Enhance Your Website Copy by Anticipating Customer Needs

by Diana Ecker on August 20, 2014

74HThe feeling of being understood immediately is a powerful way to accelerate connection.

When I was a kid, I took a trip to Hawaii with my family. We drove along the Road to Hana, a route famous for both amazing scenery and stressful driving conditions.

By the time we reached our hotel, I was completely overheated and frazzled.

The hotel staff came out and greeted us with heavy leis of cool, fragrant flowers and glasses of chilled guava juice.

The effect was immediately soothing. What a welcome relief!

What I remember most was how perfectly timed and tailored it was. Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised — of course they knew that many of their guests would be hot, exhausted, and stressed out after driving on that windy road.

The key, though, is that they took that knowledge and incorporated it in a way that made their guests feel known, understood, and comforted right from the second they arrived — before they even had a chance to express those needs.

How can businesses best incorporate this same process in their website copy?

Gracefully.

If we had got out of the car and had staff meet us with a speech: “I bet you’re tired. You’re hot. You were afraid you might drive off a few cliffs,” it would have been aggravating.

If they had oversold it: “I’ve got the perfect solution. You’re going to absolutely love it,” that would have been exasperating.

But simply showing up with the right solution in the right way is a beautiful thing. Not only does it address the immediate problem, but it sends a message that this business deeply understands its customers.
 

A very berry example: Creating a personal connection

At a recent visit to a berry farm, I came across an example of this. Berries were priced by the pint and by the quart and sold on the honor system, so there were no staff around.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always mixing up which is which. So I was charmed to see one of each container turned on its side, with “This is a quart” written on one and “This is a pint” on the other.
 
pint-quart-2-exp-4-res

The language sent two messages: first, it straightened out the issue so that customers could pay the right amount.

And second, it was like a friendly wink: “We know you mix these up. So here’s the answer we’d give if we were here in person.”

No staff in sight — and yet with a marker, two containers, and probably 20 seconds of effort, a feeling of personal connection had been established.
 

Strategically planning a navigation menu

After the tragic passing of Robin Williams, many of the actors who had worked with him took the time to share their memories. One of the people to do so was Lisa Jakub, who played (among other things) the oldest of the three children in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire.
lisa-jakub-blog
Now a writer by trade, Lisa has a blog where she writes about the past and the present (the subtitle is “A blog about acting. And then not acting”).

She’s uniquely aware that although she’s moved on professionally, people recognize her from her acting roles — in fact, her upcoming book is titled You Look Like That Girl.

On her blog, she creatively anticipates her readers’ curiosity with the page titles. Instead of the more typical “About Me,” there are two options: “What I’ve been up to (according to the internet)” and “What I’ve been up to (for real).”

Again, there’s a friendly wink — kind of like saying, “Hey, I know that I exist in popular imagination in a way that’s different from my real life, and if you’re here, you’re interested in both.”

Right from the home page, there’s an awareness of the difference between invented stories of Lisa’s life and her private story. These page titles create a productive tension between the two accounts and make the reader feel engaged.

They also accelerate a connection with Lisa and her work right from the start.
 

If you don’t like us…change us!

Survey company SurveyGizmo includes a delightful detail on their home page that makes prospective customers feel understood and accommodated.

Everything about the company’s image on the home page above the fold is designed around an accessible, whimsical image. Two little robots with tiny binoculars, even flowers in the cartoon tree — and the promise of “Survey software that makes you smile” combine to strengthen that effect.
 
surveygizmo-home

But what’s that in small capital letters under the main button on that page? “Too cute?” it asks. “Rebrand us!”

For the customer who arrives on the page and has sudden misgivings about whether or not all of the cuteness will be too much for a survey geared to their stakeholders, this line of text must feel like a lifeline.

Clicking on it leads to a page with a cheery announcement — “We’re Brand Adaptable!” — and annotated examples of exactly how you can customize the look and feel of their product to meet your needs.

SurveyGizmo takes the exact thought that a number of their prospective clients are thinking when they hit the home page — “Hmm, too cute” — and offers up an alternative right away.

By anticipating and acknowledging their audience’s needs, they not only offer up a useful response, but illustrate that they have real knowledge of what those needs are. This creates a feeling of connection and sends a message that could cement a user’s feeling about the product from the beginning.

What are your customers thinking, and how can you anticipate and acknowledge their needs? Do it with a lot of understanding and a light touch, and you may just create an instant connection right on the spot.

Top photo by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design, awesomely based in Ithaca, NY, via Gratisography

UPDATE (8/20/14):

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly Crossland August 21, 2014 at 7:00 am

Love these real life examples! So much of exceptional copywriting is listening to your audience and (as you said) anticipating what they’ll struggle with, question, or worry about. Then… answer it. To write copy that converts, you need to know your audience better than they know themselves. Not always easy but when done right, it’s incredibly powerful.

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Sara Borean | Graphic Designer August 21, 2014 at 7:23 am

I love the introduction and your real life examples. I was able to connect and imagine the story in my head. Listening to your audience can be one of the hardest things to do but doing the work is so rewarding. Like you said, “The hotel staff came out and greeted us with heavy leis of cool, fragrant flowers and glasses of chilled guava juice.”

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Siedah Mitchum Designs August 21, 2014 at 7:47 am

WHY? Is the first question I now ask myself in everything I do now. Why is this important? Why should she care? and next is HOW? How will this impact her? How will this help her? How do I deliver this to her? How do does she feel and how do I want to make her feel?

When I ask myself these questions while writing my copy, coming up with a new product or service it pushes me to serve my client rather than myself. 🙂

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Emily August 21, 2014 at 10:23 am

Like everyone else, I love the examples you highlighted – both the personal and professional. It’s one of the most challenging, underrated and (often, when done exceptionally well) unremarked-upon components of business, this anticipating of needs. Because there frequently is no direct link to bottom line, it’s one of the first things to go as businesses grow and thus one of the unique advantages entrepreneurs and small businesses have – the bandwidth and buy-in to keep that concern front and center.

As a consumer, it really is the little bits of nurturing (that successful anticipation of my needs) that makes the difference for me between an experience that I (hopefully) enjoyed vs. one that I will share and talk about with others, one that I’ll return to and invest in. We all want our clients/customers to react in that second fashion.

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