I’m a Tim Ferris fan, not because he has occasionally given the (false) perception that he spends his time practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the top of the Eiffel Tower while speed-reading Moby Dick, but rather because he is a master marketer and obsessive sales tactic tester.
Tim is the author of The 4-Hour Work Week. Don’t be fooled by the title — and yes, that is four hours — Tim’s book is not a manifesto for slackers, but rather for “life hackers” who want to minimize busywork (to four hours per week) in order to get their life’s real work done.
This isn’t a review of his book (which I do recommend). This is a review of his book’s sales page.
Tim has some crazy ideas. One story he tells (that isn’t in his book) is the way he choose the provocative — and obnoxiously self-helpy — book title. Instead of more traditional methods, Tim wrote several versions of a Google Adwords search ad to measure which titles and subtitles people clicked on the most.
One story Tim has not told is why his book’s website, www.fourhourworkweek.com, looks the way it does. I’d be willing to bet it is the result of dozens of multivariate tests, and therefore has something to teach us about scientifically effective selling.
Oh, and Tim has sold a bagillion books. Let’s look to him for a model of the anatomy of an effective product sales page.
Seeing the logos of these major news organizations makes you believe the product is credible. To your subconscious mind, if it passed the muster of these professional journalists, it must be legitimate.
Herein lies the reasoning behind the maxim “no press is bad press.” For all you know, every one of those major organizations bashed the book. NBC might have said, “This book is the manifesto for a slacker generation, devoid of any meaning or insight. Keep your children away.”
(Note: NBC didn’t review the book, they published an excerpt.)
Tim did get good press from these organizations, but the fact that the book is even on their radar is an indicator of credibility. This helps Tim sell books.
Other credibility indicators can include things like an SSL certificate logo, a lock image, a Better Business Bureau logo, and even the logos of accepted credit cards.
The point is to diminish the fear of purchase that comes from anticipating buyer’s remorse or inherent mistrust of internet shopping.
Core idea: People buy products endorsed by important organizations.
As Paul Krugman likes to say, the reason 60 million people live on the narrow strip along the East Coast of the United States is because the other 60 million people live there.
Social proof is a shortcut humans use to figure out what is worth doing or buying. The idea is to let everyone else figure out what is good, then take advantage of their trial and error so you don’t have to make your own mistakes.
We’re evolutionarily wired to take advantage of this shortcut.
Of course, when you think hard about it, there is something wacky about the whole thing. After all, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists are self-fulfilling, since the most books purchased are the ones found on the list of the books most purchased.
Everyone is susceptible to social proof. When was the last time you saw a gathered crowd and wondered what the fuss was about? Or joined the crowd yourself?
Core idea: People buy products just because other people are buying it.
Praising yourself is taboo, but no one minds an expert patting you on the back.
In this case, it isn’t enough that Tim is a #1 New York Times bestseller; someone else who has accomplished the same feat says his book will “change your life!”
Expert endorsements are a way to leverage the celebrity of someone else. A vacuous celebrity doesn’t help, but someone well-respected may be enough to convince some customers.
The pinnacle of this principle can be seen in how Oprah’s opinion makes or breaks a business.
Core idea: People buy products endorsed by experts.
These pictures of Tim are the modern equivalent of the signature of the company’s president on those kitschy direct sales letters.
No matter the target audience, people buy from people. Being seen as kind, personable, and likable are as desirable in business as they are in your personal live.
Tim’s particular product is more personal than most products since it is the story of his life. However, even cordoning off a separate page on your site as an about page can be an effective technique of sharing a personal voice.
Core idea: People buy from people, not companies. Be likable.
Call to Action
Think of the prototypical technical support interaction; the customer says, “my computer isn’t working” and the support representative asks, “is it plugged in?”
That’s the kind of question you have to ask if your page isn’t doing what you want it to do.
Why aren’t more people signing up for our newsletter? Are you asking people to sign up?
Why aren’t we selling any products? Are you asking people to buy it?
Why aren’t people buying in larger quantities? Are you suggesting they buy more?
The call to action leaves no doubt as to what the customer is supposed to do. Seth Godin’s advice is to make the call to action so large it makes you uncomfortable, then double the size.
Tim’s call to action focuses on the most valuable transaction he can have with you: capturing your information.
If he just sells you a book, you’re worth the price of the book to him. If he gets permission to re-market to you, you might buy the book, share his other communications with your friends, then buy the next book he’s working on.
Core idea: To get people to take the action you want, you have to ask them to.
Not every customer is ready to purchase after your initial sales pitch. You don’t want to force those who are ready to jump through too many hurdles before they can buy (we call this “friction”), but others need more information to make a decision.
Tim presents some options for people who aren’t convinced by the time they get to this part of the page.
For those who need more social proof and expert guidance, there is additional buzz and reviews.
For those who mistrust the page or the process of purchasing books on the internet, there are referrals to the major book distributors.
And, for those who want to know more about the content before they purchase the book, there is Tim’s blog.
Core idea: You can’t respond to every barrier to purchase on your sales page, but some customers will need to know more before they buy.
Not Ready to Buy?
Some customers aren’t ready to purchase your product because they need more information, but others aren’t ready to buy for their own reasons.
Tim provides something for those customers who bother getting all the way to the bottom of the page but aren’t purchasing.
The bottom of the page has another link to Tim’s blog, plus links to tools that whet a customer’s appetite for the idea of “life hacking”. The hope is that the customer will get so much out of the interaction, they’ll come back to buy later.
Core idea: Just because a customer isn’t ready to buy now doesn’t mean they won’t want to buy later.
There are definitely some more principles at work on this page. What other techniques do you notice?