Have you ever noticed that companies and perhaps your company put a whole lot of time, money, and effort into building their website, only to find that it often doesn’t deliver the anticipated results? Today I’m joined by The Golden Toilet author, Steve Brown, who is here to talk to us about how we look at websites all wrong and we build them for robots rather than humans.

As Steve explains, we need to refocus on leveraging websites in a new, more holistic way that allows us to better earn customers’ focus which is the starting point of all great relationships.

Nikki Van Noy: Steve, thank you so much for joining us today.

Steve Brown: I’m excited to be here, thanks, Nikki.

Nikki Van Noy: I am excited to have you because your book is named, The Golden Toilet, which is one of the most awesome and unexpected book titles I’ve ever heard. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Steve Brown: Well, it was a bit of a conversation around here whether we should roll with that title or not, but the thing that really convicted me or gave me the conviction to go ahead and own it was that I’ve had so many conversations with business owners and it stuck in their head that they needed a new website or they needed to redo their website.

They’re just being business owners–they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to be doing the best they can to figure it out. In that situation, you have to stop the brain and introduce a reframe. If you can use a little something that evokes an emotion, then it can be very impactful. Whether it’s like a grimace, whether it’s a laugh. It just works.

Your website is important but it’s just a toilet. If you think of it that way, you wouldn’t buy a house if it didn’t have a toilet but when you have people over for dinner party, they don’t leave all excited about the experience.

Nikki Van Noy: Generally, not.

Steve Brown: No, they go home and they talk about, “Gosh, it was fun to hang out around the pool,” or “God, that was a great dinner party,” or “We had a good time, I love their kitchen,” and those are the experiences that make a home a home. It’s not about the toilet. In business, you have all these other very important things that are going to impact the customer user experience that are way beyond a website.

Nikki Van Noy: Such a great analogy. The subtitle for the book, which I didn’t say right off the bat, because I just wanted us to bask in the glory of The Golden Toilet for a moment, is Stop Flushing Your Marketing Budget into Your Website and Build a System That Grows Your Business. This is intriguing to me because I’ve worked for a couple of companies now who have been in the process of rebranding their websites while I’ve worked there.

I’ve never had a job that directly relates to websites or marketing, but even at that, I have felt the roll-out effect of when these websites launches happen, and at least in my experience, they become all-consuming for the company, everything stops and starts revolving around building this golden toilet.

Steve Brown: Yeah, that conversation always starts at, “I need a new website” or, “We need to redo our website,” and it’s because everything in our culture is brainwashing them that it is very important. But there are so many other things that need to be taken into consideration, that you can spend all this money on it and it doesn’t move the needle whatsoever.

Yet, the folks that are coming to visit your platform, they’re being trained by other brands that just kill it on this front and they’re expecting a user experience that’s helpful, that’s clear, that they know where to go next, but when they land on something that might be pretty, but it’s confusing, you’re burning up seconds of attention span. If you don’t earn the next step, which is focus, if you don’t earn that next audition of their time, they’re gone.

Nikki Van Noy: Turning our attention to companies and the marketing departments who are beginning this process of rebuilding websites, what do you think are some of the mythologies surrounding that? What are they expecting to get by this investment of time? Before people have talked to you, when they go into this blindly, what do you think that they’re expecting to get out of it?

Steve Brown: Yeah, well, they don’t know exactly. They’ve been through this, they’re frustrated, they want to avoid the train wreck that they experienced the last time. You know, they’re coming with the best words they know. “I think I need a website redo. I think we need to show up in some searches and we need to do some social media.”

That’s the best that they can come up with because they’re trying to drive, they’re trying to avoid the mistakes they made last time, and so they truly don’t know. They know it needs to go in some sort of technology and they’re just at a big disadvantage and they’re vulnerable. The whole reason I wrote the book was to say, “Look, I’ve been in these conversations and they’re like that conversation you had with your spouse where you thought you agreed upon the same thing and then later you figure out that, ‘I don’t know where you came up with that. I said Disney World, not Disneyland. Can you get your money back on those tickets?’”

It’s just a communication issue. I just wanted to say that I’m going to empower the entrepreneur that has to wear 20 or more hats every day and has finally realized they have to put this other hat and they’re marching into it as brave as they can. I wanted to say, “I want to empower you. I’m going to help you understand what to expect and how to communicate what you want, and I’m even going to give you some diagrams so you can take those and you and your vendor, your agency, your social media person, your marketing director, can actually be looking at the same thing. Be saying the same words. Be heading to the same point on the horizon.”

Designed for Robots

Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me a little bit about how communication plays into this? Where are things sort of falling apart on that front when it comes to discussions about creating a new website?

Steve Brown: Well, I think the bottom line is everyone’s been brainwashed to try to please Google. They’re designing to please the robots–basically it’s an anti-human focus. They need to be designing for humans, where humans are serving humans. We’re just using the technology of our day, to communicate the value that we have to help them have a better life experience. Whatever that solution is that you may offer. It’s harder to do, but that’s where all your competitive leverage or competitive advantage is–that’s your biggest lever.

If you can get that right, then you are way ahead of the game.

Nikki Van Noy: I love that, we’re designing for robots, not for humans.

Steve Brown: Yeah.

Nikki Van Noy: I am not an expert in this, but my understanding is that you’re set up to fail with that right of the bat because even if you are designing in such a way to please Google, they’re changing their algorithms all the time anyway so it’s perhaps not even going to be a long-lasting thing in terms of search ranking. Is that right?

Steve Brown: Yes, imagine you have a little league baseball team and you meet every day after school. The parents bring them, you’re happy that they show up and then you’re trying to just get them to focus a little bit and learn some of the rules and so you’re teaching them how to hit the ball or get to first base, “That’s all we need to focus on. Just hit this ball and run to first base.”

You’re kind of proud and you feel, “Okay, we’re good,” and you show up at the game and you walk over and the ref shows up and they go, “Okay, the rules today are, if you go to first base right after you hit the ball, you’re out.” “My gosh, now I need to go back and tell the kids that what we practiced for a whole month for this game, ignore that?”

Think of all the investment, all the frustration. Google changes the rules all the time. Had you been training your team to, “You know, here, when we show up, we’re just going to play by new rules today.” Well, you’d be better off, because we’re going to be more able to iterate. That’s what’s going on with our business owners, they don’t want to know every single detail, they just want to know, “Give me the basics and I can run with that,” and here’s the basics. Your customer has a brain and that brain desires to consume information in a particular format.

Donald Miller is the author of Building a StoryBrand, it’s a great book and it started our agency down a really great journey. But the difference between noise and music is that music follows rules, and the same with communication, be it text or be it a story or whatever it is, it follows these rules and our brain just loves it. It starts to feel safe. If you could get better at just understanding that brain and would really appreciate it if you can help me understand something really quick, then it’s going to be more impactful.

Nikki Van Noy: That all makes so much sense. With that in mind, what do people want to think about when they’re designing websites for humans, what do our human brains want to see?

Steve Brown: Here’s what’s going on with the brain. I think it’s in The Buying Brain, he talks about the old brain, it’s your brain stem and it’s the part of the brain that processes information but it doesn’t process language. No decision is ever made until that part of the brain signs off on it. Now, think about that.

When we’re designing materials to communicate to our potential customers what value we have, we’re approaching it from a logical stance. Meaning that I’m going to put all this logical text and information and expect you to stop and read every piece and get what we’re about, but the problem is that brain stem, I call it the bodyguard, is all about keeping that person safe and protecting them. It needs to sign off on whether it’s okay to expose yourself to this.

Think about a bodyguard, say a VIP is going to roll up and go into an event and so what happens, the bodyguards show up first. They walk in, they look around, they have this very extreme training on discerning where the dangers are if any. Once they’re convinced it’s okay then they’ll give the okay sign and then the VIP can stroll in and do whatever, but as soon as any danger is about to show up, or there’s any risk, they just sweep that person out of there immediately, right?

Well, that’s going on when you’re reading something or when you walk into a coffee shop or when you meet someone and you can’t stop your brain from doing that, it’s just going on. When you’re designing from a logical stance and thinking that the logical part of the brain is going to evaluate that, you’re missing a great opportunity, because first, the emotional part of the brain needs to go, “I like this,” and then it hands it over to logical to justify my time here.

Nikki Van Noy: Wow, what does that involve? Like organization, or color, what are we responding to there?

Steve Brown: You have seconds. You know, we’re thinking of it as a website, but you have all these touches going on. First of all, you should be thinking of it as a platform. We as humans, we’re out just exploring. Maybe on Instagram or maybe on Facebook. Maybe I see a billboard, or I read a book, or I see you on a map, or maybe I go to your website, but immediately, I need to discern, what I’m looking for. I find what I expect and you can have pictures or images or colors or if it’s a restaurant, it can be the lighting, it can be the sounds, it can be the smells.

Your brain its safety first. Those things need to be in play but in just seconds, I need to be able to read in just a few words, I need to understand you get me and you pass the first audition and I’m going to give you a second audition. If we talk about the book title for example, the book title is going, stopping the brain and it’s getting attention and then it’s getting the sign off on, all right, I’ll read the subtitle.

The subtitle is starting to go, “I see where we’re going,” and that buys a little more time for the next audition, “Let’s look at the back cover.” That’s going on whether it’s on your website, whether that’s on your Instagram post, whether that’s in an email, whether that’s in a phone call, whether that’s in a sales. That’s in play all the time. You need to start thinking more in that way.

Systems for Marketing Automation

Nikki Van Noy: That all makes perfect sense. Another thing that you talked about in this book, which you sort of just referenced here, is that the website is part of this holistic piece, it is part of a system. What other things do people need to be feeding into that system or incorporating into the system that maybe they are not thinking of or that they are not paying the same amount of attention to as they are their websites?

Steve Brown: Everyone is convinced they need a website. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Game of Thrones, but everybody was going, “Yeah, winter is coming, winter is coming,” and that’s what everyone is saying, “Yeah I need a website.” But what people weren’t willing to accept was that the white walkers were coming, right? And it is like, “Winter is coming? Screw that, the white walkers are on their way,” right?

So, your website is one of those things that you need, but I am telling you, you need marketing automation in place. You need some sales automation technology in place and then you need to set up strategic campaigns. Everybody has the website then some social media, maybe they’ve got some ads or something, but where are they running all of that attention to? To the homepage on their website, and you are still expecting that poor person to go digging around on that website to see what it is that is relevant to them.

The technology that is available today can make your brain feel safe, meaning how nice would it be if you showed up and you don’t have to dig, but when you clicked on something maybe it was something that was interesting to you. Think about the times that you are scrolling through Instagram and you saw a little something like, I follow cast iron and cooking and knives and things and when I click on the links, the don’t send me over to the cleaning supplies.

They drop me right where I expected that particular product and I get to evaluate it. So, I feel I am not confused when I show up and I am not in danger, right? I don’t think that logically, but my bodyguard is totally cool with me hanging out there a little longer. You know that technology, the marketing automation, can facilitate or reduce friction or reduce steps and it can feel great to the client. Instead of me having to search, it is going, “Hey, I noticed that you showed up over here. Can I help you find something?”

I mean that happens at Walmart, it happens wherever. Why can’t it happen on your platform? It can and then if you talk about the sales process, that brain, your bodyguard is still right there evaluating the sales conversation. Think about it, I am out exploring, I click on Instagram, I find your stuff, I download something. I get some follow-up emails and we’re getting a lot of emails right now because it was Black Friday, Cyber Special, okay?

I signed up for them, I know maybe I am getting a few more but I don’t have to read every one, but whenever I had time, I click on it and now I am down looking at the pricing. Well the experience I had in looking at your stuff several months back, seeing what your special is now and then actually saying, “I wonder if I should get that. Oh, I need to be shopping for some other people.” Well, that experience and the sales process, the follow-up process, and the confirmation is so important. That is where technology baked in with nice messaging that feels right can be so impactful and our customers expect it.

Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean as you are talking about our more primitive brain and this idea of sensing fear and needing safety, what kept running through my mind is a lack of focus is our modern-day fear. I know as a user, if I start to feel overwhelmed by something for whatever reason, I am out. That is fear to me at this particular point in our world’s timeline.

Steve Brown: You know the last time you went to the state fair or the county fair? You are walking down the midway, remember all the lights, the flashing lights, all of these flags and the Ferris wheel and the balloons? So, these are all things bombarding your eyes. Okay, then you have all the music and the sounds and the conversations. These are bombarding your ears. You are bumping into people. You’ve got these smells coming at you, everything that has ever been fried and stuck on a stick, right?

Nikki Van Noy: Yes, and things that never should be fried and shoved on a stick also, yes.

Steve Brown: Exactly, and so that is your brain from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. Your brain is on the midway. Here is what business owners, they innately feel that brain, their potential customer, what they are looking for is being bombarded every day by experts, people that really have their act together. Their kids, their wives, their bosses, their emails, their marketing, their Instagram. All of these people, they’re zeroed in.

And they know how to grab attention and that is what you are competing against. When you get just a brief second to audition for attention from that brain, you should have your act together. That is a big moment for you but here is the other piece of the midway. So, you are on the midway and your eyes drop on that foot-long corndog and you walk over, and you order it and you are standing there and finally they hand it out the window and it smells great.

You get that brown cooked corn on it and you go over and you’re putting the mustard on it. All the noises that we just talked about, they’re not there, because why? You are about to focus on the experience of that first bite, but all of that stimuli trying to get your attention is muted out because of what is going on with that experience. That is called focus and when you get attention, you need to be able to earn the focus, and that is the bigger takeaway from this book.

It is how to use messaging, technology, and campaigns to get the focus. People are talking about the attention economy and that is good, but really it is focus where the relationship can develop. When we say stop the brain and start to reframe, that is what we are talking about, is that you have to get the attention and start getting the focus.

Communicate Value

Nikki Van Noy: Okay and then I am curious, tethering this down to the real world, in your work are there any companies that you have seen really experience growth or accomplish goals that they have set for themselves by looking at their websites and building upon them in the way we are talking about here?

Steve Brown: You know, we’ve got a client that has been Inc. 5000 fastest growing company and the messaging has been the most important piece, even more than their website. When we think about how to communicate their value, how to get their team focused on the right things, how to recruit really good employees, this is in play on that same challenge and that is something that they’ve experienced a lot of success in.

We spun up a client just the other day and within 30 seconds someone was crawling through their new platform looking at every page, went to a certain offer, filled out the form, and requested an appointment to have a conversation. Our situation has been the same. We have always been an inbound agency, meaning that we haven’t really gone out and interrupted people to get them to talk to us and try to convince them that we are a good fit for them.

We have always been able to produce materials. They approach us, they schedule a time, we have a conversation with them and then if we are a good fit, we bring them onboard. You know, we talk about how our world now is inbound marketing, not outbound marketing. That is what we are talking about here–creating the things that people love and start to investigate, and then when they feel safe, they ask to talk more. Then you can have a conversation about them coming on board.

Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. That is the dream.

Steve Brown: It is totally realistic, and it happens every day. That is why the expectations of a website is like having a dynamic brochure, but what you are needing and what people are wanting is they are wanting to do their investigation. Most people now, they have done their investigating by the time they reach out to you, they are way down the buying path and now they’re just want to talk about what your particular solution would look like for them.

That is why it is important to have the materials to give them time, to investigate, to learn about you, and then to feel comfortable about reaching out to you for that last step.

Nikki Van Noy: That is such a good point. I tend to think of websites as point and click type of things even though that is not how I act behaviorally. You are absolutely right. I generally do a ton of research before I ever hit a website that is like the confirmation point.

Steve Brown: Yeah, so you know one of the stories I talk about in the book is about one evening where Carly and I were sitting and we are watching Amazon or surfing Amazon, and we ran across this little program by Rachel Hollis. I think it was called Rise Up. So, she starts to scroll by her and I go, “Wait a minute, what was that?” and she said, “Well, I’ve got her book and she has this really cool thing for women,” and so she goes on.

I said, “Wait a minute, I want to go watch that,” and so we watched it. I got really inspired and then the next day, I go and look up her stuff, buy a bunch of books. You know her audience is for women wanting to excel or succeed in business and in other aspects of their life. I just got so inspired about them. I went to buy all of her books for all the women in my agency, and I even went as far as look up when is her next live event and looked to see if we could get all my people to her event. So, it was six months out and it’s already sold out, but think about it, I wasn’t even her audience and I stumbled into it.

I really love the message and what was I doing? I was trying to connect the ones in my tribe that would love her message or would be relevant to what her message was. That’s inbound marketing, that is what we should be doing with our brands. It was very inspiring.

Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, I love that you did that as a boss. What a great boss. Is there anything we didn’t get to that you’d like to add here?

Steve Brown: Small business owners don’t realize that they can have an effective platform like the big brands, because the technology now is reasonably affordable and easy to implement on almost any platform. That’s marketing automation. So, marketing automation comes in, and there are many companies that provide that. But if you don’t have some form of marketing automation on your platform by now you are going to within the next year or so.

When we say marketing automation most people think of email marketing, but it is not just that. That is a piece of marketing automation, but we are talking about forms. The whole reason that people come to your website is that you want them to find something of value and trade their contact information for it, so that you can get a business card or generate a contact record. It is just a universal exercise. “I will give you my business card or I can give you my email,” and what do we want from that?

Both sides are saying, “Here, I don’t mind you knowing who I am because we could potentially have a relationship that both of us would be better for.” That is what marketing automation is in its essence. It is to help you generate more opportunities to create new relationships and that is in play in the sales side as well. The book talks about it but that is why I have four specific chapters. It is not just clear messaging and marketing automation.

You also have to have sales automation, meaning that the experience, from the handoff to the marketing side–my investigation hanging out and observing to going, “All right, I am ready to talk,” it needs to feel congruent. It needs to have the same nice user experience as it did on the marketing side. Then when you get those things in place, you need to start running strategic campaigns and those campaigns do what? They run it through the system that you’ve set up that makes it easy to harvest these contacts and grow more relationships.

Nikki Van Noy: All right, thank you for joining us today Steve. The book, I will say the title because I want to say it as many times as possible. The book is, The Golden Toilet: Stop Flushing Your Marketing Budget into Your Website and Build a System That Grows Your Business. Steve, is there anywhere else that listeners can go to find you?

Steve Brown: Well they can to our website and it is roionline.com. They can reach out to me at steve@roionline.com. I am on LinkedIn and that’s probably the best place to find me.

Nikki Van Noy: Perfect. Thank you for joining us today Steve.

Steve Brown: I loved it, thank you.