A spicy approach to addressing complexity on your website


By Robert Dempsey, Contributing {grow} Columnist

The information density of our world is creating a challenge for every indvidiual and business.  We have not yet reached the Age of Filtering!  And while you may be thinking “more is better,” maybe we can take a sales lesson from an unlikely source – a Thai Food Cart.

The Paradox

Many companies offer a long list of services, which makes their website nearly impossible to navigate and confuses a would-be buyer. While it may seem like a paradox, offering fewer options increases the likelihood of getting more business. To see why, I’m going to use an example of something seen quite frequently here in Thailand – the open-air restaurants composed of between 10 and 100 food carts.

Specialization: The Lesson of a Thai Food Cart

In every Thai town there is one common sight – open-air “restaurants” composed of food carts. Each evening food vendors drive or wheel in their food carts (some are the entire back of a pickup truck), set up tables and chairs, and start cooking. You want to talk about competition? These restaurants can have 10, 50 … even 100 of these carts!  In this environment you have to be very good at what you do. And that means specializing.

These carts run the gamut of tasty offerings:

  • Noodle soup
  • Roasted pork leg with rice
  • Sweet desserts
  • Fried chicken
  • Sausages

… and many other dishes.  Heck, even the soups are broken into different styles – one cart may be selling pork soups and another chicken.

The point is that each of these vendors specializes in one type of dish. But it’s not limited to food carts.

Many of the restaurants here have a limited menu, offering only curries or 6 different chicken dishes. The restaurants that have a signature menu item are the ones that have the longest line of people waiting to get in.

What is YOUR signature item?

Well I’m assuming you aren’t actually running a food cart as your business but don’t let the example hold you back from seeing the lesson, which is offering too many options to customers may not be a good thing for your business.

When a potential customer visits your website, they don’t know what the right answer is for them. If they did, they wouldn’t be searching for it. But they do know, more or less, what their problem is. That’s where content – be it on your blog or on your sales pages – comes in.

Don’t confuse them with a large list of services, products or solutions.  Show them you understand their problem and can help them solve it.

And Don’t Worry – This Is Very Common

If this is how your website is set up today, don’t feel bad – it’s how the majority of websites are built. Take a look at the site of any large company, hit their home page, and take note of how many actually address a problem within the first 5 seconds of you reading it. It’s going to be very few.

So now the question is, if we know that specialization can increase demand for what we do and probably allow us to charge premium prices to do it, why aren’t more companies doing it? In a word: fear.

Don’t Let Fear Run Your Business

Are you afraid of losing business if you don’t have that long list of services available? I know I used to be. I thought that by not offering a service I was losing out. But what I was really losing was my most valuable asset – time. It was only when I honed in on where my business can provide the most value – direct response social media – and specializing in that, that demand increased and so did my prices.

How can you apply the specialization lesson from the Thai food cart in your business?

Robert Dempsey specializes in direct response social media and blogs at http://DempseyMarketing.com/journal/.

Image courtesy of Heinrich Damm

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  • Yay! I get to be the first commenter on {grow}! A rare if never occasion! Hi, Robert. When I was in Thailand, I always got the safe and fave pad thai from the open-air vendors. If I were to live there as you do, however, I’d become more adventurous and sample more delights.

    Oh, yes, you’re suggesting website tips…I will run to mine and take a look! 🙂 (After I get the noodles going.)

  • Right on!!! Your niche should slap them in the face or be very easy to stumble upon!  Some potential clients may not know all the buzz words of what they need, for example our visitors know they need programming or development, but may not know all the language terminology!

  • Absolutely right on, Robert. Boiling down your business to your core offering not only helps you focus as an organization (on making it the best possible offering), but it also helps your customers focus on what they can do with you.

    Your post reminded me of a study I came across when researching a post a while back. Here’s an excerpt from the findings:
    “… [R]esearchers set up a sampling table with a display of jams. In the first test they offered a tempting array of 24 different jams to taste; on a different day they displayed just six. Shoppers who took part in the sampling were rewarded with a discount voucher to buy any jam of the same brand in the store.…[W]hen it came to buying afterwards, fully 30% of those who stopped at the six-jam table went on to purchase a pot, against merely 3% of those who were faced with the selection of 24.”

  • Hi Robert,

    I tried (and failed) to convince the bosses that simple is better. I told them we should have an easy to navigate website, with only a few options. We have a confusing website, and because no one listened to me – NO WAY TO CAPTURE EMAILS!

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. i love this, and wish I could get them to listen. They won’t. I just shake my head over the website that got created. I had nothing to do with that.

    As I mentioned to you yesterday, I get a lot out of your personal blog and your posts here. Keep it coming Robert!

  • Kenny Rose

    Always valuable and insightful articles Mark. 

    Drilling down to the essence of where our expertise lies is a difficult but essential process. Identifying and targeting appropriate customers is even more of a challenge and converting them to paying customers is when the real work really starts. 

    For me this is a process that needs to be determined by developing a clear understanding of the what is available and working out where customers needs are not being met. Answering these questions helps us  clarify  and prioritize our offer and makes us more effective at understanding the value we can provide.

    Thanks for the food for thought Mark. 

  • Kenny Rose

    And obviously Thank you to you Robert 🙂 

  • Love your post.  Two thoughts came to mind as I as reading your post: audience segmentation and landing pages.  To me this is a perfect reason why it makes more sense to direct paid traffic to a product-specific landing page or microsite that allows you to you focus on each “signature item” for that particular “signature audience”. 

  • We agree 100% on that Alexandra. If you are paying for traffic and NOT sending those people to a specific landing page that speaks their language then you are wasting your money. That is not something I’m a fan of.

  • That’s a superb point. Landing pages are often missing on blogs. Particularly small biz blogs not involved in affiliate marketing. Not sure about microsites though if you’re foregrounding a signature product. Wouldn’t that leave the original site a bit lacking in focus?

  • Personally I prefer to keep it all on a single site so we create a LOT of landing pages. Web pages don’t take up space, so create liberally.

  • Thanks for your point Kenny. You bring up very good points – none of this is easy or overnight, but for the entrepreneurs and businesses that do it, the rewards come.

    The great thing is that you don’t have to wait to start doing down the path. The point is to start and then continually refine based on metrics (on-site and off) that you gather while marketing.

  • Hi Nancy great to hear from you. I’m sorry to hear about the situation with the bosses. Don’t give up! The saying “the money is in the follow-up” is also true of (nicely) hammering away at the bosses. Perhaps chipping away is nicer though 🙂

    One thing that I found worked with my previous bosses was presenting information to them in a way that they could really relate to, so basically charts with financials and lists of competitors and the results they are getting. Granted I don’t know what you’ve said to them and you didn’t ask for the advice, but if you haven’t tried that give it a go. Then let me know if it works.

  • That’s a great study Andrew thanks for adding that. I can say from experience that a lack of focus can send a business into a death spiral at worst, and at best cause a huge leak of money. It also results in a lot of misguided and unnecessary marketing which goes back to the huge money leak.

    Focusing on obtaining the types of customers I want has helped me so much and attracted exactly the types of customers I want to work with as well as the partners that can get me in front of more of them. It isn’t always easy to maintain that focus as the fear can seep in, however as the post says we can’t let fear run our businesses.

  • “Your niche should slap them in the face” – now that’s the kind of attitude I like Jennifer! Rock on. I fully agree with your comment, and having had a web development shop for 7 years, I understand the terminology thing. Your current and future customers need your education.

  • Congrats Jayme! And on my post as well. That’s +2 points for you.

    The food here is fantastico and I can’t get enough. Now go back to your website and make sure your messaging is speaking to your people! 🙂

  • Robert

    Some solid points in here. I’ve realized that perhaps a big part of my challenge has stemmed from identifying the wrong consumer and not having a highly targeted solution. Ive also started to realize the tremendous importance of landing pages and have already started to create them for my projects.

  • If you don’t have a signature item you are dead in the water. McDonald’s it’s Fries. Same with 5 Guys. Many restaurants are known for something that keeps you coming back. Businesses are the same.

    I once worked for an Industrial Parts distributorship for 7 years in Los Angeles. Customers always wanted to go direct to the brands we had exclusive territory rights to thinking they could save money. We excelled at Inventory Management, Procurement, and Sales/Marketing including on site training. Things our customers would never get from our brands. They often had 1 sales person covering all of California. We recorded every single purchase order delivery so that our customers could get accurate delivery data vs what the Brand promised (most were always 1-4 weeks late).
    We knew what we brought to the table to prove our value.

  • It’s a great point, Robert. In the old game you had time and resources to pitch only a few, so you wanted to be able to service a wide range.

    The new game is that you can pitch (literally) one billion people at near-zero cost. If you try all-round appeal you won’t get noticed unless your firm’s name begins with an Ogilvy or ends in an Edelman.

    You’ve got to trade specificity in USP for the broad appeal of yesteryear. Parallel to the blogosphere, where distinct beats broad.

  • You are right Peter in that things have changed and that targeting is the way to not waste money and resources on marketing that won’t get direct results. I don’t believe that broad appeal works any longer, but people keep trying. Better for us that way.

  • “Signature item” – so true Howie! Great example with your previous employer. How did you communicate that value to your customers?

  • Hi Srini – keep cranking out those landing pages. They make measuring and targeting a LOT easier.

    As for the first part of your comment, do you mean you are targeting the wrong solution to the wrong consumer or that you have the wrong consumer in the first place? And if it’s the latter, what is telling you it’s the wrong consumer.

    I ask because I worked very hard building a site for freelancers only to come to the understanding, after 8 months of long days, that freelancers (for the most part) don’t see themselves as business people but rather whatever job they perform. And they don’t have money to spend (or simply won’t) on things like marketing.

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  • Bravo Robert, I’ve bookmarked your information to return as often as needed to address the complexity of our website.  Thank you for your encouragement and your support.

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