No, that’s not a typo – “lekking” is at term in animal behavior that means self-aggrandizing behavior (usually for the purpose of attracting mates). I didn’t know that term before encountering it in Adam Grant’s brilliant book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. (I highly recommend the book, by the way.)
Grant argues that it’s helpful to be able to identify the ‘takers’ in any business – the people who act on their own interests to the exclusion of the interests of others. He suggests that investors looking at a company’s annual reports can often identify CEOs with ‘taker’ profiles by the number of times they claim credit. A CEO that uses first-person singular pronouns like “I” and “me” significantly more than the plural ones like “we” and “us” is most likely claiming credit personally.
B2B marketing and lekking
It occurred to me that one could do a similar exercise to identify businesses that are focused on their own objectives over customer needs and interests by looking at the language used on the corporate website.
So I decided to examine B2B websites for evidence of this behavior.
Comparing the ratio of first-person pronouns (whether singular or plural) to second-person pronouns (you), one could determine out how much time the company spent talking about themselves versus talking about the customer’s needs. And this is evidence of a company that’s not adopting a customer-focused approach (at least on its website).
My nonscientific test
I wanted to compare what I’ll call an “old school” technology company to a newer counterpart – ideally a company that had a good grasp on marketing realities in today’s world.
For one end of the spectrum, I chose a company that had its origins in the days of the mainframe. (It will remain nameless.) For the newer model, I chose Marketo, as they know a thing or two about marketing.
Choosing the right pages to compare posed a challenge. The “About Us” part of any website should legitimately talk about the company, so that was off the table. And when it came to comparing the products or solutions pages, it was truly like comparing apples and oranges.
So I chose another page that is common on many B2B sites – the Resources page. Although not every site has a Resources page, when it exists it always serves the same general function. People visit the page because they want to find something specific – like a report or a video – to learn more.
The old-school company Resources page presents a high-level landing page with text that has embedded links to blogs, podcasts, white papers, research, and case studies. The navigation menu includes other links like multimedia and thought leadership. (Figuring out what to click on would be kind of a challenge.)
Here’s what that text looks like, with everything except the personal pronouns obscured:
That’s 21 first-person pronouns (yellow), and 9 second-person pronouns (green). Of the 221 words total, almost 10% are first-person pronouns. The links to click are embedded in this text.
In contrast, here’s the top of the Marketo Resources page (image as of April 30, 2014).
Hmm. There’s hardly any text outside the links, headings, and names of the resources. I see a single “we” in “We respect your privacy.” It’s balanced out by the “you” in “Enter your email.” And there’s a “me” in the Send Me Updates button – but it refers to the site visitor, not Marketo. So, maybe a 1:1 ratio, but there’s almost no text to speak of.
And there you have it. It’s not only a matter of how you say things – it also what you choose to say in the first place. Marketo is trying to solve their visitor’s problems or engage them. Some people will want to see basic material (getting started). Others want more advanced topics. And they’ve called out the hot topics in the Definitive Guide series.
The old-school company is still trying to explain itself, and that’s actually getting in the way of the links that the visitor needs.
So, when you’re tempted to start talking about your company on your website, stop and ask yourself:
- Am I thinking about this from the visitor’s perspective? Is this the right place to talk about the company? Does the visitor really care, or are they trying to get something else done when they reach this page?
- Do I really need to say anything at all?