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FutureNow Article
Monday, Aug. 13, 2007

Copy Perspective Monday: #4, Time vs. Money

By Jeff Sexton
August 13th, 2007

Don't ask JeevesWhile somewhat counterintuitive ten years ago, it’s painfully obvious today: saving the customer time and aggravation is usually more persuasive than simply saving them money.

This seems to hold true in the online world as well. A fairly recent MIT study showed that a majority of online buyers will forego the super discount websites and spend more at Amazon or brand-name sites in order to assure a reliable shopping experience.

So instead of an examination of when to focus on price savings vs. time savings, let’s look at how buyers’ perception of time changes as they move through the buying process.

As might be expected, task-directed customers are substantially less open to marketing before completing their tasks than they are afterwards. Visitors to a Bank don’t want to hear about additional services and offerings until after they’ve been waited on by a teller. Once they’ve been seen by a teller, though, they become much more open to up-sells and cross-sells. Yet the longer customers stay (happily) engaged with a store, the more likely they are to buy. Both of these behaviors are well documented in the offline world.

Assuming such behaviors hold true on the internet, in the first instance, we’ll want to move the customer though a website as quickly as possible. In the latter, meanwhile, we’ll want to keep the customer engaged with the Website in order to increase her chance of converting. These apparently contradictory aims seem to argue for equally contradictory styles of site architecture and copy.

This paradox resolves itself when viewed through the lens of buying stage.

Late-stage buyers already know what they want. Consequently, they simply want to get in, get what they came for, and get out. Get out of their way and make accomplishing that goal as smooth, easy and fast as possible. The time to up or cross-sell late-stage buyers is at the product order page, shopping cart, or post-purchase e-mail. At these point, recommendations for other add-ons or accessories saves the customer more time since they won’t have to make additional shopping trips later. Plus, the suggestions are made when the customer is basking in a “mission-accomplished glow” and most likely to listen.

Think of going to (AZN) with a specific book title, typing it into the search engine, and finding the book. Only after you’ve found what you came for that you might possibly be interested in learning about similar books or recommendations based on what other people bought. The homepage also had lots of suggested items and recommendations, but you likely ignored those in your task-directed book search.

Early-stage buyers, on the other hand, are still gathering relevant information with the intent of eventually making a decision. They’re still task-oriented, but their task is to decide what to buy — or from whom to buy it — instead of actually buying it. What they’ve come for is insight, and the more of that they find on your site, the more time they’ll spend with you.

In both buying stages, your goal is to provide the visitor with what she wants while saving her time. But in early buying stages, you save the visitor time by providing her with information and insight she would have otherwise had to work much harder and longer to obtain. She gives you her time because she senses she’s saving some in return. Conveying this information and insight with engaging and enjoyable copy further leverages this relationship by ensuring that visitors are not only saving time, but enjoying the time they do spend with you. Do that and it’s a fair bet you’ll ends up getting your visitors’ money as well as their time.

Turning back to the example, you may have come looking to research a book on a topic. At this point, the site’s search function is less important than great customer reviews, suggested alternative titles, and the ability to read a passage or two out of a prospective book before buying it. Who hasn’t spent a significant amount of time browsing for stuff on Amazon? The website effectively honors the time needs of both late and early stage buyers.

Most websites only cater to, or “optimize” for, late-stage buyers by assuming that visitors will know exactly what they want. And optimizing for late stage buyers is good as far as it goes because it is honoring the time needs of late stage buyers. But very rarely do websites consider the time needs of early-stage buyers — they don’t look at persuasion.

As 3-panel and universal search become more common, early-stage buyers will have a progressively easier time finding insight that serves their needs. And if it’s your competitor providing that content, are you ever likely to get those buyers when they finally do take action? Or will the persuasive battle have already been won by your competitor?

It’s simply time vs. money. Spend time crafting persuasive, insightful copy that speaks to early stage buyers, or lose money.

[*Editor's note: If you've enjoyed the Copy Perspective Monday series, you can read more articles by Jeff at his personal blog]

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Comments (2)

  1. That’s very true Jeff. Many businesses motivate buyers by giving them monetary savings and incentives, but losing many potential customers because of their unpersuasive copy. Too many times I’ve worked with websites that keep taking the customer in circles forgetting to answer their questions or concerns. That’s why creating a very client-centric, visitor friendly site is essential. And it starts with great copy. Great series, thanks!

  2. Jeff – you are 100% right. I used to work in mail order and it never ceased to amaze us that products that could save £100s per year sold poorly while products that could save “up to seconds” sold like hot cakes.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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