Why many visitors abandon because they don’t understand what they’ll get

—how to increase your conversion rate by fixing three of the most common problems with value propositions.

(This is one of a series of articles, the first of which is here.)

Even if your visitors can understand your writing … even if they can use your website … and even if you offer what they came for … they may not understand—or like—your value proposition.

What is a value proposition?

Your value proposition can be defined as the benefits of your product or service minus its costs.

Value Proposition = Benefits − Costs

The costs aren’t limited to the financials; they also include economic risk and the cost of time and resources.

A more buyer-centric definition of value proposition

The above definition can be a bit too seller-centric. To aid clear thinking, we also find it useful to think of a value proposition as perceived through the eyes of an individual buyer. This view reflects more accurately what happens when a purchase is made:

  • The decision is made in the mind of the buyer.
  • The value of each feature will be different for each buyer. For example, some car buyers will find value in an ash tray; others won’t. Either way, it’s clear that the “value” being discussed is the value to each buyer. Thus, in the customer’s-eye definition, the value proposition is different for each buyer.
  • Buyers’ reasoning tends to be in terms of pros and cons, not benefits and costs—just listen to your own reasoning next time you buy something. If you create mental “pros and cons” lists and not “benefits and costs” lists, then it seems a shame to switch to the benefits-and-costs view when you’re being a marketer, thus abandoning your lifetime of intuition.

Value Proposition = Pros − Cons

We find it useful to view a value proposition both ways—through the seller’s eyes and the buyer’s eyes—as two sides of the same coin.

Three ways companies fail to communicate their benefits (and pros)

—and several ways to fix the problems.

In this article, we focus on benefits (and pros).

1. Many companies don’t make it clear what the product or service does

Some products or services—particularly those that are technically complex—can be hard to explain. When a technical product is sold using a traditional brand-marketing approach, the results are often disastrous.

We are fans of Sonos. But until recently it wasn’t clear from Sonos’s marketing materials what Sonos is. Sonos could have greatly increased its sales by explaining its value proposition more clearly. Sonos’s website is better than it was, but the sales could be increased further by making the value proposition clearer.

Sonos’s homepage leading with a feature
Sonos’s homepage leads with a new feature. The navigation has a “What is Sonos” button. But, aside from a well-scripted video, the resulting text doesn’t make the value proposition clear.

Many marketers aren’t aware that their website has this problem because their visitors don’t report that they are “struggling to understand the value proposition.” Instead, they say things like “I’m still researching.” The best way to identify when benefits are unclear is through user-testing. During user-tests, listen for clues that the users haven’t understood the product or service. For example, you may find that a user’s objections to buying don’t make sense.

Whenever we spot unclear benefits, we know that a big win is just around the corner. No problem is more guaranteed to kill conversions. Some of our biggest wins have come from clarifying the benefits of complex, hard-to-explain technical products.

Quirky tip: If a product has a Wikipedia page, you might find that it contains valuable plain-English explanations that are absent from the official landing page.

2. Some companies forget to mention some valuable benefits

The travel-phone company Mobal gave away a high-quality travel adapter with every phone. But it forgot to mention the travel adapter anywhere on its website. When we added the travel adapter to the website, sales increased. So we added it to the offline marketing campaigns too. This was one of the many contributing factors that allowed us to triple Mobal’s sales in one year.

Mobal’s travel adapters
Mobal had failed to mention its travel adapters, a valuable part of the package.

We used this technique to great effect when we added more than $1 million to the bottom line of Moz. In this case study, we describe how we added to Moz’s landing page many features that previously went unmentioned.

To ensure that you aren’t making this mistake, list all of the elements of value that your visitors get, and then check that your website communicates them all clearly. It can help for you to order the product yourself, so you see the whole package with your own eyes. Also, ask your customers why they bought, and then ensure that all of their reasons are featured in your marketing materials with appropriate prominence.

3. Many companies don’t make it clear what happens once the visitor says yes

Many websites—particularly those that sell services—don’t help their visitors to envisage the post-order experience. There are many ways of overcoming this problem. The following method, common in Japan, is rarely seen in the Western world. Japanese consumers expect to be shown what they are going to get. All Japanese restaurants, for example, have plastic food in their windows, showing what each meal looks like.

Similarly, many Japanese companies display cartoon flowcharts that show what will happen once a visitor orders the product or service. We created the following flowchart for Mobal, to show Mobal’s Japanese customers what to expect once they had ordered a travel phone.

A future-pacing flow chart.
A future-pacing flowchart for a travel-phone service.

The flowchart makes it clear how the process works: the order is placed, the phone is delivered, the phone is charged, the person flies abroad, calls are made, Mobal sends an itemized bill, the person returns home, and then the whole process is repeated for subsequent trips. The cartoon was so effective on the Japanese website, we transferred it to Mobal’s USA website, to similar success.

Such flowcharts are an example of what the hypnotism world calls future pacing: The buyer is told what they are going to experience over the next few days, weeks or months. (This is closely related to the sales technique of making the prospect “think beyond the sale.”) Even though future-pacing diagrams are less common in the West, they are extremely effective here, because

  • They answer the questions that the visitors are asking: “If I order this product or service, what will happen next? What will be the process I follow?”
  • They allow the visitors to rehearse mentally the process of using the service, visualizing it as being part of their lives.

So if your product or service has an unclear post-sale experience, then a future-pacing flowchart may help to increase your sales. Within the last two months alone, we have had two wins using future-pacing diagrams. One gave a 20% increase in bookings for a travel company. The other gave a 14% increase in customers for a health company.

Future-pacing videos, and how to create them

Once you have created a future-pacing diagram, you may find that it would benefit from being turned into a video. If so, remember that the process of creating a video should be no different from the process of creating a webpage. To begin, create the video in a low-res, highly editable format, which you can test on users—just as you would do with a webpage wireframe. If your video designer isn’t comfortable carrying out user-tests (in our experience, most aren’t), you may prefer to do it yourself, as follows:

  • Create your storyboard using the animation functionality of PowerPoint or Google Slides.
  • If you wish to add a voice-over, record it in Screenflow.
  • Iteratively test the draft video on users until you are confident that it communicates the message clearly.
  • Only then should you get a high-quality version made.

This above process will ensure that your final video will convert visitors.

The techniques above provide four opportunities for optimizing your benefits and pros. In a future article, we will describe how to optimize the other side of your value propositions: the costs and cons.

Read the next article in this series

This article is one of a series that began here. The next in the series is here.

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