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How To Be A Scholar And A Poet. ( A Y Combinator Website Marketing Tune-up.

by Paul Montreal. Average Reading Time: about 11 minutes.

Tenjin, a y-combinator website marketing tune-up.

This week I’m looking at Sunny’s website They’re a 7 person Y Combinator start-up, selling an analytics tool. They help people who are promoting mobile apps, to make better decisions about where to spend their advertising money. Let’s dive in and see what we can learn…

Click for full size home page image.

Click for full size homepage image.

1. Is the most important thing you’re saying, the most important thing?

The homepage opens with a large bold promise…

Attribution, Aggregation, and Analytics for a single price.

Let’s imagine for a minute that we understand what “Attribution, Aggregation, and Analytics” means. The second part of the headline is implying that the real problem we have with “Attribution, Aggregation, and Analytics” is that we’re being charged “lots of different prices”.

But I’m going to bet that none of Tenjin’s customers lie awake at night thinking “If only I could get my attribution, aggregation and analytics for a single price, I’d finally be able to sleep!”

And that is really what we should be trying to achieve.

You literally want your ideal customer to say to themselves “Finally, just the solution I’ve been looking for”. So it has to be a solution to a real problem. Not an imaginary problem.

There should be enough words in that opening promise that it makes sense. But not a single word that isn’t communicating a solution to the most important problem.

Which leads into…

2. Your headline is the last thing you should write.

Writing a sales pitch is a detailed process. And a website is just a sales pitch, on the web.

You have to understand your customer from a lot of different angles. And then you have to understand how your product solves their problems.

Now, there’s a process to do that, and it requires some preparation. Just like a chef preparing a fine meal has to start with good ingredients, a marketer has to start with good questions.

Questions like … What is the most painful problem? Why hasn’t the problem already been solved? Why is it not the customers fault? What would an ideal solution look like? What’s the hidden emotional need? etc. etc. These are the raw ingredients for a marketer.

When you work through the process of preparation, listening to your customer to really understand the answers to these questions, you end up with what is essentially a long-form sales pitch.

You can turn that long-form sales pitch it into a sales letter, or a presentation, or a blog post, or a face-to-face conversation.

But you really have to master that long version of your pitch first, before you even think of trying to communicate it in a few words.

Start-ups are usually quite good at doing this, in person, already. You need to have a good pitch in order to get started in the first place.

But somewhere between the real-world enthusiasm of the founders and the marketing website, things get lost in translation. The passion is removed and the technical language and abstraction creeps in.

What we must do is go back to the kitchen. Go back to our raw ingredients. Go back to the fundamental human truths. Go back to our long-form pitch – then concentrate the juices to create our shortened headline or opening promise.

In a person-to-person meeting it might take you 15 minutes to tell a story which fully communicates your value. Once you’ve mastered that, try boiling your pitch down to a 3 minute story. “Bob works for a mobile app start-up. Bob’s job is marketing. He’s trying to promote his companies app across all the different advertising networks. But every day Bob struggles with…” You get the picture.

Once you’ve perfected your 3 minute pitch, work on a 30 second pitch. Now it gets harder, because we get tempted to rely on buzz words and acronyms to save time. But that usually comes at the cost of understanding. The skill is to keep condensing your story until you have the 5 second version, which is just a couple of lines, but it STILL maintains the core essence, the core value. It still clearly tells a human story of real problem and real solution.

It still makes the right person say “Finally, the solution to my problems!”

Tenjin website marketing teardown

3. Human Stories not Buzzword bingo.

After we’ve really captured our customer’s attention, by concentrating the most important aspect of our long-form sales pitch, we can move to the next phase. Now it’s time to expand the human story and incorporate our product into the narrative.

Only when we’re telling stories do we get to position ourselves as the “wizard guide”. Remember, it’s the customer, not us, who is the hero.

The website should unfold around a story about their world. A story they understand because they live it every day. The story shouldn’t unfold around our technology. They don’t understand our technology and they don’t want to. They just want to solve their problems.

Right now, the Home page is a list of buzzwords, that require explanation. But those explanations just use more buzzwords to compound the abstraction.

There isn’t a single human being on the Home page. There isn’t a single, genuine human emotion. There’s no empathy, so there’s no real connection.


4. Why Do We Find It Easier To Sell Ourselves To Employees Than Customers?

Here’s an interesting thing to ponder. I often come across dry, technical websites but find far more readable and relatable copy on the Vacancies page.

I love how fun and inviting and human the image of the Tenjin team is above. But it’s on a jobs page that’s hidden away. Why are we comfortable being human and projecting warmth and fun to potential employee’s but not customers?

Customers are people too!

First of all customers need to understand the basic value we can offer them. That’s where the stories come in. But secondly, and just as important, is that customers get to know, like and trust us as human beings. Because people want to do business with people they can relate to. As small companies trying to compete with faceless corporations it’s one of the few advantages we have.


5. What do you stand for, what are your values?

What binds people together are shared values. Ideas that we feel compelled to move towards, or away from. When we share our values, and those values align, we trust one another.

The human personality hates unpredictability. But with any new business relationship, unpredictability is a part of the process. To deal with the unpredictability we imagine the worst – what if something goes wrong? How will these strangers respond?

It’s safer for us to be overly cautious. If we can avoid danger, we will. Especially when we’re spending money and risking our reputation within our company. The default position is always “no sale”. That’s just how our brains are wired to work.

So, it helps to share our values with our customers. Give them the raw materials their imaginations need to predict the future. We need to make ourselves more predictable and therefore less risky.

A good About page is the start of this process and it’s great to see smiling human faces on there. More personal information will always help. But right now I want to touch on the overall corporate values.

The company name is Tenjin. Using an unfamiliar word is fine, but you’re going to have to spend resources to get that name to stick in people’s minds. So, if Tenjin is the name we have, how do we help people remember it? How do we make it mean something, anything, to our customers?

There’s clearly an Asian connection going on with this company. And Tenjin reinforces that. So why not go all in and position yourselves fully around that.

My quick Google search tells me that Tenjin is a Japanese Shinto deity. Representing both the scholar and the poet. (Now, this will all be very embarrassing for me if you named the company after some other Tenjin that I’m not aware of, but I will proceed anyway…)

Just with those two words “scholar, poet” you dramatically make the overall brand and name more meaningful and appealing. The scholar represents the data, analytical, technical side of your story. The poet, represents the human, emotional stories you need to become a part of.

I’d love to see that history, that culture, communicated as part of the corporate brand on your About page. Alongside a couple of lines from each staff member which add to the list of positive values that mean something to your employees as individuals. And I don’t mean “I’m a coffee lover from XYZ”. Let your customers in, connect on a genuine human level.

Click for full size page image.

Click for full size page image.

6. Use as many words as it takes.

I’d recommend moving away from this idea that you have to sell in tweetable one liners. Having one tweetable description of your product is fine. But having a website full of nothing but one liners just isn’t going to be persuasive.

We’re not selling a $5 impulse purchase, in a one-click shopping environment. This is a product with a substantial monthly price tag. So, any feature or benefit that we deem valuable has to be really sold to the customer, in detail. You’re far more likely to not say enough, than you are to say too much.

In the “blog” section, there is just one post “Building for the marketing scientist“. Now it’s not even a very long post, but it actually explains what the company is trying to achieve better than anything else on the website.

This is more like the sort of thing that should be on the homepage. This is the sort of writing that makes the whole idea make sense.

And within that blog post there is a hint towards something else that’s very important. It says…

At Tenjin, our mission is to create a service based platform for marketing scientists. At Tapjoy and Playnomics, I witnessed the struggle marketers face organizing big data in spreadsheets. My co-founder, Amir, and I built Tenjin so that mobile marketers could spend their time analyzing data, not wrangling it. If you’re a marketing scientist (or one in the making) we’d love to hear from you.

The key phrase for me is “If you’re a marketing scientist (or one in the making) we’d love to hear from you.”

The reality is that most of your potential customers, (whether they admit it or not) will fall into the category of “marketing scientist in the making”. In the making. Not 50 year masters of their craft. Because the craft, in this form, didn’t even exist, just a few years ago.

So, most of the people who can benefit from this tool, will be muddling along. They will be trying to sound knowledgeable, but half of the buzzwords everyone uses, won’t actually mean anything to them on a deep level.

Once we know this, we can change how we speak. We can move away from trying to sound smart and technical and like “experts”. And we can move towards creating deep understanding and really helping our customers do their jobs as well as possible, as “partners”.


7. Social proof.

Logo’s aren’t enough to generate trust. We need to link those logo’s to the real people in the real companies behind them and weave them into our site in the form of human faces, human problems and human case studies. Interviews with the actual people who have already used the product, not only help us tell better stories about our product, they help us understand the people we’re serving in more depth.

Starting a company to “scratch our own itch” is fine and a great way to begin. But the moment we do that, or the moment we get funding and have to add a big price tag, we instantly lose a lot of that perspective and empathy. We’re no longer our own customers. We’re now running a company, with a whole different set of challenges that the one we originally set out to solve with our product.

So we have to constantly keep a check on the accuracy of our assumptions about our customers. And case studies not only help us do this, but the more we can use our customers’ own words to sell our product, the more convincing our pitch will be.


Everything starts with the long form sales pitch. The most human version of your story. The one where you identify the person, the problem, the struggle, the goals and how your solution fits them like a glove. Everything else is a process of concentrating that pitch into shorter and more concise forms without losing its human essence.

The danger is allowing the scholar to drown out the poet. Thinking that sales decisions are made using reason and logic. But they are not. It is the “poet” in us all who is motivated to buy. The “scholar” merely comes in to justify the decision that has already been made.

I’d like to thank the guys for sharing with the community, I really respect what they’re doing. Until next week – 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

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