There is branding and then there are gimmicks. Although the video clip above implies otherwise, Gypsy Rose Lee wasn't known for a gimmick, but instead, her brand. She was an amazing performer, a "classy stripper" if you will, who took just enough off to be sexy while having an intellectual conversation with her audience. She left her audience wanting more intellectually and, well, you know. (Check out the video at the bottom of the article to learn more.) Some considered her to be a brilliant intellectual.
Here’s a great example of her talent taking her gloves off.
And you can see, the appeal of Gypsy Rose Lee wasn't just taking her gloves off; it was about how she took her gloves off. It was distinctive and unique. No one else removed their gloves quite like Gypsy Rose Lee (then again, no one really did anything quite like Gypsy Rose Lee).
So, how did Gypsy use branding versus a gimmick? And how can you identify one from the other?
A gimmick is a tool used to get results. How it works and why you need it has little, if anything, to do with your brand. It doesn't complement your brand, it doesn't reflect your company's values, it doesn't mirror what you want to communicate in actions or words. Often, gimmicks come with an intrusive user experience that forces users to take action in some way. Gimmicks in show business were used to grab the attention of an audience. They were disruptive, a spectacle. But gimmicks (like a light show, including an animal or a prop) never got you a following. Brands did.
Branding and a branded experience exhibits the personality of your organization. In the case of Gypsy Rose Lee, it was Gypsy's stage personality. In the case of a company, the action would be a reflection and complement the brand values. It wouldn't be disruptive. It would be an experience that made sense, felt natural, and enticed someone to build a relationship with the organization.
To illustrate how gimmicks work, let's look at an example like a signup form in a lightbox. These are often used to gather email addresses from site visitors. It can be easy - or difficult - for a user to remove this lightbox from his or her experience to read the article. Note that these lightboxes can appear on desktop or mobile experiences, and on mobile experiences, they can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove without at least a screen refresh. (A lightbox on a desktop can easily be removed with a tap outside of the box, on an "x" in the corners, or a cancel/skip link/button. On a phone, there are times when the lightbox close button or link isn't in view and the user can't scroll.) Lightboxes on mobile devices can lead to a frustrating user experience where the user most likely won't return because he can't get the content he wants.
Popups and lightboxes had their moment years ago. Today, I think everyone finds them annoying, but they are still in use because they are effective. One person got 1,375% increase in conversion - that's a lot. But let's be honest, they aren't just disruptive - they are a gimmick and marketing tool. A popup/lightbox doesn't support anyone's brand. What brand is so obnoxious that it jumps into people's faces, forcing them to take an action? And depending on the device you are on, force a user to take an action with no option to exit. Sure, we could equate a popup being like someone asking, "Would you like fries with that?" Or, "Are you sure you want to give me your email address?" But are they, really? Most popups have a single purpose - to collect email addresses so you can send emails to that list and hopefully increase sales (if everything goes well) based on a numbers game. And users know this.
One use that I agree makes sense for these lightboxes is for content subscription sites. If you have already read your "free" allocation of articles, the site will display a lightbox popup and start to "request" (i.e., pressure) you to pay. Now, I think people pay for content if the site offers a valuable perspective on the world. I have an HBR subscription because I think it's valuable. Same with the The Economist.
I will signup because I see the message: "if you don't signup/get a login/other action, you can't read this content you want to read." The purchase decision revolved around the question: "why do I want to read this content?" Sometimes, the question is, "how badly do I need to read this content?" because the situation may be, "do I need this content for any reason besides just wanting to read it?" Usually I need to read such an article for work. The next question I ask myself is, "how many times do I think I'll read from the publication in the future?" If the answer is many, then I usually subscribe. Otherwise, is the article really worth the trouble?
I don't have subscriptions for most newspapers because I just don't read them enough. Do I give them my email address? No. I don't want to pay. I don't want an update. I find news by visiting specific sites that I choose to read. Paying for content is not always worth it to me.
I'm sure I'm not alone.
But to be clear, I provide my email address or purchase not because I got the popup/lightbox; I shared my email address with an organization because I found value in the content and felt it was worth paying for it. I think that's true for other users as well.
If you get a lot of email addresses you’ll make a lot of money. Does that sound logical to you?
Based purely on a numbers game, the more email addresses you get, in theory, the more you may make in sales. But I would argue that if you don’t have your brand well-developed and offer value to a site visitor, all the email addresses in the world won't bring you a sale. By using a lightbox form you are assuming that people will provide their email address and want what you sell. If you think about it, that means you hold your brand and content in very high regard, so much so that you will convince people to buy what you are selling after giving you their email address and reading a few blog posts.
And by using this method of email marketing, you are acting ridiculously confident in your ability to convert users to purchase through email only. You are believing that a handful of emails will get people on your list to spend hundreds of dollars.
I'll be frank...That's just crazy-talk!
People buy from you because your product solves a problem they are having, a problem that they are afraid of not having fixed for whatever reason. People don't buy from you because they got your email after signing-up on your list. People want to know the value you are offering them.
Thinking that a collection of emails means that someone on that list will eventually buy from you, only because it's a numbers game, simply isn't logical thinking. People may give you their email address because it sounds like a good idea at the time.
This happens often in dating.
Why do women sometimes give a man her phone number and not go out with him? Or men collect women’s numbers? Most people who do this aren't trying to be malicious. They share contact information because it seems like a nice idea at the time. But the reason why there is no follow-up call is that there really was no deep connection, no relationship spark in the brief interaction. There is no need for additional action. There is no connection beyond the immediate phone number exchanges. There is no deeper desire to see the other person again.
This happens with the lightbox gimmick as well. People submit their email addresses because it's a good idea at the time. The site visitor just read a great article. Or he or she thinks your site is cool. If you consider how a buyers' journey works here, this email request is a very early conversion. Very. In a way, the email exchange here is a complement. But a complement is NOT a sale.
I was just reading Ask by Ryan Levesque. If you are looking for greater engagement with your customer, read it. Read it now. He gets it, and it's all in the Ask Method. Ryan sees how you have to build a relationship with someone before you ask for any personal information.
Let's say you use the gimmick with the lightbox and don't believe what I'm saying. Here's a scenario of how this may work: the first email comes to your users who signed up at your site because they read a great article and you forced them to signup. Either they will be happy to hear from you or wonder what they signed up for. Some will click; most probably won't. Then the next email comes, and then the next. But pay attention to the results - how many people who signed up from this lightbox form read the newsletter you send? Regularly, like every month? What is the gimmick really giving you?
I bet not what you originally wanted or planned. I bet you have a massive list with few clicks.
How do you know if you are using a gimmick or leveraging an action that complements your brand?
There are some questions you can ask yourself about the activity and action you are including at your site or part of your sales process to determine if you are flexing your brand or using a gimmick. Here's some to consider:
- What are the results you are really looking to get? Is this action leading you towards those results or are they supporting a numbers game to make sales?
- What does your offline sales funnel really look like? How do you get business today? How do you think you could reflect those steps online?
- Does this action represent a transaction or a step towards building a relationship?
- Does the action reflect your brand's values? Or does it distract from your brand? (Remember: gimmicks tend to be annoying, disruptive, transactional in nature, and usually don't build a relationship.)
If you are honest with yourself, you probably get new business today through word-of-mouth, referrals, or other relationships. These are all relationship-oriented business leads. If your business comes from word-of-mouth, from people having a great experience with your company or you personally, why do you think someone completing an online form for free information will buy from you? That relationship just isn't there for that to happen. All you know is that reader liked the free information that he or she read. That doesn't mean that person finds your company or your insights valuable; they found the article valuable. It's a start, yes. But it's not a conversion.
How can you get business by not using a gimmick?
1. Learn about your customers and find out what they like and don't like. We all know that actions speak louder than words. If your customers don't like what you are selling, they don't buy it. Or they won't read it. Or they won't open the email. How do you learn about your customers?
- Analytic reports from social media, Web sites, and other activities
- Call center activity and reports. Review the topics people call about and what they want to know.
If your mailing list is achieving no results - no clicks, no purchases, no actions - go talk to people on your list. Find out what they like or don't like about your business. If they don’t talk to you, you have a fairly serious problem. Either you are targeting people who shouldn’t be on your mailing list or selling them something they don’t want.
My recommendation - get them off your list, refocus, retarget, and get people included who want to be there.
2. Talk to your customers in a way they can understand you. Using your metrics and analytics, learn about what your target audience wants, then talk to them in that way. You get the audience you talk to. If you don't have the audience you want, it's because you aren't targeting the right people. Or you are talking to the right people in the wrong way. But how do you change it?
- Determine what you are doing now that is working (getting you the results you want) and what's not working (getting you results you don't want).
- Ask people to go to your site and review your materials and tell you what they think your value proposition is. If they don't get what you do, no one else does either. If they get what you do and you don't have an audience that is doing anything, you need to be honest with yourself - do these people want what you have? Are you solving a problem that this audience either doesn't have or want to solve?
- Make changes to your messaging and make your UX clearly actionable and easy to understand. Iterate on that until you start seeing results. Sometimes, it takes a while to get where you need to go, especially if you are doing something revolutionary.
Many people will look at a free content site as a way to press their noses against the glass and smell the rolls. But you want roll buyers, not roll sniffers.
3. Solve a problem and provide value. Sometimes, I think as entrepreneurs we risk falling in love with our product so much that we forget to ask ourselves "why would someone want to buy this?" And if we do ask that, we don't follow it up with the next question, "who would want to buy this?" Products we create are like our children. And everyone loves their child, flaws and all. But the difference between a baby and a product is that you need to be honest about your product and why someone would want it or not. (No one ever sees a baby as being ugly.)
People will pay for something they find valuable (see earlier points in the article). Some questions to consider that will help you see that:
- Why should someone come back to your site? Is this an ongoing problem that they will have until they get a solution? Or is this temporary that they can fix?
- Is your product helping your users and target audience? Or is it something you want to sell? (I'd recommend stop thinking about yourself and sales and start thinking about how you are helping someone and why they will find your help valuable. That's what gives you success. People understand and acknowledge the value of help. But if your product isn't helpful and about you and your success, well...)
- Why are people NOT clicking to buy? Sure, you have customers, but the real opportunity lies in those who are not buying from you.
- Why are they not clicking?
- How can you engage with them to change their minds?
- How can you build a relationship with them to change that?
4. Engage with your audience. Ryan does this with his Ask Method - he does surveys. You can also do this through social media or other communication. Engagement builds a relationship with your customers. You have to find a way to communicate with them, get information from them, build a relationship with you. Both sides need to learn about the other and invest in the relationship if there is to be a sale at some point.
Relationships are dialogs. Your customer is learning just as much about you as you are about them. This is why having smaller stores was important in the past. The smaller store owners would get to know you and sell products made by someone else that solved your problem. They got to know your joys and fears, what makes you tick. With the rise of the Internet and direct sales models, site owners are expected to know all of your customers - B2B or B2C. That's a lot of people. This is why you can't run a store anymore without tools. You need to get to know your customers and prospects and they need to get to know you to make a decision.
If you look at Gypsy Rose Lee, she didn't know each member of her audience personally, but she understood what they were looking for based on their reaction to her shows. They kept coming so she gave them what they wanted. That's the sign of a great entertainer - they know what their audience likes to see.
If you aren't sure how to get started talking to your customers, use Ryan's Ask Method. Ask them questions through surveys. Alternatively, start a conversation with your customers on social media. Or offer them something for free and observe the response. Find out what they like, give them more of, maybe charge for it if they demand even more.
Sure, you've gotta find a way to connect with your audience. But do you need a gimmick or a brand? Gypsy Rose Lee got it right - she got a brand and left them wanting more. So should you.