Without Narrative Control Amazing Offers Suffer

First, a definition. Narrative Control: Making positive something that is or will be perceived as negative.

If you have an unexpectedly good offer (for example, your product does something most products can’t, or you’re giving a discount that’s way better than most) then you need Narrative Control.

To illustrate I’ll show an example where Narrative Control isn’t used.

On CNN.com I saw this giant top of homepage banner (translation: it’s super expensive):

On click I was taken to this landing page:

77% off is an incredible deal (see headline). 30% of the people on this page will see this ad and say:

“Hey, that’s amazing. I’m so happy I clicked the ad”.

70% would say:

“I don’t buy it”

If the page also included a message to explain a little about how they achieve this 77% saving it would have an incredible impact on the skeptical shoppers:

#1 Way to Turn Interested Browsers into Buyers

I was listening to a really interesting story about Charity: Water. Turns out, a big reason people don’t donate is that they don’t trust how their donations will be used. Charity: Water grew because they convincingly addressed this concern.

Addressing these types of resistances is one of the 16 tactics in our toolbox. We call it Narrative Control and use it to convert interested browsers into buyers.

Our definition of Narrative Control: Making positive something that is or will be perceived as negative.

Think about your product’s sales pitch. You are likely listing a whole bunch of benefits targeted to a whole set of buyer types. Here is one example (see red box):

This line was added to appeal to people concerned about crashes. Simply stating “crash-resistant design” might work on a few people concerned about crashes. It will not work on the rest of the group. When the larger group sees “crash-resistant design,” they’re thinking, “yeah, but what makes it not crash?? I don’t buy it.”

If we don’t address this larger group we’re missing out on sales.

And this is just one claim.

Your site probably makes dozens of claims. Ranging from promises about quality, special discounts, popularity, etc. Each of these could benefit from some Narrative Control treatment. It’s a little bit of work but it makes the sales pitch watertight and converts people who are definitely interested but just not 100% convinced yet.

No Site Is Perfect. Can We Improve Conversions on Any Site in the World?

Hi there! My name is Preston and I work with Rishi at Frictionless Commerce as a conversion optimization specialist. I’ll be contributing a bit to Better Retail, so I just wanted to say it’s great to talk with you all and share some of what I’ve learned and worked on with Rishi. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned while at Frictionless Commerce is that there’s always room for improvement. In this post I’ll show you what I mean (just a heads up: this will be a lengthy post because there are a lot of moving parts that need explaining).

If you prefer video, click below (transcription below the video):


Sometimes when we look at websites we are intimidated. What do I mean when I say “intimidated”? Well, when we visit the websites of Fortune 500 companies, for example, it’s difficult to see where improvements can be made. These types of companies already have huge marketing and development teams at their disposal. So what measurable effect can we have on these sites as conversion optimization specialists? It’s easy to point out areas of friction on the sites of local mom-and-pop shops. But can we actually help companies like Nike, Comcast, or Best Buy increase conversions on their sites? If we can do that, then we can without a doubt improve conversions on any site in the world.

We’ve all heard the expression “less is more.” Sometimes, however, too little can be just that… too little. For websites, this means a number of things. One, this can be understood literally and mean that if your site isn’t giving your shoppers enough compelling information for simplicity’s sake, then you are offering too little and your conversion rates will suffer. On the other hand, this can mean that if your content isn’t easy to find, then for all intents and purposes your content is invisible to the user.

This is an issue that occurs on The Home Depot’s website. That’s right. The Home Depot, a Fortune 500 company (number 23 on the list, to be exact), has room for improvement. This is a company that has over 2,000 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, over 400,000 employees, and over $100 billion in revenue in 2017. I must be crazy for thinking that their site can see better conversion rates. But I’m not crazy (at least as far as I know), and I’ll show you why.

For today’s video, I’m going to look at The Home Depot’s Fence Installation service, and the goal is to increase the number of people who sign up for in-home consultations and quotes. Here’s what their fence installation page looks like:

Fence Installation Page

To provide some context, this page is one that is visited by shoppers who are interested in having their fence installed by workers contracted by The Home Depot. So as we navigate the fence installation page on The Home Depot’s site, we need to make sure we’re looking at the page from the perspective of one of these shoppers. Here is a link to the page so you can follow along and navigate through the page: https://www.homedepot.com/services/c/fence-installation/8fa995a0c

The first thing many shoppers will be drawn to are the visual elements. That means they’ll see the background image at the top of the page, then read the heading and see the form on the right. But what do they know? Well, nothing really other than that they’re on the fence installation page. If anything, some shoppers are actually more confused. There is no copy that tells them what to do and the form—which is the focal point of the entire page—is poorly presented. What’s the form for? Is it to get an online quote? To be contacted by their team? All it says is “Check availability”. “Availability” of what?

All of this is either answered much lower on the page, while filling out the form, or after the form has been completed. Why provide these answers for shoppers who have already committed to filling out the form? They obviously don’t have these same questions. For the shoppers that are asking these questions, however, there needs to be visible information that provides answers up front.

So let’s start with the most important element on the page, the focal point, the “check availability” form. This is going to be where we place all of our attention because this one form determines who signs up for the installation service and who doesn’t. The first issue we need to tackle is making sure shoppers understand what the form is for. Once completing the form, you are taken to a confirmation page that contains this extremely important information:

Confirmation Page.png

Essentially, The Home Depot has placed all of their Narrative Control at the… end of the funnel? This means that shoppers who have already completed the form are seeing this Narrative Control (that they clearly didn’t need in the first place). What about the people who left the page entirely before filling out the form? Why did The Home Depot ignore them and their concerns?

What we’ve learned after going through the form is that the form exists to set up free in-home consultations with shoppers. That way they can get an accurate quote. So why doesn’t The Home Depot say that up front? Well, it’s simple really. People do not like the idea of strangers coming into their home. But this is why we have our Narrative Control tactic.

So what we’ve done in our concept is add intro copy to this page that assures shoppers that they will be working with licensed professionals that are backed by The Home Depot. We’ve also killed two birds with one stone by telling shoppers exactly what the form is for. Already we’ve likely increased the number of shoppers who at the very least begin the form. Take a look:

Zip Code.png

Now comes the difficult part: getting them to complete the form. Let’s look at our concept again. The first few steps in the form are the same. “Tell us your zip code”? Well that’s not personal enough to create pause in the shopper. “What type of fencing material do you want to install?” Easy peasy. “When do you want to start your project?” Done. “What’s your name?” Uh, well, I guess I’ll tell them that.

“What’s your address?” Hmm. Why do they need to know that? Are they going to send me annoying mail?

To combat this concern, we’ve added a little link that will lead the shopper to a full-screen overlay with plenty of Narrative Control:



Now shoppers know why their address is needed. A licensed professional will be sent to their home for a free in-home consultation. What we are doing here is taking the information that The Home Depot gave us at the end of their form and bringing it to the top of sign-up process. This way shoppers will feel more compelled to move forward with the form.

The next point of friction in the form occurs on the very next step: “Tell us how to contact you.” The shopper is then asked to enter their phone number and email address. Well, now the shopper may be asking themselves if The Home Depot is going to bombard them with deals, promotions, newsletters, etc. Again, to combat this concern we’ve added another full-screen overlay that provides Narrative Control:

Phone Number


For shoppers who clicked on both popup links, they will see the popup above (for shoppers who only clicked on the second one, they’ll see a mega popup that includes information from both). This popup lets shoppers know that they need their contact information just so a licensed professional can set up a consultation date with them. The popup also lets shoppers know why a consultation and quote cannot be done over the phone. Additionally, for those shoppers who are a bit more price sensitive, we’ve added information about The Home Depot’s Consumer Credit Card and Project Loan program.

At this point, shoppers will definitely feel more relaxed about The Home Depot’s fence installation service and feel assured that they will be receiving top quality. We are absolutely confident that these few changes can increase conversions for The Home Depot—again, a Fortune 500 company with a huge marketing team. So surely we can increase conversions on any site in the world. The trick is to walk through sites from the perspective of shoppers.

Again, my name is Preston and you’ll be hearing more from me in the near future. I look forward to talking with you all in the comments and sharing more of what I’ve learned!

Think Closely About the Choices You Present

One wrong word (or phrase) can injure conversions.

Dyson is an amazing company. They KNOW how to market their engineering story. They also have beautiful products and a beautiful website. But no one is perfect.

Before I go on, let me ask a question: do you prefer reading text or watching a video?

“I prefer watching a video”:

“I prefer reading”: Ok, so here are the options they present:


Pay attention to the first 3. The 3rd option (3rd from the left) has one extra feature listed: Intelligent processor in the head:


This leads to all sorts of cognitive issues because I assumed the first 3 options were the same, except for color. They have the same price and number of reviews, which supported my theory. I even clicked the down arrow to see if maybe the 3rd model had differences in terms of accessories. Here too I couldn’t spot any difference:


To investigate I explored the Learn more button for all 3 models. The phrase Intelligent processor in the head isn’t mentioned anywhere on the product pages. At this point, my brain is getting a little fried.

I believe Dyson made a mistake. They accidentally added the phrase Intelligent processor in the head on the 3rd option even though that’s a feature that applies to all 3 models. This could be a fatal conversion killer. I’ll tell you what it did to me. When I first got to the page the red color model spoke to me (1st one listed). I was about to pull the trigger when I noticed the phrase Intelligent processor in the head. The narrative in my head was that the iron/fuchsia model is $399.99 and has Intelligent processor in the head. Do I really like the red color so much I’m willing to forgo a compelling feature (“Intelligent processor in the head”)? I don’t think so.

Navigation flow slowed (that’s not a good thing for Dyson). Ended up spending an extra 20 minutes to get to the bottom of Intelligent processor in the head and couldn’t figure it. My emotional self wants the red color and my rational side isn’t willing to give up on Intelligent processor in the head feature (especially because it is FREE on the fuchsia color model).

Guess what I did? I decided to defer the purchase. Guess what that really means? I might never return to the site.

One wrongly worded phrase totally messed up the comparison table.

What Makes a Good Story?

Of the 7 conversion triggers Story is probably the most powerful. But, what is Story? Story is the emotion we evoke in the mind of the audience.

The difference between an average and good story is 512x.

What Makes a Good Story - Feature Graphic.png

Let me illustrate with a story.

A sales guy has been working at a mattress store for 5 years. Like most brick and mortar businesses his store is facing margin pressures and diminishing foot traffic. Finally, the store closes.

This sales guy needs a new job. There aren’t too many (or any) retail businesses that are hiring so he applies to for a sales job at a local software company that’s rapidly expanding.

He can tell his story in one of two ways:

Format 1: I’ve spent the last 5 years managing sales at a local mattress store. I was their top salesperson.

One important aspect of storytelling is managing the narrative. In format 1 the narrative wasn’t managed well because the hiring manager is thinking, “who the hell works for a dinosaur retail store? Is this guy aware the world is rapidly changing and shoppers are buying online? His current job represents the past. Our company represents the future. Do we really want a person like this leading our sales? I’m not sure …”

If you don’t manage the narrative the reader will manage it for you. And they will always manage it in a way that doesn’t make you look good.

Format 2 (512x better): I’ve spent the last 5 years managing sales at a local mattress store. I know what you’re thinking, “why did I work for a dying channel?” It was intentional. Yes, the online channel (where you guys excel) has all the advantages. But there is one sales skill only a retail store can offer, which is the ability to study and react to shopper facial expressions on a real-time basis. Because very few retail stores remain this aspect of sales training is a dying art. Was I a good sales student of sales? I was their top salesperson.

Can Price Sensitivity Be Influenced? Yes

Written form of the video above:

As marketers, we tend to want to put the consumer into price buckets.

I’ve had conversations where the marketer would say: our target audience are retired people, or our target audience are people who make over $130k.

This implies an affluent shopper who is price insensitive is price insensitive for ALL purchases. And someone who is price sensitive is also sensitive under ALL scenarios.

Price sensitivity is situational. Here is my story. I use a marketing tool for work and spend several hundred dollars on it each month. It doesn’t bother me at all.

I also have an iPhone app called AnyList.com which we use maintaining our grocery store. It’s great and I’ve been on the free plan for years.

I recently wanted to add a picture of a food item to the app so I could identify it at the store. That required moving to the paid plan for $11.99 / year for a family. The moment I upgraded I realized I had made a mistake because their individual plan for $7.99 / year was a better fit (since we have just one account). I immediately emailed their customer service team. It took a few minutes to locate their contact info and compose an email to explain my situation. Keep in mind the difference was $4 / year. Four dollars a YEAR. In other words, I spent more time writing the email. So, what happened here? What happened is that I was being situationally price sensitive. I didn’t care about the few hundred I spend a month on the marketing tool because I’m primed to pay for those “types” of services. But paying an extra $4 a year for an app that I’ve been using for 6 years didn’t seem like a good deal. Why? It’s because in my mind apps are free.

I’m the same person, yet I’m behaving in two completely different ways, simultaneously.

My point is that affluent customers can be super price sensitive depending on a situation, and lower earning buyers can be super price insensitive depending on the situation.

Marketers can influence the situational price sensitivity of the shopper. How? By telling better stories.