behavioral marketing

Let’s explore the meaning of behavioral science and why it’s so important — more so, critical — to website design and increased conversions.

As data becomes cheaper and more accessible, behavioral science becomes an increasingly important term for anyone serious about marketing and conversion optimization.

Examples of Behavioral Science in our Everyday Lives

Many people think of behavioral science as a field of academic study or the domain of dedicated data scientists, but it’s much broader in scope than that.

In fact… it’s everywhere you look:

  • When you check to see how many people liked your most recent Facebook post, you’re using behavioral science.
  • When you decided to buy a certain pair of shoes based on their star rating, you were using behavioral science.
  • When you chose not to buy that espresso machine because of the reviews, you were using behavioral science.

The Billboard music charts, the New York Times Bestseller list, the Rotten Tomatoes Freshness Score, social proof, the laugh track on The Big Bang Effect. Behavioral science affects our thoughts and decision making on a daily basis.

So what is behavioral science? How did it change the website design process? And why is it a MAJOR key to increasing a website’s conversion rate?

If you’d like to learn more, watch my presentation on using behavioral science to improve conversions.

What Is Behavioral Science?

The simplest definition of behavioral science is that it’s the study of human behavior. For those of us in the digital marketing profession, behavioral science is the science of predicting the future. Understanding how people have behaved in the past will help us understand how people will behave in the future.

It encapsulates multiple fields of study, including psychology, sociology, social neuroscience, and cognitive science, and many others, and it focuses primarily on controlled observation of behavior patterns in response to external stimuli.

Behavioral science differentiates itself from fields like social science in that it is driven by rigorously obtained empirical data, and this data-driven approach is what led us to fall in love with the field here at Conversion Sciences.

Why Behavioral Science Is Instrumental In Website Redesign And Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

In the early years of last century (no, not the 1900’s), I was a corporate marketer responsible for generating leads and sales from the relatively new worldwide web. It was my job to create advertising, compose the emails, design the landing pages, develop the content and build the website that would attract people to us and convert these visitors into leads when they arrived at the website.

It was a frustrating job.

Because in the digital world you can do anything. Any image, any copy of any length. I could add video, animations, live chat, ratings and reviews.

Sometimes I would mash the best ideas together into a mush that only served to confused my readers.

Other times, I would have to pick one consistent message. But was it the best one? Really? I didn’t know.

This is why the carousel was born. Marketers couldn’t decide what to put on their home pages, so they just rotated through a bunch of options.

Not a good plan.

This was all frustrating because my only form of research was “launch and see.”

Launch and see (also called “launch and pray”) is the most expensive way of collecting behavioral data. An entire design has to be completed and launched before we have ANY idea if it will work.

Redesigns have become the primary way businesses test their websites: spend a lot of money, launch and see.

Analyzing Behavior to Increase Website Conversions

Fortunately, I’ve got mad programmer skillz. I wrote a little program that collected data on my visitors. Whenever they arrived at my website, I would store the source of their visit and then track them to see if they completed a form. At the time, I didn’t even know that this was called a conversion.

With this simple program, I was able to track and measure how visitors interacted on our website. I now had data with which to make informed decisions about our site content.

In 2005, Google released Google Analytics, and suddenly, an entire new realm of online behavioral science data was opened up to webmasters at no cost.

Discover How Behavioral Science Can Help Get More Website Conversions

In 2014, Marks & Spencer redesigned their apparel website. Marks & Spencer is a GBP10 billion company running food and apparel stores in the UK and Europe. In 2013 13% of their sales went through the web. That’s about $1.5 billion. With a B.

In 2014, they launched a website redesign. The effort cost GBP150 million. Today that would be about $180 million.

Marks and Spenser new home page offers "The New Look"

After two years and approximately $180 million spent, Marks and Spencer launched a new website. Source: Digital Tonic.

The UX community–and their designers–thought the redesign was “positive.”

More research would be needed for us to give a thorough UX opinion but our first thoughts are that it’s a positive redesign.

— ExperienceSolutions

The customers didn’t agree. Upon launch, the site saw an immediate 8% drop in sales. That’s about $10 million per month in lost sales. This number doesn’t take into account the loss of brand trust.

The best way to build brand online is to deliver what your visitors want.

For $180 million, we expect that they did a great deal of research into their customers and visitors. So, what went wrong?

This is the battle being waged in your business. Intuition vs. research. Best practices vs. behavioral science. Left brain vs. right brain. Both are necessary. But if you continue to find yourself struggling to get value from the visitors that you pay to bring to your site, there is an imbalance.

Intuition is our ability to apply our experience to new situations. We admire those who can discern the important aspects of something without study.

When behavioral data was expensive to acquire, most campaign planning and development time was spent in the domain of intuition. Any research was done at the beginning of the process, and this was primarily qualitative data based on surveys and focus groups.

Then the designers and developers applied the data to the best of their ability relying heavily on their intuition to make thousands of little decisions necessary to complete a project.

The old "Mad Men" way of design left most decisions up to experience and intuition, not data and research.

The “Mad Men” way of designing a website.

It is at the end of this process that true behavioral data is collected. It’s called results. If the results were positive, then the campaign can be replicated and continued. If the results were disappointing, then the campaign would be scratched, and the process would start over.

This is the classic launch and see approach.

What Using Behavioral Science Data in Website Development Looks Like

What does a campaign development process look like in an era of cheap behavioral data. For most businesses, it looks the same. But for industry leaders, it looks like this:

Effort is split between experience or intuition and data or research.

This is how we design a website when data is abundant and cheap. Like today.

Qualitative data is collected at the beginning. But now we can go back and test components of the campaign again and again. And we collect inexpensive quantitative behavioral data.

Intuition has its place and always will. But now we have balance. At several points along the development path, we can answer specific questions about our campaign.

Conclusion: How to Apply Behavioral Science to Increase Website Conversions

Every marketer will need to add behavioral science in their diet. What is behavioral science and how does it lead to winning campaigns?

We’re going to be diving deeper into behavioral sciences in the coming months.

We’ll be discussing the rules of behavioral science, examining case studies, and providing practical strategies for application.

If you’d like to learn more, watch my presentation on using behavioral science for your business.

Time flies in Conversion Sciences world. It seems like just a few days ago that Brian was wowing the crowds at Conversion Conference in Chicago, but it was actually a couple of weeks ago! Our brains must be getting old…..

Brian with brain at Convcon 2

Brian with a presumably young and capable brain.

Brian’s presentation “Everything I Needed to Know about CRO, I Learned From Direct Response Marketers,” was a big draw at this year’s Conversion Conference. He and Dr. Debra Zahey (also known as ‘The Professor’) wow the crowd with their special blend of wit, hard data, case studies, and fashionably professional attire.
I don’t want to give away all of the secrets of this great presentation, so you can check out the slides here, and listen to the audio below. Enjoy!
And maybe just a few more pictures…..
The Professor and The Conversion Scientist.

The Professor and The Conversion Scientist.

BJ Fogg is a Psychologist, Innovator and Director, Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. He gave an inspirational and interactive keynote presentation at Conversion Conference West 2012 using props instead of slides. His props included a magician’s robe, and a kayak paddle as a wand.

Clearly, he knows something about how to communicate. Part of his presentation involved the audience teaching his B=MAT behavioral model to not one, but two others. You’ll find that model in this instagraph that I captured in real time.

Instagraph of BJ Fogg's Keynote at Conversion Conference 2012 West Infodoodle

Why your Website may not be helping visitors choose you

As a Conversion Scientist, my job is to cast a critical eye on the sites of my clients. In my recent ClickZ columns, I’ve turned that critical eye toward behavioral marketing vendors. “The Language of Behavioral Marketing” parts one and two are designed to help readers understand what behavioral vendor Web site mean and to underscore some of the mistakes they make.

I think any B2B marketing team could learn a bit from these columns.

In Part One, I highlight why these sites weren’t helpful to me in my quest to better understand the industry. Are you making these mistakes?

Deciphering behavioral marketing websites: Is your Web site confusing your readers or clarifying things for them?

Is your Web site confusing your readers or clarifying things for them?

 Everyone’s the “Leader”

There’s something we’re trying to say when we say we’re the “leader,” but rarely do we say what it is. Are we the highest volume provider? Are we the low-cost leader? Do we have the most market share? Or are we just trying to look bigger than we really are? If it’s the latter, pick something that defines your leadership and say that.

Let your participation in industry events help you define your leadership. Be the thought leader with helpful, smart content.

Shooting at the competition

The sites that I reviewed took great pains to define who they are not. This is understandable as there are hundreds of competing ad networks joining the industry, many of which don’t hold themselves to a standard that big brand advertisers want. Nonetheless, it is far more powerful to tell the story of who you are than to throw stones at your competitors. It just takes more work to define and tell that story.

Everyone does everything

Pick your place in the market and be willing to walk away from the rest. The companies whose sites I reviewed are capable of applying behavioral targeting to a wide range of industries, and don’t want to limit themselves. However, I think they would be well served to select some turf to dominate, and be willing to concede some part of the market in the short term.

Pick the bucket you want your visitors to put you in, or they’ll put you in their own buckets, which may be the “not sure what they do best” bucket.

Valueless value propositions

The power of picking your bucket is that you can create a value proposition that differentiates you and establishes you as a desirable partner.

The businesses I reviewed clearly wanted to work with major brands, but don’t want to walk away from small and medium-sized businesses. Picking one might reduce their appeal to the other, but it doesn’t have to. “We’re Big Brand Behavioral Marketers” appeals to big brands, but offering a white paper on the site entitled “Why the Big Brands Win in Behavioral” would appeal to smaller brands without undercutting the basic value proposition.

In short, use powerful positioning statements to establish your ground, but use innovative content to finesse your offering.

Playing it Safe with Content

Once you’ve stepped out onto the skinny branches of defining who you are as a business, you’re content has to reinforce that. It should do it emotionally, passionately and without compromise.

There is little copy less emotional, passionate and compromising than “corporate communication,” and this is where most Web copy is drawn. Corporate communication is for proposals, the prospectus and the quarterly report. It is not appropriate for marketing communication.

Add a little attitude to the video. Title your reports and white papers in unexpected ways. Have some fun with your executive bios. Remember business people are humans.

Brian Massey



Image courtesy nighthawk7

There is a great deal of information, but you have to decipher the code.

There appears to be some amazing solutions in the behavioral marketing industry. In this article, I parse the language of the behavioral marketing world and find out once and for all what it all really means.

I use the websites of a number of behavioral advertising vendors in an attempt to clear the fog that surrounds this marketplace.

I can already hear the groans.

Yes, the behavioral marketers’ children have no shoes, to borrow from a famous euphemism. The websites of the behavioral marketing world aren’t necessarily the best examples of advanced marketing techniques. But I am not interested in casting stones at individual sites. I’m on a search for meaning and truth.

Here are some general observations about why it is so difficult for marketers to narrow the list of behavioral marketing vendors based on their websites.

In the Behavioral Marketing Vendors’ World Everyone’s a Leader

As ClickZ author Tessa Wegert points out in her survey of ad networks, there are a lot of “leaders” in the market. In fact, most of them call themselves the “leading provider” of something. We’ll see if we can find clues to what each vendor is a leader in.

Shooting at the “Other Guys”

Behavioral marketing vendors spend a lot of time describing what they are not. They’re dealing with an industry that has exploded over the past several years, a market with few barriers to entry. As a result, aggressive vendors have entered the market creating privacy issues and abusing their customers’ brands in an effort to get “reach” at any price.

More reputable vendors go out of their way to differentiate themselves from these “pray and spray” approaches, writing about “premium ad networks” and “comprehensive technologies.” For those of us who don’t know the history, this language sounds like bravado and manipulation.

Everyone Does Everything

From their websites, it’s very difficult to tell what these vendors do and don’t do. In general, the claims to fall into these categories:

  • We have a network of online publishers — websites — that let us place ads on their sites.
  • We collect data from the people who have been to the sites of our ad network.
  • We collect data from publishers that help us target ads at visitors across an ad network.
  • We have a special technology that makes us better at targeting ads at visitors across an ad network.
  • We develop the strategies and/or creative that will make you better at behavioral marketing.

All of the vendors provide some combination of these services, but they all do them differently. Most are also courting publishers, which I am ignoring for this series. Their websites have a complex message to deliver, making it difficult for any vendor to differentiate themselves. They should try harder.

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Keep these proven copywriting hacks in mind to make your copy convert.

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Valueless Value Propositions

Anyone who subscribes to the “eight-second rule,” a rule that says you have only eight seconds to engage a Web visitor, is in for a communication challenge. Behavioral marketing vendors adhere to this rule, trying to fit everything they do into a sentence or short paragraph. The result is that their value propositions sound remarkably similar.

  • “patent pending, dynamic ad optimization technology”
  • “comprehensive suite of targeting technologies to reach target audiences across a Premium Network
  • “The technologies we use to deliver, target, and optimize your campaigns go far beyond established norms and standards for performance”
  • “the leading targeting platform and advertising marketplace that connect people to engaging advertising.”
  • “increases the productivity of each customer interaction through our industry-leading predictive marketing solutions

In contrast, the “self-serve” sites get to the meat quickly. “Hundreds of millions of impressions a day on hundreds of thousands of sites. Click here to get started.” Now, that’s works in eight seconds.

Playing It Safe

The majority of the sites I’m reviewing would be called “brochure sites.” The main goal of a brochure site is to look professional and successful. However, this encourages a vendor to be very careful with the content it places on the site. This is certainly the case for the behavioral marketing industry.
Roy H. Williams of the Wizard Academy says:

“You’re not communicating effectively if you’re not pissing someone off.”

I’d like to acknowledge those vendors who take a chance in the interest of communicating more clearly.

This article The Language of Behavioral Marketing, Part 1 by Brian Massey originally appeared on ClickZ.

Scientific Method? Hey, I’m a Conversion Scientist

As you learned in a previous post, I’m just wired to see the world through the scientific method. It get’s extreme.

In this month’s ClickZ Behavioral Marketing Experts column, I apply it to behavioral advertising. The thing I love about the scientific method is that it quickly exposes the challenges in your marketing campaign. Behavioral Marketing is a Conversion Scientists dream, but it poses some challenges when developing hypotheses and figuring out “why” something worked or didn’t work.

Applying the Scientific Method to your Behavioral Marketing

Behavioral marketing vendors are not alone in the struggle to communicate effectively via the Web. One area crucial to success is the human dimension. This is the thing missing from these sites. They don’t answer the human questions:

  • Who will I deal with?
  • What is the process of starting, implementing, and reviewing my campaigns?
  • How often will I interact with the team? What will they tell me?
  • How much hand-holding can I expect?
  • Can I trust your team? Why?

When I say: “Transparency”

I mean: “Tell me about how you communicate with me, and I’ll fret less about the technology.”

The bottom line: don’t just ask your behavioral advertising partner about their technology, methodology and ad network. Ask about the ways they interface with you to ensure you’re getting the best information when investigating, hypothesizing, testing and evaluating.

I invite vendors to tell me what you mean in the comments.

Applying the Scientific Method to your Behavioral Marketing

Applying the Scientific Method to your Behavioral Marketing

The Language of Behavioral Marketing, Part 1

Why is it so difficult to figure out the differences among behavioral marketing vendors? Let’s start by dissecting the vendors’ Web sites.

Since working to learn about the behavioral marketing industry, I find myself floating on a sea of ambiguity, still looking for islands of meaning. Over the past five months, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a number of industry luminaries. I’ve heard the panels at a major online marketing conference. I subscribe to the industry newsletters. Yet, I find myself without a favorite technique, a “wow” vendor or technology I just have to try. Like most marketers, I can’t devote my full attention to exploring behavioral marketing.

There appears to be some amazing solutions on the market, but I don’t know enough yet to organize my explorations. Whenever I find myself struggling at something, I go back to basics. It’s time to start parsing the language of the behavioral marketing world and find out once and for all what it all really means.

In this column and the next, I will use the Web sites of a number of behavioral advertising vendors in an attempt to clear the fog that surrounds this marketplace.

I can already hear the groans.

Yes, the behavioral marketers’ children have no shoes, to borrow from a famous euphemism. The Web sites of the behavioral marketing world aren’t necessarily the best examples of advanced marketing techniques. But I am not interested in casting stones at individual sites. I’m on a search for meaning and truth.

Here are some general observations about why it is so difficult for marketers to narrow the list of behavioral marketing vendors based on their Web sites.

Keep reading!

Originally Published on ClickZ: Behavioral Marketing and the Scientific Method

What if George Carlin had riffed on behavioral targeting?

In doing the research for my new ClickZ column on behavioral marketing, I became fascinated by all that could be measured and inferred about me from the simple act of visiting a Web page. The agents at work when you visit a Web site are an invisible Pixel and something called a Cookie. Then the marketers, advertisers, publishers, scientists and statisticians go to work on the data, divining what they can from it about you and what ads you want to see.

The list, which you will find on, is long, ironic, funny and sometimes disturbing. It’s exactly the kind of thing that needs a Carlinesque treatment.

Download | Subscribe | On iTunes

Try as I might, I’m no George Carlin. Here’s the real deal. Warning: Explicit Language

My New Series for ClickZ

I’ve begun a series on ClickZ on Behavioral Marketing. If you follow my writing, you may realize that I don’t write about behavioral marketing — at all. This is new ground for me, and that may be my advantage. I’m not a Behavioral Marketing expert. I’m willing to ask the dumbest of questions, and to do it in a public space.

If you’re not a behavioral marketing expert either, you may find my “beginners mind” approach helpful; you’re the business owner or marketer that I am writing for.

You can subscribe to my ClickZ Experts Feed to get my future articles as well as articles from the wicked-smart marketing people at ClickZ.

My special thanks goes out to Chris Vanderhook of Specific Media, who patiently listened to my questions for this first article.