There’s this weird conflict that lives at the heart of marketing:
We DON’T like being sold to…
…but we DO like to buy.
So how do we get people to buy our products & services, without losing potential customers who feel they’re being ‘sold to’?
Maybe the answer lies in how we DIRECT people vs how we GUIDE them.
If you look at any sales message – from short ones like banner ads, to long-form sales pages or email series – you’ll notice how it does one or the other at various points.
Directing is when the reader is told they should do something, often with a sense of urgency or certainty.
Guiding is when the reader is pointed towards an option or an outcome, usually with a reason to support that choice.
So your content might guide your ideal prospects towards a point of understanding, presenting them with and helping them assess their options, so they’re better-positioned to make a decision.
Whereas other times you’ll want to direct someone to that decision (like a purchase or opt-in) using a Call To Action that leaves them in no doubt what they should do next:
Buy now, sign up, click here to get started, don’t miss out, only 5 left… etc.
Now, old-school direct response sales copy relies heavily on DIRECTING people, because it’s a good way to move your prospect where you want them to go.
You’re taking charge of the situation, helping them solve a problem by telling them what to do about it.
Done right, it’s proven to work.
Deep down, we desire to be led at times of crisis or indecision – we want to fix the problem (or have it fixed for us), and get back to being safe, healthy, wealthy or however we regain our status quo.
Direct response sales copy does this by appealing to the part of our nature that wants to be led to freedom.
So I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to direct your prospects – sometimes.
But there are times when you need to take your foot off the gas.
Sometimes people don’t want – or aren’t ready – to be directed somewhere
Sometimes they want to get from A to B by themselves, and take control of their own destiny – which is a powerful motivator too.
That’s where GUIDING comes in.
You can’t just abandon your troubled prospect and simply hope they show up at your door, cash in hand, ready to buy your solution…
But your sales message can guide them towards making the right decision, holding back on the direct commands and simply presenting the information they need to make a choice.
Less “Click the button now, or your problems will multiply 10x overnight!”…
…and more “Here are the options, and some recommendations based on [YOU / YOUR COMPANY]’s experience in this area.”
Telling people your solution will help them, regardless of their unique situation, is a high-risk strategy.
Depending on how much Know, Like & Trust you’ve built up with your reader already, they may believe you.
But others will want to reach their own conclusions.
It’s funny how absolutely CERTAIN people can seem when they’re selling something – especially online where it’s easier to poker-face their way through it…
Tony Guru is certain his way is the best way, because he’s seen it work for someone else, and that proves it’ll work for everyone…
Todd Millions tells you his product will fix you up whatever your circumstances, that one size really will fit all, and that all you need to do is BUY NOW…
But what about when you have doubts?
What about when you need more info?
That’s usually when being guided works better than being directed.
Case in point:
Whenever I see “I know what you’re thinking…” in a sales message, I think:
“Um, no, you don’t!”
It feels forced, like being directed somewhere I don’t want to go. It’s annoying and presumptuous, but I see it a lot.
It doesn’t build empathy, or soften an objection. It just makes me more resistant to the seller’s clumsy directing.
People know when they’re being ‘sold to’ and treated as a demographic, a point on a graph… vs when they’re being presented with a persuasive argument with specific relevance to them.
Let them take control, give them agency to make their own decision, and they’ll happily buy – on their own terms.
Digital marketing gives us the opportunity both to direct and to guide – but it works best when you blend them together.
DIRECT when your prospect needs you to lead them to safety:
In your calls to action, when you highlight risks of misinformation or common failings in your market, in your FAQs…
And GUIDE when they need your help making their own decision:
By clarifying information, revealing insights, asking questions and presenting options.
Show, don’t tell. Saying “trust me” is nowhere near as powerful as demonstrating why you’re trustworthy.
And remember that what works for you WON’T work for everyone…
Too many online marketers forget (or choose to ignore) that in their messaging. Their ‘advice’ is often too prescriptive.
Trying to force your reader into taking the path you think they should take won’t always work.
But giving them the right information to make their own decision will.
Next time you think you might be ‘directing’ in a sales message, take a moment to consider:
“Is this the time to be ‘guiding’ instead?”