Do you know what this company does?

Or this one?

The New Normal

More and more often, upon discovering a new company or product, when visiting their website hoping to find out what it is they do, you instead get fed a mash of buzzwords about their “team” and “values”. And this isn’t a side dish — this is the main entrée of these sites, with a coherent explanation of the company’s products or services rarely occupying more than a footnote on the menu.

The examples are countless. Let’s have a look at another two of the more… acute cases.

Optimizely

“Good afternoon! Innovation is all around you. Ready to tap into it?”

The second part is only marginally better: “Be bold. Let your whole team play. Experiment everywhere”, with subheadings “Make your digital channels work harder”, “Deliver exceptional customer experiences”, and “Turn a one-time ‘like’ into long-term ‘love”.

84.51˚

“We believe in making people’s lives easier”

Who doesn’t?!

Probably a pharmaceutical firm, the background image of a laughing father and daughter imply some sort of life-saving drug.

“Our unique, long-term approach to data analytics helps us provide a whole new depth of understanding and a higher level of insight for our customers.”

Aha so you make charts because you work with data sets that can’t fit into Excel. But what kind of data sets? Let me just click on “01: Who we are”…

“We make people’s lives easier. Simple idea, right? Not exactly.”

You know what’s a simple idea? Telling me what your company does.

“We define ‘people’ as our associates, customers, clients and the communities we serve, and we work hard to achieve a deep, personal understanding about all of them. Implementing the learnings — to make their lives easier — is the hard part. Whether it’s shown through offering unparalleled workplace culture and benefits, providing targeted and useful content or using data to help retail strategies come to life, we have the tools to ensure that, depending on which people we’re serving, we can make it work.”

… That’s it. It’s too much. I’m out.

What’s Going On?

Most people in the day-to-day of business will agree — the more expensive the service a B2B company provides, the more incomprehensible its website. When you’re getting your first domain, GoDaddy and NameCheap will tell you that, yeah, that’s what they do: They will sell you a domain. When you’re looking to host it, the marketing copy becomes a bit more flowery (what’s the ‘app dependency matrix’?), but you still know what you’re buying. Need online accounting software for your small business? Xero’s home page says “Online accounting software for your small business”.

This is what websites should be, this is when you think — oh this is nice, I know what’s going on.

But then you start looking for a marketing firm, maybe to help you buy some TV commercial spots. “Creativity. Measurability. Accountability.”, TandemROI’s home page creatively states.

Or you’re looking for a broker to take your products to retail, and Niche Products Inc.’s home page tells you their function is “Serving companies from around the world”. Hopefully not with subpoenas.

You persist, though, and those websites eventually relent, telling you what it is their companies do.

Why do the big companies with the big products do it? Do they lack self-awareness? Do they have nothing of value to provide, and hide behind flowery marketing babble that’s as empty as their offering? Maybe, but I think this is unlikely. These are big companies, and they’re smart companies.

The big companies do it to get you on the phone — so they can upsell.

After all, when all the products are laid out in a nice table online, with a few scary X’s and some nice green checkmarks, it’s easy to make a reasonable choice. When you’re talking with a salesperson who really knows how to play up those X’s, you’re likely to give up a lot more money.

So for the big companies, I truly believe these confusing websites, these websites that avoid at all costs telling you what the company actually does, are a deliberate tactic. Not to get leads, because I’m sure they realize they’ll lose a few in their artistic mess of a homepage. But to turn the leads they’d get anyway into overpaying customers.

Conclusion

For the sake of everybody who’ll ever come across your website, realize being vague and artistic is a mistake. Learn from it. “A one-stop shop for finding media contacts”. “The simplest website A-B testing tool on the market”. “A comprehensive and analytical insight to retail sales”. “A treatment for sweaty hands and feet”. These are what titles used to be, and this is what they should be. They should tell people who you are, what you do, and maybe even why they should be interested.

But they should not look to dazzle with style over substance. They should not make vague promises that can neither be kept nor broken. They should not be applicable to every company that can afford marketing consultants.

So please, when you’re building your homepage, unless you’re Meltwater or Optimizely and trying to badger me into picking up the phone and calling your salespeople and telling everybody I know to avoid your company — please, for the love of God, please just tell me what your company does.

For the love of God, please tell me what your company does

PS. If you’re looking for more actionable tips on how to create great value propositions, you can find it here and here.