"Putting a sign that requires twelve seconds to read in a place where customers spend four seconds," Paco Underhill tells us, "is just slightly more effective than putting it in your garage."
Why People Buy
Underhill is the author of the book "Why We Buy - The Science of Shopping." His book discusses how consumers buy products in retail stores. Many of his insights can help us sell products and services on the Internet, too.
Underhill was hired by a number of huge US retailers to study the way people read the signs in their stores. The smallest changes to a store's layout can make significant differences in sales. Tiny changes to a store's signs can increase or decrease sales, too. And the same principles apply to the websites of online retailers.
Get Your Prospects' Attention
"First you have to get your audience's attention," Underhill explains. "Once you've done that, you have to present your message in a clear, logical fashion."
If you don't get prospects to pay attention, your message won't be understood and acted upon. If you give your website visitors too much information, you'll overload them, and send them back to the search engines, where they'll look for your competitors' sites.
Getting Shoppers to Decide
Brand loyalty is much lower than it used to be. Years ago, many buying decisions were made at home, due to consumers' loyalty to particular brands. Today, however, consumers are making their buying decisions after they arrive at the store - or after they arrive on your website.
In today's struggling economy, shoppers are busier than ever. Retailers can't waste shoppers' time when they're looking for products in a retail store, or when they're visiting a web site.
On the web, you can influence how productively people spend time on your site. Write your sales presentation well, and prospects will absorb your message more easily, and feel more comfortable about buying from you. Craft a poor sales message, and your prospects will struggle to understand what you're offering. They won't enjoy spending time on your website.
Designing and Placing Signs
Smart sign placement in a store is critical to grabbing prospects' attention. It's no different on your website.
Websites don't have signs. But there are banner ads, "buy now" buttons, navigation bars, text and display ads, special offers, sale items, closeoouts, discounts, popups, and pop-unders. These are the "signs" that are important. The more you study your web logs and learn how people scan your web pages, the more your online sales will grow.
"Smart sign design (sometimes means) breaking the message into two or three parts, and communicating it a little at a time as the customer gets farther into the store," Underhill tells us. "Thinking that every sign must stand on its own and contain an entire message is not only unimaginative, it's ignorant of how human brains operate."
That concept gives us lots of room for experimentation on our websites, too.
The Bottom Line
Underhill describes a sign that he particularly likes - a sign that he saw in a hotel elevator: "You Look Famished." Below the sign were the menus of a couple of the hotel's cafes, snack bars, and restaurants.
Signs are an essential part of our online marketing efforts. As with every facet of marketing, we need to measure our current sales, experiment with different ways to describe what we offer, and measure again.
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