I’m pretty sure this happened 10 years ago. I was living in Chicago at the time and came across a brain scan study in which researchers asked people sitting (uncomfortably) inside an fMRI machine which option they liked best:
— A payout of $10 now.
— A payout of $15 in 2 weeks.
Almost everyone picked the $10 option. You and I would have done that too. But here’s the thing: this choice is irrational. And this behavior was shocking to economists because our entire economic understanding of the world is based on the fact that markets behave rationally.
Giving up 50% of value for “now” over “in 2 weeks” is anything but rational. And yet, people make that pick every single day.
In that moment it became clear this was going to be my field. My background is in engineering and management so behavior science seemed a good fit. It incorporated the principles of statistics and psychology. The question swirling in my head was, “if people in this experiment are behaving this way, how are shoppers behaving online?”
Running an online business is hard. One needs to worry about available supplies, customer service, marketing campaigns, responding to chat, emails, phone calls. One doesn’t have the luxury of sitting back and thinking deeply about the mindset of 95% of their site visitors that are exiting the site in unexpected and perplexing ways.
So this became my quest. And for the next 4 years all I did was meditate on one question:
What simple tweaks can I make to sites to get more first-time visitors to convert?
It’s a simple question. But hyper-focusing on it turned out to be transformative for my startup. We started unlocking insights that totally blew away clients. And then we validated those insights with statistically significant A/B tests.
Frankly, this is all I’ve done for the last 9 years.
Sure, over time we got better, faster, and more surgical with our insights. What do they say about 10,000 hours of practice? Yup, it’s true. After doing the hard work of running over 300 tests we decided to look back and see if there was a pattern.
Turns out, every test we had run could be classified by 1 of 16 specific conversion tactics.
Developing this framework had an exponential impact on the business, because:
— Now we were able to develop ideas even faster. So fast that it’s physically impossible for any client to out-sprint us.
— Using the framework diligently means that the probability we design a concept that doesn’t fully utilize the best aspects of the framework is 0%. We literally follow a checklist system for every idea we work on. Preston doesn’t always love the fact that he has to use a checklist (he has already mastered the tactics), but even he will say that there are times when the checklist brings the focus to a tactic that we almost overlooked.
— But the best aspect is that because these tactics are based on lessons learned over a career of testing, our ideas simply perform better. Why stumble across a room in the dark when the light switch is at an arm’s length?
2019 and Beyond
I'm not into fashion so I doubt I'll be thinking about something else 3 years from now. I would like my study of the shopper's mind to be my life's work. 30 years from now when I am long retired I would love to receive a lifetime achievement award for the work we did at Frictionless Commerce.
Would you be willing to discuss a marketing question that's on your mind? Great, let's talk.