When you know it's time for the dog to go • New Tricks
 In WordPress

Dog websiteIf you know me, you know I love dogs. If you saw my website for New Tricks, you knew the same thing. My cartoon dog was the centerpiece of my home page, and he meant so much to me. That’s why, when I asked people at a WordPress Meetup if I should keep the dog, they all said, “Yes! The dog is your brand!”

That was the problem. My website dog was so precious to me that I couldn’t let it go even when I knew it was time. It was past time, actually. He should never have been there, and I knew it.

This truth was confirmed with user testing, when I watched several videos of people in my target audience describing their use of the New Tricks website. And I finally did something about the dog after a recent StoryBrand workshop with Donald Miller.

It sure was hard to let the dog go, but what I learned from Don about branding also can guide your best (and most difficult) decisions leading to great online marketing.

Canine Confusion

Like owners of real dogs, I made excuses for my website dog’s bad behavior because I thought it was cute. Some of our clients were such dog lovers that the confusing front message didn’t put them off; to them, it was part of our charm.

I latched onto my dog partly because my son Michael had made its ears move up and down, knowing it would delight me. Maybe the dog stayed too long because I was too busy working, caring so much about building websites to notice mine wasn’t working as well as it should.

For 18 months, I knew the dog was a bad idea. Still I held on to the dog. Then came the user testing videos.

I watched as people in my target audience described making their way through my website. When the New Tricks home page came up, the tester would say, “I love the dog! Maybe this is a website for a pet company or a vet.” Then they would read aloud: “End Your Website Shame, Get a Website That is Best in Show.”

Somewhat puzzled, the user would take about 15 seconds to absorb that New Tricks wasn’t about dogs. It would take another 15 seconds to pivot and get straight the idea that this instead was a website business.

Maybe 30 seconds doesn’t sound long to you. On the web, it’s forever. Visitors searching for information give your website five seconds max, according to research studies. If they don’t understand what you have to offer, they’re gone.

A Guide, not a Dog

Donald Miller’s StoryBrand has intrigued me for a while. He teaches the components of successful stories, novels and screenplays, and how to adapt them to your brand to connect better with your target audience.

I finally attended the StoryBrand Training last week, to work on the New Tricks brand message. I didn’t want the dog to get in the way of what my website should do: to communicate directly and powerfully with my ideal client, grab their attention and create the desire to know more.

Sitting in front, I showed my site to Don.

He saw the dog. “Oh, that’s cool,” he said of the dog, and like everyone else, not bothering to read the words. “Are you a vet?”

I confessed that we were a web design agency and I already knew I had to let my dog go. Don loved the dog too, but validated that in this case, the dog was getting in the way of the message.

Letting the dog go wasn’t a one-step process. To figure out was I going to replace him with I then had to boil down what it was that my clients really wanted from New Tricks. StoryBrand gave me the push I needed away from the dog, to really start thinking of my ideal client as the hero. This is the essence of the StoryBrand method.

In a great story or movie, the hero is the main character who wants or needs something. So does your ideal client. Here’s what else to keep in mind:

  1. There is something the hero wants or needs.
  2. The hero has a problem that is standing in the way of achieving the goal.
  3. The hero meets an experienced guide who understands the challenge.
  4. The guide gives the hero a plan.
  5. The hero accepts the call to action.
  6. The hero succeeds— or fails.
  7. If the hero succeeds, he or she also undergoes a positive transformation of their identity.

Here’s how that looks for New Tricks

  1. The ideal client needs a website that works.
  2. The client has a problem
    1. Their external problem: they have a website that doesn’t work properly and or it is not working to bring them business. 
    2. Their internal problem:  they feel ashamed that they spent time and money on their current site and are at a loss about what to do.
    3. Their philosophical problem: They worry that they don’t have what it takes to succeed.
  3. The ideal client meets the experienced guides at New Tricks. We let them know that we totally understand their challenge and that we’ve successfully helped hundreds of clients in their same situation to create an effective website that works to bring in business.
  4. We give the client a simple plan to create a website that works. (“Works” can be whatever they read into it. Works technically, works to position them as an expert in their field, works to attract the right people and convert them into clients.)
  5. Our client accepts our call to action and sets up a “Talk it Out” session which is the first step to working with us on their website.
  6. Our client works collaboratively with us and succeeds in creating a fantastic website that works for their business. 
  7. Our clients undergo a transformation of their identity. They feel proud of their business and of themselves. They now believe can achieve business success.

Using StoryBrand to Help Our Clients

We used the StoryBrand framework to change out the home page messaging on the New Tricks site. And we have it as a tool to help our clients.

Having a brand story allows a company to use each of the components to clarify their message and create clear, powerful and compelling marketing communications. We specifically looked at how this framework would help us deliver better websites, and noticed common errors business owners make on their websites that can be avoided with this framework.

  1. Who is the Hero? Often there is confusion whether the company website is for the business or the ideal client. The StoryBrand framework says that the main hero is always the company’s ideal target customer, while the company is always the empathetic expert guide who offers a solution to the hero’s obstacles. Many companies get this wrong by setting themselves up as the hero. Would we watch a whole movie about how great Obi Wan Kenobi is because he knows about the Force? No way. He (and your company) matters when his guidance helps Luke Skywalker defeat the Galactic Empire and the Death Star.
  2. The Guide Offers Too Many Solutions. At the beginning of the relationship with the hero, a great guide focuses on helping to solve the hero’s one overarching problem. When you overwhelm the hero with too many choices, he or she will have a hard time figuring out how to solve the problem and will lose trust in the guide. Dial back. Remember that the hero has something he or she wants, and the guide needs to give them assurance that he or she has the means to get it. So lead with your strong suit and leave your other tricks for later. I like Miller’s mantra, “If you confuse, you lose.”
  3. Stick to the Story. Everything you present on the home page must stay within the seven components of your brand story. Anything that does not fit within those components will create confusion. This meant the dog needed to go, especially in the valuable space above the fold (in the top screen). The dog failed to support the idea that we knew the customer’s problem and how to solve it, and its caption was small and insignificant. The dog didn’t stick to our story, so now it’s gone.
  1. Give Your Hero Clear Calls to Action. Your hero needs to know what to do next. Tell them the one thing you want them to do first in their journey to their solution. Make it direct, obvious and easy (such as Contact Us Today). Or offer an indirect call to action such as an opt-in. When they sign up for a free ebook, for instance, this will add them to your mailing list. Make the call to action prominent.

Yes, I’m sad about losing the dog. As business owners we are so close to our own stories that it is makes it hard to know what to leave in and what to take out. But, I feel good that I took the opportunity in Nashville to change our home page to address the needs of our clients.  And, If you’re a vet or dog trainer, I have some catchy four-footed images you might like ☺.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Diana Simon

    I, too, am one who loves your dogs. Are you going to change up everything, such as you package levels? Makes my head hurt just thinking about it…

  • Judi Knight

    Not giving up my dog branding, just using it in the hero section bigger than the text was confusing people when they first came to the site. The dog packages are staying too. It is much nice to say that someone is a Young Pup package rather than giving them the bargain package for newbies.

  • Claudia Arkush

    Judi, this was great insight for us designers who wander off the “branding” aspect of a website. Yes, I know what I am supposed to do in theory but your “hero” analogy brought it home.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Judi Knight

      Thanks, Claudia, I am going to change the top photo on our site to a happy business woman and have keep the team pic below. J

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