Paul Montreal

@paulmontreal

Less Spockiness, More Alien Fist Fights

(beeminder.com) A Website Marketing Tune-up

This week I’m looking at Daniel and Bethany’s website beeminder.com. They’re a startup in Portland that helps people achieve their goals by tracking progress and creating financial incentives. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn…

1. Try and tell a complete story even at the micro level

I notice that the strapline and the main headline both change when I refresh the page. There seem to be a number of alternative combinations…

Take some funky goal medina. Track it, back it.

In-your-face goal tracking. Stick to your goals.

It reminds you and binds you. Mind your goals.

Quantified self + commitment contracts. Engineer yourself.

Reminders with a sting. Be minded.

The me-binder. Mind your goals.

Willpower as a service. Be minded.

Don’t flake out on yourself. Track it, back it.

Even with all these attempts there isn’t one combination that really tells me what this is and why I should care. There seems to be a tendency to go for cleverness in the straplines. And the headlines are all far too short to communicate anything with clarity.

Even when read in combination, most of these are only telling half a story. 

A tagline, or strapline, whatever you want to call it is really a reduced version of your larger pitch. If you reduce that pitch too far it becomes meaningless. (Most enterprise straplines are meaningless to customers, but it doesn’t matter for them). As a startup we want to use every tool at our disposal.

These all feel like half a story, so why not finish them?

A kick in the pants… to help you achieve your goals”

We can tell a far more useful and complete story with just a few more words.

The first headline I saw was “Track it, Back it”. This headline should arguably be the most enticing sentence on the entire site. But currently it doesn’t mean anything. You can instantly improve most web pages by deleting short headlines and writing complete, meaningful sentences. The understanding should be that the user isn’t going to read anything else on the page, unless the headline has induced them to do so.

Action: Write a complete strapline. And make all headlines tell a more complete or compelling story. Note: Headlines take 90% of the time and effort.

2. Only talk about your product in the context of your customer’s life

Right above the fold on the homepage we’ve got a short pitch alongside a video. Let’s take a look at what it tells us…

“Your goals can be anything quantifiable — weight, pushups, minutes spent on Facebook, points on Duolingo. Answer with your number when Beeminder asks — or connect a device/app below to auto-report — and we’ll show your progress and a Yellow Brick Road to follow to stay on track. If you go off track, you pledge money to stay on the road the next time. If you go off track again, we charge you.”

First thing to note is that the pitch for the product is written in tiny letters on a grey background, after a confusing headline. It’s next to a dark video screen. And directly underneath are at least 15 colorful logos on a white background. So the user’s eye is going to be attracted to the logos first.

At this point a user scanning the page may have encountered 3 confusing headlines. “A kick in the pants”, “Track it, back it”, “Automatically (bee)mind data from”. And now they have to either read the small print or watch the video to understand what this is all about. A lot of people will bail before investing more energy based entirely on a lack of good headlines.

Let’s look at the pitch itself. As it stands, this is really just a feature description. Like the headlines, and strapline, we’re only telling a partial story. We’re saying what the product does from a technical perspective. We’re talking about the raw materials involved, the machinery. But we’re not talking about why the customer should care. It feels like we’ve dropped in half way through a conversation. We haven’t really identified the customer, the customer’s problem or the real benefit our solution will have on our customer’s life.

I couldn’t possibly rewrite this without more information and time, but off the top of my head, how might we talk more directly to the reader and tell a more complete story? Maybe something like this…

“You’re a doer, and you’re working on optimising your life. Maybe you want to lose a few pounds, learn a new language, start a new walking habit or reach inbox zero? However you’re trying to improve your life, you know it’s going to be hard. The human brain is wired to protect itself from too much change. But Beeminder helps your hack your habits and achieve your goals - by letting you bet on your own success. By pledging small amounts of cash that you’ll stick with your goals, Beeminder taps into your brain’s motivation centre. We make tracking and achieving your goals a fun process. A journey that you can share with our community of likeminded achievers.”

Not for a second is this suggested copy. I wrote it in a couple of minutes with very limited information. But I hope you can see a difference. With just a few sentences, we’re talking more about the user. We’re explaining the concept in the simplest terms possible. And we’re making it sound appealing.

Action: Your opening written pitch should tell a condensed version of a complete and compelling story, a story about the customer and their needs and goals as a human being, not a story about the product.

3. Aim for clarity, not cleverness

I’m on the fence about whether Beeminder is really a memorable name or not. It’s a “clever” name. But cleverness rarely works as well as clarity. Or, when it comes to names, alliteration. The primary goal of a name is to be remembered. But I suspect we’re muddying the waters here with all the other “Bee” related cleverness…

Example: “Automatically (bee)mind data from:”

What does that mean? As the headline to such a seemingly random collection of company logos, it doesn’t help orient me as to what this is, or what it can do for me.

Example: “By default the Beeminder bot BUGS you daily to enter your data.”
By trying to squeeze another pun in, you’re likely putting people off the app here, people don’t want to be “bugged”.

Action: Lose all the bee puns. It makes it harder to remember the most important thing, the domain name. And the cleverness gets in the way of clarity. Rewrite sub-headers so that the apparently random corporate logos make sense instantly.

4. The video is a sales conversation, everything is a sales conversation

Next to the written pitch we have a video. I want to give you huge props for doing a video. A video will convert better than text alone, in many cases. And video is really tough to produce. So, personal props, especially to Bethany, who is in front of the camera. But let’s zoom out and look at the result critically, so we can make the next iteration even more effective. A few examples from the video pitch…

“Howdy, I’m Bethany, co-founder of Beeminder here to show you how Beeminder works.”
I’d say this is the wrong intention for the video, right from the beginning. Your users are not ready for a technical discussion of the details yet. They still want to be convinced you have something they should care about. That hasn’t been achieved yet.

“Beeminder tracks your progress towards goals.” 
This is the first thing we’re telling them. But tracking goals is not what people are buying, they are buying the hope of an outcome. They don’t want to track their goals, they want to achieve their goals. They want to be slim, strong, a non-smoker, a person with no emails in their inbox (I never understood inbox zero, but each to their own).

“By default the Beeminder bot bugs you daily to enter your data.”
You may struggle with this idea the most, but I firmly believe that 95% of the population will be repelled by all the talk about data, graphs and math.

This sentence is representative of a key underlying mindset - “We like math therefore everyone likes math.” The danger with this mindset, is that it’s so easy to defend. We can tell ourselves that we only need 5% of the population. We can tell ourselves that is our market. People like us, people who are into the whole quantified self idea. But I think you have to ask yourself - “Is this a tool to help people who like math, or a tool to help as many people as possible achieve their goals?”

“You would enter -.5 for the rate and then click Dial-it-in. If you forget the negative sign, no harm done.”
Within a few seconds the worst nightmares of your audience (the 95% who hate math) have been confirmed. To use this tool they need to use math and, you’re telling them, they are likely to make mistakes. 95% of your audience are now having flashbacks to their childhood when Mrs Plinkett made the whole class laugh at them for forgetting some negative sign in some math equation.

“Your job now is to make sure that your data points stay on that yellow brick road.”
The motivation to call part of the graph a “Yellow Brick road” and make it more approachable has some value. But I am feeling a general sense of confusion from the various mixed metaphors and analogies being used in different parts of this site. Any benefit derived from “staying on the yellow brick road” is lost when we tell the user that their “job” is now something to do with data entry and they could be “derailed”. They don’t want a data entry job. They just want to lose a few pounds before Bob and Mildred’s wedding next month.

Action: We need to tell a complete story about the basic idea in this video. Talk about the goals our users are trying to reach. Talk about why they haven’t achieved them in the past. Talk about why it’s not their fault. Talk about how we have a proven solution that works (in the briefest technical way possible). Talk about how our background in this science makes us credible. Talk about all the people we’ve already helped and the type of things we’ve helped them with. Talk about the thrill of playing this game. Talk about how it’s just like them to use a tool like this to achieve their goals. Talk about how easy it is to get started.

Sell the hope and then get a sign-up. The operating manual comes later

After selling the idea and the appeal and generating hope that this product will move people towards the better versions of themselves, we need to get a sign-up at that point. Before going into detailed instructions about how the product works, or what it technically does. (Or ideally ever seeing a graph or data points of any kind). We need to get a sign-up, a social media login. Then, we have a way to keep in contact with our customer. We get more opportunities to encourage people to get started and set up a goal.

There should be one big option at the end of that video - get started, sign up now, start moving towards your goals. Not a choice for “more information”. The information on the “more information” page is actually better than the information in the video. But no one will ever see it because if they aren’t convinced about the idea after a 3 minute video (or in the first few seconds of that video) they are unlikely to invest more time trying to be convinced.

Where’s the thrill of playing the game?

I’m going to suggest that there’s a missing element to this pitch, which is something around the thrill of “playing the game”. People play games and people gamble for the thrill of it. Positioned in the right way, this has the potential to tap into that same motivation, but with more positive potential outcomes. You can bet ON yourself. This is not a math challenge, it’s a game, where they are active participants, and the idea of losing their money or winning and growing as a human being could be thrilling. Right now, there is no sense of challenge, or adventure or thrill around this product outside the curiosity of the math / quantified self crowd. I would explore tapping into the thrill of “what am I going to do?”, “who am I going to become?”, “how will I play this game?”.

5. It’s not just what we say it’s how we say it

Reiterating how much respect I have for anyone who has put together their own video, let’s look at how we might improve it. Video lets the user see, hear and judge us. They don’t just judge what we say, but how we’re saying it. Knowing, liking and trusting another human being is far more about how we say something, than just what we’re saying. Knowing that, we should expect to practice the delivery of our video content until it’s pitch perfect (no longer stressful for us to deliver).

Right now, the presenter looks and sounds nervous. There is blushing, sweating and trembling in her voice. The lighting is harsh and makes it look like she’s being interrogated. Remember, how we tell a story is actually more important than the details of what we’re saying. Calm and Certain is what we should be aiming for.

Getting to “calm and certain” delivery means resetting the bar for how much we expect to practice before calling it a wrap. Video is a stressful thing, but customers don’t see or care about our pain behind the scenes. They either see a pitch being delivered confidently, or they see signs of stress. (Which will repel them). If we can’t be calm and certain about our solution, how can they possibly be confident that it will solve their problems?

The background music in the video has a carnival / clown music vibe. This is the audio equivalent of Comic Sans. My advice would be, don’t position this product as a joke. Position it as a game.

And the video background is literally full of math equations. The message you’re communicating is — this is hard work, this is that stuff you hated at school, I am the math teacher you never understood - run, run for your life.

Action: Re-script the video and practice presenting it until it’s flawless and no longer a big deal.

6. “I am not a number, I am a free man”

You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

A quick look at the “Featured Beeminders” page and I see users, people, are being represented by their “data”. A wall of graphs, with names like “ip344155/writing”. The dehumanising is complete.

What people seek more than anything when struggling to change is a community. A community of other human beings. Human beings who are on the same path and understand their struggle. Human beings. Not graphs. Not data sets.

Action: Replace graphs with headshots and real names to create a community that connects and shares.

7. Testimonials should tell human stories about human results

The testimonial page doesn’t have a single human face. And the testimonials are mostly talking about the software itself. There isn’t a single visual illustration of the outcomes that people have achieved. It’s critical to realise that is what people are buying, the hope that they can achieve their end goal. The site should be filled with people who we can see have achieved their end goals. Real human beings, slimmer, stronger, happier, more multilingual than before!

Action: Set up a system so that you’re collecting testimonials that are stories about results achieved and improved human lives. Not critiques of the software product.

8. Problems are fractal, luckily so are solutions

On this site, I see one small mistake, repeated throughout all the communications. We’re telling an incomplete story, from the wrong perspective. Right now it’s all Spockish. We’re talking from the perspective of people who love math. People who love writing code and connecting things with APIs. We’re talking about the product, from the perspective of the product maker. The belief is that everyone else out there is just like us.

In reality, maybe 5% of the population (massively generous) like math and graphs and making things and knowing how things work under the hood. The other 95% (who could be happy paying customers for this product) are alienated at every step by our perspective. They aren’t Spock. They are Kirk.

They don’t want to calculate the stats. Graphs scare the bejesus out of them. They want to flirt with danger, date the cute green girl, drink a few beers, play a game of poker and maybe end the night with an alien fist fight. Oh and they want to lose a few pounds and learn Spanish as well.

Action: To reach the masses, to help the masses, we have to tell a complete story. A story that appeals to the masses. Less Spock. More Kirk.

I want to thank Daniel and Bethany for sharing their work and helping everyone learn from the process. I really respect what they’re doing and I think this product has massive potential. Until next time, stay the course, see it through, make your mark!

Paul.

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