Why Customers Overlook Your Startup (Even When You’re Doing the Right Stuff)

Sales aren’t moving the way you want them to. You have a decent and growing following on Facebook & Twitter, a few hundred visitors a day, and a well designed site.

What are you doing wrong?  Is your social proof right for your audience? Do you need better photos? Videos? Testimonials? Maybe, you think, there is a long slow ramp to sales volume. Or, maybe you just need to spend a lot of money on advertising, fancy branding, and promotions.

But what if none of those things is the answer?

Let me tell you the story of someone facing this problem

I recently saw a premium e-commerce site with exactly this problem, and the fix I recommended was something simple which could be accomplished with a few hours work without spending a penny: clear messaging which resonates with your customer.

The site is an online jewelry store, Lazooli, which updates prices hourly in response to the gold market spot price, resulting in huge discounts on their jewelry compared to the competition. When the gold price falls, so do their prices. They are completely transparent – showing exactly how much gold is in each piece. Their mission is to bring honesty & transparency to the industry.

When I read the founders description, I knew it was a site I would like to buy from, but  he wrote it while asking for advice from other entrepreneurs – this message was not coming across on their home page:

lazooli_homeIt looks great, but it’s very hard to tell what makes them different from any other jeweler. The interesting bits are hidden away and non-obvious.

This is a very common mistake with startups. For a great series of examples, take a gander at the Copy Hackers USP break down (definitely check it out, and subscribe to their newsletter if you don’t already)

How to create a message that resonates with your audience

First, you must know your audience – but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s assume you already have a great idea of who’s buying right now. Do this exercise to discover your message and evaluate how well you are communicating it.

Step One: Take out a piece of paper – right now! Don’t procrastinate. It should only take 15 minutes (ok, the advanced steps take a little longer).

Step Two: Do the following:

  1. Write down what  your customers absolutely love about you, your company, and your product. What makes you the best fit for your customers? Take as much time and space as you need – the goal here isn’t to write snappy copy (yet).
  2. From the paragraph (or pages!) you generated, pick the top few items, and put them into a bulleted list of one to two sentences each.
  3. Boil one bullet down into a strong statement you love – the one you feel is the message which most resonates with your audience.

Step Three: Evaluate your current site. Open it up. Stare at the page without doing anything else. Honestly ask yourself – do the things your customers love come through clearly on the home page? If so, great work! If not, perhaps it’s time to think about how to get this message across.

Step Four: Post your top three bullets in the comments along with your audience. I’ll help you tweak them.

Advanced Stuff: If you want to create a really great message, I recommend also taking the following steps:

  1. Take the list from {2} to your customers and ask them. Which one statement  resonates with them the most? Alternately, you can create a split test, though I prefer a targeted survey first for additional customer insight & faster turn time.
  2. Split test variants of the statement on your home page until you find one which resonates with your values, and your customers.

Revisit your mission statement once in a while to make sure you’re still on target and resonating with your customers. A good story goes a long way.

Like this post? You might also be interested in my work in progress, Bootstrapping Growth, a guide to sustainable growth for solo entrepreneurs.

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    11 comments… add one

    • Nice piece! It’s essential to have user stories, maybe 3 or 4 examples, based on the key types of customers that fit your product best. Once you have those, you should optimize your user experience around those user stories.

    • Yeah, this is a great point. We’ve been collecting testimonials. It’s encouraging that we actually have customers who are happy to oblige.

      Here’s one we got last week, from seems to be a typical customer (a young, web-savvy guy who knew a thing or two about gold and knew what he wanted):

      “Lazooli has made me a very happy man. Initially I was a little worried about ordering from Lazooli because they were a new company and their prices were on average 50% less than retail! I thought perhaps it was a case of “If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true”, but boy was I wrong.

      I started my order process by asking on facebook if their rings contained any nickel and was quickly called to assure me that their rings contained no nickel. Afterwards, I placed my order for a size 10.5 wedding ring. The ring was shipped quickly, however I discovered that I was sized wrong and the ring was too small for me! I then, contacted Lazooli and was told that they would take care of me. So, I packed the ring up and sent it back to them. Once they received my ring I was told that for just 15 dollars more (which is more than fair, considering the price of gold had gone up almost 100 dollars per oz since I placed my original order) they would be able to exchange the ring to a size 11.5

      TLDR; Lazooli is awesome and I WILL buy from them again. :)

    • So how did you make Lazooli better?…

    • This is Mike from Lazooli. I’m the co-founder who posted in the forum asking for advice. This was only two days ago, but Charlie and some others gave us some good starting points that we’re implementing.

      For one, the slogan up top, “A new way to buy gold,” is way too vague. We’ll change it to something along the lines of, “most jewelry is a ripoff, but it doesn’t have to be,” or “jewelry sells for 5x what it costs to make, but we’re here to change that with our no-middleman model.”

      We have a blog: tumblr.lazooli.com, but it’s not featured on our site. We will take headlines and excepts from there and put them right on the front page.

      We’ll also implement a lightbox that appears for first-time and non-logged-in users, explaining our unique value proposition and mission and asking them to “join us” with Facebook, Twitter or email. We may bounce a few, but we’ll hit visitors over the head with our mission, so those who stay will get what we’re doing and remember us.

      We’ll also add videos and candid photos from customers, for some more social proof and to further drive home the message: “great jewelry doesn’t have to be sold at crazy markups.”

      Sound like a plan? We’d love to get some more feedback.

    • BTW, this was the thread (Charlie, I hope you don’t mind me posting it here): http://www.reddit.com/r/startups/comments/1dp9lf/great_products_really_great_prices_good_traffic/

    • Not at all, thanks for the participation Mike!

    • Thanks for this article and the opportunity to get feedback, Charlie. I’m glad my husband shared this with me this morning. :)

      I’m a holistic health coach and am just getting my business up and running. I work with women in their 20s to 40s to feel great in their skin, lose weight, gain energy and reduce stress to create the life that they’ve always wanted but never knew was possible.

      Here are my 3 bullet points (and no, I don’t think my website is meeting ANY of them on the homepage of my site):

      -My holistic health coaching business is structured around the idea that diets don’t work and focusing on the small simple changes that can easily be integrated into one’s life will naturally crowd out the less than stellar habits they already have. Deprivation and giving up everything you love isn’t required to live a healthy life.

      -I’m a great cheerleader and motivator and believe my clients can do whatever it is they put their minds to. I’m committed to helping my clients reach their health and lifestyle goals and do my best to help them become the best versions of themselves.

      -I believe in the idea that no two people are the same in their health or their lives. My coaching is very customized and individual to where each client is at that exact stage to fit the life they currently have.

      Thanks again!

    • Hi Rachael, thanks for reading! My wife is also a coach focused on helping people find their ideal career, so I know a (very) little about the coaching business.

      Here are my thoughts:
      – I think your third bullet is the strongest. You customize your approach to each customer to help them become the best version of themselves. I like this idea.

      – You mention the why in your first bullet – diet’s don’t always work, big changes are hard to incorporate and maintain in life, habits are the right way to bring about change, and deprivation is counter productive. Great detail, but not your leading lines, in my opinion.

      A little tough love – your first bullet rings true to me, but is a message filled with negative language. I would focus on the positive vibes in your second two message more, since people respond better to positive emotions. Also, your second bullet sounds great, but it isn’t really saying much concrete, or unique compared to what I have seen other places.

      I think highlighting something on your home page which conveys that third bullet (which is already very well put) will serve you well. Good luck!

    • Hi Charlie,

      Im in the process of recoding our website ‘CoutAllure’ for fashion designing.

      After reading your article twice & all the exercises, here is what Ive come up with as the pitch on the home page:
      What if you could have your say in the world of fashion?

      Welcome to CoutAllure.

      Fashion designing that is fun, easy & about you.

      (followed by the button with text: ‘sounds lovely, let me in’.
      Would greatly appreciate your thoughts on the pitch.


    • Hi Salman,

      I like your site. The model and call outs really give me a good picture about the site – designing your label and allowing others to rate it.

      As to your pitches, I think you can go deeper. Who is your target customer? If I had to guess from your home page, I would guess aspiring amateur fashion designers. After reading the about page, I thought it was more craft loving individualistic consumers, so I am not 100% sure, but I went with the second.

      When your site is live, what benefit will this person get from designing with your tools? On your about page, I think this is your strong statement:
      “It is about individuals being individuals, being able to design what YOU want to wear. Not being forced to follow fashion you do not understand, fashion that does not represent you & fashion that does not compliment your personality.
      It is about making the world a bit more colourful.”

      Turning that into a shorter tagline, you might get something like:
      -Create fashion that represents who you are
      -Make the world more colorful. (I am a little iffy on this one because it isn’t clear, but I like the sound of it)
      -Design clothing that compliments your personality

      Your sign up pitch might be something like: The worst feeling in the world is showing up to a fabulous party, only to see your arch-nemesis wearing the exact same blouse. You just want to hide your head in shame, or go home and change. But what if you knew that every piece of clothing you wore was unique & made just for you? Design one of a kind clothing that compliments your personality with CouteAllure.

      Best of luck! and let me know what you end up with

    • Wonderful feedback Charlie & a bundle of thanks for venturing further & reading the ‘about us’ section to find out about the inspiration / philosophy behind CoutAllure.

      You grabbed the gist of what I wanted to convey (albeit I used far too many lines of text), which is that CoutAllure is about fashion designing for everyone individually, its about ‘you’ & fashion.

      Ive signed up for your newsletter above & will look you up on LinkedIn & Twitter. Please do continue to educate & inspire us with your blog, thoughts & suggestions.



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