Specific vs Summarized MessagingIf you watched the vice presidential debate last week, you may remember our dearly beloved Moderator Martha grilling the candidates when they didn’t directly answer her questions.

She tacked this important, revealing phrase onto the end of almost every primary question she asked:

“Be specific.”

Why’d she say that?

Because when people have a question, they rarely want to hear a summarized or non-specific answer.

When you asked your dad to borrow the car as a teenager, you wouldn’t have accepted a response like, “Borrowing cars is interesting.”

When you ask a car salesman about gas mileage, you don’t stand for, “It gets pretty good mileage. I wouldn’t worry about that.”

When you ask your teenage daughter how the passenger door of your car got dinged, you don’t let her get away with, “Well, there was a shopping cart.”

At a certain point, people want details.

We want specifics.

It’s as true for political debates as it is for the magical lands of sales, retail and ecommerce.

That doesn’t mean that, as soon as you walk into the car dealership, you want the sales dude to rush up to you and say, “This car gets 80 miles to the gallon!”

But once you have a question, you need it answered.


How Specific You Are Has Everything to Do with What Follows Here…

To get the most out of this post – and it’s on a really important topic, so you should invest some time in it – stop and think about where your website sits in your sales process.

How do people get to your site?

Are most visitors coming direct… or via a PPC ad… or from your emails… or from organic search for a range of long-tail keywords?

Are most visitors arriving on your home page… or on a keyword landing page… or on an email landing page… or on a blog post?

Can people buy your product or service online? Or are they directed to call / be called?

In thinking through these questions, we’re actually trying to identify whether your site visitors are warm or cold.

We need to know how well people know you, your product (or service) and/or your brand.

Because we want to know when to get specific with your messaging.

Which leads me to an important point about awareness and the specificity of your messaging, introduced by this spectrum:

Awareness Spectrum

When your site visitors are either VERY unaware or VERY aware, you can summarize your value, your products’ value, your benefits, the function of your features, the types of people who are currently using your service – all of it.

That’s because you’re essentially in Advertising Mode.

Summaries are perfectly fine in advertising.

Advertising is all about the two ends of the awareness spectrum: creating awareness and reinforcing / entrenching awareness. Ads aren’t designed to sell. That’s why short TV ads tend to be very clever and filled with copy that amounts to little more than taglines.

Think of the Apple iPod commercials from way back when they were first being introduced to the market. No specifics. All summaries. …And think of the Apple iPad commercials today, in a world where most parents have already given their iPad 1 to their kids. No specifics in those ads. All summaries. Extremely successful. Apple doesn’t need a 2-min or 30-min infomercial! Advertising (and killer PR) is enough.

When people are just being introduced to your product OR when they already know all about your product, you don’t have to get specific.

But in that middle section – in the space where people know a bit about you but aren’t sold on you – the conversation deepens. Summaries just won’t do anymore.

That’s because this is the period in which all sorts of questions come up.

And questions are just nice-looking objections that need explicit responses in order to clear the way for the sale.

  • What can I do with this?
  • What does this replace for me?
  • What is the point?
  • Wait, who are you again?
  • Doesn’t everybody do this?
  • How will this save me time?
  • How much money do I have to shell out for this?
  • What’s the correlation between what I’m paying you today and those time savings you’ve promised me?
  • Are you going to go out of business tomorrow?
  • Who else is using you?
  • How secure is this?
  • Which feature does what?
  • If I order this, do I have to wait to get it?
  • If I order this, do I have to pay to ship?
  • Is there any way to get this – or something just as good – for free?
  • If this whole thing is a mistake, how do I back out of it?

Those questions comprise pieces of a conversation people want to have with you at specific points in your sales process / funnel.

You can get people in the door with summaries. And you can get them to buy from you a second, third, fourth or fifth time with summaries. But to hold that middle conversation – the part that moves visitors from somewhat aware to aware enough to purchase – you need to get specific.

How Do You Know How Aware Your Visitors Are?

Let’s look again at that sales process. In particular, let’s actually get into your analytics.

Your analytics can help you understand how aware your visitors are.

It’s about knowing 1) how people are arriving on your site and 2) which pages they’re coming in on.

People arriving directly (i.e., by typing your URL into the address field) or via your emails are likely AWARE of you. After all, they know your name / URL or they’re on your list. They could be existing customers or warm prospects. **Direct traffic is the easiest to make sense of.**

People arriving via organic search – especially for long-tail keywords – and landing on your blog posts may be less aware of you. Sometimes your bounce rate and time on site can help you understand more about these visitors… but it can also lead you to make assumptions that may be just plain wrong.

People arriving via PPC ads are even tougher to peg down. I’ve seen users who searched for a brand name click on the PPC ad for it. So it’s difficult to know how aware these visitors are.

Naturally, there’s a whole world of other ways in which people can arrive on your site: banner ads, tweets, Facebook posts, Reddit posts, or Hacker News mentions.

…So you can’t just look at analytics.

What I do is identify the posts and pages with my highest organic traffic and, on each page, use a specific Qualaroo survey to ask visitors how they heard about me. Just make sure the options they can choose from will clearly indicate to you how aware visitors to X, Y and Z landing pages / posts are.

What Do You Do Once You Know?

Let’s say you know now that:

  • Your home page sees people of somewhat low awareness, somewhat high awareness and everything in between
  • Your email landing pages see people of general / average awareness, but no low and no high
  • Your blog sees people of low awareness

What do you do?

So here’s what I’d do. If you think I’m a nutcase, leave a comment. (A specific one, please. Specifically how nutty am I?)

I’d create a home page with my USP as my headline and with the most critical questions about my product / service and clients / customers answered as soon as possible; if I’ve created a new product or innovated on an existing one, I’d want to spell that out. This way, people who don’t know much about me learn it quickly, and people who do know have it reinforced. This page would be a healthy blend of specifics and summaries.

(BTW, people with high awareness are unlikely to stay on your home page long, unless you have a promo, news or event featured there. So don’t worry too much about them.)

I’d get specific on my email landing page. I’d show my face, my product face, my customers’ faces. I’d specifically connect my product / service with the specific benefits that people want. And I’d probably showcase the exact price of my product / service while calling out – specifically! – any discounts and what the specific value for money is.

And, on my blog, where awareness is low, I’d pull back and let my logo, my tagline and short / summarized testimonials do the work of luring people away from the blog and toward my home page, which is built to help people of low awareness as much as those of general awareness. I’d also include a way to help me educate these visitors about my business; yes, that means adding an email subscription field to this page.

So, to recap:

Whenever there’s anything on the line for humans,
we want and need to know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into.

Specifics are for salespeople.

Summaries are for advertisers.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below, and we can chat about it…