvenient truth can be viewed as set-back (by the lazy entrepreneur) or as an opportunity. I’ll assume that you, dear reader, come from the latter camp.
To get literal for a moment, let’s pretend that you do run a business selling actual vitamins. To get even more specific, let’s assume that the vitamins you are selling are a women’s pregnancy supplement.
The opportunity in this set of circumstances is that your target market is likely to have a broader set of interests and questions that he or she (most probably ‘she’) is seeking to resolve — beyond your core product. This opens up a spread of concerns that you are probably already in a position to resolve (or could place yourself in a position to resolve very quickly).
A compelling offer is something of high-perceived value to your target audience.
And few things are valued more than the answer to a pressing question.
A compelling offer of high-perceived value operates by tapping into a need – preferably an all-consuming need. And the provision of a solution to that need doesn’t always have to be expensive, or reflect your core product or service.
In our pregnancy supplement hypothetical, the savvy marketer could decide to develop a dietary Fact Sheet for women considering pregnancy (or an online application or even an iPhone ‘food checker’). The cost of developing and servicing this ‘item of high perceived value to its target audience’ is likely to be far less expensive than a gimmicky prize.
In fact, a Fact Sheet probably only requires an afternoon of research and writing, perhaps followed by some outsourced formatting. Other common ‘knowledge based’ offers take the form of a White Paper, eBook, Checklist or other items created to attract the attention of a particular organisation’s target customer.
This type of offer will also prevent you from attracting the wrong kind of response.
While the offer of a free holiday or iPod might prompt registrations from… well… everybody, this type of promotion is only likely to generate a response from the types of people our vitamin seller wishes to connect with. If your particular strategy also involves a follow-up phone call or another form of personal contact, you might appreciate the focussed nature of such an offer (i.e. calling ‘tyre-kickers’ is an expensive exercise in its own right).
How Anthill become one of Australia’s largest media websites by creating compelling ‘offers’
I share the following achievements not to boast (much) but to qualify the advice I’m about to share.
It is an understatement to say that the following rules, learned through trial and error, made a dramatic difference to our business.
In early 2009, we made the then controversial decision at Anthill to scale back on our print magazine activities, so that we might focus more of our resources on digital publishing.
Anthill’s first efforts involved the production of a $900 wordpress blog. That’s a company secret that I, personally, still find strangely difficult to divulge.
However, what we soon discovered is that the creation of a platform is the easy bit. What’s hard is the creation of a ‘community’, which involves the attraction of traffic and strategies to promote continuous engagement.
Yet, despite the odds, in under 10 months (February to November 2009), Anthill had scored itself a position on Nielsen Online Rating’s Top 50 Business & Finance index. Our website was also identified by the Audit Bureaux of Australia as one of the most ‘engaged’ sites within its portfolio of media properties.
This growth involved a number of tactics. Some of which are shared in this series. However, the most relevant to this article is the need to create headlines that are ‘retweetable’.
Five ways to make your offer ‘retweetable’.
A headline and an offer have much in common when presented online. They both should be designed to trigger an action. In fact, in our world, a headline can be regarded as little more than an offer to click.
And this requires unconventional thinking.
As a company formerly concerned with print publishing, our editorial staff has always been naturally fond of word-plays. One of the greatest joys of any sub-editor or copywriter is time spent devising headlines that employ alliteration, puns and clever turns of phrase.
However, since embracing online publishing, we have also learned, usually the hard-way, that the old rules often no longer apply.
No matter how engaging or thought provoking an article might be (or how fantastic or life-changing your offer is), if it is not made clear to your target audience immediately why they should click such a headline (or offer) will not trigger any response at all — not a lesser response. I’m talking about a zero response (unless clicked by accident).
This is because online users are not passive participants, waiting to be spoon-fed, as is the case with other mediums. They play an active role in the success of your promotion well beyond your offer’s capacity to trigger a click.
On the flip-side, for example, a headline or offer that is clear and compelling is not only ‘clickable’. It is instantly ’sharable’ – more likely to be posted on Facebook walls, Digg-ed, StumblUpon-ed and shared in a variety of ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.
As such ,we refer to this process as ‘making a headline more retweetable’. The offer must be compelling enough to share.
Here are our five rules for making a headline more retweetable.
1. To make your offer ‘clickable’, never use language that is opaque.
Considering the volume of headlines (offers to click) that Anthill produces in any given week, we can only aspire to make all our headlines ‘retweetable’.
Sometimes we’ get it right. Other times… well… no-one’s perfect.
So, to ease the gnashing of teeth and occasional heartbreak, we have devised a number of rules that anyone can apply that rely on process, rather than creativity.
Compare these headlines:
“Flight of the starlet”
“Lindsay Lohan Escapes from Rehab”
“Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: An Australian Story”
“How Wotif’s Graeme Wood raised $5 million of venture capital in his sleep”
While these headlines are just that (‘headlines’) and do not relate to any real story or marketing offer, they do provide an important lesson about online marketing. For example, you will immediately notice that the former options are almost indecipherable.
While they may have looked great written on someone’s notepad (of the paper variety) or plastered across a glossy magazine page, they each translate extremely poorly online.
If you were to see a link, read a tweet or receive an email with either of the first two headlines above, would you bother to open or click-through? It’s unlikely. Flight of the starlet? What the!?
The latter options might not be your cup of tea either but at least you can make an informed decision whether or not to ‘click’.
This is also why number based headlines are so successful (i.e. “10 steps to make your headlines pop” or “Five ways to make your headlines more retweetable”).
We can also bring this rule back to our vitamin seller. For example, ‘Six safe foods for pregnant woman’ will surely articulate the purpose of the hypthetical Fact Sheet better than, say, ‘Safe as Mother’s Milk’.
2. To make you offer search engine ‘findable’, use nouns and verbs.
The other thing you’ll notice about the latter options is that they include clear subjects (nouns) and actions (verbs). This is not just good from a reader’s point of view. It also helps search engines, like Google, find your offer.
Invariably, your offer will be hosted on a web-page somewhere.
Someone with an interest in your offer is more likely to type related nouns and verbs into a search engine than vague or abstract word-plays. Would you ever search for information online using a pun? Of course not! That would be ridiculous.
Yet, many markets approach online marketing like traditional advertising copywriters.
While there are many rules that a search engine will follow when determining which web pages should appear at the top of its search pages (such as PageRank), it is well know that the headline, title-tag and sub-headings play an important role.
This is one of the core subjects of our online marketing workshops. Why? Because it sometimes feels as though SEO experts have a vested interested in confusing time-strapped small business owners. (But that’s a topic to be addressed in a later post in the series.)
For the purposes of today’s lesson, our vitamin hypothetical can also be tweaked to make it more search engine friendly. For example, ‘Safe Foods for Pregnant Women – Download the Fact Sheet’ is packed with keywords likely to be searched.
3. To make your offer highly ‘sharable’, invite participation.
The fictional headlines above can be improved further by adding an informal invitation to participate. This tactic can also be used to improve the effectiveness of an offer.
For example, consider some of these alternatives and extensions to the first sample above:
“Did you know that Lindsay Lohan has escaped from rehab?”
“Have you seen this picture of Lindsay Lohan escaping from rehab?”
“Lindsay Lohan has escaped from rehab. Why was she there anyway?”
Each of these headlines invites participation from the person reading the headline.
This sort of tactic makes a headline exceptionally ‘retweetable’ and clickable because it invites a reaction. The same principle can also be applied to an offer, particularly if the offer involves an ‘information based’ product of high-perceived value.
For example, ‘Do you know what foods are safe for pregnant women?’
4. To really turn it on, include a judgement-laden proposition.
Let’s say that Wotif.com has recently launched a new website. An obvious headline might be, “Wotif.com launches new brokering website for Australian hotels.”
In this instance, we’ve followed the rules and included plenty of nouns and one verb. There is nothing opaque about this headline.
But what if we said:
“Here’s a retail website that gets it right?”
In this instance, we have made it clear that we are making judgement about the site. The inference is that we are inviting readers to participate by agreeing or disagreeing.
We can take this approach even one step further and say:
“Here’s a retail website that actually gets it right?”
The word ‘actually’ implies that most retail websites get it wrong. And controversy coupled with curiosity is a powerful combination.
For example, ‘Do you know the six foods that a pregnant woman should never eat?’
5. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, trigger curiosity.
If you’re inclined to experience unplanned bursts of creative energy, the online marketing greats follow these rules while also prompting curiosity, thereby creating an urge that’s difficult to resist.
However, we know first hand that creating a headline or offer designed to achieve this result in its own right is an extremely difficult undertaking, unless you’re a genius or just get lucky.
If that doesn’t sound like you (and it definitely doesn’t sound like me, particularly on deadline), the easier and more methodical approach is to tweak your existing headline to create an element of mystery.
The headline above, “How Wotif’s Graeme Wood raised $5 million of venture capital in his sleep” gives a lot away through the use of nouns and verbs. But it also hints at a deeper story that the reader will only get to discover if he or she clicks the link.
The sample headline above, promoting our hypothetical pregnancy vitamin Fact Sheet, also indicates in its phrasing that a hidden set of facts will be revealed to the interested reader (i.e. ‘Do you know the six foods that a pregnant woman should never eat?’)
What’s the moral of this tale? ‘Compelling’ doesn’t mean ‘expensive’.
What we have witnessed and learned first hand through our various activities in the digital realm is that a compelling offer needn’t be expensive, particularly if you have access to ‘knowledge’ that is likely to be of interest to your target market.
A compelling offer operates by tapping into a need. If that need is all-consuming, any solution will be of ‘high perceived value’ to your target market. And the provision of a suitable response is often already waiting at your fingertips.
But to create an offer that is not just ‘clickable but also ‘sharable’ (and search engine ‘findable’), an extra set of rules will need to be observed and applied. And we call this making an offer ‘retweetable’.
Actions — Week Two
Define your target market:
There’s no point trying to sell your product or services to everyone. That approach is not just expensive. It is also highly unrealistic for most. If you can define your target market, you can also establish where these people congregate. For example, we describe Anthill as a ‘lightning rod for entrepreneurs and innovative minds’. What communities are a ‘lightning rod’ for your target market?
Isolate what ‘pains’ are all-consuming among your target market:
If your product or service is not already designed to kill an all-consuming headache, find out what ‘pains’ currently dominate the headspace of your target market. Perhaps survey your existing customers. This can be done online or simply by making a phone call (i.e. “Hi Rod. What keeps you awake at night?”)
Think creatively about what ‘solutions’ you can offer:
Your solution might take the form of a White Paper or Fact Sheet. It could also be presented as a Check List (i.e. “Can’t’ get a bank loan? Find out what’s setting you back.”) or even an online calculator (i.e. “Can you afford solar panels to heat your home? Use our online calculator.”).
Phrase your offer to reflect people’s habits online:
Whether you’re drafting copy for a banner advertisement, an email offer, a Facebook Competition, whatever, make sure that your offer is ‘retweetable’ – clear, concise, findable, sharable, prompting participation and curiosity.
Over coming weeks, this series will address…
- The language and tools of online marketing: tactics and terminology
- Search Engine Optimisation: Why you don’t need to be a tech-geek to get it right
- Social media: How to empower your customers to do your marketing for you
- Using email to get cut-through and click-through: Web’s ugly sister
- Why small business should become the next media barons
- Masterclass: An integrated approach (inc. Leads Acquisition Strategy)
- Checklist & Tools Summary