Relevance occurs when an input (a sight, sound, a display, words) connects with an individual's background to yield conclusions that matter to them, like answering a question, improving knowledge on a certain topic, settling a doubt, confirming a suspicion, providing a resolution, or correcting a mistaken impression. In essence, "An input is relevant to an individual when its processing in a context of available assumptions yields a positive cognitive effect."
1. As a merchant, your goal is to clearly create relevance (using images, copy, video, colors, and words) that forms a connection between your product or service and your visiting customer's background information, including their intended results from the visit.
I reviewed in the last issue of Web Wholesaler Magazine that relevant communication means speaking to your customers using their language; that is, the words they use to describe objects and ideas. Businesses frequently write their ad and website copy, steeped in their own terminology. They use technical jargon, their own socioeconomic and cultural slang, and product or service terminology that reflects their own knowledge, versus the knowledge of their customers.
By doing so, merchants create situations that force their customers into interpreting the content using their own conventions. In an environment where a customer has an almost unlimited choice, forcing them to work harder finding a product and buying it from your website creates a real sales problem.
Businesses are often challenged by writing relevant copy and creating an intuitive navigational structure, because of their immersion in day to day operations, as well as in standards and traditions. By nature, they have an intimate understanding of their product or service. In essence, merchants are inside the box, while the customers they want to buy their products or services are on the outside. Authors Chip and Dan Heath of the excellent book, Made to Stick, refer to this situation as, "The Curse of Knowledge." As they explain, "Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it."
2. Describing the inside of a box to someone who can only see the outside creates a lack of relevance. Customers do not see what the merchant sees. A merchant must take responsibility for describing the outside of the box to establish relevancy, and then building momentum that motivates a customer to move inside.
Building relevance demands that merchants take a customer-centric point of view. Instead of communicating from a "me" or "we" point of view, merchants need to shift to a "you" perspective. Relevant communication stems not from a concentration on selling to customers, but from helping customers buy.
It does not sell the product as a mere tool or as an item that serves a specific, limited purpose. Instead it sells the you; the you that you will be when you use the product; a smarter, sexier, sunnier you. It is not about creating false expectations, for that would diminish credibility. It is about encouraging the message recipient to want something better, and then delivering it.
3. Beyond building relevancy through communications, a merchant is also responsible for supporting and growing the relevance through intuitive navigation, clear instructions and visible calls to action. For example, your website may effectively communicate a powerful value proposition to your customers that is relevant to their needs, but how does the customer, upon hearing the message, know how to move forward to fulfill it?
Customers search for and hopefully find products on your website through three different methods: (1) direct navigation using navigational links, (2) promotional offers or banner images like, What's New, Best Seller's, product highlights, promotional advertisements and other similar images/lists and (3) onsite search feature.
You cannot undervalue the time, technology and planning put into how these three methods are displayed and used. Do you have an onsite search function? Have you ever tested a number of relevant keywords in the onsite search function to view the results? Do not just test product-oriented keywords either; also test policy keywords like shipping costs, guarantees, and return policy, that customers may also be interested in learning more about. Are the search results relevant? What happens if the results are not relevant? Do you provide your eager customers with additional options, or do you leave them hanging with a generic, "sorry, product not found," message?
Likewise, have you evaluated your navigation lately? Are you using the right navigational link text most relevant to your customer's background information? For example, are your prospective customers looking for a bold coffee, yet your navigation only offers roasting profile links (e.g. light, medium, dark)? Analyze your website analytics like Google Analytics, and focus on the keywords that have the highest bounce rate. Are prospective customers finding your website using these keywords and bouncing because there is no navigation on your website clearly relevant to them?
Spend some time thinking about how to build relevancy with your prospective customers. Step into their shoes by performing a popular keyword search and visiting your website from their point of view. Be critical. Can you quickly find what you are looking for? Doing the hard work now can make the experience much easier for your customers later.
1. http://www.dan.sperber.com/relevance_theory.htm, RELEVANCE THEORY, Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber
2. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die . .., (New York: Random House, 2007), page 20.
3. Dr. Frank Luntz, Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear, (New York: Hyperion Books, 2007), page 18.
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