Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Web customers care about tasks, not goals

April 11, 2010 -- Gerry McGovern

Talking about customer goals is the biggest mistake a website can make. That’s how you lose the impatient customer.

A couple of months ago we needed to find a new house cleaner. I went to lots and lots of house cleaner websites and became more and more frustrated. The typical website had a big silly picture of someone smiling out at me.

Hello marketers. Anybody home? Can you please, please get over the jaded, print marketing, old school hero shot. It’s the Web. It’s the 21st Century. Wake up, please. Do you go to Google and see a sexy woman smiling out at you saying. “I’m having such fun searching. You should try it too.”? Do you go to Twitter and find a handsome man smiling out at you, saying: “Communication is such fun. You should try it too.” Do you go to an airline website and see a happy couple smiling out at you, saying: “You need a break. It’s such fun booking a flight. Try it!”

So, I was at a house cleaner website and this lady was smiling out at me with her hands behind her head. Hello. I need a cleaner. She’s not going to do much cleaning for me if she has her hands behind her head. And she’s saying to me: “Book a cleaner and get time for you.”

That was a big breakthrough for me. For years we’ve had a cleaner and I never really understood why. But this website educated me. It’s all about time. And then this hands-behind-her-head-big-grinning-lady asks me: “Are you looking for a cleaner?” Well, duh. Actually, no. I’m looking for a set of golf clubs, but for some wholly unfathomable reason I typed the following text into Google: “house cleaner”.

Then the lady says: “We clean your house so you don’t have to.” A major milestone for me in the evolution of my thoughts as to why it’s a good idea to have a cleaner. Before that extraordinary sentence we had a weekly panic. “The cleaner’s coming tomorrow! What!? Tomorrow? Quick! Clean the house before the cleaner gets here.”

The cleaning websites I went to told me truly useless things I already knew but didn’t tell me the things I really wanted to know: hourly rates, whether they worked in my area, whether they cleaned on weekends.

These websites wasted my time by telling me that my time is precious. They kept talking about my goals. I know my goals. By the time I’m at a search engine, I know my goals. I’m on the Web because I have a task that will help me fulfil my goal. The Web is about doing. It is active. It is task-focused.

Focusing on the goal is a huge mistake marketers make again and again. And the pretty pictures and swirling, shiny ‘interactive’ objects that are placed on black backgrounds. And the grey text. Marketers and designers think these things are cool and impressive but they are the exact opposite. Customers sneer at these old school brochure marketing tactics.

The Web is about tasks.