Gnats Have Longer Attention Spans

It was my elder sister that introduced me to the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition. I was visiting the family back home in England after just launching Permission. We were sitting down for one of the many cups of tea we shared during my stay and she was quizzing me on my plans for Permission.

"So, what’s your USP?" she asked.

"Hmm – well, that’s a good question Kirsten. I’m sure I will have something – leave it with me for a month or so and I’ll come back to you once I locate it."

Kirsten was the business mind of the family and, needless to say, she was not at all impressed with her younger brother’s lame response. She told me that, based on this response, in her eyes I had 6 months at best to make a go of it. Well, with it being nearly 6 years since this conversation took place, I must have found my USP somewhere. But it is only during the last 12 months that the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition has been a focus for discussion for both me and my clients.

This has all come about as more and more companies from the same industries have started to use the Internet for their own lead generation. By doing so, they have put their unique (or as is the case rather generic) points of differentiation to the harshest test possible – the browsing prospect’s back button.

When a key measurement of a website’s performance is its bounce rate, and this statistic is based on someone spending 3 seconds or less on a page, then you start to realise the real smidgen of attention people give to the websites they visit. In fact, the only websites that I know of that don’t struggle with a growing bounce rate – the ones that boast of capturing their visitors for minutes rather than seconds – are those websites in the ‘adult lifestyle’ category. For some strange reason, the industry benchmark for visitor time on this type of site hovers rather surprisingly around the 5 minute mark.

For the rest of us, this dearth of attention means we need our websites to present unique content that wins the minds and minutes of our visitors. All this is greatly improved by a clearly defined and articulated ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ – something that is all too frequently missing from those websites owned by businesses in cluttered ‘me too’ markets.

Here’s a short test to prove my point. First, put down this document, then fire up your web browser and run a Google search for the search term ‘chartered accountants’ and let it return all those pages hosted in NZ. Pick five sites from the list shown and spend 15 seconds reading the home page of each.

Done it yet?

OK, let me save you the effort. From the five I visited, I found not one that offered any differentiation between it and the others I visited. Is it any wonder that most of us put our accountants under fee pressure when they all seem to offer the same service? It’s an obvious point but if you market yourself with no clear signs of differentiation from your competitors, I pre-dict problems when it comes to protecting – let alone growing – your margins.
"But, Chris," I hear my accounting customers yelling at me now. "We manage strong practices, thank you very much, that do a good job of looking after our clients, mainly due to the great work we do and, of course, the even greater staff we employ. These points make up our USP."

Unfortunately, when it comes to the online space and the prospects that browse it, this just doesn’t cut any mustard. Prospects can’t experience how great your work is because, well, you haven’t done any for them. And while your site tells me how nice and helpful your staff is, again, they haven’t experienced them and, more importantly, these same or very similar words are all over your competitors’ websites too. Whilst you may all act differently in the office, online you all look and ‘talk’ the same.

So, to carry on this line of discussion with a view to a positive resolution, where does this leave those of us looking for a new accountant as we flit from one website to another, finding a mass of ‘sameness’ along the way?

Well, with absolutely zero market research on my part, I would like to hazard a guess that there are three groups of people searching for an accountant that any online marketing strategy could target. First, there would be those new to business. Second, are the ones who need more advice than their present accountant can provide and, finally, those too cheap to pay for the advice they are currently receiving and are on the hunt for a budget solution. Of these three, I would back the middle group as one you could build a business upon.

And while the old adage states that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure (and it is the prevention part that most marketing in this industry sector is promoted under), I would change tack completely and promote the cure part hard to present my areas of differentiation. For instance, tax management, cash protection and debtor control could be three ‘cures’ business owners would be interested in knowing more about during the next 6-12 months.

So how about the front page of our revised accountancy practice website including a selection of client stories (with the necessary details changed to protect people’s privacy, obviously) that expounded on the dire straights these people were in and the transformation completed by the team? I know it’s only a start and may have all the accountants rolling their eyes in disbelief as they read this, BUT I think it is content like this that will stop the browsing prospect business owner in their tracks for a few moments longer than the alternative text expounding the virtues of being ‘customer focused’ and ‘effective business advisors’.

When you are faced with the problem of how to capture a prospect web browser’s attention span, which is tracked in sub 3-second measurements all within a cluttered marketplace of sameness, then why not present your sharpened USP in a way that holds their attention long enough to tell your story?