The Psychology of Pokemon Go

Learn the psychological secrets of Pokémon Go’s success!

In just two weeks Pokemon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game designed by Niantic, achieved over 21 million active users in the US, more than Candy Crush did at its peak. The game’s popularity has quickly spread in other countries  and it is now becoming a global phenomenon. So, why did Pokemon Go become a such an instant success and what are the psychological buttons that it pressed to create so many engaged users?

1. Nostalgia from a childhood brand:

Pokemon is a brand that has been established and has grown across multiple entertainment categories for over 20 years. This provided Pokemon with the opportunity to target an existing and passionate audience of players who grew up in the 1990’s and wanted to indulge in an old obsession. This instantly helped Pokemon Go establish itself on a new platform (smartphones and tablets) and created the conditions for the game to spread through social networks to a more diverse and younger audiences.

Image of implicit goals
Source: Decode Marketing

The desire for adventure and escapism is just one of a number of implicit psychological goals that motivate brand choice. Using the latest research from psychology and neuroscience marketing consultant Phil Barden has identified 6 key psychological goals that brands can be perceived to meet. The extent to which people perceive that a brand will fully meet certain psychological goals that they find compelling will help determine which one they choose.

Image of Pokemon Go in App store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc, iOS App Store

Learning: Leverage brand equity by targeting existing engaged customers to give you a head start to building your app store presence.  Ensure brand communications target appropriate psychological goals that can help generate a strong emotional response to your game or product.

2. Herd mentality:

As social beings our decisions are heavily influenced by what we think other people around us are doing. When in a new or uncertain situation we naturally look to see what other people are doing as a guide to desired behaviour.  Pokemon Go benefited from copy-cat behaviour as our herd instincts assisted the spread of the awareness and adoption of the game through our social networks. Once the number of downloads gave Pokemon Go entry into the download charts this would have further boosted its desirability among trend seekers or gamers unsure about the nature of the game.

 

Top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016
Source: App Annie top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

 

Learning: Using social proof and encouraging people to interact with your brand across offline and online social networks is a powerful influence on success or failure. How people interact with each other and what they do with your product or idea will determine the nature of your brand, not what you set out in your brand guidelines.

3. Novelty gets attention:

Our brains are hard-wired to be wary of change and so the blending of the real world with the digital world of augmented reality brings fantasy into the game experience in a seamless and engaging manner. This creates a novel user experience that attracts attention. Novelty is a powerful psychological trigger for stimulating our brain. Although augmented reality has been around for a number years, Pokémon Go cleverly integrates it with a real-world game that also activates user’s curiosity.

Image of Pokemon Go Drowzee

Learning: Use novelty to grab attention and create curiosity about your brand.

4. We desire control:

The design of Pokémon Go means that players have a good chance of intercepting a monster where ever they travel. There is no necessity to head for a Pokestop or Gym if it doesn’t fit in with the user’s plans. Monsters often pop-up randomly as players go on their daily business.

Pokémon Go allows players to remain in control and it is up to the user to decide how much effort they want to put into the game. This is important from a psychological perspective as autonomy is one of three basic drivers of human behaviour identified by psychologist Daniel Pink that make people happy and engaged in activities.

Image of Pokemon Go with Venonat showing

 

Learning: Autonomy and our desire to act with choice is something people naturally seek and psychologists believe that it improves our lives. Where possible always offer people choice as we dislike doors being closed or being forced down a particular path.

5. Mastery :

Pokemon Go uses achievements to reward players for progressing through the levels of the game. People love to obtain a high degree of competency in activities they undertake, but can easily get frustrated and abandon a game if a task is not realistically achievable. On the other hand if it is too easy to complete players can lose interest in the game. Pokemon Go achieves a balance by setting a low degree of initial difficulty for new players and using a distance/time barrier to ensure it takes some physical effort to discover more creatures.

Learning: Ensure challenges and tasks are realistically achievable, but not so easy that players lose interest. Mastery is one of our most powerful and intrinsic motivators which drives our passion for achievement.

Pokemon medal for 10 normal Pokemon
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

6. Variable ratio schedule reward model:

In the 1950’s the American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to understand how people respond to different reward schedules. He discovered that a variable ratio schedule, where the reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken, but the timing is randomised to make it unpredictable, is the best method for encouraging repetitive behaviour. This type of schedule encourages people to complete the behaviour over and over again as they are uncertain when the next reward will be received. It is also resistant to extinction by its very nature and can make some behaviour addictive.

Learning: Link rewards to the frequency of the behaviour, but use a variable ratio schedule to make the timing of the reward unpredictable.

Pokemon Go level up 4
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

7. Use classical conditioning to obtain an automatic response:

When a user walks near a Pokemon, gym or Pokestop, their smartphone gives an audible buzz. As the players is then rewarded with a new Pokemon or other creature this sound becomes associated with the forthcoming reward in the same way that Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning creates automatic behaviours by paring a stimulus (a sound) with a response (search for monster nearby).

Learning: Use audible sounds, smells or movement to create automatic behaviours through classical conditioning by pairing a stimulus with a response. Once users have become conditioned to react in a certain way, you may pair another stimulus to the desired behaviour and create a new automatic response.

Image of Pokemon Zubat before capture
Source: Pokemon iOS app

 

8. We are all social beings at heart:

Unlike most apps, Pokemon Go provides the opportunity to meet new people because it requires you to visit local landmarks and walk to places nearby to find Pokémon’s. As human beings we are hard wired to connect and interact with other people. Indeed, social isolation and loneliness are harmful to our long term health and can trigger depression. Playing Pokemon Go therefore benefits are psychological health by creating opportunities for gamer’s to meet and interact with other people.

 

Image of Pokemon Go gym

Learning: Allow people to share or interact with other people as this is an important human characteristic with many benefits for the individuals concerned.

 

9. We benefit psychologically from walking:

There is increasing evidence to suggest a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health and that walking is beneficial from both a psychological and physical perspective. We have an innate desire to get outside and research suggests that walking can reduce depression and our risk of diseases such as diabetes.

 

Learning: Creating a game or product that requires or encourages physical exercise has health benefits for the customer and can create natural breaks in product usage which improves attention and engagement.

Image of Pokemon Go map
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

10. Good timing:

Launching the game in the summer and just at the start of the holiday season meant that people are already primed and ready to go outside and explore. We are naturally drawn to sunlight because it increases the amount of vitamin D in our bodies which can help prevent cancer and improves our alertness and mental performance.

Learning: Always consider timing and how it may influence usage to give your product or campaign the best chance of success. Research your audience to identify key factors influencing adoption or likelihood to view your content.

Image of Pokemon Rattata outside Pets at Home store
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

 

11. Easy equals true:

The app is so simple and intuitive to use that it does not require any detailed instructions or much practice to become competent. This means there is little friction associated with getting started and this minimises cognitive load which encourages continued engagement with the app.  Many apps are so poorly designed that they require extensive onboarding instructions and navigation aids. Such complexity can cause cognitive strain and frustration which often leads to apps being abandoned.

Learning: If your user interface requires detailed instructions or navigation aids to allow users to learn how to use it you have failed. Keep user interface designs simple and intuitive.

 

Image of Pokemon Gym description
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

12. Piggy back on existing habits:

People are creatures of habit and so adoption is much easier if you can piggy back off an existing habit rather than having to create a new habit. Most smartphone users take their devices with them as they go for a walk or travel to the office or the shops. Pokemon Go was therefore able to benefit from habitual behaviour which assisted take-up of the game.

 

Learning: Where possible identify existing habits that your product or campaign can benefit from rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Image of Pokemon Horsea creature
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

13. The power of free:

We are attracted by free apps because people are inherently afraid of loss and free is a powerful motivator because we don’t like to miss out on a bargain. Further, allowing users to play for free minimises the perceived risk of signing up to Pokemon Go because there is no monetary cost to the player if they subsequently find they don’t enjoy the game.

In addition, even partial ownership (e.g. a free trial) tends to make people more attached to what they have and make them focus on what they could lose rather what they may gain. This is why free trials offered by the likes of Spotify and Netflix are so successful.

Pokemon Go generates revenues by players purchasing  virtual coins to exchange for items such as Pokeballs to capture monsters. Once players have moved up a number of levels they may also want to pay to store, hatch, train (in the gym) and battle opponents. Companies also have the ability to sponsor locations to attract players to a real location.

 

Learning: Ownership changes are our perception of things and our aversion to loss makes it more difficult to give up things that we have. For non-fremium apps, offer a free trial to give users ownership and allow them to check out the user experience. To monetise a free app allow players to buy in-app currency to spend on digital goods or enter competitions.

Image of loading screen for Pokemon Go
Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

 

What should we take out from Pokémon Go’s success?

Good marketing planning and having the right partners for a venture certainly help. Although we may not be lucky enough to have a global brand that has 20 years of heritage behind it, we can still be careful to create a compelling proposition and ensure that implementation is not rushed. What Pokémon Go does show is that if you can align your marketing with human psychology you will benefit from important drivers of consumer behaviour.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

7 Marketing Lessons From The Brexit Campaigns

The UK’s EU referendum result surprised many people outside the UK. But a review of the strategies used by the campaigns  gives some clear reasons for the outcome and provides some important lessons for marketers.  The Remain campaign was expected to win partly because of the uncertainty that leaving the UK would create. The fact that they lost suggests that something major must have gone wrong with their campaign planning and implementation.

In another post I outlined some of the main  psychological reasons for Brexit, but here I outline specific lessons for marketing.

 

1.  Start by listening to people.

 

Listen to people
Source: Freeimages.com

When a new brand begins to eat into an existing brand’s customer base this should be a wake-up call for the marketing team.  To survive in the long term all brands needs to be constantly listening to their customers to ensure they remain relevant and in touch with their target audience.

Marketers should explore what customers find appealing about the new brand and what is turning them off the leading brand. By listening to and observing customers we can pick up clues to why they are disillusioned with the established brand.  Further, by exploring what attracted existing customers to your brand you can identify what is most appealing about your value proposition. This can help you position your brand in the most effective way.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign failed to understand that many people felt they had not benefited from globalisation and for this reason only saw the downside of the free movement of people within the EU. The Remain campaign’s tone towards controlling immigration was also cosmopolitan and elitist. This alienated voters worried about free movement of people within the EU as it appeared to dismiss their views as irrelevant. The Remain campaign also failed to offer hope that by staying within the EU the UK was more likely to be able change the principle of free movement of labour.

Strategy Lesson:

Engage in regular research and collaboration initiatives with customers and prospects to understand how they perceive the brand and your competitors. Brands have to evolve as customer behaviour and values change so as to remain relevant and responsive to customer needs.  If your strategy is not engaging customers it may be time to change your approach based upon evidence from customer research and feedback.

2. A clear and strong value proposition:

 

Image of Widerfunnel.com lift model
Source: Widerfunnel.com

A clear and compelling proposition is important for any brand. From day one the Leave message focused on “Take back control” which appeals to our desire for autonomy. According to the psychologist Daniel Pink autonomy is one of our three most important motivations in life, the others being mastery and purpose. Autonomy is something we naturally seek. It improves our lives because we feel happier when we are in control of our destiny.

Products are purchased for explicit goals, but brands need to appeal towards our implicit (psychological) goals to engage people at an emotional level. This is especially important where brands have very similar product features as it is the main way that they can differentiate themselves from each other. Understanding which of these core psychological goals motivates your customers is essential for effective brand positioning and campaign implementation.

Psychological Goals of Brands

6 main implicit psychologial goals
Source: Decode Marketing

 

What went wrong?

The “Britain stronger in Europe” message had potential to engage voters, but there was a lack of consistency of how it was explained and much of the time it was communicated in a negative and bullying fashion (e.g. if you vote leave economic growth will be lower). It was far too reliant on the rational economic argument and the psychological goals of security and discipline. Insufficient effort was made to communicate the many successes of the EU (around autonomy), or the positive benefits of security and discipline.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure your proposition incorporates a number of relevant psychological goals to widen the appeal of your brand position. Avoid over reliance on the security of the status quo as people want to feel that they are making a positive choice and not being pressurised to avoid change. Purely negative campaigns can make people uncomfortable and motivate people to change for the sake of it.

 

3. Relevance of message:

 

Image of City of London view
Source: Freeimages.com

The Leave campaign’s “Taking back control” message was also a more inclusive message as it appealed to a wider demographic audience. Everyone could relate to wanting  some autonomy in our relationships with other countries. In practical terms this may be somewhat of an illusion, but it captured the imagination of voters as it triggered a deep psychological desire for more control in our lives.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign focused mainly on warnings about economic and political consequences of Brexit. For example the Treasury said that house prices might fall and mortgage rates would rise. But this had no relevance to people on the minimum wage with no chance of ever affording a house. People often don’t appreciate the links between macro-economic factors and their day-to-day existence, and so these messages didn’t resonate with voters.

The Brexit message also appealed to the desire to destabilise the status quo. This movement has resulted in the emergence of radical politicians like Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and Marine Le Pen in France.

Strategy Lesson:

Analyse the behaviour and needs of customers by relevant demographic and behavioural metrics to identify important customer segments. Create user personas to visualise and consider how relevant and motivating your messages are to different customer segments. Such analysis can help improve the targeting and relevance of your messages. Also talk to people about things they can directly relate to and avoid language that is not in every day use.

4. Tell a story:

Brexit told many stories (though many were probably half-truths), but these encouraged people to talk to each other about the EU referendum debate. Stories are powerful tools of persuasion as psychologists have found that when people listen to a narrative tale their brain is stimulated as if they are experiencing the same emotions as communicated in the story. Our social nature encourages us to pass on these narratives through word of mouth or online via social media.

What went wrong?

The Remain story was too rational, with too much emphasis on negative consequences of Brexit and few stories to inspire. This meant the status quo was not presented as a positive choice.

Strategy Lesson:

Encourage consumers to interact with each other my telling an interesting and emotionally engaging story.

5. Copy, Copy:

 

When we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty, such as having to make a decision about something we little knowledge about, people naturally copy other people in the vicinity. Behaviour is often more powerful than word of mouth because it is more visible and people will copy the actions of people they respect or want to be associated with to reduce conflict and help establish stronger bonds in their social networks. Both campaigns tried to capitalise on this by getting the backing of celebrities and well known politicians.

Brexit undoubtedly benefited from strong leadership (i.e.Boris Johnson) and a consistent message delivered by almost everyone involved in the campaign.

What went wrong?

Remain suffered from being less cohesive as although it was backed by both of the main party leaders they held very different beliefs and values. For instance Jeremy Corbyn refused to share a platform with David Cameron and his support appeared half-hearted. David Cameron was also strongly associated with austerity which had significantly reduced funding in deprived areas since 2010.

Strategy Lesson:

Lead by example. If for instance your brand is positioned to be environmentally friendly make sure your internal policies and behaviour is consistent with this stance. If using celebrity endorsements ensure the person has wide appeal across your target audience.

6. Confirmation bias:

 

Image of mri-head scan
Source: Freeimages.com

People have a tendency to search and consume new information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and ideas about a subject. We often filter out or dismiss information that contradicts existing opinions. Many people had negative opinions about the EU due to years of critical articles in the British media and so it was difficult for the Remain campaign to counter this perception.

One way that brands can counter confirmation bias is to communicate that you agree with one aspect of what your audience believes, but then introduce information that conflicts with this information. This creates cognitive dissonance which is where people feel uncomfortable about holding opinions that contradict each other. If you can then introduce an answer or solution to remove the cognitive dissonance people are more likely to agree with your suggestion than if you tried to raise it without going through this process.

For example the Leave campaign claimed that the UK could negotiate access to the EU single market and get agreement to control immigration. The Remain campaign could have agreed access to the single market would be achievable from outside the EU. However, they should have pointed out that to date the EU has not allowed any country access to the single market without also agreeing to free movement of EU nationals. Further, such a deal would not be sustainable for the EU as it would encourage other countries to leave the EU.

However, the Remain campaign could have offered a solution that by retaining membership of the EU the UK would aim to reform the EU from within. If David Cameron had listened to disenfranchised voters he might have put more effort into negotiating a review of freedom of movement within the EU on the basis of economic sustainability and security concerns.

What went wrong?

David Cameron’s re-negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU failed to deliver any restrictions on free movement of people within the EU. Rather than reject what was on the table and revert to plan B (i.e. campaign to leave the EU) which would have put the EU under pressure to compromise he accepted their offer. This may have been a fatal error as it reduced trust in Cameron to be able to negotiate with the EU and gave no room for the Remain campaign to argue that they could influence immigration better from within the EU.

Further, journalist and author Tim Hartford argues that confirmation bias was so strong among the Remain team and its supporters that they ignored obvious warnings (e.g, opinion polls) that the Leave campaign were moving into a winning position. This was compounded by betting markets that also favoured a Remain win. However, betting markets are driven by the amount of money wagered on a particular outcome which normally benefits from the wisdom of crowds. But as most of the establishment and the City were in favour of remaining in the EU did their financial clout overly influence the betting markets? This might explain why the betting markets got the result so wrong.

Strategy Lesson:

When people have an existing belief about your brand that is preventing you from persuading them to buy tell them something they already agree with. Then use cognitive dissonance to make them feel uncomfortable. Once you have established a feeling of cognitive dissonance introduce a solution or answer to their problem which eliminates the discomfort.

Be careful not to compromise too easily on issues that your customers perceive as important (e.g. reliability or quality) as this can destroy trust in your ability to deliver on your promises.

We are all prone to confirmation bias and so it is important to be open-minded about data that contradicts our own views about a brand or market. Ensure where possible decisions are based upon reliable data and not just your own gut instincts.  Challenge data for potential bias or misinterpretation. This is especially important where different data sources produce conflicting results. Voice of Customer surveys for instance suffer from numerous flaws that can make them highly misleading if the data is taken at face value.

7. Post Brexit Regret:

Image of man with hands over face
Source: FreeImages.com

 

A survey of voters after the Brexit result found that up to 7% now regretted voting to leave the EU and would vote Remain if they were given another opportunity. Customer can feel regret when they don’t think they have made the best decision. In the case of Brexit some voters believe they were lied to because the Leave campaign reneged on a number of the promises they had made during the campaign.

What went wrong:

Both sides confused voters with misleading claims, and counter-claims. This may have reduced trust in politicians and could have put-off some undecided voters from going to the polling stations.  If people find advice complex or difficult to understand this can often lead to procrastination or they will head for a competitor brand. The Leave campaign in particular made a number of very high profile promises that turned out to be inaccurate and undeliverable.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure you are confident that you can deliver on any promises you make during a marketing campaign. Post-purchase dissatisfaction due to broken promises is likely to result in cancellations or returns and will destroy customer confidence and trust in your brand. As Dave Trott points out:

“The product creates the experience.

The experience creates the reputation.

The reputation creates the brand.”

Dave Trott, One Plus One Equals Three

Thank you for reading my post. I believe there are some important, but simple lessons to learn from the Brexit ferendum result. The main lesson is to main sure you have a clear and compelling value proposition and that you understand the different needs of individual customer segments.

If you found this post useful please share using the social media icons.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

9 Mistakes Companies Make With Website Optimization

 

There is plenty of advice on Twitter and other social media about how to improve website conversion. ConversionXL, Widerfunnel, and Hubspot to name but a few. Despite this many organisations continue to make some basic errors that seriously limit their ability to improve sales and revenues from website optimization. Below are some of the most fundamental mistakes that organisations tend to make:

 

1. Don’t fully integrate web analytics tracking and reporting.

 

Image of Google Analytics behaviour flow report

The saying that if you don’t measure something you can’t identify if you are improving or not rings true with website optimization. Unless you have reliable web analytics monitoring and reporting of your KPIs from the beginning to the end of the user journey you will never really know how your site is performing and what impact tactical changes have on your revenues or other primary objectives of your site. You will also struggle to prioritise effectively as you need web analytics to identify the value of each step in the user journey.

They are also important to validate test results and check the robustness of uplifts. A/B testing solutions only support certain browsers and devices and need to be configured to ensure they cover all important use cases. What if your test doesn’t include an alternative user journey? Your web analytics can help identify these kinds of problems so that you can fix them.

 

2. Use Before & After Measures.

Image of water flow
Source: Freeimages.com

 

This kind of measurement is meaningless as conversion rates continuously fluctuate due to many factors. Competitor activity, website bugs, traffic source, advertising spend and the weather are just a few of the factors that can cause your conversion rate to change.  Because of this you can only be confident that a change to your website is the reason for a significant uplift or decline in conversion by running an A/B or multivariate test.

These kinds of experiments allow you to isolate the impact of the difference in the customer experience by having a control. This is achieved by randomly splitting traffic to both experiences and so all other drivers of your conversion rate should influence both variants equally.

3. Don’t A/B Test.

Source: Freeimages.com
Source: Freeimages.com

There are many reasons why organisations don’t conduct A/B testing, but the lack of such online experiments will hinder your ability to reduce acquisition and retention costs because you will struggle to learn from your mistakes or clearly identify what improves conversion.

A/B testing allows you to remove subjective opinions from decisions about which design or journey is better at meeting the organisation’s objectives. They also help to develop an evidence based decision making culture which is key for the success of digital optimization. 

4. Focus on a single measure of conversion.

 

Image of tape measure
Source: Freeimages.com

Website optimization should never be about a single metric. There is no point optimising to improve sales if as a result of a change revenues decline due to a reduction in average basket value. For conversion rate optimization to benefit the bottom line it is necessary to look at the whole user journey, for both new and existing customers.

For ecommerce this means monitoring metrics such as average order value, number of items per basket, sales from returning customers and returns. You will then get a better understanding of how the new customer experience influences user behaviour and your bottom line.

With content marketing a high bounce rate is often seen as an indication of low engagement. But because of the way most web analytics calculate bounce rates and time on page this may not be the case. Google Analytics defines a bounce as a single engagement hit and counts the session time for such a visitor  as zero. What if some of those visitors are spending a number of minutes engrossed in a post and then exit your site?  Are they not engaged?

To understand true levels of engagement you need to also track how long bounced visitors spend on a page.  This can be done by adding some extra script to your GA tag and setting up events in your web analytics. The point here is that no single metric will ever give you the whole story and it is essential to delve deeper into customer behaviour to truly understand the impact of changes you make to your site.

 

5. Don’t have a dedicated team for CRO.

 

Image of skills required for website optimization

Without a dedicated conversion rate optimization ( CRO) specialist (or a team in larger enterprises), you will not achieve the full potential from optimization because generalists will struggle to develop the necessary skills or allocate sufficient time to the task. CRO requires specialist skills (e.g. web analytics and heuristic analysis) that take time to acquire and benefit from regular updating.

Developing strong hypothesis for testing is also a time consuming process. As your A/B testing programme matures you may notice that between 50 to 80% of tests will fail to generate a significant uplift in conversion. As a consequence you will need to run more tests to generate a reasonable return on investment (ROI).

Marketing generalists should be able to deliver landing page and other tactical tests, but they are unlikely to have the time or expertise to develop a more strategic optimization roadmap that is required to achieve the full benefits of CRO.  Generalists also often fail to develop strong hypothesis or have the time to build more complex tests as their time horizons may be too short.

It is essential to have a continuous supply of strong test ideas in your pipeline to achieve the necessary scale of testing required for a good ROI. A centralised CRO team can easily allocate the necessary resource for the development of test ideas and ensure priority is given to websites or pages with the most potential for generating a high ROI.  This minimises duplication of effort and facilitates the sharing of test results with all CRO specialists in the organisation.

A fragmented approach to CRO is prone to failure because of its  inefficient use of resources, often resulting in duplication of effort, and a focus on tactical rather than strategic optimization. A lack of co-ordination and control of CRO also tends to prevent the implementation of a structured approach to optimization as each area of the business develops its own ad-hoc processes and KPIs. This is generally a recipe for disaster and a reason why CRO will fail to deliver a good ROI.

6. Put junior people in charge of optimization.

 

Image of boy dressed in business clothes
Source: Freeimages.com

A/B testing is a form of experimental research and as such should be seen as part of your innovation strategy. It needs to be headed up by a senior person to deal with all the obstacles that prevent change in an organisation. A junior person is unlikely to have the clout to deal with office politics, and almost certainly won’t have the authority to optimise product, sales channels, Customer Services or prioritise development projects.

This is something that few companies get, for website optimization to achieve its true potential you need to look at the whole customer journey, and optimise all the inputs, not just the new customer sign up to buy process. Look at the companies that excel at optimization, the likes of AmazonSpotifySkyscanner and Netflix, they all have senior managers in charge of their testing strategy and don’t limit themselves to new customer journeys.

7. Don’t formulate hypothesis.

Image of a question mark
Source: Freeimages.com

When generating ideas for A/B tests it is important to base the experiment on a hypothesis about how and why the change will influence user behaviour. A hypothesis explains the rationale and also predicts the outcome of the test so that you know which success metrics to set for the test.  The hypothesis needs to be based upon evidence gathered from an agreed optimization process rather than pure gut feeling as otherwise you may struggle to learn from successful tests. Without strong hypothesis A/B testing becomes a random and undirected process that will fail to generate the full benefits of CRO.

8. Don’t have a clear strategy for testing.

6 types of tests to optimise a website page

 

There is no point relying on low hanging fruit and best practice to direct your A/B testing as these sources will soon run dry and you will lack direction in your testing programme. It’s important that you follow a recognised and structured optimization process that draws insights from a range of sources, especially from customers.

And yet companies are often more concerned about competitors and copying their ideas than listening to customers. This is a serious mistake and will lead to a sub-optimal testing programme. Customer insight and usability research is vital because to develop strong testing ideas you need to have a good understanding of customer personas, goals, tasks that lead towards goals and how users interact with your website or app.

Otherwise how can you expect to develop hypothesis to predict user behaviour? You could be making assumptions about customers which might not have any basis in reality. The more insights you can get from your customers the greater the chance you have of identifying a significant problem or improvement you can make to improve conversions.

9. Think it’s all about design.

 

Image of craigslist.co.uk homepage
Source: craigslist.co.uk

I’ve heard this so many times, but do your visitors really come to your site to look at its design? I don’t think so. People come to your site to complete a task and are rarely interested in your “cool” design. In fact most conversion rate experts agree that all too often ugly wins over beautiful designs.

Just look at Amazon.comCraigslist and ebay.com, none of them are what anyone would call aesthetically great designs. They are functional, they offer a great deal maybe and most importantly of all they let users do what they want to do without having to think too much.

Designers may be good at composing a new webpage or app screen, but that doesn’t mean they understand your main customer segments or know what improves conversion and revenues. Optimization needs to be a collaborative process and so designers must work closely with CRO experts to deliver new experiences based upon evidence rather than subjective opinions. Otherwise you will end up with new experiences that are based upon design principles rather than CRO insights and there will be limited, if any, learning from the process.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Referendum a “Device of Dictators and Demagogues”?

The will of the people?

The UK European referendum result  has  massive implications for the economic, social and political landscape of the country and has shown how divided the country is towards the EU. Despite a small majority (52%) being in favour of leaving the EU most politicians claim it was a “clear result” and frequently state that it is the “will of the people” to trigger Article 50 and exit the EU.

This is inconsistent with the Government’s own position stated in 2010 that referendum “cannot be legally binding” due to the sovereignty of Parliament.   The Government had the opportunity to make the referendum binding by requiring a super majority, 2:1 in favour and a 70% turnout, but instead asked Parliament for an advisory referendum.

The Government even rejected more than one attempt to introduce clauses that would have made the result binding.  An advisory referendum is supposed to just that because it would seem inappropriate to base major constitutional change on a simple majority without Parliament first debating it and voting on such a change. As the turnout of the referendum was 70% this means we are making a decision based upon on only 37% of the total electorate being in favour leaving the EU – this is not the “will of the people”, but a fabrication of the truth.

But are referendum an appropriate way of making such an important decision that could have long-lasting consequences for the country’s economy and our dealings with Europe and the rest of the world? The latest Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) estimate (November 2016) is that  around half of the UK’s budget deficit (i.e. £58.7bn)  over the next 5 years will be the result of Brexit. That’s around £226 million a week which will wipe out most of the estimated £250m saving of not paying into the EU (not £350m as mentioned by the leave campaign).

The history of referendum!

In March 1975 Margaret Thatcher described referendum as “a device of dictators and demagogues”.  Thatcher was quoting Clement Attlee who noticed that Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon III used referenda to legitimise decisions they had made.

More recently in 2014 Russia used a referendum to legitimise the annexation of Crimea. The question the referendum asked the people of Crimea was if they wanted to join Russia as a federal subject, or to restore the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. As the 1992 constitution provided for increased control to the Crimean parliament, including full sovereign powers to agree relations with other states, both choices available in the referendum would probably have resulted in separation from Ukraine.  The status quo was not an option on the ballot paper.

Image of Vladimir Putin

Referendum, plebiscites or polls are positioned as allowing the people to directly express their democratic will on a specific issue, but are they not a sign of a weak leader or a way for the elite to legitimise a policy they support? In the case of David Cameron there was no need to have a referendum, he only decided to hold one to resolve an internal party dispute. It wasn’t for the national interest. It’s quite remarkable that Cameron wasn’t taken to task over this blunder in the House of Commons, though this might partly be due to the implosion of the Labour opposition.

So why are referendum flawed?

Single question! The most obvious one is that they require a complex, and often emotionally charged issue, to be reduced to a simplistic yes/no question.  When considering a relationship the UK has been in for over 40 years a simple yes/no or “remain/leave” question raises many complex and inter-connected questions that even professional politicians could not fully answer during the campaign.

Statistics and damn lies! There is a danger that the electorate can be mislaid by untruths and promises that are not deliverable. Certainly many newspaper stories have been written criticising the EU over the years. Boris Johnson confessed to a fellow journalist that when he was the EU correspondent at The Telegraph he made up many of his articles. This had an explosive affect on the Tory party, but also on the type of stories other newspapers wanted to publish about the EU.

The leave campaign leaders quickly distanced themselves from the main promises they made during the lead up to the vote because they were either inaccurate or down right lies.  It shouldn’t be a surprise then that Boris Johnson decided not to stand for election as party leader or that the Leave campaign didn’t have a plan for how the UK would leave the EU.

Knowledge of issues! Ignoring the half-truths circulated about the EU the choice for the electorate was still daunting. The complexity of the decision meant that most people were ill-equipped to understand  the issues or the potential implications of the choice they had to make. Jason Brennan, an expert and author of the ethics of voting at Georgetown University pointed out:

“To have even a rudimentary sense of the pros and cons of Brexit, one would need to know about the economics and sociology of trade and immigration, the politics of centralized regulation, and the history of nationalist movements. But there is no reason to think even a tenth of the UK’s population has even a basic grasp of the social science needed to evaluate Brexit.”

Source: The American founding fathers had it right:

Instead most people probably used their gut instinct and responded to more emotional and social motivations than rational deliberation. People are also heavily influenced by how they think other people in their social network will vote. Referenda are also a concern because:

  • They allow our elected representatives to avoid any responsibility for the consequences of a decision. Just look at how quickly David Cameron resigned and left politics.
  • The wording of the referendum ballot paper can potentially influence how people vote. In this instance  “Leave” was naturally associated with change and risk taking. Prospect theory tells us that when people are faced only with options that result in a loss (e.g. loss of sovereignty/control or loss of EU membership) they have a tendency to choose the risky option (i.e. Leave). “Leave” also communicated action, whilst “Remain” suggests inaction.
  • They can undermine the constitutional protection of minorities. In the case of the UK people in Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining in the EU. As a result the Scots now have good cause to feel they are being forced to leave the EU due to an undemocratic process. Not surprisingly the SNP are now pressing for a second independence referendum.
  • People may use the referendum as a protest vote against the policies of the party in power. Voters also mix up domestic politics with those of the EU. There is certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest that some people did use the EU referendum as a protest vote against the elite because they feel they have not benefited from globalisation or don’t feel they are listened to by politicians. Indeed, since 2010 the Government has systematically reduced funding for deprived areas of the UK, the very same areas that were most likely to have voted Leave.
  • Due to the very nature of referendum, such as how the question is framed, the complexity of the decision and the coverage of the issue in the mass media, the result of referenda is very difficult to predict. This means that David Cameron essentially played Russian roulette with the electorate which by any standing was a massive blunder.

Finally, as the ex-MP Tam Dalyell said on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, if the majority of MPs want to remain in the EU they should have “the balls to say Parliament is sovereign” and to overrule Brexit. If they don’t it is no more than “cowardice” and using the referendum to “save politicians backsides”.  Isn’t it time for politicians to stand up for what they believe in and not let a flawed form of democracy determine our destiny?

Unfortunately the political elite appear intent on following each other out of the EU like lemmings over a cliff. The take-over of parliament by career politicians appears to have removed any chance that they might think like a statesman or women to do what is best for the country rather than their desire for power.

Related to this post is: The psychology of Brexit – why emotions won over logic!

How appropriate are opinion polls before elections – Do opinion polls influence voters?

What marketing can learn from Brexit – 7 Marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

How do people make most decisions – Why do people prefer to follow gut instinct to research?

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To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.