I’ve written a fair amount over the years about using the 3 stages of the decision-making process as a framework for doing analysis and Optimization. At each stage of the process, the prospect’s mindset and needs are different. Therefore, your tactics for persuasion, testing, and Optimization should be different.
Today I’m going to focus on “Middle” and “Late Stage” prospects, and on one crucial tactic for converting prospects at these stages of their conversion journey. The tactic is more often used in B2B (and especially SaaS) marketing, but I believe it can be applied effectively in B2C scenarios as well.
I call the tactic for this post the “Rebuttal” Approach. It’s a borrowed legal phrase which is also used in politics; especially in debates. A rebuttal is an expected opportunity to counter-argue known points that your opponent has made. In political debates, an opponent is often given, say, 30 seconds to make a rebuttal argument against a specific point just made.
In Optimization, the Rebuttal Approach is your chance as a marketer to make a counterargument against your competition in order to convert Middle and Late Stage prospects. This is a crucial tactic because prospects tend to engage in a lot of comparison research or shopping before they make a decision. A prospect on your site in Middle and Late stages is almost always conducting some sort of comparison between you and your competitors.
But before I get into the tactic, we need to look at how to know when to use it. If you’ve done landing page testing, you know that using the wrong persuasion tactic, or presenting content that isn’t relevant to prospect needs, can definitely hurt your conversion rate.
How to Recognize Middle/Late Stage Prospects
The main way to recognize and target prospects that are late stage (or “low funnel”) and are ripe for a rebuttal is to analyze the search keywords that drive them to your landing pages.
Here are examples of entrance keywords that indicate that a rebuttal can be effective:
- “[Your Product/Service/Company] vs. CompetitorXYZ”
- “[Your Product/Service/Company] reviews”
- “[Your Product/Service/Company] competitors”
- “[Your Product/Service/Company] alternative”
- “[Your Product/Service/Company] comparison”
Going through your entrance keywords report and finding these types of queries is a relatively quick exercise. Next, look at what landing pages these queries land on and start asking these questions:
- Do they all land on the same landing page?
- Are they spread across multiple entrances?
- Is the content they see on their landing page relevant?
- Is the conversion rate (by keyword) high or low relative to baseline?
This analysis will give you an idea of whether you should prioritize creating custom landing pages targeting these prospects and/or doing some tests using the Rebuttal Approach.
Note: Another possible way to find these middle/late stage prospects is by the site that referred them. For example, if you market GPS software, and you see referral traffic coming from www.compare-gps-software.com, you might infer that the Rebuttal Approach would be relevant.
How to Offer Rebuttal on Your Pages
The first way to offer effective rebuttals is to acknowledge, in your own mind, that prospects are actively comparing [your product/service/company] to others. I often see landing pages and campaigns that are created “in a vacuum,” with no acknowledgment that competitors and alternatives even exist. Don’t make that mistake.
Once you have the proper attitude of acknowledging the competitive and comparative nature of online marketing, the content you create, and the persuasive conversations you have with your prospects, will have a more natural, realistic, and effective flow to them.
Another common tactic used on some landing pages is the “comparison table” where your service is shown alongside competitors, and features and pricing are compared and contrasted. Your product is, naturally, shown in the the most positive light among the group. I don’t call this out as a “best practice,” because I don’t have data on how effective it truly is. But, it’s a common design approach, so worth considering and testing.
One very persuasive thing you can test is customer testimonials that mention the competition. For example: “We looked at CompetitorXYZ, and even liked their pricing, but in the end their lack of customer support and reference-able customers scared us. We had a great discovery meeting with [your company/product/service] and haven’t looked back since.” To be effective, these need to be volunteered from your happy customers, not coerced or faked.
Finally, you can test altering your copy, or creating copy, that addresses the claims your competitor makes head-on, in a respectful and truthful manner. This is ultimately what a rebuttal is supposed to be. In political debate rhetoric, these statements always start with “My esteemed opponent claims that…” in order to establish that the candidate is taking the “high ground” in his/er response. It’s not about being contrary or argumentative; it’s about acknowledging what was said, and then addressing how it may have been false, innaccurate, or that there’s simply “more to that story.”
Here’s an example. You still sell GPS software, and your competitor claims that they are “the most cost-effective solution on the market” on their landing page. You’ve done your competitive analysis, of course, and you know that while their base price is the lowest, they “nickel and dime” their customers on support and upgrades, and their customers are defecting to you in droves.
So, your landing page copy can first acknowledge your competitor by name: “You’ve probably looked at CompetitorXYZ, and it’s no secret that their base price is the lowest on the market.”
Then, you can make your rebuttal based on the assertion that your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is lower, making their statements a bit misleading: “When you talk to CompetitorXYZ, make sure to ask about how much it will cost to upgrade if your needs grow over time. Or, ask about how much phone support costs per minute! You may find, after you’ve run all the numbers that [Your Product/Service/Company]’s Total Cost of Ownership suddenly looks much more competitive than your first impression.”
There’s nothing illegal or under-handed about offering carefully worded rebuttals in your copy. Frankly, your prospects expect it and are probably looking for it on your site. If they like you, and emotionally want to choose you, they may be looking for arguments to rebut CompetitorXYZ’s seems-to-good-to-be-true claims.
The needs of late stage or “low funnel” prospects are very different in terms of messaging and content. Once you’ve isolated these prospects in a data-driven fashion, use the Rebuttal Approach to tailor your content to their needs. They’ll thank you for it by converting and ultimately giving you their business.
This topic seems seldom discussed in the blogosphere, so I welcome your comments (or rebuttals)! Also, there was a good post on this topic from an SEO perspective on the KISSmetrics Blog that I found inspiring, so it’s worth a look if you’re an SEO practitioner.