Brian Massey CRO conversion rate optimization as a science
Growth Interviews

Brian Massey podcast: CRO (conversion rate optimization) as a science

In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our podcast conversation with Brian Massey, managing partner at Conversion Sciences, calling himself Conversion Scientist™. And he has the lab coat to prove it.

Brian presents himself on his LinkedIn profile in such an impactful story-like way:

“It passes before it’s noticed; a slight rising of the eyebrows, a widening of the eyes. It may be accompanied by an almost imperceptible inhalation. The heart adds a beat, like a quiet exclamation point on the experience. Within a 10th of a second the reaction has passed, but not without leaving its mark. Someone found what they’re looking for.
Does your website generate impulses to act? It can.
I’m the founder of Conversion Sciences. We find those impulses to act that are hidden in your site.”

Is there anything else to add? Of course, it’s only the beginning.

Brian has learned what works on the web through thousands of website tests. He has seen it all.

His rare combination of interests, experience and neuroses was developed over 20 years as a computer programmer, corporate marketer, and entrepreneur.

Brian appears in his trademark lab coat when training corporate teams like IBM. He has been invited to speak at universities such as UT Austin, Texas A&M and Baylor. He is a highly rated speaker at conferences including Conversion Conference, Internet Retailer, Direct Marketing Association, Pubcon, Content Marketing Institute and InfusionCon.

Brian Massey is the author of the Amazon Marketing best-seller Your Customer Creation Equation. He founded The Conversion Scientist blog and has written for ClickZ.com, Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and the Content Marketing Institute.

Welcome to Growth Interviews!

Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth. Our mission is to provide valuable insights from the eCommerce arena, and each episode is a fascinating quest into the best-kept business secrets and money-making strategies of an insightful world-class expert.

In today’s episode, Brian Massey has shared with us the most important tips and trends from the conversion rate optimization domain that only a scientist can know: the status of the CRO market, the hidden gems after a losing streak of experiments, data-driven expertise and much more.

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • Being a conversion scientist is a journey in itself – 01:52
  • The hidden gems in CRO experiments – 13:36
  • 2020 –  the year of conversion rate optimization? – 18:30
  • Are there less data-driven experts out there? – 25:36
  • More than best practices – 28:36
  • Machine learning and the loss of jobs – 33:26

Listen and subscribe to our podcast! You can find us on: Podcast.co, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Overcast, Acast, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Breaker, Stitcher

Being a conversion scientist is a journey in itself

Brian Massey’s journey as a conversion scientist is quite atypical. Starting as a computer programmer, later on, deciding that coding inside cubicles for the rest of his life was not his greatest wish, his path guided him towards the sales business after college. Soon after, he “rose to his highest level of incompetence”, coming back to software. However, as fate would have it, he gave up on that domain and switched his attention to marketing.

“I did build the backend for a number of tech businesses here in Austin and in the 90s I ran my own web consulting company because I’m just apparently not a very good employee. So, I don’t know what you do with that computer programmer, sales marketing, entrepreneur; there’s really nothing else you can do but become a conversion scientist. That’s really what configuration optimization and data-driven design are all about: it’s the marriage of the engineering and the creative.”

We all know his trademark lab coat, right? But what is the story behind it?

He confessed that his inspiration was Bill Nye whom he was watching in a children’s TV show about science when he was younger. Brian added that he enjoyed everything this show represented, so he also wanted to do something that people would remember him by. During the time he was into marketing, he understood that his advertising budget was low and that brand building was not something to be treated lightly by simple repetition or attaching positive aspects to something that was memorable. Therefore, he decided to take the science route and wear a lab coat due to a really interesting experiment he shared with us.

“If you put on a lab coat and take a cognitive test, you can score about 17 percent higher on this cognitive test than if you’re wearing street clothes. They actually put the same coat on someone and told them it was an art coat, not a lab coat, which is what you wear when you’re painting. And they found out that people did not score higher on the cognitive tests but they rated themselves as more creative. So, when I put the lab coat on, I’m actually giving myself an edge. I think I’m smarter than I really am.”

Brian also adds that data-driven design is all about using science to get an advantage, “using data in research to get an unfair advantage by learning faster what your audience wants”.

It is also well-known that Brian Massey is an expert in so many domains: he is a renowned author, speaker, entrepreneur and CRO professional, all at the same time. How does he manage to do this and how can other people be able to wear so many hats and look good in them, too?

He mentions that the most important aspect to consider is either hiring or partnering with people that have different tendencies than you. He gives himself as an example. His natural tendency is to be open, according to the Big Five personality test. His biggest challenge is focusing on details, following up and following through, since his weakest feature is conscientiousness. He prefers to see the big picture and create the proper messages for his clients in order to build the marketplace.

Therefore, for about three years, he was the single member of his team, until he managed to find a partner who was keen on focusing their attention on the details Brian could not. That was the moment they actually started being financially successful.

“I would say understand your proclivities, embrace them instead of fight against them and find the other”, Brian advises.

“If you want to keep sanity, find people who complement you. You’ll think they’re smarter than you. They’re just different smart than you. Since I’m low on conscientiousness – I’m not a micromanager –  I let them go and make mistakes. But most of the time, they’re making fewer mistakes than I would.”

The hidden gems in CRO experiments

Just like many other CRO experts out there, Brian has come upon moments when he could not reach a valid conclusion on a certain experiment and he had to handle the situation and explain it to his customers.

He reminds us of some statistics a certain study presents: for every seven experiments run on a tool like Omniconvert, there will be one that is successful. It is possible to find the winning experiment early on. However, the more likely situation is that for one or two months, there will be no conclusive results and only after six months should there be any engagement.

Brian always looks for long-term relationships with his clients, making sure they are a good fit from a cultural perspective and mature enough as a business to do A/B testing. This actually provides him with a guarantee that they will go the extra mile to find the winning experiment during the extra time. Brian adds that they “use post-test analysis because there’s always something that you learn from even losing tests. But businesses are competitive and they want the wins.”

What is most satisfying is the moment when, after a losing streak, comes a hidden gem. What Brian does is bring a set of fresh eyes into the game and “shake things up” or completely redesign a webpage they were struggling to optimize and discover something totally new.

“Technically, it’s called a ‘different local maxima’. It’s a spike that indicates the preferences and proclivities of the audience. You can’t work with someone for 12 or 18 months before you’re inside the bottle with them, you’re no longer able to look at the website as effectively through the eyes of the audience. That’s why data is so important. You’ve got to find somebody on the outside to come in and shake things up.”

2020 –  the year of conversion rate optimization?

Brian Massey takes us through a (personal) history of CRO. He remembers the time when in 2007 he believed CRO was going to be the next best thing beyond SEO. During that time, SEO and PPC were at the beginning, people were driving traffic to their websites, but soon the bounce rate rose as well. The next step came from social media that skyrocketed and Facebook and Google definitely took advantage of the situation.

Is 2020 the year of conversion rate optimization? Brian wished that 2018 had been the “valley of death” for CRO. He continues:

“In any emerging market, you’ve got the early adopters, then there’s a ‘valley of death’. And if you don’t have a toehold in a certain niche, you won’t make it to the next big hump which is the mainstream market. And that’s we’re waiting for, the mainstream market. Now there’s a race with data-oriented tools towards the enterprise. I think enterprises figured out how to get budgets based on data and optimization. But I don’t think that the craft of conversion optimization has pervaded the main market.”

Are there less data-driven experts out there?

Brian agrees that there seems to be a shortage of data-driven experts nowadays. His company’s model, in the beginning, was to hire individuals with good customer skills and train them up to the point where they gained the ability to handle a client on their own. Not so, anymore. Due to the speed of the customer portfolio growth, time is limited for employee training.

“I think that the problem is this: we picture conversion data scientists as people who are sitting in front of the matrix screen with the green characters drizzling down and they’re seeing a car, a gun, a person in the data and that’s what data science is. It’s not that! It is anyone who has a question about whether I should do this, what headline I should use, what image I should use. Should we charge a higher price? Should we show annual or monthly pricing first? These questions all have ways of finding out and when you go into Analytics with a specific question, you don’t need to be a data scientist. You find the reports that help you isolate that question and look at that data to help support your role. […]  If you don’t find the evidence and you think it’s going to have a big impact, then you design an A/B test that gives you the best data around that.”

Brian adds that marketers do not need to become “data savants”, but they should simply be able to use the proper tools and possess the right skills to answer specific questions with data.

More than best practices

Brian Massey’s advice for eCommerce businesses to grow in a healthy manner in 2020 comes in three parts. He also mentions that he considers these points as strategic best practices since he is not a believer in best practices. They vary from business to business from a strategic perspective.

  1. Probably one out of three times, Analytics is not reporting accurate sales data. Make sure that your eCommerce sales data is clean, that your Analytics package is well-connected with your backend data sales.
  2. Completely separate your mobile and desktop version of the eCommerce website. For any eCommerce site, their mobile conversion rate is a quarter to a half of their desktop conversion rate. Moreover, your responsive template should have a different set of rules to allow you to make changes to the mobile site that are not applicable to the desktop version.
  3. Focus on your value proposition! Things that have worked over and over again for other eCommerce websites are now not working because people are getting through them. Help your visitors choose a product by making the right choice of words, having the proper navigation design or tagline, assuring them from the first entry that they are in the right place.

Machine learning and the loss of jobs

The debate of the present time is whether people might lose their jobs because of machine learning and AI. Brian has also taken into consideration the possibility that someday he might lose his job due to these circumstances.

However, he soon discovered that the mid-sized businesses he works with do not generate enough data in order to train an AI and they prefer a more serial type of approach, answering specific and bigger questions. Moreover, Brian states that human creativity is paramount to set the rules and show the data for AI to analyze because “the machine can’t make stuff up very effectively”.

“AI still does require a human being to make decisions about which ideas to toss into the blender. So, AI in this space is going to show up whether you want it or not. It’s going to show up in tools like yours, where it’s going to take a bunch of data from the marketplace. Take a look at your website and say, ‘OK, well, which of these visitors are my tried and true lovers, which of these visitors are potential? If I just nudge them a little bit, they’re going to come back into the fold? Which of them are loyalists to somebody else that I really shouldn’t worry about?’”

Conclusion

The interview with Brian Massey was one for the ages. He managed to answer so many questions on the lips of numerous CRO experts all around the world: Where is conversion rate optimization heading to? What are the hidden gems of CRO even when you feel there is no silver lining? What are the next best things to do as an eCommerce in 2020? Do you have to be a data savant to become a conversion scientist? And much more was revealed in the podcast – don’t forget to check it out!

We hope you enjoyed our podcast interview with Brian Massey!
For more valuable insights, make sure you come back to check out our next Growth Interviews as well.

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