The future is strange.
Header photo: Briars Atlas
Originally published on Flothemes.
Eight (8) seconds.
This is roughly the amount of time that we have someone’s attention for on our website, to make it crystal clear who we are, what we offer, and how they can get it from us. When we use a “best-practice” approach (I’ll go more into this halfway through) on our websites, we make sure that our message is delivered to our users (the ones letting us do what we love), with no room for confusion or misinterpretation.
That’s good for them as someone needing their problem solved, and good for us as a business.
When you reach for a box of bandages, do you want to be met with a box of artfully named things such as “future-heals”, or do you want to find what you need in a language that you’re used to, as soon as possible?
Similarly, when we’re looking for the area of a website that will inform us of how much money we are going to spend, our brain probably just wants that thought-transaction to be as seamless, and frictionless, as possible.
Which means calling our pricing, “pricing” – and not “investment”.
There are two reasons.
Firstly, we don’t decide that we’re an investment – our couple does!
Our couple will decide that we’re an investment after we’ve artfully taken them through a clear, simple, and beautiful journey, where at some point along, we’ve made them feel so safe and looked after that we couldn’t possibly be anything other than an investment. When a buyer positions something or someone as an investment, it happens as an internal feeling, and not in a response to a label.
They won’t decide that we’re an investment simply because we cheekily swapped a piece of common terminology (packages/pricing) with a little sleight of hand.
Show. Don’t tell.
But I understand why this is happening.
Photography has been democratized: everyone can do it now (to some degree) and a bunch of folks were quite rightly looking for ways to plant the seed in people’s heads that what we do is valuable, and supporting that with some wordplay trickery.
A-ha… I know… we’ll call it investment… so if they’re on the edge of booking us… this will tip them over!
Using investment in place of pricing is slightly coercive: its aim is to re-frame pricing, which has been demonized as cold, common-language, into something more aspirational, and reflective of the value the photographer is placing on their work.
I get it (truly).
But the aim of a website, or indeed any marketing collateral, is to create a conversion (conversion = someone giving us money to pay our rent while doing the thing we love for them at the highest level). All the storytelling and brand positioning can be done in the middle, but two things hold true at all times, no matter what we think:
1– When I get to your website, I have to know clearly who you are, and what you do, and where you do it.
2 – Functional areas of your website – need to be communicated in functional terms, not aspirational terms.
Functional areas of your website include: your contact form, where I see your work, and how much you are going to cost me: these three things are inherent in any serviced-based engagement.
And what are we?
“But I’m a *luxury* brand!“
So am I. But here’s the thing: whether we’re a luxury brand or an affable down-to-earth brand, one thing should remain the same: we should treat our audience with respect. By calling functional things on our website (pricing, galleries, contact) anything other than what they are, something interesting is happening: we’re making the assumption that we can, on a subconscious psychological level, influence someone’s perception of our work by calling our pricing an investment.
I think it’s a nice theory, but like most simple theories that almost seem too good to be true, it falls over pretty quickly, when it takes away clarity from the person trying to interact with our brand for the first time. Frankly, for me, when I see it, it’s a close-tab. “I see what you’re doing – just call it pricing, mate”.
On the positive side, when we instead call these things what they are, two pretty brilliant things happen that are great for us and great for folks interacting with our brand.
1 – When we call things what they are, the person looking at our work, and looking for a way to buy into our story, can find what they need, quicker. Attention spans are getting shorter (on the front-end anyway – we’re still consuming enormous podcasts and binging on Netflix once we’re bought-in), not longer. Do as much luxury brand-building as you like, but show me clearly where to find the thing I want, in a language that is familiar to me. In the physical world, this is called wayfinding, and it’s used to help people physically find their way around an area such as a university, food-court, or hospital. Imagine for a moment navigating a hospital to find a sick relative, where instead of clearly labeled floors, the wayfinding designer has named them by various abstract orders of sickness. I don’t know if Uncle Jack is “Close to the grave”, “barely hanging in there”, or “out like a light”. But I know that however he’s doing, ward 34B is a fixed, unmistakable marker.
2 – When we call things what they are, it subconsciously frees us from being lazy thinking that a word such as investment will do the luxury heavy lifting for us, and opens up a space to put more of our energy into showing *how* we are a luxury brand. Suddenly, since our brain isn’t getting a dopamine hit from selling aspiration through the word “investment”, a space is created where we feel an urgency to artfully display ourselves as a luxury brand, using story-building, honouring our awesome products with incredible imagery and more. Great for our brand – incredible for our couples.
“Ok, but I still want to call it investment”.
This is totally ok: I’m just targeting one of the more common opportunities to create clarity for our market. As much as we should aim for clarity most of the time, there’s also a case to be made for breaking people’s patterns, and calling things whatever the hell you want. You know your brand better than I do: if you are receiving 50 enquiries per day from word of mouth, that would afford you more opportunity to use polarisation in your online shopfront. I’ve done it all the time. When things were good and enquiries flowing, I experimented with taking all images off my homepage and selling stories through large, story-driven text.
Which leads me to the idea of “best practice”. Best practice can be summed up as “doing things in a way that generally will get us the best results”. An idea of “best practice” in the kitchen, is to clean as you go so that you aren’t left with a giant pile of dishes that ends up being too insurmountable to contend with at 10pm, and inevitably is left to ferment until the following day. Best practice on a website is using common terms to increase the likelihood of a prospect converting (i.e – finding what they want, feeling safe and loved, and booking us). We can choose how much we want to implement best practice into any area of our marketing, and occasionally even go against best-practice, by using polarisation to filter people. But that’s an article for another day.
Best practice vs experimental practice
Great brand storytelling always lives at the intersection of best-practice, and experimentation. Again, if you are receiving 50 enquiries per day from word of mouth, this might give you more room to play with your website, since you can afford to lose a few enquiries by making your website more difficult or experiential to consume. You can take this entire post with a grain of salt. But on the other hand, if your SEO strategy and website are critical to your lead generation, then you’ll want to make sure your website presents the least amount of friction between selling your story and allowing the person looking at it to find what they want when they want it. In this case, you want to use best-practice in your copywriting (calling it what it is).
Other opportunities: common copywriting problems, and how to fix
As a small business, there’s a good chance that you’re writing a lot of your copy yourself: what often happens in this case, is that we end up using words and terms that speak to our industry rather than our couples. It’s totally natural, but it does come with some risks that are worth analysing, especially when we’re in an industry bubble, which leads us to normalise words and phrases that might not best serve our couples.
So, in every piece of written communication, we need to make sure we’re talking to our couple, not to our industry. You may as well be an authentic documentary-storytelling photojournalist, but there’s a good chance that most of those words mean nothing to a couple that’s looking at your work and trying to build their own vocabulary that describes your images. That’s right: they will be talking about your work, possibly to their friends, and they will have their own ways of making sense with words, of the feeling your images give them.
Which leads me to:
One small trick for updating your copywriting
Think about where your couples have sung your praises: it’s not just the ending testimonial they gave you. In fact, all those email chains even before the wedding, where you’re kicking ass on their planning challenges and showing up for them, might also contain testimonials: things they’ve said that describe you or your work, without you even realising it. If you haven’t got those – then ask them: pick a vast handful of couples, make up a simple questionnaire, with some prompts to describe how they felt about your work, and how they’d describe it to someone else. If you feel like making it fun, turn it into a game in whatever way suits you and your way of communicating. I’d ask “if you were Enya describing my work to some Swiss alp, what would that verse say?” The sky is the limit. Out of this, you’ll get real descriptions of your work, from people that have experienced it.
That’s the stuff that should be on your website.
And I am willing to bet that “candid storytelling” are not two of those words.
Three beautiful things that happen when we just call things what they are:
1 – Our target audience can find the thing they’re looking for quicker (this has a great return on investment);
2 – Our target audience don’t chortle at our little linguistic sleight of hand (investment hey! I see what you did there…);
3 – We open ourselves up to prove that we are an investment (which we are, for so many reasons).
Show, don’t tell.
The alternate universe of jargon cheat-sheet
Here’s a cheat-sheet of a few common industry terms, put through our patented turbo-jargon convertor, which has churned out a word that’s instead meaningful to our target audience. I’m kinda just having a gag with this – but the exercise is still enormously valuable: check in with your copywriting, and make sure it’s speaking to your couples and their problems, rather than describing yourself to another photographer.
Investment > pricing / cost / packages
Authentic > real / flattering / natural
Candid > natural / unposed
Hit me up > Contact / enquire
Documented > I mean, I don’t even know what to replace this one with, but I’ve never heard it come out of a couple’s mouth, and every time I see it I immediately think of a stack of papers in a taxation office.
Ultimately, you can call pricing whatever you want. I’m just throwing a magnifier over the investment thing to make a general point: and as mentioned earlier, every brand has its own unique mix of clarity and ambiguity.
But one thing is for sure – there’s always a lot to be said for reducing user-friction on the functional parts of our websites – such as the page names. Nearly every square inch on our website can present us with an incredibly useful question: “is there any unnecessary friction here for the user, and am I writing this for me, or for them?”.
It should always be about them.