After having spent years experimenting to discover the kind of messages, headlines, headers that get real response from real people, I have heard more than enough of the ‘gospel of get.’
What is this ‘good news’ I am referring to?
It’s the idea that if you want to get the most response, especially in headlines, you should always focus on what that person is going to get. And focus on it FIRST.
And when I was working with MarketingExperiments, this was ALWAYS the flagship experiment that was used to support that: Source: Numerous MarketingExperiments web clinics and blog posts
I can’t begin to tell you have many web clinics, event presentations and blog posts this experiment has found its way into. And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of value in it!
You could even find a gain for yourself right now by adopting the principle.
But there is another principle I have learned to leverage when it comes to communicating value in a way that can be quickly understood. And it has little to do with getting something they don’t already have.
I call it the “gospel of give-up.”
It’s OK, this is not a religious piece of advice. The word “gospel” originates from the combination of two words: “good news”
And there is good news associated with this approach. I have witnessed first-hand how it turn the tide in what had been multiple failing conversion optimization wars (against ourselves, of course!)
I say “give-up” because it’s about focusing on something someone potentially stands to lose / give up, or something they desperately want to avoid because of the perceived personal loss that comes with it.
Enter the principle of loss aversion.
If you go to Google, you’ll find loss aversion defined as “people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it is better to not lose $5 than to find $5.”
Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman (of the Thinking Fast, Slow Fame
) and his late partner Amos Tversky quantified this empirically and determined that a gain of 2.5 units is equivalent to avoiding a loss of 1 unit. Therefore, if you want people to act, promising loss avoidance is more powerful than promising gain.
It turns out our forebears were not too far off the mark when they opined that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush!
But the key question you might be having is this: How can you activate this principle when you’re trying to sell them something they don’t already have?
What could you possibly highlight as a loss when it seems like there is only gain to be had?
Let’s answer that with a successful example, or two:
The product in this example is a highly sophisticated, non-invasive technique for dealing with chronic back problems.
So.. what do they have to lose? When you use their product/service… very little. But when you go WITHOUT their product… well… take a look:
If you’re looking to completely shock yourself today, type in “open back surgery” in Google and click on the images tab.
It is NOT for the faint at heart. Seriously, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
The people seeing this ad have already talked about that option with someone, and have already seen the images. They know the risks, and they DEFINITELY don’t want to take those risks if they don’t have to.
Because “people are fundamentally conservative by nature” (not talking politics here, we’re talking human nature!). Meaning, people will only expend the minimal amount of energy necessary, or take the least amount of risk possible, in trying to get something they need/want. (Source: Robert McKee, Story).
So the treatment highlights what they can AVOID LOSING in a way that is still very clear and speaks to the benefit of the product. (just imagine all the risks associated with a back cut wide open!)
The result was just shy of 50% increase in conversion rate, with no statistically significant difference between the other two treatments’ performance.
So how about another example? Let’s take one we have featured in one of our own recent case studies
In this case, the product is shoe inserts. But these aren’t any ordinary inserts… they pretty much eat Dr. Scholls for breakfast, and solve problems for people on the prescription level. Protalus Insoles
The only problem is people can’t easily see how and why, like the same problem a locksmith experiences when they just come in and pop your lock open. (yes, if they don’t look like they are trying hard, we are less satisfied to pay them what’s due – check out Dan Ariely’s awesome video blog post on this: http://danariely.com/2010/12/15/locksmiths/
So we tried numerous approaches. And then we finally leveraged this principle… focusing on what they stand to lose if they DON’T try this product and buy the only other realistic alternative that will actually solve their problem.
We focused the messaging on avoiding back surgery and avoiding shelling out $600 for custom orthotics instead of simple gain. The new page produced 58% more revenue
and contributed to the business going from mid 7-figures in revenue to well above 8-figures.
When we framed the conversation around what they stand to lose if they don’t try the product, but still solve the problem with an alternative, we got more people to pay attention and respond.
Sometimes perceived gain is contingent on perceived loss
We know that eventually, in most conversion scenarios, we are going to need to be clear about what it is that someone is going to get in exchange for what they are going to give us (their credit card, personal information for a follow-up, etc).
But instead of just going into that, why not help them understand what that means?
It’s no different than the child (my daughter, specifically) that sometimes doesn’t fully understand or appreciate the need to listen and pay attention sometimes.
…Or doesn’t understand the need to be generous and to give.
I need to help her focus on what those things really mean… and what she stands to lose if she doesn’t listen, what she stands to lose if she is selfish and greedy.
So don’t always focus first on what they get. Focus on what they are avoiding. After all, it covers two out of three things any given business is trying to focus on at any given time (making money (get/grow), saving money (avoid waste), or staying out of jail (avoid complete shutdown))