man jumping off waterfall
PHOTO: Jakob Owens

Let’s say you have a product — a great product.

Let’s say it’s all-in-one accounting software for midsize businesses. The software works perfectly, and the pricing is competitive. Your site is built for search engine optimization (SEO), your rankings are good, and you’re marketing everywhere and getting a lot of traffic.

But you’re not getting many conversions. In fact, you’re noticing that your competitors — whose products are not nearly as good or as fairly priced as yours — are making all the sales.

You know your audience is full of smart, rational people. They have a problem, so they come to your website and read what you’ve written — the logical next steps are to understand the value of your offer, click for more information, chat with the sales team and become a new customer, right? You know the rational decision would be to invest in your product.

Ah, if only it were that easy!


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Your Audience Is Irrational

Here’s the biggest problem with the above scenario: You’re addressing the people who visit your site rationally, explaining why they should fill out your form, download your white paper, sign up for your webinar or ask for more information. Because of that — because you’re trying to reason with your audience in a rational way — you’re missing out on many engagement and conversion opportunities.

The problem is the people who visit your site aren’t rational — they’re highly irrational. We all are.

We like to think we’re intentional in the way we do things on websites. We like to think we base our decisions on logic. In reality, though, even those of us who are the most rational by nature us are entirely driven by the subconscious!

The human brain is up to 30 times more powerful than the world’s most powerful supercomputer. Check your ego, though, because almost all of that brainpower is used by the subconscious. In fact, the human brain processes 11 million bits of sensory information on a subconscious level every second.

The conscious mind? Well, it only processes only about 40 bits per second. In a race, the subconscious mind would utterly smoke the conscious mind.

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Tap Into the Subconscious

So how do we make decisions?

According to Gerald Zaltman, professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard Business School, 95 percent of purchase decisions are based on the subconscious. How do you capitalize on that and connect with your prospects on a subconscious level? We’ve already seen logic is not the best way to go.

Instead, try appealing to emotion.

As humans, we are emotional creatures. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio ran studies on people with damage to the part of the brain that triggers emotions — people who couldn’t feel any emotion.

One would think making decisions would be easier without emotional interference. But what Damasio actually found was that his subjects had an extremely difficult time making decisions, including any kind of purchase decision.

The reason? They didn’t feel strongly enough about any option.

The result? Endless waffling.

Through this study, Damasio uncovered an interesting reality: Humans make decisions based on emotion and only then rationalize that decision.

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Spark an Emotional Response

How does that apply to your website and marketing?

If your site is not evoking an emotional response from your visitors, you’re missing the mark. In fact, you’re actually making it mentally and physically difficult for your prospects to do business with you. Think about it — your own marketing is pushing them away. Ouch!

Look at Virtual Inc., a strategic management consultancy for associations, professional societies, consortia, standards organizations, and advocacy groups. The company’s home page features the following language:

“Make Your Mark on the World.”

“Reimagine what’s possible. Virtual’s strategic management consulting & execution ignites your organization’s growth.”

“Achieve More With Virtual”

Those phrases focus not on explaining what Virtual does but instead on stirring emotional responses among site visitors. “Make your mark on the world.” “Reimagine what’s possible.” That language gets your heart racing a bit, doesn’t it?

Compare that to the approach taken by a similar site. On one association management company’s website, the first words you read are: “Comprehensive Management Solutions for Associations and Non-Profits.” Thrilling? Not by a long shot.

The entire home page states only what kind of business the company is and where it’s located (“a New York City-based company providing full and partial management services to associations and non-profits”) and the services it offers (in bullet points). We call this “dictionary marketing.” It provides essential information, sure — but it’s not the information that will drive prospects to make purchasing decisions.

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Make Prospects Say, ‘This Company Gets It’

Companies can evoke plenty of emotions on their websites. Virtual’s site evokes feelings of excitement, empowerment and anticipation.

One B2B accounting software website, Intuit’s QuickBooks, evokes a different emotion: pride.

“Smarter business tools for the world’s hardest workers.”

Wave Financial promotes its accounting software with similar language:

“Accounting software that works as hard as you do.”

Both of those software companies target similar audiences: small to midsize businesses. The people who own those kinds of companies are ambitious and hard-working. In fact, they’re often overworked, but they’re proud of the sweat equity they invest in their businesses.

Both the QuickBooks and Wave Financial websites appeal to the pride and the desire for recognition of their prospective customers by validating and acknowledging the hard work they do. Prospects look at sites like those and say, “This company gets it.”

So consider this: What emotion would make your prospects say “Count me in!” What emotions would make your prospects feel that you offer the best solution to their problems? Once you’ve figured that out, update your website so that it evokes an emotional response, and watch your online conversion rates increase.