De omnibus dubitandum
10 Jun 2009
As I was reading a book on how to write good web copy (title withheld to protect the guilty) I kept on thinking what utter crap it was. Obviously aimed at the American market, the book urged me to write webpages full of those familiar hyperbolic statements such as “Earn a Six-Figure Salary By Using These Killer Sales Techniques” and “This 100% Foolproof System Will Supercharge Your Revenue”.
I don’t know about you, but when I read crap like that on a website I have an immediate and powerful urge to click the back-button. That type of web copy conveys only one message to me: what you’re selling is utterly worthless and you know it. When you say ‘foolproof’ you mean ‘it might work on one of every 1000 customers’. When you claim a ‘killer sales technique’ you mean that I will kill you if you’re stupid enough to try it on me. When you promise me a six-figure salary, what you’re actually promising is that I’ll be contributing to your six-figure salary if enough of my brainmatter has leaked out of my skull to lower my IQ sufficiently that I’ll actually buy into your tripe.
I have a delicate hope that this type of hyper-sales text is a mostly American phenomenon and that Europeans in general, level-headed and jaded as we are, are largely immune to it. I’m afraid though that this assumption may not be entirely based in reality.
While the adoption of this type of ridiculously overcharged sales copy on European websites has been blissfully slow, I do seem to detect a growing trend here to use this kind of infantile, lowest-common-denominator language on Dutch and British websites. Apparently it seems to work on Europeans as well. Consumers are consumers after all, regardless of where they live. Consumers everywhere are retarded and possess little to no critical thinking skills whatsoever and will happily swallow whatever load of repugnant marketing excrement you shove into their mouths.
Sometimes it seems I’m part of a dwindling minority of consumers that responds only to thoughtful, well-composed and honest sales copy and disdains the revolting scent of hot marketing air blowing around on the internet. And maybe this is a problem. Because I’m a marketer, and my type of nonsense-free marketing only seems to work on this rapidly decreasing group of people that possess a functional brain.
29 May 2009
There’s a fascinating article up on the Times website about how credit card companies are handling the recession. Not only are they doing the smart thing by refocusing on customers who can actually pay their debts, they’re also using psychology to get the most out of defaulting cardholders.
“It’s really hard to get clean insights of a cardholder’s state of mind,” said Andy Jennings, the head of research and development at FICO, one of the biggest and oldest analytic firms. “The more subtle the insight, the more cleverness finding it requires. If someone pays for a big cable television package each month with their card, are they rich? Or does it signal they don’t have the sense to avoid products they can’t afford? If they check their balance three times a day, are they worried or uptight? We may look at 300 different characteristics just to predict their delinquency risk.”
If a credit-card company detects unsettling patterns, it might start cutting credit lines, raising interest rates or accelerating repayment schedules. (Companies are expected to withdraw $2.7 trillion of credit by the end of 2010, according to a March report from the Meredith Whitney Advisory Group, a banking-analyst firm.) But the most useful information the card companies are deriving from their data are the insights that help them deepen their relationships with customers, particularly when a cardholder is going through a rough time. One of the strongest conclusions of the psychological studies is that cardholders are most likely to pay the bills of those companies with which they have an emotional connection.
I don’t like credit cards for a multitude of reasons, and this article leads me to include another one: I don’t want to be psycho-analysed out of my money.
27 May 2009
More cool stuff from Wired: a superb article on Googlenomics, the auction-based economy Google runs on. An excerpt:
“Varian is an expert on what may be the most successful business idea in history: AdWords, Google’s unique method for selling online advertising. AdWords analyzes every Google search to determine which advertisers get each of up to 11 “sponsored links” on every results page. It’s the world’s biggest, fastest auction, a never-ending, automated, self-service version of Tokyo’s boisterous Tsukiji fish market, and it takes place, Varian says, “every time you search.” He never mentions how much revenue advertising brings in. But Google is a public company, so anyone can find the number: It was $21 billion last year.”
Everyone who’s ever done any Adwords should read this piece.
“Googlenomics actually comes in two flavors: macro and micro. The macroeconomic side involves some of the company’s seemingly altruistic behavior, which often baffles observers. Why does Google give away products like its browser, its apps, and the Android operating system for mobile phones? Anything that increases Internet use ultimately enriches Google, Varian says. And since using the Web without using Google is like dining at In-N-Out without ordering a hamburger, more eyeballs on the Web lead inexorably to more ad sales for Google.
The microeconomics of Google is more complicated. Selling ads doesn’t generate only profits; it also generates torrents of data about users’ tastes and habits, data that Google then sifts and processes in order to predict future consumer behavior, find ways to improve its products, and sell more ads. This is the heart and soul of Googlenomics. It’s a system of constant self-analysis: a data-fueled feedback loop that defines not only Google’s future but the future of anyone who does business online.”
Actually, everyone that’s ever done a Google search and clicked on a sponsored result should read it too.
7 Nov 2008
Mary Meeker from Morgan Stanley gives an annual presentation about the state of the internet at the Web 2..0 Summit. While I often think that big corporate analysts tend to be out of touch with what’s really going on, I felt that this presentation gives a good overview of what’s going on and where we’re headed.
7 Oct 2008
Following the advice of an inspiring man I decided to start a new blog where I can write about things I care about (and perhaps in the process solidify my professional reputation):
In this new blog I will write about many different aspects of building and maintaining a good website.
Its target audience is mostly small business owners that don’t know how to make a good, effective website. It’s not for programmers nor web savants, but for the great masses of clueless web users that want some plain, simple advice on how to make stuff work right.
Meanwhile, this blog right here will continue to host irrelevant brainfarts whenever they may occur.
24 Sep 2008
I recently attended the Design for Conversion conference that was held on the light boat in Amsterdam. The venue was small and had a bar/nightclub feel to it, which promoted an informal atmosphere and made it easier to start conversations with total strangers.
The attendees were divided into seven groups of each about 12 – 14 members, with two or three team captains. Each group was assigned a case to work on in between the keynote sessions, and at the end of the day every team had to give a short 3-minute presentation about the ideas they had to improve the conversion rate of their case subject.
The group I was put in had the KPNvandaag.nl portal as our case topic. The objective of the case was to promote usage of the portal, find a way to integrate KPN commercial messages in the portal, and how to gain valuable user insights from usage of the portal.
The team captains of our group were Lotte Zwijnenburg (info.nl), Boris van Beek (ikki.nl) and Reinout Wolfert (webanalisten.nl). Some of the more active participants were people from small agencies, IT companies, freelancers and insurance companies. The final 3-minute presentation for our group was given by me (no one else volunteered).
Our ideas for the KPNvandaag.nl case:
Andrew Chak – Getting the Next Click
Andrew Chak wrote a book a few years ago called Submit Now. He spoke about the core tenets of conversion optimization and divided them into three principles:
1) Start with the user and where your users are
Find the sites your users are active on (also search engines), and advertise on those sites.
Create different landing pages or microsites based on the needs of your users. Specify your message to different types of users and their specific needs.
Users only see what they are looking for, so be specific to that user type and use their own words.
2) Don’t sell, help them buy it
Help them find the basic information they need to make an informed decision.
Help them choose, be clear about your offer.
Influence the choice with highlighting, scarcity, user ratings, recommendations, etc.
Help them evaluate the different choices (feature table).
Help them see the result of their actions.
Be honest, authentic and complete.
3) Remove the barriers
No upfront registration, give (partial) content before you ask for user details.
Remove ALL unnecessary fields in your forms.
Remove uneducated choices.
Add persuasion elements (recommendations, scarcity, special offers).
Steve Jackson – Combining 4 techniques to improve your conversion rate
Steve Jackson has been a conversion optimizer since 1999, and he’s been writing a book about conversion optimization and web analytics which will appear in April 2009. He has created a model for conversion optimization called the insight model and explained it with a high-level view in his keynote.
The Insight model
There are 4 elements to conversion optimization in this model:
1) Persona – create a persona that is somewhat typical for our userbase, and view your website through the eyes of this persona. Be detailed in creating this persona and be honest to the choices this persona would make.
2) Competitive data – what works for your competitors? What sites are good sites with good conversions? Don’t be afraid to steal ideas from your competitors.
3) Clickstream data – use web analytics to gather information about what your users do on your website. What pages do they click through to, what pages have a high bounce rate, what pages are exit pages? Find the troublespots and correct them.
4) Experience data – you know from your own experience as a user and a professional what works and what doesn’t. Apply this knowledge to your optimization.
Steve also mentioned some other quick ideas:
BJ Fogg – The Elements of Behavior Change
BJ Fogg is a professor at Stanford university in California. He has written several books and does classes on human behavior, how to influence it, and how to apply this knowledge to the online realm.
BJ sees three main elements to human behavior that need to be present:
1. Motivation – people need to want to do something
2. Ability – people need to be able to do something
3. Trigger – people need to be triggered to do something
There are three core motivators that you can use to create motivation for an action:
- Pleasure / Pain
- Hope / Fear
- Acceptance / Rejection
Use the lightest touch that works. Avoid over-motivation.
Users need to be able to do what you are asking. Increase the ability factor by simplifying the action, not by training your users. Make your conversion action as simple as you possibly can.
Reduce behavior to one click, one step, one action.
Simplicity has six elements: time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, non-routine.
There are three types of triggers, tying in to the three elements of behavior change:
1) Facilitator – makes behavior easier
2) Spark – motivates behavior
3) Signal – indicates behavior
Learn what already works for your target behavior and apply it to your own situation.
Often enough the motivation element already exists. Focus on facilitation (ability) and triggers.
It was a good and informative conference with an informal atmosphere that made it easy to talk to other attendees. The case studies could’ve been better, but for a first-time conference it was very well organized. I’ll seriously consider attending the next one.
16 Aug 2008
I recently finished reading a book that has changed my life. Not in a evidently significant way, as I’m not the kind of guy that believes in radical changes. Well, sometimes I do, but generally I’m more in favor of subtle tweaks and improvements.
This book has inspired such a subtle tweak, but one that has, befittingly below the surface, made a huge impact on how I approach things.
The book in question is Het Slimme Onderbewuste (the smart subconsciousness) by Ap Dijksterhuis. So far it’s only available in Dutch, which I consider to be a huge disappointment. A book of such profound insight and significance should be available for all the world to read.
The core message of the book is that the subconscious mind, all those mental processes that we are unaware of but that do occur, are actually vastly more powerful, influential and significant than we believe. The conscious mind gets all the credit for our intelligence, our decision-making capabilities, and our creativity, while actually the subconscious mind is responsible for most of those things.
Naturally, due to the nature of the conscious and subconscious parts of our mind, we are unaware of the power of our subconsciousness. That is precisely why we so stubbornly believe our consciousness to be the seat of our mental abilities.
The author demonstrates, through countless outcomes of experiments he and others in his field have performed over the past several decades, exactly why the subconscious mind is so much more powerful and important in our daily lives than our conscious mind. Anecdotes from great thinkers like Newton and Einstein tell us that their greatest ideas came not from deep conscious contemplation but from the efforts of their subconscious minds.
What the book taught me is that we can safely rely on what we often call ‘instinctual’ decision making. It’s not instinct but actually our subconscious mind telling us what to do. Most often this turns out to be the right decision and runs counter to what our conscious train of thought would have led us to decide.
We cannot always rely so blindly on our subconscious mind, and Ap Dijksterhuis tells us this as well. Sometimes the conscious mind rightfully deserves to be in the driver’s seat. But most of the time it doesn’t, and isn’t, but still claims it is.
I don’t think I need to elaborate here on the power of subliminal messages that are ignored by the limited bandwidth of the conscious mind but which the subconscious mind, so vastly more capable, picks up effortlessly. The book spends a great deal of time on priming and subliminal influences, and this is must-read material for all marketers.
I can only hope that this eye-opening work will receive a proper English translation soon.