behavioral marketing

Let’s explore the meaning of behavioral science and why it’s so important — more so, critical — to increasing online 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 by 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, 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? 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 for your business.

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 Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

In the early years of this 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.

Research vs. Intuition: The Importance of Behavioral Science

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 businesses. 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 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: What Is Behavioral Science and Why Is It Critical For Conversion?

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.
FULL SIZE VERSION
Instagraph of BJ Fogg's Keynote at Conversion Conference 2012 West Infodoodle

I always scoffed at the low click-through rates on banner ads. Things are changing.

Image courtesy Teracent

I completed my thesis on the evolution of online advertising in "Evolving Further Toward Targeted Display Advertising." Our journey ended with Homo Optimizapien, "Optimization Man." Homo Optimizapien has achieved a place where display advertising, or banner ads, deliver search-like returns, only with wider reach than search can deliver.

 

 

Display is more than clicks

 

Through my work with my clients, it has become apparent that display advertising can influence purchases even if it doesn’t generate clicks. I was fortunate to have seen this first hand when working with Apogee Search. Apogee had recommended that one of my clients use a portion of their paid search budget on the "content" networks, meaning that my client’s ads would appear on other Web sites. You’ve seen the "Ads by Google" blocks. I was skeptical.

 

As predicted, click through rates from the content ads were horrible. However, our client saw a marked increase in purchases from direct traffic. When we turned off the content network, the sales dropped. When we turned it back on, sales went up.

 

While everyone’s trying to figure out how to measure this effect directly, I’d recommend that you try text or display ads. The cost is low, but the benefit could be great.

 

Juicing Display Advertising

 

There are companies who can make display advertising work even better for you.

 

One is a company called AdReady. AdReady has a library of banner ads that can be customized by you. Furthermore, you can select the ad template that is currently performing well for other advertisers. AdReady can share your ad on the major ad networks such as Google and Yahoo! and track your results.

 

Dapper.net has an interesting approach. They will literally scrape your eCommerce Web site and build a database of offers from your product pages. As you change offers on your site, the ads running through Dapper change as well. This is great for organizations who have a large catalog of offers, or whose offers change frequently. Think "Travel."

 

If you’ve had success with pay-per-click search ads, and are spending $10,000 or more per month, you might consider some of the more sophisticated implementations, such as those offered by Tumri and Teracent.

 

Consider Display

 

It’s easy to test display advertising, and often the cost is low. My recommendation is try it in our market to see if you can increase direct and indirect conversion rates.

 

Images courtesy Teracent

Why your Web site may not be helping visitors choose you

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

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's social graph
Image courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/profile/nighthawk7

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.
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.
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 ClickZ.com, 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.