The Mighty HIPPO

The Mighty HIPPO!

“Adver­tis­ing is the only busi­ness where the largest clients with the most amount of money can bully and demand the agency’s worst work…while the small­est clients with lit­tle or no money must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

I don’t think there’s an adver­tis­ing or mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional work­ing in Amer­ica today who hasn’t had the chal­lenge of con­vinc­ing their boss or client to run what should have been an obvi­ously bril­liant ad cam­paign or mar­ket­ing idea.

The first solu­tion to this, of course, is to learn how to explain, defend, and sell your work and then hav­ing the sim­ple courage to do so.

Learn to Wres­tle — and Defeat! — The HIPPO

But even pro­fes­sion­als who are nor­mally great at sell­ing their work run into obsta­cles when faced with an obsti­nate, heavy-weight HIPPOHigh­est Paid Person’s Opin­ion.

And that’s when one has to use the magic words.

The Magic Words

The magic words are: Let’s Do An Exper­i­ment. Or per­haps, “Let’s Just Test It, First.”

No one wants to be seen (or to think of them­selves) as a don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts dog­matic bully. And that makes it hard to refuse an exper­i­ment or a test, which then gives you some room to prove out your idea.

Unfor­tu­nately, you still have to con­vince the HIPPO of the valid­ity of your test, and this is where per­sonas come in.

The One Opin­ion to Rule Them All

With­out a per­sona, the ques­tion of whether this or that ad or ini­tia­tive is worth doing (or even worth test­ing) comes down to per­sonal opin­ion and gut feel. So nat­u­rally, the high­est paid person’s opin­ion wins out. Hence the power of the HIPPO.

But, when you have a 3-dimensional, fleshed-out Per­sona that rep­re­sents the customer’s use-case, buy­ing moti­va­tions, and descision-making style and cri­te­ria, you’re no longer forced to argue your opin­ion vs. the HIPPO. You can now resort to the persona’s opion. And since the per­sona rep­re­sents the cus­tomer (and there­fore sales), that becomes the one opi­o­nion capa­ble of trump­ing the HIPPO.

Com­bine the power of the Per­sona with the magic of lets do an exper­i­ment, and you’ve got the key to push your best work past the HIPPO. The per­sona lets you argue why your idea is mean­ing­ful to the cus­tomer, and the test gives your idea a fair chance at prov­ing itself with actual customers.

Build Your Own Per­sonas & Learn From The Best

2014-10-30_1027So now all you need to do is craft and get buy-in for your personas.

And for­tu­nately for you, THE experts in the field of persona-based mar­ket­ing have just cre­ated a short, how-to on doing just that in the form of an easy to read kin­dle book avail­able for just $2.99.

It’s called Buyer Leg­ends and if you buy it now, you can have a set of per­sonas fin­ished within a few hour’s work.

Need help sell­ing your ideas/ads/campaigns/strategies/initiatives?

Down­load your copy of Buyer Leg­ends now. Then use the magic words.

P.S. As a “side ben­e­fit,” per­sonas will not only help you sell your bril­liant ideas, they’ll also help you cre­ate more of them 

P.P.S. If you’re too cheap to pay $2.99 for the book, my Wiz­ard of Ads col­league (and all-around good guy), Tim Miles, is giv­ing copies away, no strings attached.

I’m a fan of explana­tory videos for sev­eral reasons:

  • High engage­ment (for at least the first 20 — 60 sec­onds). In a TL;DR world a well placed video will hold a visitor’s full atten­tion for at least 20 seconds.
  • Multi-media. You’ve got mov­ing pic­tures, words, music, and sound effects all work­ing to con­vey infor­ma­tion and cre­ate emotion.
  • Emo­tion & Impact. Noth­ing beats video when it comes to high-impact demos and/or con­vey­ing pas­sion, enthu­si­asm and sincerity.

Unfor­tu­nately, very few explana­tory videos take full advan­tage of these strengths.

  • Many waste their high-engagement win­dow with too much unadorned expo­si­tion and preamble.
  • Most over-use the “say-it, show it” tech­nique and under-use visual sto­ry­telling tech­niques to point where they become noth­ing more than poorly illus­trated radio ads.
  • And more than a few tend to over­play the cartoon-y ani­ma­tion in ways that under­mine effec­tive emo­tional impact

But Sales­force knocked their video on Cloud Com­put­ing out of the park. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it now:

YouTube Preview Image

Granted, the video could jump to the point even faster than it does, but even still, the cen­tral meat of the mes­sage starts after 15 sec­onds — within the 20 sec­ond win­dow of engage­ment. More­over, the fast-moving ani­ma­tion eas­ily keeps view­ers’ atten­tion until then. And after that, the video just keeps get­ting better.

Here are some spe­cific aspects of the video that are worth not­ing, copy­ing, and demand­ing from your explana­torry video, should you decide to get one:

1. The video coun­ter­points less-emotional words with more emo­tional imagery

For exam­ple, at the 40 sec­ond mark, the audio says “you call tech­ni­cal sup­port, and they don’t know, so they blame some­one else.” But the imagery shows the tech sup­port guy loung­ing in a chair with his feet up, laugh­ing at the cus­tomers predica­ment while mind­lessly throw­ing darts. The neu­tral audio com­bines with the cut­ting video to cre­ate a mes­sag­ing impact that’s greater than either one alone. Nice.

Another great exam­ple occurs when one stick fig­ure “sticks up” a cus­tomer stand-in, fir­ing a pis­tol that unfurls into a microsoft flag — all while the announcer says, ”…the way you pay for cloud apps is also dif­fer­ent.”  Well played, Sales­force. Well played : )

2. The ani­ma­tion enhances the emo­tional impact of the mes­sag­ing rather than under­min­ing it

At the 44 sec­ond mark, the video shows a rather unstable-looking stack of soft­ware, which top­ples when one of the soft­ware boxes get’s swapped out forr an upgrade.  The top­pling of the boxes is meant to rep­re­sent and dra­ma­tize a seri­ous real-world problem.

A less-effective video would show the stack crash­ing straight to one side or another, with­out employ­ing any depth cueus. In cin­e­matic terms, they’d use flat stag­ing, more suit­able to com­edy than drama. Worse, they’d prob­a­bly make the crash car­toony in a way that would belit­tle the real-world con­se­quences sup­pos­edly rep­re­sented by the animation.

In the Sales­force video, on the other hand, they show the stack crash­ing towards the camera/viewer, using depth stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects to enhance the dra­matic effect of the crash. And it works, because the pro­duc­ers of the video knew their craft as visual storytellers.

You can see this same depth stag­ing when the “hair­ball” crushes the small busi­ness two. The scene is shot at an angle, look­ing up at the advanc­ing hair­ball, rather than shown flat.

Remem­ber: videos should use seri­ous stag­ing and seri­ous sound effects for seri­ous sub­ject matter.

3. The video builds upon visual sym­bols from one scene to the next

The Sales­force video empha­sizes the mess of a soft­ware crash by cre­at­ing a giant hair­ball of IT difficulty/failure around the top­pled soft­ware stack at the 50 sec­ond mark. Then that same hair­ball crushes a small busi­ness under the weight of IT dif­fi­cul­ties 10 sec­onds later, while the audio track says, “small busi­nesses don’t stand a chance.” Great pair­ing of visual sto­ry­telling and sym­bol­ism (IT fail­ure will kill your small busi­ness) with explana­tory audio.

Later the video will also con­trast the wob­bly soft­ware stack dis­played at the video’s 44 sec­ond mark with a nice, super-stable, cloud-supported stack of cloud-based apps show­cased at the 2:40 mark.

4. The Video Makes Effec­tive Use of Real­ity Hooks and Analogies

When the Sales­force video com­pares gmail with Microsoft Exchange, a light goes on. Any­one with the slight­est gMail expe­ri­ence knows that it truly deliv­ers on Apple’s claimed promise of “It just works.” gMail might not have the best inter­face in the world, but it does work uber-reliably, with no tech­ni­cal fid­dling required on the part of the user.

So what bet­ter way to drive home the advan­tages of cloud-based com­put­ing over reguar, enter­prise level soft­ware than bring­ing it to the level of imme­di­ate, shared expe­ri­ence.  The abil­ity to bring the ben­e­fits of cloud-based apps home to the viewer, serves not only as an explana­tory anal­ogy, but as a per­sua­sive “real­ity hook.”

5. The video’s strongest and bold­est claims are fol­lowed by a gen­uine “Here’s why” sequence

Start­ing at the 1:50 mark and run­ning all the way till 2:10, the Sales­force video makes sev­eral bold claims about cloud-based apps: that you can be up and run­ning in a few days, that their apps cost less, are more scal­able and secure and reli­able than reg­u­lar soft­ware. Then, they give a nice reason-why expla­na­tion for those claims.

Right at the 2:10 mark the video launches into an expla­na­tion of multi-tenancy, com­par­ing it to rent­ing space in an office build­ing (rather than pay­ing for the whole build­ing your­self).  Strong, Rel­e­vant Claims + Cred­i­ble Proof = Per­sua­sion. The sales­force video gets this in a way that a lot of explana­tory videos don’t.

6. The video uses music to its advantage

Go ahead and lis­ten to the video as it switches from the piano music of frus­tra­tion and pain while it explains busi­ness software’s short­com­ings to play­ing a high-beat, up-tempo music when explain­ing the advan­tages of cloud com­put­ing. When you con­trol the music, you con­trol the emo­tional tone of the video, mean­ing that every explana­tory video ought to make per­sua­sive use of music, just like Salesforce’s video does.

The Bot­tom Line

If you’re plan­ning on cre­at­ing an explana­tory video for your busi­ness or start-up, it’s well worth the time to watch a bunch of them from dif­fer­ent providers.  Watch them with the sound off. Watch them with the sound on but the video cov­ered up. Now ask yourself:

  • Which ones make full use of visual storytelling?
  • Which make effec­tive use of music?
  • Which take too darn long to get to the point?
  • And which ones actual achieve both clar­ity and cred­i­bil­ity regard­ing the prod­ucts claimed benefits?

What you’ll prob­a­bly find is that great explana­tory videos require a strongly per­sua­sive script AND strong visual sto­ry­telling. Just make sure you’re get­ting both parts of that equa­tion into your video…

P.S. There are a lot of solid explana­tory videos out there and I’ll be review­ing more in the com­ing weeks, so if you’ve got a favorite you’d like ana­lyzed, link to it in the comments.


You, my friend, are hard­wired to find mean­ing; you can not help but con­nect the dots.

Case in point, the tri­an­gle to the right doesn’t exist. The only shapes in that pic­ture are three black pac-man shapes.

Yeah, the neg­a­tive space left by those pac­man shapes include wedges of white — but the larger tri­an­gle that you see con­nect­ing those wedges of white into a mean­ing­ful pat­tern only exists in your mind.

And yet, if the pac­mans are there, you can’t help but see that tri­an­gle, can you?

In fact, the only way to not see the tri­an­gle is to remove two of the pac­man fig­ures, ’cause as long as the dots are there, you WILL con­nect them.

Design­ers refer to this as “clo­sure,” and it’s more than just a par­lor trick or visual illusion.

Clo­sure and Image-Text Interaction

Clo­sure, as it turns out, not only comes into play between ele­ments within a pic­ture, but also between image and text. And this inter­play was espe­cially on dis­play in a recent post by the always-interesting Derek Halpern (h/t Melissa Breau)

Halpern ref­er­ences recent psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies show­ing that state­ments accom­pa­nied by related images are con­sid­ered more believ­able than the same state­ment with­out an image. So, a state­ment like “The liq­uid inside a ther­mome­ter is mag­ne­sium” was more fre­quently rated as true when it was accom­pa­nied by a pic­ture of a thermometer!

Sim­i­larly, state­ments about whether some obscure “celebrity” was alive or dead were also more fre­quently rated as true when the state­ment was accom­pa­nied by a pic­ture of the celebrity. And this effect was the same regard­less of whether the pic­tured celebrity was pro­nounced dead or still living.

Clearly, pic­tures have per­sua­sive power beyond what any­one has ever suspected.

And just know­ing this is incred­i­bly use­ful, but in my opin­ion, the real meat of these stud­ies comes from ask­ing WHY. For­tu­nately, one of the posts that Derek links to nicely sum­ma­rizes the hypoth­e­sis formed by the sci­en­tists who con­ducted these tests [empha­sis mine]:

The rea­son for the dif­fer­ence lies in the sus­pected mech­a­nism at work. The “truthi­ness” researchers (New­man et al., 2012) spec­u­late that a not nec­es­sar­ily pro­ba­tive but rel­e­vant image, like the tire slide above, increases the “cog­ni­tive avail­abil­ity” of the con­cept. That means the mind finds it eas­ier to think about and elab­o­rate on the con­cept. In the process, that makes the claim seem more famil­iar which in turn makes it feel more true: “Truthi­ness” achieved.

There are also other mech­a­nisms that facil­i­tate elab­o­ra­tion. For exam­ple, the researchers refer to the notion of a “seman­ti­cally pre­dic­tive sen­tence,” which means phras­ing that leads a lis­tener to antic­i­pate what the upcom­ing words will be. For exam­ple, “the stormy seas tossed the boat” is more seman­ti­cally pre­dic­tive than “he saved up his money and bought a boat.” That expec­ta­tion causes a lis­tener to feel more famil­iar­ity and trans­late that into greater verac­ity (Whit­tle­sea, 1993). When peo­ple are engaged — by antic­i­pat­ing the final word in this case — they engage in more flu­ent pro­cess­ing and that leads to a feel­ing of truth.

That process extends past the role of imagery. In New­man and asso­ciates’ sec­ond exper­i­ment, they showed that includ­ing non-probative words instead of a photo pro­duced the same effect (e.g. accom­pa­ny­ing a polit­i­cal leader’s name with infor­ma­tion about eth­nic­ity, sex, hair color, etc. — fac­tors that cre­ate a pic­ture in the mind, but with­out telling the reader whether the fig­ure is alive or dead). The addi­tional infor­ma­tion led peo­ple to believe that the asso­ci­ated claim was more likely to be true.”

Ok, so first thing, what the heck does non-probative mean? Basi­cally, it means the photo does not log­i­cally prove the state­ment to be true or false. Non-probative images are merely decorative.

For instance, if you have a state­ment like “The US has the high­est incar­cer­a­tion rate of any coun­try” and you then accom­pany that state­ment with a bar graph like the one on the right, then that image would be con­sid­ered “pro­ba­tive” because it would log­i­cally “prove” the state­ment to be true, assum­ing that you took the image at “face value.”

This is opposed to a more dec­o­ra­tive image of a con­vict behind bars. That photo would be related to the state­ment about incar­cer­a­tion rates, but it would not log­i­cally “prove” anything.

Why “Non-Probative” Doesn’t Mean Non-Persuasive

Although a non-probative pho­to­graph may not “prove” any­thing, it can still sug­gest and imply.

So who says sug­ges­tion is any less per­sua­sive than out­right statement?

For instance, if that photo of the con­vict behind bars was black, it might remind the test sub­ject that the US jails a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of African Amer­i­cans — a visual sug­ges­tion that would surely color one’s judge­ment of the accom­pa­ny­ing state­ment, right?

Because peo­ple can’t help but con­nect the dots between image and state­ment.

It works the same way with the celebrity state­ments as well. because we believe in inter­nal con­sis­tency. If some­one hands us a state­ment with spelling and gram­mat­i­cal errors, we become less likely to lend cred­i­bil­ity to the state­ment or the per­son who wrote it. Any­one recall Dan Quayle’s Potato gaff?

So when someome men­tions a lit­tle known celebrity and pro­vides a pic­ture of said celebrity, we not only auto­mat­i­cally con­nect the dots between pic­ture and celebrity, but we con­nect the dots between know­ing who the heck one is talk­ing about with know­ing what the heck one is talk­ing about. The thought process goes some­thing like, you obvi­ously know who this guy is and I don’t, so you prob­a­bly also know whether or not he’s still alive… 

Why do I think this is a greater fac­tor than the psy­chol­o­gists’ “increased cog­ni­tive avail­abil­ity” hypothesis?

Because sci­en­tists who con­ducted the same test, but who accom­pa­nied the celebrity state­ments with facts and stats about the celebrity instead of a pic­ture recorded the same effect: the stats boosted the per­ceived cred­i­bil­ity exactly as the pho­tos did in the pre­vi­ous test. And my guess is that the stats “prove” to the test sub­jects that the peo­ple mak­ing the state­ment really know who they’re talk­ing about, in pretty much the same way that a pic­ture would. Makes sense right?

But would stats really help peo­ple hold an idea in their heads? Would stats make the celebrity more “cog­ni­tively avail­able” to the test sub­jects? I rather doubt it.

So it’s really less about help­ing peo­ple hold the idea in their heads, and more about sub­tly con­vinc­ing them you know what you’re talk­ing about.

And images don’t have to do that explic­itly, as impli­ca­tion and clo­sure work just fine, if not even better.

A pic­ture of an old-fashioned ther­mome­ter dis­plays a sil­very strip in the mid­dle of it, imply­ing the idea of liq­uid metal. Con­nect­ing the dots between image and state­ment, and sud­denly the idea of liq­uid mag­ne­sium seems a whole lot more plausible…

It makes me won­der if a pic­ture of a modern-day ther­mome­ter would have had the same results…

Using Clo­sure To Improve Per­sua­sion & Impact

So… we know this clo­sure between image and text cre­ates greater believ­abil­ity. But how would one use it for images alone?

Well, for images, the short answer is to give the viewer 2 + 2 rather than just hand­ing them 4. Cre­ate an image that makes them con­nect the dots between ele­ments of the image.  Here are some great exam­ples of that:

OK, so these are cheat­ing a bit because they’re both text-based images, but nei­ther of them make much sense until you con­nect the dots — allow­ing both ads to make their state­ments all the more strongly.

Here’s another exam­ple, this time with an hon­est, no-kidding image:

Again, the image is mean­ing­less until you men­tally “fill the gap” about what those sets of feet really indi­cate. Clo­sure at work. There’s also a nice gap/connection between the stockinged feet and the text.

And on a more purely visual note, much of the emo­tional impact of this image can be attrib­uted to the “gaps” that it forces your mind to fill in:

Great exam­ple of clo­sure used to increase men­tal engage­ment and impact. But what about using clo­sure to select more pow­er­ful imagery to accom­pany your per­sua­sive copy and messaging?

How to Use This In Web Copy

Here’s what I suggest:

1. Use the “I saw it with my own eyes, so it must be real” approach

If you’ve got a tes­ti­mo­nial, you could, as Derek sug­gests, place a pic­ture of the cus­tomer who gave it to you next to the tes­ti­mo­nial. That’ll work. Or, if you don’t have that, you could take a photo of the hand-written tes­ti­mo­nial and place it next to the testimonial.

It sounds silly, but just imag­ine the dif­fer­ence between some­one say­ing “this per­son wrote in to say X” and some­one hand­ing you the actual hand-written note and say­ing “look what cus­tomer X had to say.” Which would be more per­sua­sive? The lat­ter, right? Because then you could say that you saw the tes­ti­mo­nial “with your own eyes.”

Of course, the “so it must be true” part would likely go unsaid, but it would be all the more pow­er­ful for it. And that’s why an image of the hand-written tes­ti­mo­nial would be more per­sua­sive than the state­ment alone.

So within your sales copy, deter­mine which ele­ments peo­ple would most want to see with their own eyes, then find images that would give them a sim­i­lar sense of verification.

Another exam­ple, I once worked with a metal roof­ing com­pany that claimed a no-kidding 50-year life span on their roofs. Now the claim and guar­an­tee is great. But what I advised them to do was  find the old­est roof they had ever installed (which turned out to be 30+ years old) and to get both an estab­lish­ing pic of the building/roof and a close-up pic­ture of the metal “tiles.”  It’s one thing to claim a 50-year life span, and another entirely to show a 30-year roof that looks brand new.

Just don’t do the cheese-ball thing of using blacked out bank state­ments to “prove” how much money you make!

2. Use images to sug­gest and emo­tion­ally prime belief

No one does this bet­ter than apple. Take a look at this screen shot from Apple’s page on the new iPad 4:

It’s not an acci­dent that the iPad sports an image of two Porsche’s about to race, or that the image is from a graph­ics inten­sive game. The mes­sag­ing is about speed after all. Speed achieved through high-performance engi­neer­ing. Don’t you think the image of “Porsche Race Cars” brings all that to mind rather powerfully?

Here’s another example:

So… what the heck is that black ring in the mid­dle of the picture?

It’s not a mag­ni­fy­ing glass. Nor is it a cam­era lens, is it? Maybe it’s some kind of weird bas­tard love child between the two…

But it doesn’t mat­ter, does it. We instinc­tively know that this is show­ing us that even when you mag­nify the pic­ture 2.5X, it’s still high-res enough to look crisp and un-pixelated. Of course, the copy never makes that claim. But the pic­ture cer­tainly sug­gests it, doesn’t it?

If Images Com­bined with State­ments Are Pow­er­ful, What About Video?

But were this really starts to come into it’s own is in explana­tory videos. But that’s a sub­ject for another post…


The basics are not basic because they are easy, but because they are fun­da­men­tal. And when it comes to Web­site opti­miza­tion, the three fun­da­men­tal ques­tions pretty much never change:

  1. Who is com­ing to the site? How did they arrive? And what are their goals?
  2. What’s the next step for­ward for them both in terms of their goals and your con­ver­sion funnel?
  3. What do they need to under­stand, believe, and feel in order to con­fi­dently take those next steps

The beauty of these ques­tions are that they help you under­stand WHY web vis­i­tors do what they do. Ana­lyt­ics can tell you what vis­i­tors are doing, but you’ll never really fig­ure out WHY they’re doing it until you get a grasp on these questions.

I was reminded of this when look­ing at this week’s Which Test Won col­umn. Now, I like Which Test Won, but my usual pet peave with their columns is that they often fail to give read­ers enough con­text around the tests and the user expe­ri­ence and click­stream in order to make a fully informed guess as to which of the two vari­ants won.

At best you have to sort of make edu­cated guesses regard­ing the three basic ques­tions. Here’s an example:

The con­test explanation/headline is: “Does Adding a ‘Refine Your Search’ Tool­bar Help Click­throughs on a Cat­e­gory Page with 99+ Prod­ucts?” And then they just present you with the two pages, one with and one with­out the ‘refine your search’ tool­bar. I’ve screen­shot the images and pasted them below:

So… it sort of mat­ters how peo­ple got to this page and what they’re shop­ping for, or if they are shop­ping vs. just get­ting infor­ma­tion, and WHY they are shop­ping.  But no one tells you this, so you’re sort of left to imag­ine or “make up” the visitor’s intentions/goals and path to this page. Here’s how I pic­tured it, based on the infor­ma­tion pro­vided in the bread­crumbs up at the top of the page:

  • The vis­i­tors came to buy some sort of wood fin­ish for a home improve­ment project, I’m guess­ing some kind of deck finish
  • They came in from the home page, went to “Dec­o­rat­ing,” select­ing “Woodcare,”
  • Finally click­ing on “Cupri­nol,” OR
  • The vis­i­tor searched on “Cupri­nol Wood Fin­ish” (or sim­i­lar) and this page rep­re­sents the search results.
Either way, you sort of have to assume that the vis­i­tor needs some sort of wood refin­isher for an out­door struc­ture, like a deck or a shed, and that she has an already estab­lished bias in favor of the Curpinol brand.
NOW that you know this, it makes it eas­ier to fig­ure out whether the “Refine Your Search Tool” might help or if the vis­i­tor is already close enough to her goal to pre­fer browsing:
  • Is it eas­ier to refine by price or do you really just want to look and see what the price is?  Prob­a­bly the latter.
  • Does it help to refine by brand? No, because you’ve already done that by spec­i­fy­ing Cuprinol.
  • What about refin­ing by prod­uct type? Meh, what if you’re look­ing for a com­bi­na­tion stain and preser­v­a­tive?  Or maybe you want to see all your options?
  • Might it help to refine by appli­ca­tion? Yes, but would you even have seen that or would you already have dis­missed the refin­ing tool as use­less by now?
So which page would you guess works bet­ter?  The page with the pretty much use­less refine­ment fea­ture or the page that moves the most likely needed prod­uct — the deck­ing pro­tec­tor — up above the fold, giv­ing you encour­age­ment to scroll down and see what’s available?
You guessed it, the page with­out the search refine­ment tool won. You can read the results here. But while you can get the results with­out going through my lit­tle men­tal sim­u­la­tion, you wouldn’t have a work­ing hypoth­e­sis as to WHY the results are what they are with­out answer­ing those three fun­da­men­tal questions.

Bryan Eisen­berg Still Kick­ing CRO Butt w/ the 3 Questions

And who did I learn those ques­tions from?
Bryan and Jef­frey Eisen­berg. And sure enough, they’re still at it, teach­ing the CRO com­mu­nity how it’s done with their recent Con­ver­sion Opti­miza­tion 101 series.  And their most recent post is well worth review­ing in light of the three questions.
Here you can see a Face­book ad that Bryan clicked on while cruis­ing through FB on his ipad:
And here you can see the land­ing page the ad brought him to:
 So let’s run through the questions:

Ques­tion #1:

Bryan got to this page from the Face­book Ad while brows­ing the web on his iPad. His “goal” is to take advan­tage of the free trial offer.  This means that the land­ing page should match the expec­ta­tions cre­ated by the ad. Not just objec­tively, but subjectively.
But does it? Not really.  First, the ad is writ­ten in span­ish, and the land­ing page is entirely in Eng­lish.  Sec­ond, the head­line pre­sented within the frame of the image and within the “active win­dow” men­tions the $7.99 per month instead of a free 1-month trial. In fact, the Face­book Ad fea­tures “Free Trial” lan­guage in the ad image (in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish), the ad’s head­line, AND the ad’s body copy.
So shouldn’t the land­ing pages red stripe with the Net­flix header also say “Free Trial”?  Sure it should — it should match the Face­book ad as closely as pos­si­ble in look and feel.
Yes, there is a “1 Month Free” call-out off to the side, but it’s off to the side, away from the hero shot and from the inter­ac­tive ele­ments on the page.
Also, shouldn’t an iPad brows­ing prospect be shown a land­ing page fea­tur­ing a pic­ture of a movie being watched on an iPad instead of on an iPhone?  This one is a bit nit-picky com­pared to the oth­ers, but for a com­pany like Net­flix, it’s well worth the added effort of proper targeting.

Ques­tion #2:

Bryan’s next step for­ward is to sign-up for the free trial.
So far so good, and the sign-up form is nice and sim­ple. But why sep­a­rate the sign-up form from the rest of the page by abruptly chang­ing the color scheme?  And why make the form feel dif­fer­ent than the ad through the choice of a dif­fer­ent color scheme? This might have worked if sign­ing up was log­ging in with your Face­book login, since the grey and blue echo Facebook’s own color scheme.
But these ques­tions are small change com­pared to…

Ques­tion #3:

In order to move for­ward Bryan Eisen­berg needs to under­stand what’s gong to hap­pen next — what’ll hap­pen after (and IF) he clicks the “Start Your Free Month” button?
So does the page explain this for Bryan?  Not at all.  He has no idea what hap­pens after he fills out the form. Will he be taken to the main site to pick out his movies? Will he get an e-mail with a spe­cial link and coupon code?  Is this all he has to fill out, or will he need to add in his credit card info before he can start watch­ing movies.
You can’t get a vis­i­tor con­fi­dent in tak­ing the next step unless he’s sure of what to expect, and this page fails to do that.
And this is what the 3 ques­tions are all about — giv­ing you insight that you sim­ply won’t get from other approaches.  Why do I say this? Because on Bryan’s com­ment sec­tion for this post, lots of peo­ple have com­mented on the design, usabil­ity, and scent flaws of this land­ing page, but no one has both­ered talk­ing about the mes­sag­ing around the last question.
And, frankly, it’s the mes­sag­ing that usu­ally holds the key to the biggest gains.
Bot­tom Line: Know the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, Use the Fun­da­men­tal Ques­tions, and Never let up on the Three Questions.



by Jeff

I have guest posted over at Web Mar­ket­ing Today for a while now, but the Web­site itself has recently under­gone a redesign as well as a slight edi­to­r­ial change with regards to my posts.  While the focus on Web Mar­ket­ing for small to medium-sized busi­nesses remains the same, my  posts are now focused on:

  1. Web­site Improve­ment for Service-Based Businesses
  2. Con­tent Mar­ket­ing for Service-Based Businesses

I’m excited about this because SMB Ser­vice Providers are a largely under­served mar­ket when it comes to Web Mar­ket­ing.  Most exam­ples focus on either etail­ers or enterprise-sized B2B ser­vice providers.

Yet, a major­ity of what my Wiz­ard Part­ners call “Main Street Busi­nesses” are either ser­vice providers (think HVAC, car­pet­ing, con­trac­tors, print­ers, adver­tis­ers, Web design­ers, accoun­tants, con­sul­tants etc.) or are retail­ers who man­age to stay prof­itable and, frankly, rel­e­vant to the cus­tomer based on their abil­ity to pro­vide ser­vices around the sale (most niche or spe­cialty stores & bou­tiques). So this is an extremely impor­tant mar­ket to serve and speak to, and I feel uniquely priv­i­leged to be able to do so.

If you’re inter­ested in this kind of con­tent, you can find all my Web Mar­ket­ing Today posts here.  A recent one that I think many of you would like is this post on 5 Sales-Generating Pho­tos for Ser­vice Web­sites.

At any rate, I hope you  like what you find, and please let me know if there is any­thing that you’d like me to cover in future articles.

OK, the head­line exag­ger­ated it — most of these resources won’t help you improve your entire Lead Gen Web­site, just your Lead Gen­er­a­tion Forms.

But, if your forms suck, then all that hard per­sua­sive work you’ve done on the rest of the Web­site goes to waste, right? So why not get hot on improv­ing your forms now, so you can enjoy a full pipeline of well-qualified prospects later?

So let’s start with…

Wis­dom from the Eisenberg’s

Resource #1: 5 Steps to Increase “Qual­i­fied Leads” from Your Website

Great infor­ma­tion for ensur­ing your Web­site is pulling in prof­itable and qual­i­fied leads rather than tire kick­ers.  This is one of the few resources that does actu­ally talk about more than just lead forms. And just for good mea­sure, here’s a ClickZ arti­cle from Bryan that also gives rec­om­men­da­tions applic­a­ble to both your entire Lead Gen Web­site and your forms.

Resource #2: Online Form Opti­miza­tion: 3 Sim­ple Form Prob­lems to Fix

This is a great strate­gic, top-down look at the three big flaws afflict­ing most lead-gen forms. I’m sure you’re doing to know what those three flaws are, but you’ll have to click-through to find out :)

Resource #3: 7 Form Fac­tors to Increase Conversions

This one looks at the major ele­ments that are part of every lead gen­er­a­tion form, and then tells you how to max­i­mize the effec­tive­ness of each element.

Now Let’s Look at…

Split Test Results Worth Studying

Resource #4: Wider Fun­nel Tests a Newslet­ter Sign-up Form

This is a great test for a few rea­sons, but mostly because the test explic­itly forms hypoth­e­sis to test, prior to cre­at­ing the test, rather than just throw­ing vari­a­tions against a wall to see which one “sticks.”  Plus the hypoth­e­sis and lessons learned are really insight­ful and broadly applicable.

Resource #5: Wider Fun­nel Tests for Form Length and Form Flow

Another solid test­ing write-up from Wider Fun­nel.  Worth the read.

Case Stud­ies & Usabil­ity Guidelines

Resource #6: Les­son From Madlibs Signup Fad: Do Your Own Tests

If you’ve never heard about them before, the Madlib style sign-up form proved a hit with sev­eral busi­nesses and blog­gers on the Web a few years back. But when this guy tested it out for him­self, he found a dif­fer­ent story.  Bot­tom Line: best prac­tices are in no way guar­an­teed to work in your spe­cific sit­u­a­tion, and sur­pris­ing, head-slapping tests are fairly com­mon for any­one that runs them. Think for your­self & do your own testing.

Resource #7: An Exten­sive Guide to Web Form Usability

Smash­ing Mag­a­zine has no short­age of great arti­cles on Web Design and Usabil­ity.  This one is no exception.

Resource #8: Test­ing Form Length Reduces Cost Per Lead

Mar­ket­ing Exper­i­ments has a nice blog post on this, and one of the more inter­est­ing points about this isn’t the find­ings — since shorter forms almost always DO increase con­ver­sion, thereby dri­ving down cost per lead — but the point made at the end: that the “extra” infor­ma­tion you’re hold­ing out for is prob­a­bly not that accu­rate or valid to begin with.  This is a great one to show to naysay­ers who fight the “shorter is bet­ter” mantra.  That and the ol’ “Let’s just test it and see” strategy : )

So that’s all eight of them.  Now go out and do some opti­miza­tion testing!