Most agency websites don’t actually explain what they do. Take a look at a few of them for yourself. What do they all have in common? They’re all interesting to look at, but none expresses a clear positioning. Why?
Because most of these agencies don’t have a clear positioning. In fact, most agencies generally don’t have a clear positioning. But let me stick with the big, well-known agencies for a moment.
For big, established agencies, a lack of focus or specialization is not really a problem. Their positioning can be general (e.g. “…is an advertising agency…”) because they don’t attract interest in their services in the same way that we smaller agencies do. Many win business by name-recognition alone. Who did that Coke ad? Who did the Nike campaign? Who is Facebook working with? We want them. It’s not that it’s easier for them — a huge amount of time, money, and effort is spent on business development at these firms — it’s just that its done differently. When your prospects already know who you are and want to work with you because you are you, then just about everything about winning business is going to be shaped by that dynamic alone. And why would an agency like that specialize? They already specialize in being them; their point of view is what’s for sale.
Now, the same thing is true for the rest of us, insofar as we are able to express a point of view. But for the rest of us, a point of view is developed by focus. By specializing on a problem we can solve especially well, surely, but even going as far as focusing on solving that problem for certain kinds of clients. That sort of focus makes an easier job of marketing in a crowded and competitive marketplace, not to mention simply existing. That’s Positioning 101. But here’s another thing about the rest of us: we don’t win new business by name recognition (at least, not for a long time) we win it by attracting the unaware.
We’ve bought in to content marketing because we know there are people out in the world who need our expertise but don’t know that we exist. And just as name recognition shapes every step of new business development, so does its opposite. A firm that needs to become known by its prospects in order to win their business needs an entirely different playbook than the big guys. That will, of course, make for an entirely different kind of website (hello, those of you modeling your designs after the names you see in AdAge every week), but it also makes for new rules for the message your website carries.
Three Rules for the Right Message
I’d like to share with you three rules for website messaging. I’ve landed on these three because they are the things I find myself saying to every client I consult, with almost no exception.
Rule #1: A good message is clear.
Yeah, but what do I mean by clear?
First and foremost, are you able to complete the following mad-lib?
“We do _____ for ______.”
It’s not that you must express your positioning in this way, but if you are as focused as you can be, you should be able to say both what you do and for whom in a pretty succinct way. Reducing this down to the simplest means possible — a mad-lib — is a great starting point. From there, you can work your copywriting magic to spice it up a bit. But be careful. Specialization tends to be a strong predictor of jargon. You know what you mean when you use certain words and phrases to explain what you do, but does your audience?
Once you’ve resolved what you want to say, you need to think about the forms this message will take. We’ve found that these three are almost always needed:
This is what you do in 5 words or less. Be clear, but also be memorable. One of my favorite examples comes from BigDuck, who do it in four words:
“Smart Communications for Nonprofits.”
2. Positioning Statement
This is what you do and for whom, but also an indication of unique differentiators or special claims, ideally in 10-15 words or less. This is your official message — the one you want everyone inside and outside of your firm to know well. A good example comes from our friends at Franklin Street, who write:
“Franklin Street is a health care brand consultancy. We build patient-centered brands.”
3. Reassurance Statement
This is an optional opportunity to add some detail that might elaborate on how you do what you do, why you’re good at it, or what guarantee you can offer. This is especially useful if you have a proprietary process that needs explanation. Franklin Street, who I mentioned above, reassure their prospects by writing:
“We believe that a brand built around the desires of the patient will increase satisfaction, fuel innovation and grow market share. Our proprietary process uncovers strategic opportunities and authentic brand strengths. This proven approach leverages online, direct and mass advertising, web platforms and brand experiences to convert prospects into patients.”
Beyond these three forms, there should be a strong, clear, message-based through-line from the top pages of your site down, as well as from the lower-level pages up. Pay special attention to those pages specifically designed to more deeply inform your prospects about what you do, like landing pages dedicated to your capabilities, your services, and outcomes. Take a step back and read your site as if you were outside of your firm. Is it clear? If they don’t know what you know, does it still make sense?
Most agency websites either don’t talk enough about what they do, or they talk about it too much in language no one can understand. So, strive for a clear, concise, and compelling articulation of what you do.
Oh, and if your message is really, “We do what everyone else does,” at least don’t make visitors read a book before they realize that. The plainer the language, the stronger the statement.
Rule #2: A good message is visible… on every page.
You will have entire pages devoted to presenting your message, like your home page and sections that cover your services. But you also need to make sure that your message is present on lower-level pages so that first time visitors that enter your site will be immediately aware of who you are and what you do.
That’s where the tagline comes in. In the Big Duck example, they’re able to do it in four words, which are next to their logo on every single page of their site. That means that a prospect who reads one of their case studies talking about how their expertise was put to work can immediately answer the first question we know they will have after reading it: Who wrote this? User data continues to affirm a predictable orientation pattern for organic search traffic. Once a visitor lands on a lower-level content page, they either click to and read another one (thanks to related content lists) or they click the site’s logo or “home” button. They want to know who produced this content. With a good tagline, they can answer that question no matter where they are, without losing their place.
Rule #3: Is it indexable on every page?
This one is dirt-simple. When it comes to that message you now have on every single page of your site, can search engines see and capture the words you use? If you’re able to get down to a lean and mean four-word tagline, don’t put that text in an image file! Make sure it’s real text. Someday, Google will get good at indexing text in images (did you know Evernote can already do that?) but that day is not today. Until then, Rule #3 stands.
That’s it. Three simple rules. Ok, ok, I know that the core problem — which starts with the ability to specialize and focus — isn’t really that simple. But, look how simple the marketing job becomes once you have focused!
I hope these pointers work for you, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as you’re putting them to use.