Gen Jones writes: “I am a huge fan of yours but my boss hates you. We went to your seminar a couple weeks ago. She walked in late and heard you say ‘I’ve never had to tell a black man he was black.’ She felt that was completely racist and walked out the door and said I should never waste our money on listening to you again. She is white and I am black. I only wish she heard what you had to say afterwards because it was so valuable, especially for us. Anyway, can you recap what you said on your blog so I can give it to HER boss? I’d really appreciate it. I don’t know if you remember me but we are the ones who sell plus-sized clothing.”
First, thank you for being a HUGE fan. And yes, I mean that sincerely. I know I am an acquired taste.
Second, yes, I remember you and your boss. As I recall, she stormed out rather dramatically. It’s difficult when people come see me speak and don’t get me from the very beginning because I am very easy to take out of context. But yes, I will restate what I said here because it IS indeed important.
One of the first clients I had on my own was a third-generation, family-owned company that sold all sorts of Jewish stuff — menorahs, dreidels, hamsa plaques and so on. The company had a gorgeous 200+ page catalog and a website that was equally well-designed yet bringing in “nary an order.” The father (who spent far more time on the golf course than working in his business) had seen me speak and invited me to come in and do a full-blown web critique. One of his three sons was in charge of the website (we’ll call him the Golden Boy for reasons soon to be explained) and had spent a small fortune developing it. The other two brothers thought the internet was going to be about as popular as the CB radio and wanted the father to put an end to it. So, although I was there under the premise of giving them ideas to improve the website, two-thirds of the team hated me before I even set foot in the door. (This, by the way, was an indication of my future in consulting.)
To make a long story short, the morning part of the meeting went exceptionally well. There was a lot of evidence that the website would be a raging success so the “Golden Boy” was happy (read: smug), the other two brothers were starting to see the light (although they were not convinced that it was not a freight train coming directly at them, they knew that something bright was coming) and the father was happy to have peace in the kingdom again so he could play golf.
All was well until we started talking about web creative.
One of the thirds, er, brothers, asked me what I thought of the pictures on the site and I responded something along the lines of “I am glad you asked as I was going to get to that after the break. You sell Jewish stuff to Jewish people, why are all your photographs of blonde Aryans anyway?”
COMPLETE AND TOTAL SILENCE. Not even a damn cricket chirp like you hear on TV.
There were fourteen people in that room and all at once, every SINGLE person looked down except the father and Golden Boy. He gave me the most evil “mean as dirt” look I’d ever had in my life.
About three hours (read: twenty seconds) later, the father smiled. “Golden Boy’s wife is our photographer. She is a blonde —-”
Golden Boy interrupted and went on a tirade, most of which had to do with him being the first one to every marry a gentile, that not all Catholics were evil and so on and so forth. The entire conversation was VERY heated and you couldn’t see any of the non-family staff as they were busy hiding under the conference table or rapidly excusing themselves to go to the bathroom.
As much as I wanted to jump into the discussion and give my two cents on Israel, the West Bank, war, and all things political, I also wanted to leave in one piece so I said something along the lines of “look, I didn’t mean to offend anyone, I know more than a few blonde Jews. I just don’t think that your catalog or your website represents a typical Jew.” (Yes, I realize “typical” was the wrong word choice but it was the right sentiment at the time.)
After Golden Boy (you know, the guy who three hours before had thought I walked on water) accused me of being more vile than Hitler, the father calmly smiled and said “I have never had to tell a black man he is black. We all know who we are.”
And you know what? We do.
Gingers know they are red-heads.
People who are over 7′ know they are exceptionally tall and folks under 3′ know they are short. (And yes, I have friends in both categories.)
You never need to tell a morbidly obese person that they are overweight. From personal experience, I can assure you, we all know where we stand on the Scale of Skinny.
When I recanted that story at the conference, Jennifer (the woman who asked the question above) and her boss attended, it was in response to a woman whose site I was critiquing. They sell hair care products for black women. When I asked her who her target market was, she told me “100% black women.” I asked her why over half her models were white. She said because her boss (who was Hispanic) felt that if they didn’t show white models, they’d be perceived as discriminatory. She also said that the women I was saying were “white” were actually “kinda-sorta-a-little-bit-mixed.” Whatever the hell that means. The only thing I know about black hair is from my black friends and NEWSFLASH: it’s not at all like mine, that’s why they have products designed for it, as well as stylists who specialize in it.
Jennifer’s company sells plus-sized clothing to women who can’t find clothes at stores like Lane Bryant, which means that they are OVER a size 26, I believe. Looking at their photos, their models are, on average, a size 10-12. That’s less than half the size. Her boss (whom I have spoken with since and do NOT enjoy one iota) says she feels that they need “more petite” models to give people “hope” for what they aspire to be. Frankly, that’s downright offensive and I am so glad she walked out of my seminar because if she’d stayed, I’d probably have smacked her!
I don’t care who you are selling to — whether it’s the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker — your website needs pictures of those people. If you want to have a bunch of pin-up girls because you’re one of those “sex sells” people, that’s cool too but please include “real” pictures as well.
1. Unless YOU are YOUR typical customer, the site should NOT be designed for you (or to impress YOUR wife, mother, brother in internet marketing, etc.) It should be designed for YOUR USER. In other words, if you sell to welders, light pink and baby green may not be the best color choices. Is that stereotypical? Hell, yes. Deal. With. It.
2. The more pictures the better. The AAUS (active average user session) tends to be at least 10% higher on sites that have a lot of photos of people — basically because when we see other people’s eyes, we stay longer. The more you stay, the more you pay.
3. In your checkout (or lead forms, if that better applies), use a photo of someone your typical user would give their money to. (No, not the person they’d pay for a lap dance.) A Wilford Brimley/Santa Claus like person.
4. Use a combination of staged and action shots. Action shots especially work for B2B and HEP (hobbyist, enthusiast, passionata) sites.
5. The visuals rules also apply to copy. If your average customer doesn’t sound like something out of Masterpiece Theatre, you shouldn’t write to him using language only found in Othello.
6. Politically correct doesn’t mean EXCLUDING your current customers in favor of INCLUDING those who are not your customers. If you don’t respect the people you sell to, find another job. Period. End of story.
Footnote: A couple days ago, I was at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C. with my friend Lucy (name changed to protect the guilty). She was jonesing for a chili dog and she had heard they made THE best. The menu on the wall said “black owned” and everyone who was working there at the time was black. I said to the guys behind the counter “if I said white-owned, I’d be accused of being a neo-Nazi.” My friend practically ran out the door, she was so mortified. The place was jam-packed and every guest in there was black with the exception of one table of four white construction workers. They were all as equally horrified as Lucy. (Yes, I am loud. EVERYONE heard me.) Funny thing is that ONLY the white people were shocked and appalled. I got more than one comment about my vanilla, er, milkshake during my visit but it was all in fun. I get that race is a serious issue and I am a lot of things but a bigot is not one of them. Many businesses are struggling these days because they spend too much time pontificating their navels and not focusing on what’s really important. If you’re selling sumac to Arab chefs, a photo of Rachel Ray just ain’t gonna cut it. Bottom line: my chance of being a Playboy Centerfold next month? LESS THAN NONE. We all know who we are.