Consumer Marketing: All that stands between you and Walmart is a good story

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This insight came to me while conducting live optimization during our most recent Web clinic – Copywriting: How ordinary marketers are achieving 200% gains with a step-by-step framework.

I was optimizing an e-commerce surfboard website, yet I think this lesson applies equally well for many other consumer marketers as well as many in the B2B space. Let’s look at the challenge this surfboard website is facing to understand why…

Degree33 Surfboards sells hand-shaped surfboards which are more expensive than a Chinese-made “pop out” mass-produced clone board that you could buy from a big-box store like, say, Walmart. Or a used board you could buy off of Craigslist. (And please note, I’m not a surfer. Our office just happens to be in Jacksonville Beach, so I have a wee bit of knowledge about this industry and I thought it would be helpful to share some background.)

Unless you’re the low-price leader in your industry, you likely face the same challenge.

A manufacturer in China can make it cheaper. Your customers can buy it cheaper used, on Amazon, or from a big-box store like Walmart.

So if you can’t win on price, all that stands between you and the barbarians at the gate is a good story.

Customers need an internal justification to buy a more expensive product (and sometimes an external justification to a spouse, parent, or boss). You need to give your customers that reason to buy from you in the form of a story that engages the visitor and explains your competitive differentiators. Here are a few common examples of differentiators that you can build your story around to help get you started:

  • Quality – track record (e.g. Honda), craftsmanship (e.g. Louis Vuitton), customer service (e.g. The Ritz-Carlton), health (e.g. Whole Foods), expertise (e.g. Crutchfield
  • Authenticity – history (Moleskine), location (American Apparel), timelessness (Kitchen Aid mixer)
  • Technology – faster (Alienware), smaller (iPod Nano), safer (brand-name drugs), more open (Android)
  • Values – sustainability (Patagonia), organic (Organic Valley), faith (Hebrew National), family (Disney), patriotism (Made in the USA), local (Community Supported Agriculture), aura (hip, fashion, or luxury goods), politics (Credo Mobile)

So let’s take a look at that optimization example, Degree33 Surfboards, to give you a few ideas for how you can improve your own copy…

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surfboard copywriting
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First let me say thank you to Degree33 Surfboards for submitting their homepage for review. I get to just sit here and tear apart what the man in the arena did wrong, yet they invested their blood and sweat in creating the page to begin with. But for the sake of brevity, I’m going to leave tenderness aside for a moment and just dive right into how this copy can be optimized…

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Where’s the story click?

To begin with, there is no story click. The headline is just old-school marketing puffery – “Hand Shaped Surfboards That WILL Take You To The Next Level, Regardless of How Well You Surf.”

Assuming “Hand Shaped Surfboards” is an important keyword (Degree 33 currently ranks #2 in Google for that keyword), an alternative headline would be something like…

Optimization Suggestion: “Hand-Shaped Surfboards that are 17% lighter than the boards you’ll buy anywhere else.”

This headline will hopefully draw readers in to the body copy, and show experienced surfers and gremmies alike the benefit of Degree33 surfboards over any other surfboard in those crucial first few moments when they first land on the page and decide whether they should read on or click on to the competition.

Create some rising action

In a story, the rising action serves to intensify the problem. On this page, we’re left with “11 REASONS WHY YOUR NEXT SURFBOARD MUST BE FROM US…” Again, they are relying on marketing puffery. And the tone is all of. It sounds more like a North Korean diktat from the supreme leader then sales copy for surfboards, um, dude. Do surfers really want 11 bulleted reasons to buy a surfboard?

But there is some buried treasure in here, which they underlined – “NOBODY else has NexGen Epoxy. 17% lighter than standard epoxy, stronger than traditional fiberglass, but the pure flex of a glass board.” This is what I pulled my suggested headline from, in fact.

I’m not a surfer, so I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it certainly seems to have value. What if they built the rising action and continued the story off of the problems both experienced and new surfers have with factory-made boards. Again, I’m not a surfer, but here’s my feeble attempt at speaking their language. Feel free to laugh, but hopefully you’ll get the copywriting lesson as well…

Optimization Suggestion: “You’re out there past the breaks and spot the perfect wave rolling in. You paddle into it, attempt to ride high amongst the waves, but totally wipe out. Dude, no worries. We made the same mistake when we were just starting out as gremmies with some heavy factory boards.

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That’s why, when we started our own board company, we wanted to find a material that would help high-performance surfers and gremmies alike surf the gnarliest waves. We have a buddy that works in the science labs at Pepperdine, and he told us about NexGen Epoxy. It’s 17% lighter than standard epoxy, stronger than traditional fiberglass, but has the pure flex of a glass board.

It took us about two years to master shaping this rad material. And, so far, no one else has figured out how to do it….”

Create your climax/resolution

This is, essentially, the call-to-action. And on this page, Degree33 has a great one — GET A COMPREHENSIVE SURF GUIDE + $25 OFF YOUR FIRST ORDER!”

They are essentially offering a guide to help their customers make this complex decision. Grabbing a board off the shelf at WalMart is an easy decision, being a true surfboard connouisseur and get a real high-performance board is difficult. You can see how I’ve stumbled through this blog with my awkward use of surf language. Every industry and every niche has it’s own way of doing things.

Optimization Suggestion: Keep on keeping on. Great call-to-action and offer.

If you help your customers through this complex buying process, honestly assessing and weighing the decisions along the way, you are much more likely to be able to compete with the big box stores of the world.

That word – honestly – is vitally important. If you can’t compete on price, don’t try to. Be clear that those customers would be better served elsewhere. But by being honest, you’ll become the customer’s trusted adviser, and help them appreciate the value in your offerings. Truly serving your customers during a complex purchase decision only helps to add value when you do get the sale.

The wine industry, with the complexities around wine selection, is the perfect example. There are even people whose entire job it is to help you buy wine, called sommeliers. And that’s why they can charge so much.

After all, in the end, you’re just buying old grape juice with a great story.

Related Resources:

Copywriting Framework: How ordinary marketers are achieving 200% plus gains with a step-by-step framework

Shopping Carts Optimized: How a few tweaks led to 12% more revenue across an entire e-commerce Website

Optimizing Copy: The 7 most common copywriting mistakes we see marketers make

Website Optimization: How you can improve conversion by finding your buried treasure

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15 Comments

  1. Helen says

    “Customers need an internal justification to buy a more expensive product…” Great sentence, Daniel. I think it crowns the whole article. People who buy cheap products have their reasons to buy them, as well as people who buy ‘expensive’ products have theirs. The core goal of the marketer, copywriter and other people working to bring profit to an online store or any commercial website is to give as many reasons as possible, because people ARE different and each needs his/her own ‘justification’.

    P.S. I am really pleased to start a conversation here. ‘Great post’. 🙂

  2. Michele says

    Really nice copy rewrite. Not only are you telling a story, but you are being specific and not saying that the surf boards are “robust”.

  3. Peter says

    The original copy has way too many bullet points. I like how you open with a story. It’s a lot more interesting and engaging. As for the bullet points, I’d recommend to use only 5 maximum. And if they want to see more, send them to another page, which list the full features and benefits.

  4. Bob Nunn says

    Great stuff Daniel. I have stats that say any product imbued (big word of the day) with a story is valued more. They’re in a post I did http://bit.ly/pawnstar if anybody wants to see them. But the point you make I like is that it can’t be any ol’ marketing puffery story.

  5. Peter Cartier says

    I’m not sure if surfers read, but if they do – they’re much more likely to buy from this company now. It’s always interesting to learn how companies inadvertently turn readers away with their “copy-heavy” site or poorly worded material. Keeps copywriters in business though!

  6. Mark@ Make Them Click says

    Your link to

    Copywriting: How ordinary marketers are achieving 200% gains with a step-by-step framework.

    just loads a blank page.

    Would love to see it.

  7. Mark@ Make Them Click says

    PS I think “Join the conversation” is a terrible CTA for blog comments.

    I’m thinking “Where is the “Publish comment” button? Hmm, there isn’t one, what to do? What’s this “Join the conversation” Wonder what that means? Will I have to fill in a form and sign up? Yuch. Will they try and market to me? Is it even related to commenting? OK, I’ll chance it,but I don’t like it.”

    etc., etc.

    A simple “Publish” would have been a lot better.

    1. Daniel Burstein says

      Thanks for the feedback Mark. I removed the link to the Copywriting Web clinic replay since it is no longer available.

      And thanks for your take on our “Join the conversation” button. Interesting insight. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Here’s the story about how we came up with that button — Blog Optimization: Button change leads to 39% increase in comments — sounds like it may be worthwhile to run another test.

  8. Just Jay says

    I really like this article and I really hope that you will find opportunities to help (and write about) other niche (or low volume, high value) businesses in the future, since it seems like the “traditional” methods of conveying value proposition aren’t as effective for them.

    If you have written about similar niche sites, or can recommend a good place to read up on marketing for niche sites like Degree33, I would love to know about them. Any links would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.

  9. Luc says

    Hey Daniel,

    Well after what feels like a 1000 revisions and not a single one beating the control above, I am going to post my next version and see if I can get any further feedback. Thanks for your thoughts here.

    “Surfboards built entirely by hand!
    40 years of shaping experience and an unmatched 30 day “Ride It” guarantee. Whether it’s your 1st or your 50th, we’ll get the right board under your feet every time.”

    Our goal with it is to imply craftsmanship, experience, and no risk followed by the sense that once you try us out, you will be with us your whole surfing life.

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