Expressing value is the core of marketing. But you shouldn’t express the same value messages at every point of the customer journey or to every customer.
Different people need to understand different elements of your product or service’s value at different points.
Complex, I know. But let’s try to have a little fun with it.
To help you create a primary testing focus that will allow you to better understand the most effective value sequencing for your website, we created an entertaining visual tool — the “What kind of value prop should you add to your webpage?” decider graphic. (Why should “Which Kardashian are you?” or “What is most likely hiding under your date’s couch cushions?” have all the fun?)
Our goal is to provide a visual flowchart to help you flex those customer curiosity muscles and understand the theory of value sequencing during the customer journey. And hopefully, we’ll inspire some impactful test ideas along the way.
Here is the value sequencing decider graphic (and major thanks to designer Chelsea Gunlock for taking my scribbles from two giant whiteboards in my office and making them look this sharp). Click on the thumbnail for a bigger image, click here to download a PNG version, or click here to download a PDF version. Scroll below the graphic for a full explanation.
And feel free to whip out your own Expo markers and draw a possible value sequencing decider graphic for your unique customers on your office whiteboard (if you do, we’d love to see it. Just mention @MktgExperiments on Twitter when you share it).
START BY PICKING YOUR WEBPAGE …
Does the purchase decision occur on the webpage you are working on? Marketers can easily fall into the trap of sell, sell — that is, selling a product the same way at every single customer touchpoint. But that’s not always what the customer needs or wants. Every website — whether B2B or B2C, whether the product is a set of steak knives or a white paper download — generally has pages created specifically to sell the product.
Every other page happens either before (e.g., homepage or category page) or after (e.g., payment page or cart page) that purchase decision. When you think of value sequencing, you should not express the same value across each of these pages.
That would be like running into a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, and saying, “Hey Todd, how have you been?”
After Todd answers, you then respond, “Hey Todd, how have you been?” He then gives you a quizzical look to which you respond, “Hey Todd, how have you been?”
That would be an annoying conversation. Your customers feel the same way and will back away from your website as quickly as Todd does from your conversation if you don’t sequence the value correctly across these types of pages.
If the page is before the purchase decision
Just like a journey in the physical world, a customer journey has momentum. That motion isn’t physical though, it involves mental actions. In other words, cognitive momentum.
Think about when you go to a nice restaurant. The maître d’ doesn’t hold out his hands and yell, “17 BUCKS FOR THE SOUP!” He welcomes you in, asks about your preferences, complements your wardrobe, directs you to a table, gives you menus, tells you about your waiter, etc.
In other words, he directs your cognitive momentum. He’s not trying to sell you yet, but he likely is smoothly prepping the sale by articulating the top value claims of the overall restaurant. “Our chef just received another Michelin star, and we are so very proud.”
This is the same thing your pages should do before a purchase decision — you want to direct the cognitive momentum to the place that will best serve the customer.
For a homepage — the front door of a website — in addition to that clearly expressed primary value proposition, you want to create a process-level value proposition to get the customer to the most effective destination.
On the category page, this gets even more granular. You should help customers get to the right page (and often identify the right product) for themselves. So emphasize unique product-level value props to help customers identify the best product fit. When there are different product options, you might want to use a configurator to help clarify the value. When the different product offerings are different levels of the same essential product, make sure there are clear value gulfs between the offers.
If the purchase decision is on the page
When the purchase decision is on that specific webpage or landing page, you want to boost the cognitive momentum. Whatever brought them to this page was strong enough to get them to take the action to visit the page (clicking through an email, clicking from the homepage, etc.).
Now you must boost customers’ cognitive momentum to get them to the point of actually acting and making the purchase decision.
In general, this is where you want to express the full value proposition with images, copy, etc. (please note: there are exceptions based on your target audience, which we’ll cover next). This is your central, core conversion point. You want customers to experience the clearest expression of product value to overcome the cost they will have to pay to get it.
For a product display page, focus tightly around the product-level value prop to encourage conversion. The only expressions of the overall company value proposition should be in support of building credibility for the product-level value prop. One mistake some companies make is bragging too much about the overall company, and not focusing tightly on what matters most to the customer about the specific product.
Another key page where a decision occurs is a landing page. In this case, we use the definition of “purchase a product” a little more broadly. For example, the product might be a content download and the purchase price may be filling out an information form, not necessarily paying with money.
Regardless, a key conversion is happening, and it is essential to boost cognitive momentum. For a landing page, stay focused on communicating value in line with the page’s objective and reduce distractions from that key value. That doesn’t necessarily mean the page has to be short. Long landing pages can convert better than shorter ones when the value is focused around the key conversion objective.
If the page is after the purchase decision
Depending on your funnel, getting a “yes” on the key purchase decision may not be enough. Don’t overlook the pages that come after that decision.
This doesn’t mean you need to continue selling the customer like you did on the purchase decision page. But you don’t want to assume the decision is final either.
After the key purchase decision, you need to support cognitive momentum until a final conversion is made (and, really, even after that final decision). To do so, just remind them of value while reducing friction on the payment page. Or reinforce the product-level value proposition in the shopping cart.
But whatever you do, don’t take the sale for granted.
… THEN DEFINE YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
All of the above is generally applicable to a general customer. To make your value sequencing even more effective, consider the specific type of customer you’re talking to by building a segmentation strategy that leverages technology — like marketing automation, a customer data platform, a data management platform, and/or a customer relationship management platform. This will help personalize that value communication.
When to focus on getting out of their way
Previous customers understand the value of your company and its products on a level that prospects don’t because they have already experienced it firsthand. How you communicate to them is determined by the level they have experienced it.
If the customer has already purchased that product from that page before, testing should focus primarily on the most effective approach to just get the heck out of their way. Forget value communication, they already understand the value. Simply reduce friction and anxiety.
Amazon is a master at this technique. From the “Buy it Again” button and “Subscribe & Save” to off-page optimization tactics like the Dash button and voice shopping with Alexa, Amazon has mastered the tactic of getting out of repeat customers’ way and making it easy for them to make another purchase.
You should also test getting out of their way if you have reason to believe that customers understand the exclusive value of your offering already.
These could be prospects that are familiar with your brand, and you have reason to believe they’ve heavily researched your product beforehand and understand its value — repeat visitors who are customers of your content and have just been waiting for the right time to buy, or customers that have bought other products from your brand and understand the value of this product type. Whatever the exact path, if you have reason to believe customers already understand the value of your offering and company, value communication can sometimes decrease conversion. Test the idea of getting out of their way and see what you discover about your customer. It will either affirm your belief that they already understand the value, or help you build a more robust customer theory around where they are in the buying process and what value they need to understand.
When to focus on paving the way
If the customer has bought the product before but through another channel, say, a brick-and-mortar store, for example, you simply want to pave the way for them to purchase on this page. Focus on communicating the process-level value prop and reducing friction so they understand why it is worth making the purchase through your website while making it easy for them.
Another great example of when you want to take the paving-the-way approach is transitioning a customer from purchasing your product(s) through a third-party marketplace to purchasing on your own e-commerce store (Pro tip: Understand the marketplace’s terms and conditions and don’t violate them).
When to focus on making them informed
Whether customers have bought from your brand before or not, you need to determine how familiar they are with the product type. Let’s take an example that isn’t a typical ecommerce purchase, to exaggerate the value communication that is necessary. If the landing page is for a Nissan LEAF, you need to inform them of the value of an electric vehicle. You should sell the category while selling the car — communicate the category’s (in this case, electric vehicles) value prop, in addition to the product-level value proposition and the process-level value proposition.
If the product type isn’t different enough, don’t assume they understand the value. They need to understand that category value before (or at least while) they are assessing the value of your specific product.
This use case is especially prevalent when you have an innovative product. Whether it’s cloud computing or flying cars (“Back to the Future Part II” foretold AI-driven voice assistants, so you know flying cars are just around the corner), most people won’t buy the product until they buy into the category. Communicating category value correctly will also increase the likelihood of satisfied customers (because they know what they’re getting into along with the limitations of the new technology) and positive word-of-mouth that speeds widespread adoption. If the true value of the new innovation isn’t clearly communicated (or there to begin with), the word-of-mouth could kill a nascent technology before it has the chance to blossom.
When to focus on making it clear
If customers are familiar with your brand and understand the value the company provides, but don’t understand the exclusive value of your offering, take an approach that will help make it clear. Communicate the product- and process-level value prop. You want to especially leverage exclusivity in that product-level value prop, so customers can easily understand the key differentiator between what you offer and what the competitor offers.
For example, if I understand the value of two different electronics companies, those will both be in my decision set when I am shopping for headphones. But as I get deeper into my customer journey, I discover only one of the products has a lifetime warranty. That is the one I will likely choose. By understanding the value both companies bring, I trust them both, and they have both made it into my decision set. But the exclusive value for the specific product set it apart and ultimately led me to choose it over the competition.
When to focus on relieving anxiety
If customers don’t understand the value of your company, you usually want to at least communicate some level of your brand’s primary value proposition along with a product- and process-level value prop. But space and time are limited, so what aspects of the primary value prop should you focus on? The risk level of the purchase should inform that focus. If a product is high risk — for example, it is expensive or customers are worried it’s a safe product — relieving anxiety is a key element to focus on.
Emphasize the credibility aspect of the company’s value proposition while communicating the product- and process-level value prop. For example, if it’s a life insurance company you likely not only want to communicate product details, but also message how long the company has been in business and how financially solid it is. Most customers will not buy even the most appealing life insurance product (or vitamins or a bet-the-business-on-it software platform) from a company they don’t trust.
When to focus on looking more appealing
If prospective customers don’t understand the company’s value but the purchase is low risk, you could focus on testing ways to make the company look more appealing. The element of the company’s value proposition you should most emphasize is appeal, in addition to communicating the product- and process-level value proposition. When risk is low, you can tie in with the positive elements of the company’s value prop without having to work to overcome concerns as much.