Hidden treasure

Jim Sterne on the myths and narrow-mindedness surrounding conversion rate optimisation

22nd Mar 2016

Jim Sterne is one of the leading lights in the world of digital marketing and customer interactions. Often referred to as "the Godfather of web analytics", Jim is an international speaker, a distinguished author of books including The Devil's Data Dictionary, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and the co-founder of the Digital Analytics Association and producer of the international eMetrics Summits

Ahead of Jim's keynote at the online conference Conversion World next month (running 18-20 April), he spoke with Sam Hurley about the developing role of conversion rate optimisation. 

MyCustomer readers can also use the code 'mycustomercro' for a 40% discount for Conversion World. 

SH. Do you think CRO has become relegated to junior managers as a side project? Has it always been this way?

JS. Yes and yes. Conversion rate optimisation is a specific moment in time during the relationship with a customer. Among the varying stages of awareness, esteem, affiliation, consideration, intent, acquisition and loyalty, there is an instant of conversion. Improving the rate that this occurs is generally believed to be a point-function rather than an important part of the whole - a narrow-minded yet persistent belief.

SH. How can those with knowledge of CRO get board members on side to invest in the practice?

JS. The best way to get those with control of the budget to see the value to CRO is to never let it be discussed in a vacuum. Conversion rates are influenced by every stage of marketing from branding and media selection to landing page experience and check out process. Consistently showing the interplay of all the steps is a serious challenge. To prove your value, you have to show mastery over the interplay of advertising, marketing, merchandising and promotional offers. You have to be the one who can see influences across silos. That's why I'm so fond of analytics; letting the numbers provide the evidence rather than try to win an argument of opinion.

SH. Can you give us three tactics you've found to be effective which actually go against the grain of 'standard' CRO?

JS. In my world, 'standard' CRO is all about cycles of testing and review. There is nothing better. The premise that the message should be as simple and impactful as possible, the acquisition cycle as simple and straightforward as possible and the actual basket experience as simple and reassuring as possible only leaves one tactic left and that is to try something completely off the mark just to see if you can get wildly lucky/viral/successful by accident.

SH. Is there a benchmark conversion rate, or is it all a myth?

JS. Myth. How many cups of coffee before she agrees to dinner? It depends. How many dinners before she'll introduce you to her friends and family? It depends. How many proposals before she'll accept? It depends. And all of that is just talking about one, specific 'product'. What you are selling (1) to whom (2) with what offer (3) using what messaging (4) over which medium (5) with whatever sales process you happen to have in place (6) presents hundreds of possible combinations. Comparing any one of those to another, even in the same industry is a fool's errand. The only valid benchmark is how well you did yesterday and can you improve against your own success?

SH. What are your thoughts on dark patterns and have you ever used such techniques in the past?

JS. Dark patterns are great for short-term, scorched-earth marketing and death to brands. Being able to generate more revenue by tricking people into buying things they do not explicitly want or cannot be bothered to send back is lazy marketing. It's fine if you're a sociopath but not so good for those who like to look in the mirror.

SH. Which component of CRO do you believe to be the most important and why?

JS. Segmentation. Tweaking every little thing to be the most broadly valuable offer/interface/check-out is leaving a lot of money on the table. What was, "Put the right message in front of the right person at the right time," has become, "Put the right experience in front of the right person at the right time." Even if you only segment by day part or gender or location (or, hopefully, a combination of those and more) you will find that a certain segment responds better to approach A and the next to approach B. This is where lift can be found.

SH. What are your favorite tools of the trade?

JS. Spell check.

SH. If there was one thing you could change in the industry, what would it be?

JS. I can't wait for senior managers to come along who have experience in the field; people who understand the complexity and fragility of what we do. They will more easily support instrumentation, experimentation and automation.

SH. How do you envisage the future of CRO?

The hype spotlight that's been heating up Big Data is now shifting over to machine learning and AI. But just because the song is being repeated over and over does not make it a bad tune. There will be more and better access to data and algorithms that will serve as smarter tools for marketers. The future belongs to those who stay on top of the challenge at hand while keeping an eye on the potential down the road.

Jim Sterne will be keynoting at Conversion World – www.conversionworld.co - on 19 April 2016.

Sam Hurley is the founder of optim-eyez.



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