Here's a fine example from the real world:
As a socially-responsible, global leader in design, manufacturing, distribution and aftermarket services, Flextronics is unique in its ability to provide end-to-end solutions through its innovative and proprietary systems—all to enhance customer competitiveness and success.
SEO Consult are the specialist search engine optimization division of Click Consult, who are a leading provider of search engine marketing solutions in the UK. Through a range of innovative, organic and ethical techniques, SEO Consult have helped their 325+ clients reach highly targeted traffic, delivering a healthy ROI for both niche businesses and highly recognisable brands.
Notice the sort of language being used: leader, unique, solutions, innovative, proprietary, leading. Puffery. The purpose of these sorts of words is simply to make the company sound as good as possible. In other words, to boast.
Notice also that these words are very vague—there is no clear meaning. What the heck are innovative, organic and ethical techniques? What are end-to-end solutions? Rather than telling us with simple nouns and verbs what they actually do, these companies have strung together buzzwords into a kind of bureaucratic boilerplate. It sounds impressive (see: boastful)—but to paraphrase Elihu in the book of Job, it is empty talk, multiplying words without knowledge. You could paste this rubbish onto any competitor’s website, swap out the company name, and no one would be the wiser. It is banal.
As a result, it is also supremely, eye-glazingly, mind-numbingly boring. Since it conveys no clear information, it tells the reader nothing interesting. And since it tells the reader nothing interesting, he stops reading long before he gets to the end.
Why People Really Read Your About Page
It is not to know whether you are a leading provider of solutions, or an innovative distributer of systems. (Neither is it to learn the unabridged history of your company, as some businesses seem to believe.)
It is actually for the same reason people want to know more about anyone they’re thinking of giving money to, or forming a relationship with.
They Want to Know if They Can Trust You
They want to know that you're good at what you do, that you’re the right business to buy from, that you won’t gyp them, and so on.
But if you use the kind of language I’ve just shown you, they’ll think the opposite. People are not stupid. They know that if you use fancy language to “describe” something, without saying anything clearly at all, you are probably being less than honest. They see this kind of obfuscation all the time from the people they trust least: politicians.
Therefore, you must take quite a different approach. In fact, since the point of your about page is to show prospects they can trust you, you must do exactly what you would do in a face-to-face conversation.
You Must Open up to Them
That is a terribly scary thing for most businesses, because for some reason they think it is unprofessional to be human. This is madness.
Being human is the only way to really connect with your prospects, because your prospects are human. And really connecting with them is the very best way to turn them into not only buyers, but customers (people who make a custom of buying).
How do you “be human?” In 3 simple steps:
1. Tell a Story
Even before we learn to talk we want to hear stories. And as soon as we can form sentences, we start forming them into stories.
Stories are how we think, how we learn, and how we relate to each other.
And they don’t have to follow a 3-act structure to be interesting. When’s the last time a child complained that a story didn’t have a precipitating event and rising action and a point of no return and a climax and a dénoument? In fact, many of the most popular and successful stories are actually songs. They merely relate some event; or sometimes several—but not necessarily related ones, or in sequence. Sometimes they are downright cryptic—as in Don McLean’s “American Pie”.
The important thing is that a story must really tell. Many people write, but few are brave enough to tell, as one person to another, with all the undisguised feeling and colloquial language and dodgy grammar that goes along with it. But much of what is revealed in a story—much of the humanity your prospects are looking for—is not revealed in what the story is about, but in how you tell it.
Here is a brilliant example from Saddleback Leather:
I got my first exposure to real tough leather at a Mexican bullfight…and I was the one fighting the bull. I didn’t understand much Spanish then, but from what I gathered, they said to shake this cape thing and the bull would go for it. What they didn’t tell me (or maybe they did) was that if anything else were shaking i.e. my left leg, the bull might go for that instead. Well, he wasn’t real pretty, with one curved and one straight horn, and he wasn’t real bright either, but he was a fast learner. So the shaking thing worked…the first time.
Tell me you ain’t hankering to click through and read the rest of that story. Okay, I don’t believe you.
2. Make it About Something Interesting
What do people find interesting? As you can tell from the example I just gave, it is not inanimate objects and it is not abstract entities.
It is people.
We’re particularly interested in people when they’re in situations we find exciting or important. And our interest is most stimulated when we have lots of clear, concrete details to latch onto. These set the story apart in our minds, making it seem real and genuine and unique. We can see it.
And of course, as prospective customers, we’re particularly interested when these details end up showing us just exactly why, and how, the people we’re reading about are so good at whatever it is they want us to pay them for.
So you must at least do three things to make your story interesting to your prospect:
- Make it about people
- Pack it full of details your reader can visualize
- Tie it back to your offering
Here’s a great example from Kingswood, a ski-making company based in my own lil country. Notice the emphasis on Alex, and particularly how the vivid description of the original crude, home-spun ski-making process illustrates not only his ingenuity and skill, but also how much he loves making skis:
When fat skis appeared in the late 1990s, Alex wanted them bad, but they were scarce.
Eventually, he took matters into his own hands. Taking his knowledge from 14 years at the ski repair bench, Alex set to work.The first step was to take his favourite (and only) pair of skis and cut them into 86 pieces. Now he was committed.
The first press was made from two pieces of rolled steel sandwiched together with car jacks. Though the start was rough, the aim has always been to make the best skis possible. Alex was convinced skis could be simpler, stronger, more durable. And so he experimented until he got it right. The first ski was good, ski-able and strong. The hard part wasn’t making a ski…it was making a great ski. That took three more years.
3. Don't "Photoshop" It
It’s awfully tempting to smooth out all those rough edges, airbrush over all those lil wrinkles, and generally clean your story up to avoid revealing any foibles that might suggest you’re a less than perfect person with a less than perfect business.
But do you know what kinds of people your customers are? Yes—they are less than perfect.
And they don’t believe in perfect people with perfect businesses for one very simple reason: they don’t exist.
Subsequently, having the stones to present yourself as you are, rather than as you imagine your customers would like you to be, tends to make you seem more desirable and trustworthy. It also has the added bonus of making you stand out, because apparently nearly every marketer in the world thinks authenticity turns customers off (marketers are almost all entirely incompetent).
The fact is, we live in a world where everyone—from Photoshopped models to fake-smile celebrity couples to made-up housewives to your own carefully-sliced Facebook updates—everyone tries to look more perfect than they are. As a result, we all crave authenticity like a drowning man craves air. And we all respond to it in the same way.
Here’s an example of charmingly authentic copy that illustrates what I mean. This is the entire about page from Boden, an online clothes store in the UK:
After five burglaries, one office dog, nine Christmas quizzes, twelve nights spent in the warehouse, one consignment of refugees arriving with a clothes delivery, four office moves, quite a few sense of humour failures, a few sackings (but thankfully not many), 2 venture capitalists, 6 awards, about twenty fantastically annoying customers (mostly related to me), a couple of crooks, 520 King Pizzas (“Continental” medium thin crust with extra anchovies for me), a great team spirit, one incredibly tolerant wife, bucket loads of sweat and even more laughs, we’re still here!
What more need be said?
How is Your About Page Looking Right Now?
Does it humanize your company and inspire trust in your prospects? Do you have any changes to make in light of what I've said? Or perhaps you have a different point of view. Share your thoughts in the comments. I'll be around to answer questions too.