Are You Losing Business By Being Clever?

September 22, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

One of the neat things about the new Outspoken Media office (other than the office part) is that it’s given me and Rhea an excuse to try out all the great lunch places that exist in downtown Troy, NY. The Judges Inn is one of those great places.

If you’re not from Troy, the Judges Inn is a kitschy little pub/restaurant that takes its legal theme and runs all the way home with it. The menu comes in a blue jacket that is designed to look like a subpoena. When the waiter hands you your menu, he lets you know that he is your attorney and that you’ve just been served. Then he walks away. And you’re left to stare at your lunch mates wondering what just happened and if anyone would notice if you just hightailed it out of there right now. [Luckily, the ample beer selection keeps you seated.]

When you open the menu it doesn’t get much better. You’re starving and even though they serve all the usual fare, you don’t recognize anything. Here’s a quick scan of the Southern District Court section of the menu. I don’t know what that heading exactly means, but I can tell you it comes right after the “Judgewiches”.

The Judges Inn falls victim to something that plagues many business owners – they’ve sacrificed being descriptive and clear in order to be unnecessarily clever. And while “clever” may be more fun, it also comes with some pitfalls. Mostly, you shooting yourself in the foot.


You make people feel stupid: I love a good patty melt. It’s typically my go-to whenever Rhea and I go out to lunch. But at The Judges Inn, a patty melt isn’t called a patty melt. It’s called a Case #2010 CV 001106. I don’t know what that is, I don’t know how to say it, and I probably don’t have enough air in my body to try. So I don’t order it. I’m left to stumble over one of the other impossible-to-say items. I don’t want to feel self-conscious when I try to order my lunch. If I know you’re going to make me feel that way, I’ll probably go somewhere else in the future. It’s the same way on your Web site – if you’re using words I don’t recognize, purposely blocking my conversion path, or making me jump through hoops to do something – I’m not going to stay. I don’t like being made to feel stupid. I can do that on my own.

I can’t share my experience: Ultimately, the sandwich I had at The Judges Inn was delicious. Like, I wanted to lick the plate it was so good. But if you asked me what I ordered, I couldn’t tell you. And because it was named so oddly, I probably couldn’t even tell you what was inside of it. And that sucks. People like being able to share their experiences and to rave about the great lunch they just had. It makes us feel superior to our friends when we’ve tried out a place they’ve never been to. If you take that away from me, you limit my ability to be a brand evangelist for your business and you also lose out on all the word of mouth you would have received. Given that WOM and referrals are how many small business owners make their business, you really don’t want to do that.

You kill yourself in search: This isn’t really an issue for The Judges Inn since they don’t even have a Web site (hi, you need one), but it will be a big issue for your business. If you’re calling them [Wellies] and your audience is calling them [rain boots] then they’re not going to be able to find you when they’re doing a search. If someone is looking for your [stereo equipment] and you’re calling it [products], they’re not going to find it because they weren’t looking for products. Pay attention to keyword research and don’t create a clever name for something when the real name will suffice. Or at least don’t forget to INCLUDE the real name alongside the one you create. While descriptive isn’t always sexy, it’s what your customers are looking for. And that’s who you’re serving.

If you want to increase traffic (foot or Internet) one of the best ways to do that is to call things what they are and avoid your secret desire to show the world how clever you are. While The Judges Inn does a fantastic job staying in character, I have to wonder how much word of mouth they’re missing out on because customers can’t tell their friends what they ate for lunch. How many customers are avoiding going there for lunch because they’re intimidated by the experience? How many people are turned off that they no longer recognize lunch? I mean, how clever are you if you’re turning away customers over it?

Kitschy is good, functional is often better.


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