Seven. A number like any other. But it does seem to come up on a fairly regular basis: the Seven Wonders of the World, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Dwarfs: Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Dopey, and (my favorite) Grumpy.
Phone numbers have seven digits. And may say the optimum brand name should be no more than seven letters long. Seven, it seems, is a magical number, because the human brain can grasp only seven things at a time (on average).
So I've been thinking, What are the seven most important words associated with Web-marketing? I'll give you a hint: Search, engine, and optimization don't make the cut.
So what words do make the list? What are the seven words that will make your Web site worth viewing?
Words Can Move You
By someone's count there are 171,476 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, plus another 47,156 words that have fallen out of favor, but not counting the 9,500 additional permutations that don't deserve their own special attention.
Half of these words are nouns, one-fourth are adjectives, and 14.285% are verbs; the rest consist of all those other things the purpose of which most of us long ago forgot.
Others may find fault with these numbers, but no matter what the total, it's a lot of words.
Of the tens of thousands of words to choose from, most people recognize less than ten percent, while teenagers seem to only be able to handle about half that amount; of course, that doesn't count slang, instant-messaging jargon, or the ever-popular four-letter variety.
Why the heck are there so many words if we all refuse to use them? I mean, why waste all those perfectly good words on English teachers and college professors? (By the way, they say swearing is the refuge of the feeble-minded, people who can't express themselves in a more articulate manner—but, to be honest, I really don't give a damn.)
Here's the thing: Words have meaning and impact, and they provide the emotional context of our communications; and we add subtlety and nuance by how we deliver them, using tone, cadence, and gesture.
That is, as important as words are... the way they are delivered is even more important.
What Web Site Design Is Really About
The other day I was listening to a local all-news radio station. It is mostly rip-and-read wire-service stuff that they repeat over and over like some kind of psychological torture, but they do provide traffic reports on a nauseatingly regular basis. You have to wait only 10 minutes until they repeat everything. So if you want to hear what traffic snafus to avoid, just wait a few minutes. But here's the problem: The announcers talk so fast that no matter how hard you concentrate, you can never quite get the particular information you need; and if you're driving, you have other things to consider, like the idiot in the Hummer who just cut you off.
None of these guys ever uses a period, let alone a semicolon or comma. Either they have very small bladders and are under pressure to finish quickly, or they're late for their afternoon pilates class. They seem so intent on rushing to the commercials that they never deliver the content in an appropriate manner.
Your Web site just might have the same problem.
Too much information is as bad as not enough. Information overkill leads to information anxiety, buyer's remorse, reduced satisfaction, unattainable expectations, and purchase-decision paralysis.
Web site owners have been told that visitors won't wait for anything, that they are impatient, and you've got to get to the point fast, make the pitch, and close the deal. Well, that approach just isn't going to work with any sophisticated product or service.
Your Web site presentation needs to slow people down so they hear what you have to say, and you have to say something worth hearing.
Web site design is about more than layout, markup language, and technical wizardry. Web site design is about communication; it's about turning advertising into content, and content into an experience that viewers will remember.
Seven Words to Remember
People are always asking us what's wrong with their Web sites, and the answer in the vast majority of cases can be summed-up in a quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967): "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Communication is the key to success, and that doesn't just apply to your Web site—it applies to almost everything you do both inside and outside your business life.
If your Web site isn't communicating on both a rational and an emotional level, if it doesn't provide the psychological and emotional context of your marketing message, then exactly what is it doing?
I can't think of too many people who actually like being sold to. In fact, sometimes customers get so irritated by sales tactics that they end up not buying the thing they came specifically to your Web site to buy.
Solving the problem is merely a question of altering your perspective. The average buyer is predisposed to dismiss and ignore high-pressure tactics and meaningless sales pitches. So instead of treating customers like customers, try treating them like an audience. Audiences want to be engaged, enlightened, and entertained. And that is the most effective way to make a sales impact.
All too often, Web sites inundate their Web audiences with facts, figures, statistics, and an endless list of features, benefits, options, and whatever else the sales department can think of throwing in. But all that stuff just confuses people.
Focus your message on the most important elements of what you have to say. If your Web site can embed that single idea in an audience's mind, then it has done its job.
The words used, and how they are put together, provide meaning; they inform personality; they provide mental sound bites; and they turn whatever you are saying into something worth remembering.
Language is one of the critical elements of "voice," the ability to convey personality. Writing that doesn't have "voice" is instantly forgettable.
Even the most articulate prose can be lost in befuddled delivery. Communication is more than words; it's a combination of language, style, personality, and performance.
Things are rarely what they seem. Even our memories are a stylized versions of what we've actually experienced. Creating a memorable impression is about managing the viewer experience and providing the right verbal and non-verbal cues that make what is being said memorable.
Every business has a personality. The first problem is that few midsize companies ever attempt to manage that persona, and as a consequence the buying public forms its own opinion. And that opinion is often not the way you want to be regarded.
The second problem is that companies either don't have a firm grasp of who they really are or, if they know, they are afraid to promote it. If your company's identity isn't worth promoting, it is time to think why that is... and change it.
The bottom line is that a company without a personality is a company without an image, and that makes you instantly forgettable.
The most important feature you can offer your audience is psychological fulfillment, not deep discounts, fast service, or more bells and whistles.
The real reason people buy stuff is that it makes them feel something. Cosmetics make women feel attractive or sexy, while cars make men feel they've achieved some level of status. Even services make people feel important, as in "I've got a guy who does that for me."
Finding the psychological hotspot in your marketing, and promoting the hell out of it consistently and continually, should be your primary marketing goal. All those features and benefits are merely the excuse for a purchase, not the reason.
The Web Is Fast Becoming a Video Environment
Web sites are not just marketing collateral; they are not just digital brochures. They are a new presentation medium that requires specialized communication skills, and knowledge of how best to use the medium.
You may be a great salesperson and nobody knows your business like you do... and you may even be skilled at delivering speeches at conventions and seminars... but performing effectively in front of a camera is a whole different ball game. And for most people it's way out of their comfort zone, let alone their skill level.
The same old methods that used to work won't work any more. You're no longer competing with just the company down the street; you're competing with the entire world.
Web-based businesses may never actually meet their customers face to face or even talk to them on the phone, so it is imperative that they use marketing presentation methods that deliver an experience worth remembering.