There's a different kind of restaurant in San Francisco…
If you've never heard of Opaque, it's kind of hard to imagine. The restaurant in San Francisco is open several nights a week in the city, and you get a multi-course meal. The food is fantastic, from what I hear. But what no one can tell you is what it looks like.
Because you eat in a setting that is pitch black. So dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face. And your waiters are blind. You're entering their world for a bit.
Crazy isn't it?
A friend of mine went, and then went back a couple weeks later (as soon as they could get another reservation) because it was so amazing. When you can't see your food, it transforms the rest of your senses and the experience is incredible.
Selling to your tribe
You're wondering what Opaque has to do with online selling. Well, let me tell you. A lot.
Whether you've just started selling online, or you've been at it a while without a ton of results, you've likely heard the suggestion to build a mailing list. To gather emails. That way you could send them offers.
Some people call it your list. Others call it your tribe. The set of crazy fans that will buy anything your selling, any time you sell it. Or at least enough of them will. And since it's worked for others, the entire online world has turned it into a best practice that is guaranteed to work.
Until it doesn't.
In reality, how many tribes are we in? If you seriously think about it, you may have some loyalty to some affiliations, but it's not many, right?
I have purchased many watches from TAG but I don't feel so connected that it's the only watch I'll buy. You can't really consider me part of their tribe.
I've purchased more than a few bags from Tumi, Oakley, and Timbuk2. I'm on their mailing lists. But am I in their tribe? Not exactly sure that you could say that.
I like Michael Hyatt. I think he's a smart dude. I even pay for membership in one of his programs. But when I get emails from him, I don't pull out my credit card.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm unique.
But when I talk to friends, for as much as we hear the “tribe” language, none of us are part of more than 2-3 tribes. Family. College alma mater. Church. Cigar lounge. Wine club. Sailing club.
Now, to be clear, I'm not against email lists. I just don't place tons of weight on the notion of a tribe when what we really mean is “someone who once wanted something from us that they were willing to give us their email” or “someone who once purchased something that they may not remember a year from now.”
So if I'm hinting at not focusing on your “tribe” when selling online, what exactly am I suggesting?
If you're serious about selling online, here's the tip I don't hear enough
The tip I don't hear enough is simply this: learn to sell to strangers.
If you were starting a restaurant and you were counting on the images on your menu doing the work for you, imagine suddenly killing the lights. Would you succeed like Opaque has?
How often do we count on a connection (as loose as it may be) via an email list to do our work for us? And in so doing, we short change the process of learning to sell to strangers.
What does it mean to sell to strangers?
Selling to strangers means you have to learn how to segment your audience quickly.
Selling to strangers means you have to hit the pain points quickly to make sure there's resonance.
Selling to strangers means your sales copy or landing page has to work on its own, without the rest of your site.
Selling to strangers means you have to learn how to close a deal without a lot of touch.
It's not easy. Neither is convincing people they should spend money on a meal they can't even see. But it is possible.
Here's what I wouldn't do
Don't lie. Don't exaggerate. Don't make patently false statements.
When I get to your page, if you tell me you make the softest socks, you better be able to prove it. If you tell me you make the easiest product, you can't also tell me you make the most feature-rich product (because those things don't often align).
What I tell my teams when building products is this:
“If you're on a first date and the person across the table tells you they're the richest person in the world—which you can verify in 5 seconds on your phone—there won't be a second date.”
Too many people selling products or services make this mistake. They also count on a lot of various touchpoints to sell their wares.
Learning to sell to strangers, without a lot of fluff, while getting to the core of your value proposition is good advice for everyone. All the time.
And yet, I hear a lot more about mailing lists than copywriting. I hear more about the tribe you should be building rather than the pain you should be addressing. And I hear a lot about selling to your list when I should be hearing more about selling to strangers.
So here's my advice. Do everything you can to learn from anyone who is good at selling to strangers.