Website Messaging That Works: The Library Sells Its Sizzle

There’s something graceful about smart marketing messaging. Maybe that’s why it works. And fundraisers competing for charitable dollars need every advantage they can get in engaging and persuading prospects.

We can all learn from a good example of smart versus not-smart messaging right now on Jeff Brooks’ blog. It features a comparison of two different e-newsletter sign-up pages for the New York Public Library. And as usual with posts on Jeff’s blog, it’s very instructive.

Regardless of whether you’re selling a for-profit’s products, a library’s newsletter, or any charity’s mission, the messaging principles involved here can make a real difference in marketing effectiveness.

Here’s a quick good/bad messaging breakdown based on those webpages:

Bad Messaging Good Messaging
1. “Subscribe to NYPL Newsletters “Stay Up-to-Date with NYPL News
2. Requires “contact information” including name Requires only “your email address”
3. Requires choice (“please select”) among up to four different newsletter titles Displays “What you’ll get” box with bulleted list of engaging library information
4. Stilted, two-sentence, 27-word privacy policy blurb with embedded info link Affirming, one-sentence, seven-word privacy policy blurb with embedded info link

Difference number one is pretty obvious. The old headline makes signing up sound like a chore. But the second one sells the benefits of signing up. The revised page also sells the product with the more immediate and exciting title “NYPL News,” as opposed to the ho-hum generic “NYPL Newsletters.”

Difference number two is more subtle. The bad messaging uses the open-ended term “contact information” and implies that the NYPL is going to want to contact you, presumably to ask for money. That’s a hidden disincentive to the visitor. It also requires both her name and email address. On the other hand, the better messaging cuts to the chase, asking directly for a specific, the email address. This only hangs the visitor up with one information requirement.

The more you ask them to tell you, the more likely you are to lose them!

Difference number three is a doozy. The old, bad-messaging sign-up page says, “Please select the newsletters you wish to receive” with the following options:

  • The New York Public Library News
  • LIVE from the NYPL
  • The Library Shop
  • The Schomburg Center Program

Right here the bad messaging has entangled the visitor with a variety of questions:

  • What are all these publications?
  • Aren’t they all basically “New York Public Library News”?
  • Assuming their content is not identical, what kind of information does each include?
  • Is “LIVE from the NYPL” some kind of broadcast program, or maybe a performance series at the Library?
  • What is the Schomburg Center? Why should it interest me?
  • Is the Library Shop newsletter just a periodical catalog of merchandise I’m expected to buy?

When your messaging generates more questions than actions, you know it’s bad messaging!

So what’s the good messaging for number three? Notice how it reduces the issue to one choice, expressed in the conveniently-located button labeled “Sign up.” Also, the visitor is no longer confused and delayed by multiple newsletter titles. Instead, there’s a “What you’ll get” box that answers the eternal question, “What’s in it for me?”

And again, instead of puzzling publication titles, the box describes precisely the kind of information subscribers can expect to enjoy:

  • Library news
  • Service updates
  • Latest programs and events
  • Sneak previews
  • Special announcements

Notice how the elements of this list convey the involvement and excitement that result from becoming a NYPL News subscriber. This is benefits-based messaging that sells the sizzle rather than the steak. And that’s what keeps visitors on the page, and motivates them to involve themselves further.

Difference number four is a textbook example of better messaging through brevity. The bad messaging is long, solemn, and it reads like some kind of legal text. The good messaging keeps it short and sweet, framing the topic in a simple, welcome assertion. Roughly half of the bad messaging is a recommendation that visitors click the link to learn more about the Library’s privacy policy. It’s like the website is giving the visitor homework.

The good messaging simply links to the policy off the word “privacy,” which itself is part of the phrase “your privacy,” which is a deft way of making the issue more personal for the visitor, and less like homework.

Somebody at the New York Public Library, or among their marketing folks, knows what they’re doing. The proof is there for all to see in benefits-based website messaging that keeps it short and sweet and sells the sizzle.

And these concepts extend to all marketing endeavors. Kudos to for bringing such an instructive example to our attention.

Category: Planned Giving Marketing

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