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From Abstract Idea To A Story About Success. ( A Y Combinator Website Marketing Tune-up.

by Paul Montreal. Average Reading Time: about 12 minutes.


This week I’m looking at Will’s website He’s got a Y Combinator backed startup selling some kind of electronic loyalty card system. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn…

1. Your opening headline should be a concentrated sales pitch.

Click for full size homepage image.

Click for full size homepage image.

Here’s the opening copy…

Punch Cards for the 21st Century
loyalty, email & sms marketing, referrals and more!

The first question that comes to mind is – how familiar are people with the term “punch cards”? Is that an American name for “loyalty cards” that I’m just not aware of? It’s entirely possible. But when I Google “punch cards” 95% of the images I see are old computer punch cards. When I Google “loyalty cards” or “reward cards” 95% of the images are what I think it is we’re really talking about.

The second line, the sub-header reads like a list of marketing words at the moment. I have a general idea what the site is about, but not why it’s special, not why it’s different.

Action: Once we’ve established what the real unique value of this product is, put it into a real sentence as the sub-header. And use the most recognizable way to describe the product in the headline.

2. Use your images to tell a story.


There’s a place for static product shots, but when you’re opening the site, you’ll do better with an “action shot”. Instead of just showing the product, show the product being used, in the relevant context, by people. The one above is a good example, but if you could get a human face in there even better.

Right now this image is being used as a faded out background shot. And it’s obscured by multiple product shots.

We have to remember that our product is not really the star of the show. Our customer is the star of the show and what they really want to buy is more money in their pocket. Our product is a means to that end, but not the end goal.

Action: Use images to tell visual stories. But keep the customer and their world as the star of the show.

3. Does your USP solve the most important problem?


Here’s what’s being highlighted as the most important thing about this company…

You worked hard to build a unique brand and business that your customers fell in love with. Don’t settle for a loyalty system that throws their branding all over your store and drives your customers to go to other businesses.

I can’t help wonder if this is the biggest problem that needs solving in this space? There’s lots of competition to get users’ private information, so that retailers can track their shopping habits and email them. So, to stand out, we really have to solve the most pressing problems.

Do other loyalty card systems really encourage shoppers to go elsewhere? Is branding really the big problem to solve? I’m not so sure.

The motivation for using a loyalty card, from the consumer’s point of view (the people who really matter), is free stuff. Or more accurately, the game of getting free stuff. The reward of moving towards the free stuff is half the fun. A loyalty card has to be very easy to use. It has to be clear and obvious what the benefit is. And it needs to have almost no friction when using it.

The second you move from printed paper cards and a stamp, which is a system that’s really easy to use, to a digital system of any type, where you’re asking for a user’s private information, you’ve already increased the friction 100 fold.

And not for any obvious extra benefit on the customer’s side.

I’d say the biggest real-world challenge isn’t branding, and it isn’t about the retailer. It’s much more fundamental. How quickly and smoothly you get people using this system at the checkout?

Slowing things down at the checkout is a major problem for busy retailers, so their number one problem is going to be friction.

If you want to persuade a retailer that your system is better than all the competitors, you’ll have to demonstrate that your system has the lowest friction in the business.

The easier and faster it is to use, the more people will use it.

Custom branding is a nice to have but I don’t think it’s enough to have as your only USP. Because a business like this isn’t won or lost on the concept, it’s all about the execution. Convincing retailers to try it is only the first step, getting consumers to actually enjoy using it is the real goal.

Action: Consider whether your USP is really solving the biggest problem that your customers face. Having a unique selling point isn’t enough. You have to have a unique selling point that your customers really care about.

4. You absolutely need a video showing this working.


You absolutely have to make a video demonstrating a product like this. Because it really isn’t clear how the pieces fit together. You have plastic cards, how do they work? There are pictures of “an app” with QR codes, is that an alternative to the plastic cards?

By trying to cram the entire product demonstration into a series of hidden pages and one line descriptions, it just isn’t clear how this works. There should be a clear path A, B, C. The more options you add to the story, the less clear the basic process is.

As already mentioned, the whole issue of “signing up” can’t be explained with a few one liners. Getting people to overcome that friction of signing up is 99% of the task you’re building your business upon.

Right now it reads like you have to sign up at the checkout, then go to the website, then download an app.

Action: Avoid hiding basic content about how the product works behind buttons and links that need to be uncovered. This isn’t a treasure hunt for basic information. Make a video that shows in real-time how quickly and easily this system works at the point of sale.

5. Bring this down from the theoretical to the hands on.


There’s something about all the copy on the site which doesn’t quite respect the amount of thought a retailer will put into this type of purchase.

If you want them to care, you have to give them a full and detailed sales pitch. You have to offer proof on top of proof that this will put more money in their registers than it will cost.

They demand more detail, more specifics. Less theory, more “show me the money”.

Don’t just say “send deals” or “beautiful newsletters” or “reward customers”. Show me some specific case studies where you work with a certain type of business, they offer a very specific type of offer, and they get a specific type of return.

Not all retailers are the same. A coffee shop is not the same as a clothes shop, is not the same as a hair salon. And this type of system will work better in some than in others.

Instead of trying to sell this system to anyone, I’d be trying to prove its value with the most likely type of retail environment.

Setting up free trials in a number of different types of retailer and then working closely with those retailers to master the process in that niche.

It can’t just be about getting terminals into shops. They have to be valuable over the long term. For retailers and for consumers. So you have to be the experts on how to help your retailers get the most out of this way of marketing. You should be the fountain of all knowledge for exactly how to get the maximum number of people to sign up, which type of offer works best, how frequently to send out promotions, what format of email works, etc. etc.

You have to be demonstrating that this stuff really works in the only context that matters to a retailer – other shops just like theirs. So far, there’s not even an attempt to prove that a retailer can expect any kind of return on investment.

Action: Divide all retailers up into similar niches. Food, hair and body services, fashion, etc. Pick the ones you think most likely to succeed with the benefits and limitations of this technology. Double down on working with a handful of retailers in each niche to master the whole process and prove the value of this system. Use those retailers as case studies, then reach out to the rest of those niches through their trade press, industry distributors and associations.

6. Don’t fire bullets at customers, tell them a story.


Lose the features / bullet screen. I want you to imagine two sales professionals at a trade show, both talking to potential customers.

One of the sales professionals is telling a story…

A story about how he recently worked with a lovely young Entrepreneur called Vanessa. Vanessa who owns a small chain of nail salons. Vanessa has been using the countertop display to gather her clients’ details. She tested a few different incentives and found that her customers most responded to an offer of a completely free pedicure for them and a friend. Not only did this offer make it really easy to get people on board but Vanessa saw a 25% increase in new customers who’d been introduced to her salon through the offer.

After the initial offer, Vanessa has been using the beauty services email template to email her customers in batches, every 4 weeks. Just about the length of time that they might be thinking about their next manicure. She also does a separate email, once a month, where she sends out a special birthday promotion offer to anyone who has a birthday that month. She’s seen a 50% increase in people buying her special birthday pampering party. A package where customers can bring their friends for a manicure, pedicure and a glass of sparking wine before they celebrate a birthday night out.

The other sales professional is reciting a list of features…

Branded Tablet & Stand
We will design a branded 10′ Samsung Tablet and ship with a high quality Heckler Stand.

Branded Web App
The average person checks their phone over 1500 times a day. Your logo is now on their home screen!

Plastic Cards
Hand out high quality, branded loyalty cards and key tags to your customers.

Website Plugin
We seemlessly integrate with any website so your customers can sign up from anywhere.


Which sales professional do you think will sell the most?

My guess is, the first one. The one telling a real story, about a real person running a real business. A story about how our technology is helping her do business in very specific and inspiring ways.

Action: Don’t shoot bullet points at customers unless you’re summarizing a lot of information you’ve already covered in detail. Tell then stories. Our websites are just digital sales people. They have to explain our value in an interesting, energetic way, they have to offer lots of proof and they have to build trust.

7. Go beyond stock photography.


Replace the generic “happy office people” photos with images of real people. Like the page full of icons above, stock photos suck the life out of a sales pitch. They shout “We’re fake and we’re hiding behind some people who don’t really work for us”. It subtly eats away at the trust you’re trying to create.

Look at how big the picture of the fake people is, compared to the tiny head shots of the real people you’re doing business with. That should be the other way around.

At this stage, you don’t have an established brand. You just have an idea. And ideas are not a solid enough foundation for people to really trust us. We have to earn that trust, develop that trust, and prove that other people trust us.

Create an About Us section where you demonstrate who you are, what your background is, why you’re in this business and why you’re going to be in it for the long haul. There should be dozens of big, happy human faces on that page, founders, staff, customers, investors, people saying good things about you with their smiles.

Action: Lose the icons and replace the stock photography with real human faces of team members, partners and customers.

8. Tell me exactly what to expect.


Never have a generic web form as your only call to action. It’s like asking people to walk into a dark cave when they don’t know what to expect.

Have a big friendly picture of the person you want them to contact. And make it clear who or what that person is called. Even better, have a video of that person introducing themselves.

If you’re just trying to get an email address, the less you ask the better, but if people are requesting a call-back it’s fine to ask something specific about their business. Communication is give and take, I tell you something about me, you tell me something about you.

Asking what business they are in is a good start. Asking what would be a convenient time for them to be called is another.

Let them know exactly what to expect. The human brain hates unpredictability more than just about anything else. When you ask for their details but don’t give any indication of what will happen next, or when it will happen, you’re asking them to submit to your unpredictability. Most people simply won’t do that.

And retailers are busy people. Let them know what will be expected of them. “Request a demo” isn’t enough. How will you demo? Where will you demo? What’s the cost in time and energy, and ability to say no, going to be?

Action: Customers are busy, cynical, skeptical, and afraid. Make it easy for them to make contact with you in a number of ways. The more they’ve seen you, heard you, and learned from you in advance, the more they will trust you to actually talk about buying a product. You could get 100x more people to see you demo your product by doing a video webinar. Where there is less pressure on the potential customer, but you still get to collect their email addresses and you still get to chat and answer their questions.


Right now this website is just pitching a concept. It’s not selling the value of this service in enough depth. We have to persuade retailers that it’s relevant to their particular type of business. And we have to demonstrate that it will deliver a return on their investment. Divide the market up. Focus on really mastering one or two niche’s at a time. Prove your marketing expertise beyond the terminal and software. And then communicate those results in a series of case studies featuring real people with real businesses. That will open up a whole new set of routes into the market place through trade press and existing distributors.

I’d like to thank Will for sharing his work and helping everyone learn from the process. Until next time, stay the course, see it through, make your mark! :)

Website not giving you the results you expected? How about some non-judgemental feedback from a fresh set of eyes? Apply for an online marketing tune-up with Paul Montreal

What do you think?...

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  1. Paul Montreal says:

    Apologies this week, this isn’t my best writing. It actually takes me 3x as long to edit these tune-ups as it does to make my initial notes and I was just too squeezed for time to make this as clear as I would have like to. I hope there’s still some value in there for someone.

  2. Actually Paul this has a lot of value. I think the messages here are applicable to a vast majority of startups.

    I especially liked your points about avoiding stock photos and telling a story that show why customers will be rushing at this, and will result in more money in the business owner’s cashier.

    So once again thank you for taking the time to do these tune-ups!

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