D_C (Episode 51) – How to Tell Your Brand Story – WP Feature Image

Drive and Convert (Ep. 051): Telling Your Brand Story Without Compromising Conversions

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about how too many ecommerce brands lead with information about their company, their team, or their mission before telling prospectives customers how they can help solve THEIR needs.

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About This Episode:

In this episode, Ryan and Jon talk about how too many ecommerce brands lead by sharing information about their company, their team, or their mission before they tell a prospective customer how they can help solve their problems or address their needs.

You don’t need to sterilize your brand or devolve into some kind of faceless, robotic corporation, but there is a way to serve customer needs first while still sprinkling in some of your brand’s distinct personality.

Listen to the full episode if you want to learn:

  1. Why going “brand-first” is seldom the best approach
  2. What customers care about most when they visit your site
  3. How you can maintain strong brand positioning without losing sales
  4. How the most successful brands are balancing customer needs with company messages

If you have questions, ideas, or feedback to share, hit us up on Twitter. We’re @jonmacdonald and @ryangarrow.

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Episode Transcript:

Announcer:
You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast about helping online brands to build a better e-commerce growth engine with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow.

Ryan:
So, Jon, you were telling me the other day about a study you had been reading, and looking through, and obviously, studying the study from Baymard Institute about the about us type pages on sites. Some of those numbers you were telling me about surprised me to say the least because it goes against some of the things I’ve believed in the past in how a brand should operate. The first one was I think it was 62% of people shopping on smaller product sites or small catalogs and direct-to-consumer brands interact with pages of the about us or what is our story, what is our mission. But then if you move to larger retail sites, such as like a Target, or a Nike, or some of those big major brands, Baymard found that only 37% of users explored those pages or spent some time on them trying to understand what they were trying to accomplish and always looking at the differences between small and big brands.
As small brands try to become big brands, a lot of times, you’ve advised clients and e-commerce managers to move some of those links from primary navigations and use different strategies to get that point across. So you’re adopting big boys, but there’s still a lot of demand on those small sides. So I guess I want to understand a little bit more around your logic behind a lot of that and how smaller brands can, I guess, still get that story of who they are and what they’re trying to do in the world while they still sell stuff, which is their end goal, what they’re trying to do with their traffic. So enlighten us today.

Jon:
Yeah. Great question, and I love this topic because it’s something I get pushback on all the time. I think that’s why I was sharing some of this information was because the reality is that people come to me like, “Yeah. No. I’ve read this research report.” I had to go find that research report, which is why I came across these numbers, and they always say, “But people look at these pages, and my analytics say that. Baymard says it. So who’s right?” It’s not you, by the way, and so I really wanted to have a conversation about it because I think it’s worthwhile.
Here’s the reality. In my mind, there’s just no debate about whether or not the information should be on your site. It should. It’s just not even a debate. Yes, it needs to be on your site. However, I have very strong opinions about where and how that information should be presented. So I think a lot of people get that confused. They say, “Well, Jon says we shouldn’t talk about ourselves on our site.” I mean, I did publish a book that said, “Stop marketing. Start selling.” It was the title, and so I could understand how people may get that confused, but I don’t hate marketing. I just feel like it has a time and a place, and it’s generally before people get to your website. It’s what drives traffic, not what converts…

Ryan:
I would agree with that.

Jon:
Oh, great. I’m glad to hear that coming from a marketing guy.

Ryan:
Yeah.

Jon:
All right.

Ryan:
So it’s almost like as a small brand trying to grow big, you want less people to look at your about us because that indicates maybe that you’re growing big or they already know who you are.

Jon:
I mean, you could definitely correlate that from the of data, right? Here’s the reality. I think the smaller you are, the more people have… or the less people have inherent trust.

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
Right? So people aren’t coming to your site. Like when they come to Nike’s site, they trust Nike. They know Nike. They see people wearing it. They’ve seen them on TV. When they come to a smaller site with a brand that they maybe heard on social or somebody referred them, they want to know more about it. So it makes sense people are looking for that information. The problem is that consumers have to go to an about us page because that information isn’t anywhere else in their buying journey, and so that’s where it becomes an issue. So now I have, again, opinions about where this should go.

Ryan:
Got it. Okay. So if we’re going to start advising people because we like to tell people specific things they can take away from this and actually accomplish, what are some of the first things they need to be looking at or thinking about if they’re, I guess, trying… If I’m summarizing well, you’re trying to move from the about us page, who we are too, along that process to buy on the site. I’m looking at a product page. I should know, I’m guessing, something about you. Right?

Jon:
For sure. Yeah. How can you tell that story without taking people out of the purchasing journey, out of the funnel, which if they have to go to your about page, that’s generally what’s happening, right? You’re taking them out of that conversion funnel because the about page is unlikely to be deep in the conversion funnel. So if they get to a product detail page, we want to send them all the way back up to an about page. So, first, my thought is that some brands and products need more storytelling than others. I think this is important context in why I want to start here because at the end of the day, there’s some product categories that consumers need more information about to be able to purchase and they’re interested in the details, and others where decision-making might be more transactional. If I’m buying on Amazon, it’s likely going to be more transactional. I need double-A batteries. How much research do I care about who the manufacturer was? Most people are probably on Amazon buying the generic Amazon brand. They’re utility. They’re trying to get a job done, right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
But if someone is shopping for, let’s just say, a nightlight for their kid, and this is relevant for me because I have a five-year-old, just went through this. Am I going to take the time to read the founder’s backstory and research how the product is sourced? I mean, maybe, but it’s more likely that I just want to get an affordable light that works for my kid to feel safer, and so that I can get more sleep.

Ryan:
With a quick delivery time.

Jon:
There you go. Right? So you really need to know your product and your audience, and most companies do. Thy know it better than anyone else. So the brand is the best person to determine how to display the backstory and production processes that need to be featured. So I guess to summarize, should it be published somewhere on your site? Yes, probably. Does it need to be a dedicated page in the primary navigation? No, likely not.

Ryan:
It probably doesn’t make sense to bombard a product page, if you’re driving a lot of shopping traffic, to bombard your product page with a bunch of details about how you manufacture a product or all those love and care you put into how it screws into the outlet or…

Jon:
Yeah. I mean, great point here. Right? You got to find that balance. You really need to find the balance, and the problem is the smaller brands and the mid-size brands, they always swing in the direction of too much of that content almost always. They love to talk about themselves, and they think that’s why people are buying from them. Unlikely. People are buying from you to solve their own pain or need and that’s… They have nightlight they need. Okay. Great that it was made sustainably, and you came up with it because you had a similar pain for me, and this type of nightlight works best and has all these features that are really cool for kids. That’s great. I’m happy to do that and hear about that, but where should that content be? On the product detail page when I’m in that buying journey and I want to know about why it has certain features. That’s a great time to tell a little bit of your story.

Ryan:
Yeah. But again, like you said, I think the whole story should be probably elsewhere. You don’t want to stop them on like, “Ooh, let’s read this story about how this person did this.” No, no, no, no. They’re on your product page from shopping to transact. Okay. So you’ve got all this content on your site already about how amazing your brand is and your mission, and how you came up with all your wonderful, sustainable nightlights. What do you do? Where do you put it? Does it just evaporate and you try to put half here, half here, half here?

Jon:
Well, we’ll get to that. I think the first thing is you don’t remove the pages.

Ryan:
Okay.

Jon:
We will use the content elsewhere, and I definitely want to talk about that, but I’ll start by saying you keep the content pages. However, you just move them to your footer. Get them out of the way of the main shopping journey. It’s still there if people want it. It’s still there for SEO purposes. People search your brand name, so that’s where they could be great to have those about us pages, especially as you start getting some press, things of that sort. That’s a utility type of thing that it’d be helpful to have that page, but it’s not helpful for the buying journey.
So about us style content can absolutely be a differentiating factor for your business. It’s just not in that buying journey. So what I highly recommend is you think about what information should be on that page as well, and we’ll start there by saying… Answer questions. Who do you serve? What problems do you solve? What makes you and your products different? Who’s behind the company? That’s something people want to know. Founder, the team, investors even maybe. How did you start the company? What was that pain you solved? Right? What do you stand for? Are there any missions? Are you a B-corporation? Things of that sort. So shoppers want answer to those questions. As a brand, they always enjoy telling their own stories, which again I’m not suggesting you don’t, but you should absolutely consider putting a dedicated page. Just don’t put that in your primary navigation. That’s really the biggest thing. Move it to your footer.

Ryan:
Well, I think most people also understand too that that’s where you go to get that. If it’s not in the main nav, I know it’s going to be in the footer. If it’s not in the footer, then it’s almost like, “What is wrong with you? I tried to find your about us.”

Jon:
It’s funny you say that because so much of our user testing shows that visitors are checking out the footer for that information. When we do user testing, we say, “Hey, can you find more information out about this company?” and we go find more information out about this company. The first thing they do, scroll all the way down and look in the footer. That’s a big reason we say that you really should have all your trust information down there so that people develop some trust, know you’re a legit brand. Part of that is the trust trifecta, which is the phone number, email address, and physical address for your business. Those all should be in there in the footer, and another one is something like our story, about us page.
So again, I argue that you should keep that information, but move it out of the primary navigation, which that prime real estate of that header main navigation, it’s best used for commercial links, product categories, seasonal information, new arrivals, accessories, so on. Right? Not just information about you. It’s all information about solving the pain for the consumer. So the key thing that I always see is if you say, “Us,” in a navigation item, it should be removed. So “About Us,” “Why Us.” Right? If you’re talking about yourself in your main navigation, that needs to get moved. That’s a good way to look at it.

Ryan:
One of my big pet peeves. So you’ve got the [wee-wee 00:10:51] and all the email stuff. It’s the endless scroll homepage that can’t get to the footer. I’m like who, “Who…”

Jon:
Yeah.

Ryan:
Somebody designed something there that wasn’t thinking about something. They’re like, “I don’t know who you are, and I can’t get through this endless scroll of products. Let me get to the footer.”

Jon:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Ryan:
That happens on category pages most often probably where it’s like, “Oh, you can scroll through all of our 500 t-shirts.” I’m like, “God, I’m actually just trying to get to the bottom of your page because I clicked on an ad and looking for a t-shirt, and I know you have them. Let me see who you are.”

Jon:
Yeah, and that’s what most people will do is if they know the category product they want, they’d go to the footer to try to get it. So, yeah. So look, what I’m suggesting if I could summarize my point is just that you keep all the material. But instead of having to occupy that valuable real estate in your navigation, cut it up, and let’s sprinkle it throughout your website. Take the images, the copy, calls to actions, dedicated pages in the footer. That’s where people want this kind of information.

Announcer:
You’re listening to Drive and Convert, a podcast focused on e-commerce growth. Your hosts are Jon MacDonald, founder of The Good, a conversion rate optimization agency that works with e-commerce brands to help convert more of their visitors into buyers, and Ryan Garrow of Logical Position, a digital marketing agency offering pay-per-click management, search engine optimization, and website design services to brands of all sizes. If you find this podcast helpful, please help us out by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and sharing it with a friend or colleague. Thank you.

Ryan:
You’ve got it in the navigation. You don’t have the endless scroll. Jon and Ryan are happy with that. How do you easily go about sprinkling data throughout your site? I mean, it sounds very easy, and magical, and great, but I can see how that might be daunting or confusing for some people like, “All right. Well, I’m going to put the first half of the vision on this page and second half on that product, and hopefully they see them both so I get it together.”

Jon:
You need to be reasonable about this, and I know you’re making light of it with saying half the vision here, half the vision there. But I think the reality is that there are really a handful of places where this type of information can be helpful, and I’ll break it down here in a second about the different pages that I think about what pieces of content could live on different pieces of pages. But the first thing I’ll say here is really, you should be weaving this throughout every headline, in all of your copy, in your product descriptions, your call to actions. Don’t just say, “Add to cart.” Make it branded. Make it fun. Now, don’t obscure what needs to happen so that people can’t figure it out, but I still think that there’s a chance for all of this. So, that way, the brand story is feeling like a part of the customer experience from when they get to the site to when they purchase or convert, and that’s really the goal.
So there are a handful of places I would consider this. The first is your homepage hero section, right? So this is the first impression, and I usually get really frustrated with these because I see so many brands treat this as an afterthought. What they do is they pitch their latest product release or they say that they’re offering 10% off all their products and it’s a big sale. Neither of those really tell anybody what you guys do. Who are you serving? What problem are you solving, and what products do you offer that solve that? Instead of just saying, “Here’s our latest product,” you need to say, “Hey, we cater to parents who have kids who get scared at night, and we solved it with this cool flashlight or nightlight.” Whatever, right?

Ryan:
Mm (affirmative).

Jon:
Or, “Hey, parents. Tired of staying up at night because your kid is scared? We solved that with this nightlight developed with your kids in mind.” Something like that, right? So now it’s more about what pain you’re solving. So then, you go to about us area of a homepage, and I do think on a homepage, there should be an area. I’m not talking about most of the page, but there should be a lockup that’s about us, and so this is where… I’d love to see a headline with a two to three sentence descriptor somewhere in the middle of the page. It’s a reinforcement. It shouldn’t be the first thing, and you don’t need to hide it, but it should be in the middle-ish of the page, and I think it’s even more effective.
The most effective ones I’ve seen were a founder told their story in about a two-minute video, right? No more than two minutes, but they sat there and they said, “Hey, I invented this because of X, Y, and Z. Here’s the problems it solves, et cetera,” or the, “Now, we have all these kids products, but it started one night when my son kept getting out of bed, and here’s the initial nightlight product that now… Here we are 10 years later. We have all these other products to solve this problem.” So that’s a great opportunity to really be telling the founder’s story and introducing them to the why and what problems you’re solving.

Ryan:
Off the top of your head, do you have a brand that you’ve recollected that’s like, “They’ve actually done a good job with this,” to give people an example because even some of the big brands that I know of don’t do this part well?

Jon:
No.

Ryan:
So there’s got to be some mid-tier brand or somebody that you know of.

Jon:
There’s two children’s products that I think do a really, really good job of this. The first is Nanit, N-A-N-I-T, which is a camera or it’s like a baby cam that has analytics built-in. So you can track how your child is sleeping and goes over the crib. Then, you can also put a onesie on the kid that has a special pattern on it so the camera can then tell you if they stopped breathing. It can tell you how much they tossed and turned specifically.

Ryan:
Whoa, that’s crazy. My wife definitely would’ve bought that when we had babies.

Jon:
Yeah, yeah.

Ryan:
Not even close. It would’ve been bought.

Jon:
Yeah, 100%. There’s also another one called the Owlet. It is a sock that kids can wear, infants can wear that is really well-done. I know they had to take the product off the market to get FDA clearance recently. So I don’t know what’s going on with their site over the last few months, but I know it’s back on the market. I did hear from them. It’s back on the market. We actually used this with my son when he was an infant. Amazing. You put the base next to your bed and put the sock on the kid and a receiver in their room. It does a little bit of Bluetooth action, and it continually monitors their heart rate and oxygen levels throughout the night, and it can track movement. It’s basically a mini Apple Watch, but wearing a sock on their foot. It’s great because… Same thing. Basically, the point was we have all these parents who we know they’re losing sleep because they’re afraid their kid is going to have an issue in the middle of the night and they’re not going to wake up. Now, you don’t have to worry about that. I’ll tell you what. After we got that, I never slept so soundly because I was like, “Oh, this thing is going to definitely wake me up.” It’s very loud.

Ryan:
Yeah. No, that is really cool. I mean, they have done a good job. I just pulled it up. Their hero video makes it very clear. There you go. You’re giving parents peace of mind, and the baby is passed out. Then, right down below it, you scroll, and your first scroll says, “You’re going to rest easy. Everything is great. Oh.”

Jon:
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Right? Then, they get in. Owlet will tell you how they got into it, even where… They’re very clear about how it was a couple of dads who really couldn’t sleep, and they’re parents themselves, and what they went through, but it’s sprinkled throughout the site, which is great.

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Perfect. I like that example. Thank you.

Jon:
Yeah, of course. So the next I would say is in the homepage, getting back to where you could have this information. On the homepage in the product areas. So if you’re going to have some products on there, it’s pretty common to see a section now of best sellers or feature products, but they almost always miss the mark when it comes to storytelling. A lot of brands will just put five images of products with a link to view details or the worst is even add to cart at that point because nobody is ready to purchase. But quite often, I see a product section that just includes that information. It’s not really helpful to anybody.
So I think this is a great opportunity to include a single punchy line describing what the product is and the benefits to the customer. It could be something… I was on a coffee site the other day looking at getting some coffee, and it said something like this, “Ethically-sourced, dark roast. It’s perfect for early mornings at the ski lodge.” Does that not just put a vision in your head? You’re like, “Heck, yeah. I want to go to a ski lodge right now. I want that feeling.”

Ryan:
Yeah. It’s cold [crosstalk 00:19:06]. Yeah.

Jon:
Yeah, and coincidentally, it was snowing in Portland. So I think it just can be enough to prime us and help to basically understand how the product will fit into their lives a little better. That’s all you’re going for, and you could see just… What is that, 10 words? It doesn’t have to be a lot. So moving off the homepage, I would also go to the product detail page. I think this is always a great opportunity. Inside the product details, I think one of the best places to tell the story is in the product detail page areas, like the product description, the specifications, materials, sizing, ingredients. All of those things can really be great opportunities to brand that copy and sneak in more information about who you are.
I know we both look at dozens of stores each week, and the vast majority to me have cold and just flavorless product copy unfortunately. It might describe what the product is and what purpose it serves, but it’s presented in the same way that maybe a bottle of sunscreen tells you when and how to apply it. It’s just super matter-of-fact. It’s not helpful in helping me understand the brand or why I would use them. So I think this is an opportunity to bring the personality about the company and the products to the forefront.
So the last one is within a video on a product detail page, and I bring this up last because I know it’s hard to produce video content or a lot of people think it is, but they say pictures worth a thousand words, and I think a video is worth 10,000. You can do a lot. I talked earlier about having a video of the founder or company ownership on a homepage. I think that’s a great opportunity. You can go a lot deeper on a product detail page, and I think in terms of the quality, you’d be really surprised how low the bar is for consumer preferences. Right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
I mean, nobody is going to care. Just prop up your iPhone and take a two-minute video about the product. People who do this really, really well. One of our ex-clients, Bare Performance Nutrition, B-A-R-E Performance Nutrition. Nick Bare is a natural in front of camera. He’s got a massive YouTube channel with millions of viewers because he’s just really good about documenting his entire journey. He definitely follows the Gary Vee Document, Don’t Create model, but he’s very good. He’s gotten to be good in front of a camera, and so he sits down at a desk like we are now in front of a mic and just like, “Okay. Here’s this product. Here’s when I use it. Here’s what it is. Here’s what’s in it. Here’s the flavors we have.”
He just talks about the product for two minutes, no more, really quick two minutes like, “Hey, if you want to have a pre-workout drink that really helps you get the energy boost you need before you go workout, this is the product in our lineup that you want. You can mix it in a protein shake. You can take it in a glass of water if you want. I use this every morning instead of caffeine and coffee, and then I use it pre-workout, right before I work out as well.” So he goes on about that, and he’s like, “Hey, it’s tested in the lab to meet all of the pro sports and Olympic committee stuff.” Right?

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon:
He’ll go into things like that, a little bit of benefits, and then talk about why they test everything. So he’s really, really good about this, and it’s not fancy production. It’s just him sitting at his desk talking about these things, and people love it. We really worked when we worked with him. We surfaced these items up to the top of the page on product detail pages because it was something we found. When people saw that video and watched it, it did very, very well, and I think they’ve gone on to redesign their site or they’re redesigning it right now. So things to think about there, but there’s… Really, those two video formats I’ve seen work well with just the product origin story, I talked about a lot, and then a how-to. Break down the product and say, “Hey, here’s how you use it, why you would use it, when you use it,” and then you can mix and match between the two, but whatever. Just talk about it for two minutes. Anyone can do that.

Ryan:
You would hope so if it’s your product. I can’t. I’m like, “Mm, is it really good for you?”

Jon:
Next episode is going to be you talking about Joyful Dirt for two minutes, and I want to see where that goes.

Ryan:
You can go to Joyful Dirt’s site, and I actually have a video on there when you scroll down, so it’s…

Jon:
There you go. All right.

Ryan:
I’ve been taking Jon’s pointers.

Jon:
Awesome.

Ryan:
Okay. So, in summary, get anything about you, and your brand, and you as the owners out of the navigation. That’s not where it goes. Allow that to be in the about us at the bottom. People are naturally prone to scrolling down there anyway.

Jon:
Yeah.

Ryan:
Even if you’ve hidden it in a hamburger menu at the top or something, go to the bottom, and then take that story and make it obvious no matter where they’re coming into the site from a traffic perspective who you are. Don’t make them have to go to the about us page if they land on a category or product page to know something about you. They should get something out of that from saying, “Hey, I clicked on ‘Shopping.’ I got this product page. Without going to about us at the bottom, I already know something about this company. I have a feeling of who they are.”

Jon:
Yeah.

Ryan:
Then, it’s I think constantly testing different ways of creating that homepage about us feel, like telling somebody who you are without telling them who you are almost.

Jon:
Yeah.

Ryan:
I think that’s a good challenge for a lot of us smaller brands and even larger brands that haven’t got… There’s a lot of large brands that don’t do things right either. So I don’t think it’s necessarily large or small, but I think the percentage of larger brands that have gotten it right is probably higher than the percentage of smaller brands that has gotten it right.

Jon:
Well, I think they got it right at one point, and I think if you… I think it’s called Society Nine, a woman’s boxing brand in Portland. The lady worked at Nike, and Nike doesn’t do boxing-specific stuff. She left Nike, and then she started a brand that is all woman’s boxing apparel and gear. It’s serving a niche market, but she’s really good about talking about why she’s doing that. The reality is what happens with Nike is that they have… and I use them as an example only because we’ve talked about them and their very large brand. Their marketing campaign is all now about being seen on an athlete. Right? It’s just awareness for them. Very few people, except for the business world, really care about where Nike came from at this point. What’s his book, Shoe Dog, that everybody really raves about, the founder of Nike and the story of that?
That’s great business story, but the average consumer could care less quite honestly because they saw it on LeBron, so they want it. But small brands, they don’t have that option. You’re not going to be a able to go pay LeBron millions of dollars to wear it, and so that’s where… This lady at Society Nine, she does a really good job of just telling about why she did this. No one was supporting this niche audience, and she loved it. She couldn’t find anything for herself. So she decided to do it, take it into her own hands, and make it happen. So I think little things like that can go a long way.

Ryan:
Oh, yeah. 100%. So if you’re out there, start testing on some of this content and hero content on the homepage. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the content, and then I think a lot of brands need to move their brand story outside of the website too. I think most people are going to find your brand outside of your website, like social, YouTube, like a lot of your demand generation channels. That’s where I focus a lot of my brand content or efforts to tell people who I am.

Jon:
Yeah, yeah, and that was something I said at the beginning, right, which is people are going to come in already knowing about your brand to some degree because they heard about you from a friend. Now, it’s time to really make sure it’s weaved into the story so that they’re reminded of that as they’re thinking about themselves because once they get to the site, they’re really thinking about themselves.

Ryan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure.

Jon:
Great.

Ryan:
Well, thank you, Jon. I appreciate you educating me and letting me know a little bit more how to talk about myself on the website without talking about myself, and I like it. Thanks. Jon.

Jon:
Awesome. Thanks, Ryan.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to Drive and Convert with Jon MacDonald and Ryan Garrow. To keep up to date with new episodes, you can subscribe at driveandconvert.com.

James Sowers

About the Author

James Sowers

James Sowers is the Director of Marketing at The Good. He has more than a decade of experience helping software and ecommerce companies accelerate their growth and improve their customer experience.