where does your website sit on the 'Persuasion Scale'?

No.6 (2020) / 933 words / 4–5 minute read
‍Author: Nick Tucker

Am I the only one being increasingly turned away by the overly formulaic landing pages that seem to be standard fare for selling productised services on the web? It's an approach I often come across when visiting websites promoting courses, training workshops and webinars (amongst other things). And my reaction is now near-universal – I head for the hills, and only come back if there's no good alternative.

There's no doubt that such landing pages do 'work'. But only if the primary measure of success is number of 'click-throughs', volume of units sold, conversion of website visitors into customers and money in the bank. Why wouldn't they? After all, the entire structure, content and flow is based on deeply researched and tested facets of human behaviour. It's customer relations turned into science, yet it's those very same customer relations that suffer.

There are many variations on the theme, but the broad approach of such 'systems' is the same: outwit potential customers before they have a chance to turn away from the appetising hook that's being dangling in front of them!

That may sound overly negative, but the aims of such pages are clear. First, make the offer appear as attractive and relevant as possible. Then counter potential concerns, confirm value with testimonials and finish with a dose of FOMO (fear of missing out).

Barriers to transaction completion? Identify, remove if possible or give added incentive to push through. Questions arising? Answer every possibility right there and then, before anyone can slip away. Don't believe us? Here's what our customers have to say. Value uncertain? Add higher and lower cost options to create 'context'.

business before customer

You can probably tell I'm not a fan. Like so many within my industry, I read the explanations. I could see the logic and validity of the arguments. I appreciated how effective it could be. But that didn't last long.

Firstly, I suspect the effectiveness of such landing pages is dropping as we become overexposed to the format and switch off (though if the numbers entering your 'funnel' are high enough, that may not matter...). More importantly, however, this approach disregards the true needs of the customer, and in particular the loyal and returning customer.

For most businesses in the (pre-internet) past, the cost of onboarding new customers was so much greater than retaining existing ones that the latter was nearly always the preferred option. Of course there were exceptions, and the worst of the travelling door-to-door salesmen of the '50s became the classic example. New town, take the easy pickings, don't worry about repeat business or fallout... ...because you've already moved on. At least most didn't treat existing customers as if they were a new target.

Unfortunately, with the onboarding cost now as low as a single website landing page that can sit, idling away generating new customers with minimal expense or maintenance, the balance has shifted. Given a potential audience in the billions, even a 0.001% success rate will yield tens of thousands of customers.

And there's no doubt that this approach is still serving a certain sector of the online business community admirably. If it wasn't, these landing pages wouldn't still be appearing in their thousands. The critical point here is that it's serving the businesses not the customers, regardless of what that business might claim to the contrary.

Regardless of clearly you've defined your ethics and values, if you're using a landing page that employs any form or persuasion or manipulation, you're not putting your customers' needs first. It's an age-old cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words.

the Persuasion Scale

Yet this situation is nothing new. At its core is a challenge that's faced every form of marketing since the practice was conceived. At what point does your communication shift from being carefully presented information needed by the potential buyer to make a purchasing decision into something more persuasive, manipulative or coercive?

I call it the 'Persuasion Scale'. At one end sits pure factual information. No fancy language, no attempt to suggest benefits, no comparison to the alternatives. Just straightforward facts. It's up to the potential customer to interpret this information in relation to their requirements, resources and preferences, and ask clarifying questions.

At the other end of the Persuasion Scale is pure manipulation, with scant regard to the truth or otherwise of the claims being made. The priority is to complete the transaction no matter what, and don't let the facts get in the way!

Sadly, marketing's early history is littered with examples where manipulation was the dominant approach, and numerous rules and regulations have been introduced to ensure the days of unjustifiable claims are consigned to the past. Yet with the arrival of the 'science of marketing', things have edged back in that direction, and for many it's become a game of brinksmanship – how far can I go in taking control away from the customer (persuading) without breaking the rules?

Make no mistake, any visitor to such landing pages is under psychological attack from the moment they arrive. It's why 'marketing' continues to be a word that conjures up feelings of distrust and dishonesty within the general populace. And perhaps rightly so.

So where does your website (and other marketing content) sit on the Persuasion Scale?

More importantly, how should your business be positioning itself to more effectively serve the customer? And why does it matter if the goal is simply to generate income? These are questions I'll be exploring in future articles over the coming months, as I examine the detrimental impact of persuasive marketing and what the opposite might look like.