An example of visual persuasion in action

Got people in your company that don’t take your marketing communications, such as your company website, seriously? Perhaps they’re not prioritising investment in it? There is a persuasion technique that might help, which you’ll get to in about 3 minutes if you keep reading…

The backstory

I once had a situation where many of the product leaders and other senior people in my business weren’t taking our corporate website seriously. (That’s polite speak for ‘they didn’t give a sh*t about it’). We had over 300,000 unique visitors each year, making over 1 million page visits. Quite a lot really (even taking bots into account). But it still wasn’t something that they showed a lot of interest in.

Mitigating circumstances?

Now, before you write-off my old colleagues as close-minded dinosaurs, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of their work historically came from referrals and existing customers – not new online contacts. So we might forgive them that mitigating circumstance.

Thankfully, a few liberated souls did invest time in web activity and reaped the rewards in the form of hot leads, but most people in the business won enough new custom from traditional means not to bother. They simply didn’t see the potential that websites brought, to the point that they treated it as an online brochure. A brochure that they either singularly failed to keep up to date and/or failed to write in a compelling way. It also meant I had an uphill battle each year to maintain a meaningful web budget.

Persuading them they were wrong

Showing people what our competitors were doing on their websites, plus sharing research about the importance of websites in the buyer journey, also and underlining the Google search traffic volumes we were missing out on all seemingly did little to dent the disinterest of our most traditional people. People are often stuck in their ways. They will believe what they believe.

But, not dispirited, my team and I did three further things.

  1. We (without permission), interviewed a few target customers to get first-hand insight into exactly how our specific audiences they were using vendor sites like ours. Most interviewees reaffirmed our expectation that our specific target audience did check out company websites prior to purchase, and often started that search from Google. We hit pay-dirt when a few of them said they’d been on our site and the information didn’t tally with what we said in pitches.
  2. We invested in software to tell us which companies had been on our site, using IP address resolution. We couldn’t tell which specific people had been on our site, but we discovered that about 60%-70% of our key ‘wish-list’ customers had been on the site at some point. (And we knew what pages they’d visited).
  3. By this point, people in our company were starting to pay attention. I was even dragged into a Board member’s office and asked why I hadn’t made this information clearer sooner. (Go figure). But there were still a few stuck-in-the-muds who chose not to care. So we pulled one final trick. A trick that’s the point of this blog…

Personifying the problem

It struck me one day that the problem with just using web visitor numbers and other metrics (time-on-site, bounce rate, pages per visit etc) in my Board reporting was that the numbers were so impersonal. They just looked like all of the other numbers the Board had to tackle. Pitch win rates. Staff retention. Cost depreciation. Office rental increases. Profit. Share Price. My numbers just got lost in the noise.

The answer was that I had to make the web numbers stand out from the crowd. To do that I needed to make them more relatable. More personal. So this is what I did, the next chance I got to have some face-time with the movers and shakers in my company…

I put up a powerpoint slide showing a rough sketch (actually, a random portrait photo ‘borrowed from Google images) of web visitor 1 – say a Director at target company A – who came to the site and left in 3 seconds without clicking on anything.

Then I put up a slide showing a rough sketch of web visitor 2 – say, a Procurement Manager from target company B – who came to the site and had visited 32 pages, but that no-one had ever cared to consider.

Then I put up an equivalent slide about web visitor 3, and then web visitor 4, each of whom we had ignored. And then I put the following slides up (one stadium at a time, just for a bit of extra theatre)…

Using imagery of sport stadiums to make a marketing point

I asked my colleagues if anyone knew what those sports stadia constituted. No-one said a word, but they knew what was coming. That was the number of people that had visited our website in the previous year and that our company was ignoring. Real people. Some of them were students no doubt, or our rivals, or people trying to sell us something, or people that were just lost. But lots of them were bona fide potential customers, and media contacts, and people considering whether they wanted to work at our place. Important people. I asked those present to imagine themselves ignoring all of those staring eyes, and  hesitated a guess that we wouldn’t survive long as retailers if we let that many people walk into our shop and walk straight out again without anyone showing an interest in them.

I showed a final slide with a montage of a packed Wembley Stadium, Stade de France, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Madison Square Garden, Stadium Santiago Bernebeu, Camp Nou, Anfield, Allianz Arena, AT&T Stadium and others to demonstrate what over 1million visits looked like.

Undoubtedly a few of the people in the meeting thought I was a pain in the arse by this point, but my stunt did the trick. Our web marketing was re-prioritised. The budgets weren’t attacked any longer. More of my colleagues got more leads. Success.

(By the way, if the above approach hadn’t gotten their attention, I possibly could have dumped 300,000 grains of rice across the meeting room table – one for each potential customer that they were ignoring – although I liked my job and didn’t want to get fired for taking things too far! But I do hope that explains my weird banner graphic at the top of this post – which are meant to be grains of rice!).

So what? A few vital lessons for all marketing reporting

There were two key lessons I took from this little moment:

  1. PEOPLE: Whenever we look at marketing metrics, such as click-thru’ rates, or web conversions, or lead generation rates – us marketers should never forget that there are real people behind the numbers. And I think it should be our shared mission as marketers to help those around us remember that. Making our marketing stats personal and relatable can only be a good thing.
  2. VISUALISATION: Numbers are the language of the Boardroom. Decisions are made based upon number trends. But, sometimes, the significance or meaning of numbers can get lost. In those situations, graphical visualisation is a powerful technique. As with many things in marketing communications, ‘showing, not telling‘ is often a great weapon. That’s what my pictures of lots of people did.

By way of a further example of that visualisation point, last year I stumbled across the following graphic at a data visualisation exhibition. Doug McCune’s chart shows the deaths, over time, during the Iraq military conflicts, with white showing coalition casualties, blue showing Iraqi forces casualties and red showing civilian casualties. It’s a very thought-provoking chart.

data visualisation example

Ending on a high note

So this blog post ended up unintentionally sobering. But writing it did remind me to re-think about personifying and visualising my next set of Board reports. I also hope it gives you an idea or two about how to get your point noticed. And, ahead of then, to end on a very light note, here’s my very rough artist’s impression what a Board meeting might just look like with 300,000 grains of rice involved…

making a point in the boardroom - using rice

Have a great week,


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