After finishing my last post on “100% Risk-Free,” I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that I’d unfairly slammed the infomercial and the people who generate large sums of money from them. (Apparently, many of you agree.) The simple fact is that infomercials work. Against some unenviable odds, infomercials manage to convince viewers to buy a lot of product. So why not learn from them?
Here’s what I meant to suggest:
1.) DO borrow from what’s best about infomercials, with an eye on what will transfer to the Web.
2.) DON’T use anything that would remind visitors of, or cause them to associate you with, infomercials.
And in case you doubt that “100% Risk-Free” falls into the “don’t” category, just try Googling that phrase — the results speak for themselves.
• Dramatize the benefit — Have you ever seen an infomercial that just tells you the features or merely explains the benefit? Hell no! They want you to see the thing in action and compare it to the alternative. It’s not enough that you see how well the rotisserie oven cooks. You have to see how well it cooks compared to a conventional oven. You have to visualize the thing saving you from having to pay attention to the oven (“Set it and forget it!”) and how much money your very own rotisseries oven will save you over buying rotisserie chicken at a specialty chain restaurant.
Infomercials universally dramatize the benefit to the point where viewers can’t help but picture themselves enjoying the product themselves. But don’t confuse the infomercials cheesy execution of this technique with the core strategy itself. Dramatizing the benefit is precisely what Steve Jobs did with his introduction of the iPhone. Steve always dramatized the benefit of the phone’s abilities within the context of a typical user scenario. For instance, here’s how Jobs showed the iPhone’s benefits in a real-life scenario.
Never mind the fact that Pacific Catch didn’t actually serve calamari when this commercial first aired, the case for the iPhone was so powerful, they were forced to add it to the menu.
• Employ (and stage) “Sinatra Tests” – Honestly, have you EVER used a kitchen knife to saw through a soda can? Neither have I. But to the average viewer, the Ginsu’s ability to cut through an aluminum can, then effortlessly slice a tomato, meant the darn thing would cut through several years worth of plain-old food without ever getting dull. Same thing with the lubricant that allowed the engine to start while frozen in a block of ice. And the cleaner that can get ground in motor oil stains out of carpet.
As for the Web, the most recent, and memorable example of this technique has to be LifeLock, where the CEO posts his SSN on the homepage. (If you’re going to imitate infomercials, imitate that.)
• Use effective risk-reversal techniques — Specific, substantiated risk reversal techniques are absolutely indispensable for infomercials. Every one of them offers at least a 30-90 day money-back guarantee, or a “quit at any time with no obligation” assurance. Stay away from a generalized “100% risk-free,” but DO offer as many specific and substantiated ways to reverse or eliminate risk as you possibly can.
Lands’ End does a nice job of this, especially with their custom-made clothing. While their thorough body-shape algorithm inspires confidence, most visitors are probably still left with the nagging question of, “How can I make sure the clothing will fit just right? I’d hate to pay extra for a great fit and wind up with something that wasn’t perfect.” Lands’ End’s response:
If the fit isn’t “just so” the first time around, you can nip and tuck your profile accordingly and re-order a new item. We save all your information, so you can fill your order with just a few keystrokes. And, if your Lands’ End Custom garment is anything less than perfect, you may exchange it, or return it and we’ll reimburse you for the purchase price. Lands’ End Custom is Guaranteed. Period®.
My guess would be that this risk-reversal technique plays a significant part in Land’s End’s ability to sell 40% of their jeans and chinos as custom orders.
• Making testimonials can’t-miss, hard-hitting events — Infomercials actually break from the action in order to showcase testimonials. They don’t just sort of have them scrolling past the bottom or far right portion of your TV screen. Nor do they assume you’ll go to a website to read testimonials. They break the show in order to ensure you’ll watch normal people endorse the results. Most websites never do this. Instead, they bury testimonials on a separate page, or only have a single testimonial inconspicuously placed in the far-right column.
Infomercial testimonials, on the other hand, are frequently very specific and feature a person raving about how they’re kicking butt with the product, rather than focusing on the product itself. The interviewed customer seems ever-ready to say, “I too was skeptical, but now…” These are all things that websites would benefit from.
(Sadly, the sites that interject testimonials most consistently are those ridiculously long, single-page, direct marketing-style “internet riches in a box” sites. In addition to embodying the dark side of infomercials, these sites will also interrupt their hard-sell chest thumping every few paragraphs in order to showcase a testimonial from some semi-anonymous goober who testifies to his transformation from barely holding down a McJob to — allegedly — raking in millions per day. Check out the search results for “100% Risk-Free” to see this technique in action. Just promise me you’ll ONLY copy this one technique from these sites. And nothing else. Please.)
• Understanding the difference between saleability and value — The ever-popular “But wait, there’s more!” phrase was never used to increase the price. The price always remained $19.95, no matter how many 6-way vegetable peelers or steak knives they threw in. What the added extras were intended to do was to increase the customer’s willingness to pay the $19.95, not to make them willing to pay more. That’s the difference between saleability and value. Too often, online marketers confuse these things. They think that strong stories or ties to social causes are ineffective because they can’t always increase the selling price. Don’t get me wrong, a good story can often increase the selling price, but just as often these elements are best used to increase saleability instead of price.
So there you have it, the brighter side of infomercials. Imitate those and stay away from the “100% Risk-Free” claims.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go spray some extra hair on my head, juice a few pomegranates, set the rotisserie chicken for tonight, and watch this great documentary on Pitch People (as seen on TV).