October 19

Content Intel—episode 2: leveraging value Prop to improve your website’s content

We welcome James Robert Lay, Founder and CEO of Digital Growth Institute and the author of the best-selling book, Banking on Digital Growth, to talk about the importance of optimizing your website’s content to build trust among your customers in the FinServ and FinTech industries.




Laura Dolan (00:06):

Welcome everyone to another exciting episode of Content Intel. I am your host, Laura Dolan, senior content marketing manager here at Optimizely. Today I am joined by James Robert Lay, he's the founder and CEO of Digital Growth Institute and the author of the best-selling book Banking on Digital Growth. James Robert, thanks for coming on the show.

James Robert Lay (00:25):

I am so happy to be here with you today, Laura.

Laura Dolan (00:27):

I wanted to continue what we were talking about a few weeks ago in our fireside chat. And in that we covered how to build and optimize a website that sells to maximize digital growth. And for those of you who didn't get a chance to tune in the first time, I will put a link to the on-demand version in the show notes of this podcast so you can hear it in its entirety. But what we wanted to cover today is to continue talking about the importance of optimizing your website's content to build trust among your customers. And a very important way to do that is through value proposition, or as it's simply known as value prop. James Robert, are you familiar with the term value prop?

James Robert Lay (01:03):

Definitely, and I think it's one of these opportunities that when we think about a financial brand, there's a tremendous opportunity for growth here, for sure.

Laura Dolan (01:12):

It's the value that your product or service provides to the customers and the promise of the benefits that you deliver. I think a strong value proposition articulates your products' benefits as well as reasons why people should buy from you instead of your competitors, it's what sets you apart initially. James Robert, can you think of any solid examples of value prop that you've seen leveraged by some of the financial industry websites today?

James Robert Lay (01:34):

Well, I think when we think about solving problems through value prop, and I'm going to continue from the conversation that we had before, let's take the mortgage product. It's so easy to position it around the features, around even the benefits. But one of the things that I would like to do is even go deeper with another perspective, which is the feelings that this product can bring to bear in the marketplace. Because in a commoditized world where even features, even benefits are all commoditized and they look the same, it's the feelings that we hope to receive on the opposite end of the spectrum, once we utilize that product that's to me where the opportunity is. And I can think about take Rocket Mortgage, they've simplified. The perception of simplification is how they've positioned in the marketplace, that's their value prop, and that's one of the reasons that they've been able to accelerate. But knowing the back end of the mortgage process, all of what happens post application is exactly the same at every other financial brand.

Laura Dolan (02:44):

Yes. And again, it goes back to building trust, which is one of the most important factors you can have in an online business and brick and mortar. You can build that trust through social proof, case studies, trust seals, other elements that would convey that you are a trustworthy brand and that your claims are true, and that all comes back to value prop and what you claim. And a lot of it, I think comes down to your company's slogan.

James Robert Lay (03:07):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly. And I think that idea of social proof is one that we see time and time again, with the digital secret shopping studies that we do say against like FinTech and against neobanks, for example. Chime.com, right on the homepage of their site they have logos from Wall Street Journal, from Forbes, the New York Times, USA Today. Just those logos alone people comment on them when looking at that homepage like, "Oh, well, if..." And it doesn't say anything, it doesn't have a quote, it just has a logo. So there's this association that if they're associated with these other brands, then Chime must be a good product.

Laura Dolan (03:48):

Yeah, absolutely. I think if you position yourself in the industry with who you're associated with, who you're affiliated with and building on that brand trust, that gives you a lot of leverage among your customers and prospects.

James Robert Lay (04:00):

And you're right, too, coming back to this point of slogan. I think that gets into a deeper conversation around the purpose of the financial brand or the organization for that matter. Historically so many have been focused on their mission, their vision, which are typically an inward statement. I've always recommended a third way, which is a purpose statement, an external facing statement that is about connecting emotionally with the ideal market audience. And on that, there's a great example with Aspiration, Aspiration.com is the brand, and this whole financial brand is FinTech, this neobank is literally positioned around leaving your bank where you're at to save the planet, so it's all about a social cause that's greater than just banking. So, they built their whole narrative around this and have positioned their products around that purpose.

Laura Dolan (05:04):

Yeah, it definitely comes back to articulating what you promise your customers and the benefit that they get by trusting you and by doing business with your company. A couple of fun examples I found was Casper with, "No sleepless nights." Bitly, "Shorten. Share. Measure." It's just three very short sentences, very concise. Dollar Shave Club, "A great shape for few bucks a month." They're not beating around the bush it's like, "This is what you're going to get when you come to us." And I think the more concise the brands could be in their promise statement, will definitely benefit them in the long run.

James Robert Lay (05:45):

Great point, because a lot of times a purpose statement can become a promise statement. That promise statement can become a positioning statement, and there can be the overarching brand purpose narrative that then trickles down into product or positioning statements. Like, let's take Chime, for example, "Banking that has your back." Let's take aspiration, "Aspiration is 100% committed to clean money." Tropical Financial in Florida is, "On a mission to help people get beyond money so that they can get to a better future." And it's these small, short statements that become a north star to guide all of the thinking. Specifically, I think even when it comes to elements like content because if we have that purpose driving us it's much easier to lean into producing content, to promote content, and then to get that executive level buy-in needed to sustain this over a period of time. Because now we're truly taking on the role of the helpful and empathetic guide in other people's journeys because money is confusing, money is stressful, and they're looking for someone that they can like, know, and trust to guide them beyond that stress towards a bigger, better, brighter future.

Laura Dolan (07:02):

Exactly. And I think once companies pin down what their identifier is because I think a lot of it does come down to an identity crisis, if you will. If you don't have that purpose nailed down, you don't really know where you're going as a brand, you're misleading your customers in a way if you don't pinpoint what you're doing and direct them where they need to go to build that trust.

James Robert Lay (07:26):

It's an identity crisis for sure, it's an existential crisis. And that's one of the reasons in my book, Banking on Digital Growth, purpose is at the center, the heart, of the digital growth blueprint because everything else should orbit around this. And so just to make this very practical for the dear listener, when you think about purpose, it boils down to three key elements, or three key points in a purpose statement. What I call the verb, what I call the target, and then what I call the outcome. This is what we do for this ideal, hopefully niche, market segment, so they feel this way with an outcome. So a verb, a target, and then an outcome.

Laura Dolan (08:17):

That's a great breakdown, I like that. It's figuring out what the pain point is, whose pain point it's for, and what are you going to do to remedy the situation? And those are the three key elements to your value prop. I mean, it's a very simple formula, I feel.

James Robert Lay (08:33):

Yeah, verb, target, outcome. And I think it's a simple formula, but as we experience when working with financial brands, it's an exercise almost in complexity because what we're driving for is simplicity, and so we're having to give up a lot. What are we trying to distill down into the statement? Because as you bring this internally, everyone seems to have an opinion and a very strong opinion at that. And so it's important to bring all of those voices to bear, all of those voices to the table. So that it's an exercise in inclusivity, but at the end of the day, it's where leadership can take that information, take that data, distill it down, and then create a verb targeted outcome that becomes the north star, the focus, the guiding light going forward.

Laura Dolan (09:27):

Now obviously the more successful companies out there have an established value prop, but what about for the companies that are just starting out? Let's say it's a small business and they're trying to break their way into the financial industry. One thing we obviously offer here at Optimizely is A/B testing, experimenting with your slogans, with your value props, to see where you can get the most traction. What have you seen on your end that has resulted in a successful outcome as far as how financial brands could leverage this kind of experimentation?

James Robert Lay (10:02):

I think a great example of this is what I was mentioning before with Tropical Financial, they have a platform, a program called Get Beyond Money. It was something that they had tried to do internally, they were struggling. And then I said, "Look, we need to get outside of the bottle. We need to look at the label on the bottle." But we have a lot of bias typically tied to that, a lot of emotion. And that's where, to your point, A/B testing, testing messaging, testing value props, testing positioning is a great way to get outside of the bottle and to get objectivity from the marketplace. And that's exactly what they did, they did it with positioning statements. They did it with even the logo because it's so easy to make these generalized assumptions. There's no reason that we should not test. There's the old adage in sales, to ABC, to always be closing. I think in today's marketing space, we should always look to always be testing, always be optimizing.

Laura Dolan (11:10):

ABT, ABO. I like it. Yes, absolutely. You can be testing the formula you that you mentioned before. What's your purpose? Who is your audience? What's the pain point? You can make as concise as you want, as lengthy as you want. It's just got to be something catchy, something that your customers will remember, and we'll want to come back to you over and over again. And the only way you're going to get there is if you are a starting out brand and you're trying to establish yourself and your credibility is basically go ahead and test it out.

James Robert Lay (11:42):

I'm a hundred percent confident in the choices that I make until I get new data. And I always reserve the right to change my mind or to change my opinion because... We were having this conversation as an organization about the utilization of calendar invites, and does that fill impersonal? Is it better if you have someone helping to either A, schedule for you, or if you send a calendar invite? So I had an opinion of that and I said, "Look, I don't know the answer. Why don't we go out and we ask?" And so we did a LinkedIn survey of this, and we found that 75% of people feel that the calendar scheduling like a Calendly link does not feel impersonal, they're totally fine with it, they feel it's a very efficient. And so I think it's this idea of always be curious about, and never assume anything, and then always reserve the right to change your opinion.

James Robert Lay (12:37):

Pilot programs are a great way to consider this. So before it becomes a quote unquote, "definitive truth," we're testing this with a small data sampling set, or a small part of the market share, getting some feedback, getting some validation, and then that becomes the new norm going forward.

Laura Dolan (12:55):

One thing you did say during our fireside chat, you can't test what you don't know...?

James Robert Lay (12:59):

We don't know what we don't know, until we know. And that's the idea of continuous testing, continuous optimization. And it's a fallacy to just think that we know it all, and COVID has been a great example of this. It's challenged so many different areas, whether it's market positioning, whether it's remote work versus in office. So, we just don't know what we don't know, until we know it. To me the most important element of all of this comes down to critical thinking. It's those four areas, I call these the four digital growth operating environments. You can be learning, you can be thinking, you can be doing, you can be reviewing. And it is deadly to get stuck doing anything. Therefore, you must create space and time to review what you've done, to learn through those experiences, to think about how you can apply them going forward, so that you may do them even that much better on the next round, on the next iteration.

Laura Dolan (14:06):

I'll tell you COVID really forced everyone, not just new businesses, but everyone to just think outside the box, be as innovative as they could, to pivot where they had to, to stay on track, to stay top of mind. And I think that's something we should be doing even if we're not in the middle of a pandemic, we should be constantly thinking about how could we self-improve our businesses, our messaging, the way we engage with our audiences. And it's one of the very few silver linings that came out of the pandemic is forcing yourself to think a different way and to go down this path of the unknown. I mean, it's scary, but at the time it forces you to experiment.

James Robert Lay (14:55):

I think it's so easy to get trapped into what I call the cave of complacency. The rote, the mundane, it's safe, and it's scary. It's scary to have to travel outside of that cave, to ascend to what I call the apex of awareness, to look behind you where you've been, look down the mountain at where you're at, look at it to where you can go next into the future. And then it requires one to ACT, and ACT as an acronym, ACT requires that awareness. When we get that awareness, we can look ahead to the transformational future, but to bridge the gap between that is one word, it's commitment. So we have awareness plus commitment, that leads to the continuous transformation, which leads to continuous growth. It is my hope that as brands, as organizations, we build this in culturally coming out of this pandemic and we're seeing the light on the other side, we don't lose what we've learned and fall back to old patterns and old behaviors that we were so accustomed to pre pandemic.

Laura Dolan (16:03):

Yeah, it would be really detrimental for companies to go back to old habits. And especially as companies are starting to open up and their brick-and-mortar locations, they feel a little bit safer, but they have to consider that we are in a new normal. I hate to keep using that term because it's so ubiquitous right now, but it's true. Things cannot go back to the way they were before, especially with the Delta variant that's going on right now. And every single day, there's new developments with that. And it is forcing all of us, whether we own a business or not to change our habits and change the way we approach the outside world. And I think businesses could really benefit by putting safety first, and putting those measures first, and including that in their message.

James Robert Lay (16:49):

I think when it comes to this idea of optimization, continuous improvement, A/B testing, the things that that Optimizely just does so well, anyone and everyone, no matter the size of your organization, and maybe it is the smaller organization that has a competitive advantage because they're getting to write a new script from the ground up and make this part of the process. Anyone can do it, it just takes a little bit of KASH, KASH is another acronym, K-A-S-H, it's your knowledge, which is found through what? Training and education. It's your attitude of how you handle all of this knowledge, which comes through the thinking. Coming back to the four digital growth operating environments. It's the systems that we deploy, which is now how we're doing, and then creating that space and time to pause, review. That's where we can review those habits that have been established consciously or subconsciously.

James Robert Lay (17:45):

Because if you think about the culture of an organization, it's all ingrained in habits. And I talk a lot about if we're looking for continuous growth, if we're looking for continuous optimization, we have to be mindful of the three transformations. Transform the individual person because individuals make up the teams. When you transform the teams, then you can transform the organizations because organizations are made up of teams, teams are made up of individuals. And so, you mentioned that if we're starting a new business, there have been more new businesses that have been started here in the United States through this pandemic, then a much earlier period of time. I don't have those exact numbers, but I was reading an article that was stating this. And I was fascinated as to, wow, what an opportunity to start a new business and really determine what are those pain points that you're looking to solve for, test against that, and then build the business model. And don't be scared to change your opinion if the data comes back different than what your assumption was.

Laura Dolan (18:51):

Yeah. And I was noticing as a consumer, just the different types of businesses that were conducive during the pandemic, whether it was grocery deliveries, food delivery. I mean, obviously food delivery is not new, we've got DoorDash, you've got Grubhub, but the way different restaurants actually pivoted and became either, curbside only, or delivery only. And I will shamelessly say that one of my favorite restaurants is Red Lobster, and I never thought in my life that I would be able to get Red Lobster delivered to my house from them.

James Robert Lay (19:23):


Laura Dolan (19:24):

And it's something that they did that was very smart. And a lot of other brands followed suit, where they took advantage of, "Okay, we got to stay open somehow. What are we going to do to keep our customers and to give them what they want?" Obviously, people need to eat during a pandemic they're afraid to leave their homes, but they could still enjoy their favorite meals at their favorite restaurants.

James Robert Lay (19:46):

See, and what you're talking about when it comes to this idea of continuous improvement, continuous optimization, continuous growth here, sometimes we need a forcing function because that forcing function in this particular case was COVID, it forced us to question almost everything for lack of a better word, just survival at that point. And so is there a way to build in forcing functions that that require us to question the norm, or to question the status quo at least annually, if not quarterly? Because it would be my hope that we can commit to continuous optimizations at least once every 90 days, and once we build those habits, then we can start looking at bi-monthly, then monthly, then bi-weekly. And I know that's a massive undertaking for someone to think about when they're listening, like, "How would we ever do this on a bi-weekly basis?"

James Robert Lay (20:47):

You're not going to out of the gate, all progress begins with a very simple commitment, and that commitment might be annually, it might be quarterly, but then you just keep leveling up your capability as you continue to move forward and make progress, not measuring it against perfection. I think that's what I think that's what we all are hoping for or seeking in some sense, but if we can get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Comfortable not knowing, comfortable always seeking the next answer, then we can really commit to make progress be our source of measurement, not perfection.

Laura Dolan (21:25):

It's that level of discomfort that forces us to pursue change, to pursue experimentation. Like, "Clearly this isn't working. What can we do to change this?" And it's something as simple as, we talked about in our conversation in our webinar was change the color of your CTA, change the position of your CTA. Is it above the fold? Is it at the bottom of the page? Do you want your customers to keep scrolling? And what is it that keeps them going? What is it that keeps them curious, and keeps time on the page? And the possibilities are endless.

James Robert Lay (21:58):

If you think about, and the restaurant's a great example, restaurant basically had to become ecomm to a degree.

Laura Dolan (22:06):

Yes, yeah it did.

James Robert Lay (22:08):

Overnight. And Red Lobster, we never thought Red Lobster would be associated with any type of ecommerce. And I think that's the Darting Group based out of Louisiana who's over that, they have Olive Garden as part of their portfolio.

Laura Dolan (22:21):


James Robert Lay (22:21):

And so when we look at the opportunities to question and then to measure, and to learn and gain that understanding, sometimes we're going to find that we are the student, other times we'll find that we're the teacher, but through either one of those experiences, we'll always be learning something going forward.

Laura Dolan (22:46):

Absolutely. And one thing that goes hand in hand with value prop is social proof.

James Robert Lay (22:51):


Laura Dolan (22:51):

And social proof doesn't lie. And you can look at your analytics all day and the engagement that you're getting on social media, and the response you're getting in your app, if you have an app. One thing I love about the technology that we have today is you will always see the results of your efforts, and it's fascinating, and I think we're very fortunate to be living in a time where we can evaluate what works and what doesn't.

James Robert Lay (23:20):

I'm going to come back to this point of social proof because that's that spans all different market segments, whether it's financial services, retail, healthcare, I can tell you just working in the financial services space that a financial brand that brings either third-party validation, mentioning before with the Chime example, like with Forbes and Wall Street Journal, or they bring in local market validations. So, maybe it's from the local newspaper, but it's customer ratings, customer reviews.

Laura Dolan (23:54):


James Robert Lay (23:54):

The star ranking system, bringing that, putting that on a product page, having some real-time ratings and reviews where people can sort and level through different types of filter, the feedback. We make purchase decisions today, whether or not we want to admit it based upon the star rankings, the average star rankings of a product. And I just did a podcast about this to what the impact of just one bad review has and the formula that it takes to overcome the damage from that one negative review.

Laura Dolan (24:34):

I have actually, a really quick anecdote. So my husband and I were getting ready to move, we chose a moving company based on how they responded to negative reviews. And it would basically bust the credibility of one negative reviewer because you see four stars, you see four and a half stars and you see one star, and it's just this disgruntled customer saying they damaged this, and it was the company reached out saying, "Well, we told you we didn't want to put your couch through this tiny little door opening, but you insisted and now there's damage." And so they basically tried to remedy the situation by explaining the response of the customer. And I respected that, and we hired them, and they did a great job for us.

James Robert Lay (25:19):

Yeah. And people are more likely to publicly leave a negative review than they are to leave a positive one. And that is why if we can build asking for the rating, asking for the review, even asking for the referral as part of the operational system of a brand experience post-conversion, we will be planting seeds for continued future digital growth because it takes around 40 positive customer reviews to undo the damage of a single negative review.

Laura Dolan (26:01):

It's unfortunate, it's one bad apple has upset the whole apple cart, but it's just, nature's way of... That's just the way things go. And it's unfortunate and you have to fight back so much harder to get that credibility back. And one thing I like to tell people when I write about content and how to stand apart from your competitors is, if you have a really fabulous positive review, put it on the homepage of your website, don't be afraid to call those things out. And if you got five stars, and here's the explanation, and here's who said it. And if you want to go out of your way to ask permission of the person who left the review saying, "Can I highlight this on my site?" And they say, "Go for it." I say, that does way more good than anything else.

James Robert Lay (26:46):

Yes. And that's where I think you mentioned this idea of trust.

Laura Dolan (26:50):


James Robert Lay (26:52):

Trust is the currency that we trade on in today's digital world. And it can take weeks. It can take months depending upon what vertical you're in, sometimes even years, to make enough deposits into a consumer's trust fund that sits between their ears. And the way that we make those deposits is through value prop, it is through purpose. It is through the content that we produce and promote to help first, to sell second, to guide them beyond their questions, and concerns, towards their hopes and dreams, whatever those might be. On the flip side, back to the point of reviews, it can take seconds to deplete that trust fund that sits between their ears, and then the banking space we saw that with the Robinhood debacle.

Laura Dolan (27:40):

Yeah, and you just got to keep moving forward as well. Can't let, like I said, one bad apple ruin the whole cart. I hate to keep using that metaphor, but it definitely applies in this situation.

James Robert Lay (27:52):

Very much so.

Laura Dolan (27:54):

Well, James Robert, I appreciate your time coming on today and thank you so much for this time. Is there anything you think we haven't covered, or anything you would like to add as a final nugget?

James Robert Lay (28:05):

I would say, I like to get very practical at the end with a specific recommendation for the dear listener so that they can take everything, distill it down, make a commitment. My ask for the dear listener is this, take a look at your website with an open mind and determine what is just that one thing, that one element that you feel you could test against that you might question, that you could always be testing around to make your digital experience that much better. And as a result, increased conversions, which leads to increased sales, increased revenue, and increased profit.

Laura Dolan (28:52):

Awesome. Always be improving, I like to say.

James Robert Lay (28:55):

Very much so.

Laura Dolan (28:56):

Awesome. Well, thank you again so much, James Robert, it's been a pleasure having you on. And thank you all so much for tuning in for this episode of Content Intel. I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you next time.