You first hear a jingle in the distance.

It's soft but audible. And it's kind of familiar.

About four seconds and one millisecond later, you hear doors being slammed. Excited, shrill voices fill the air. The quiet of the afternoon is suddenly punctuated with kids enthusiastically scanning the horizon in anticipation of something.

That something is the ice cream truck.

Within bare minutes, the ice cream man's customers line up on the sidewalk, jostling for space and extremely eager to buy.

What does the ice cream man know that you possibly don't?

If you did, your Web site window shoppers would become instant evangelists. Your phone would demand “overtime” as soon as your brochures hit a client's desk. Your presentations would get your potential clients pumping your hand so excitedly, you'd be afraid they'd fracture it.

You know what's coming, don't you?

It's going to be one simple factor. One little tweak. And cowabunga! Suddenly it all starts to make sense. This article will reveal what most businesses tend to miss.

So which factors confuse the heck out of our customers?

They're called Direction and Distraction. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

Huh? Is that it?

Yes, that's it. But let me explain in greater detail.

You've seen how the jingles of a Mr. Frosty ice cream truck call kids to action, haven't you? There's zero confusion. Every kid knows exactly what to do.

Not a moment is spared.

The kids are the ice cream man's customers. They have a clear understanding of exactly what to do. Unfortunately, most of your customers don't.

Precisely the problem Anna was having with her Web site...

Anna's Web site was suffering badly. Anna is a consultant whose site was just like Ali Baba's Cave. There was tons of information that even the casual visitor would find immensely useful. Six thousand visitors trolled through each week, yet barely 20 subscribed to her newsletter.

That fact made her really mad.

This window-shopping wasn't helping her business at all. She had all the links; she'd done everything right; yet they were not subscribing like she knew they should. And if they didn't subscribe, she couldn't keep in touch.

That is till she discovered a simple factor.

A factor called "what do you want me to do?"

Yup. What should I do on this page? What do you want me to do? Where's the direction?

Don't make me scuttle here, there and everywhere. I'm in your office or your store. Should I sit down or should I stand? Should I stay or should I leave? Hey, I'm confused. This is not my comfort zone. What do you want me to do?

Amazingly, most businesses never employ this simple psychological factor when communicating to their clients.

Why visitors stopped ambling out of Anna's Web site

Anna got smart. She “told them” what to do. First read the articles. Then subscribe. And just to make sure, she put the subscribe button on every single page, under every single article.

Then she did something just as smart. She took out all of the distracting links that were not connected to the subscription page. Die, stupid distracting links, die!

Guess whose subscription rate went va-va-voom?

The beauty of this information is that it works with sofas as well as Web sites.

So you're in this sofa store...

It's a big store. Where do you go? Left or right? Stay on the ground level or move to the upper level?

Now imagine a store manager walking up to you and saying, “Hi, my name is Kristen. I'm here to help you find exactly the sofa you need. If you start here and move to your right, you'll get a pretty good idea of the range and color.

“When you're done with this level, do have a look at the sofas on the upper level as well. If you spot anything you particularly fancy, call me and I'll be glad to help.”

What were the instructions?

  1. Start here and move to the right.
  2. Go to the top level once you're finished with the lower level. 
  3. If you see anything you like, call me.

What do you think everyone does? You got it. They follow step one and step two rigidly. Of course, about 80% of them are too reluctant to ask for help, and that's when Kristen steps in and helps anyway.

Simple directions and the warmth of Kristen's knowledge: those are the factors that play an awesome role in making sure those very same customers aren't trooping across to the distraction across the street—the competition.

Yet squillions of stores across the world allow you to walk around like it's a park. You amble in and get no instructions and then amble out right into the jaws of the waiting competitor.

Customers don't need confusion, they need a next step

Our world has gone crazy. Information rains on us incessantly. However, most of the information doesn't tell us what to do.

Check out most of the ads on TV. Or radio. Are there any commands embedded in them? Look at the emails you get. Do you know what to do next? Or is it just some feel-good kinda thing that lasts a few seconds before it gets deleted?

And the hundreds of meetings you've had. Those endless meetings with clients or within your own company. What was the next step? Did anyone know? Was there an agenda and a next step as a result?

Possibly not. Which then leaves you right where you started. You pause, blink and then move wherever your brain fancies it wants to go. And that's exactly what your customers do, too. If they don't know where they're going, any road will take them there.

And we're not even talking about distractions...

A chocolate cake, Britney Spears blasting on the stereo and some hula dancers. Does that make for a great Monday morning meeting? You bet it does!

Are you going to get any work done? Huh? You're talking to me? I'm busy with my face in chocolate and coffee, while doing the hula to the Britney Spears “Hit me baybeh, one more time” song.

You think it's ridiculous, don't you?

It's not. Look at email newsletters with seven different articles. Look at TV ads with all the razzmatazz that doesn't seem to make sense. Look at your brochure with about 50 graphics and one hundred million colors.

And do you wonder why people don't do what you want them to do? Well, don't wonder. You're distracting them. That's what you're doing. Creating chaos. What you need is a sense of order; and to get a nice, clear picture, do what's recommended below.

Take a drive...

A short drive. Notice what the signs say. No parking. Right turn. No U Turn. Stop. Go. Slow down. And notice how all the signs aren't clumped up on one post.

Do the same for your customers. Give them direction.

Give them a One Way sign. Simple. Specific. And non-distracting.

In short

  1. Customers are confused by multiple directions. They are confused by three articles in your newsletter and two million links. They can only choose one. By displaying the action you want them to take, you give them direction. Give them a next step so they can move ahead logically.

  2. Eliminate distractions: Audit your meetings, Web sites, emails, brochures, letters, etc. Do you have distractions that take away the customer's attention? Put your distractions through the shredder. They ain't doing you a whole lotta good.

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Sean D'Souza uses age-old psychology, marrying it to modern technology, on his Web site, Can "psychological tactics" make a difference? Go there and find out.