“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This phrase has been drilled into our heads since we were kids — what significance does it have in our everyday lives as marketing and advertising professionals? A whole lot. Photographs evoke emotions from the viewer, and that is exactly what we want to invoke when appealing to a target audience. The best photographers — Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz and Steve McCurry — can teach us about marketing and advertising, through the universal theme of evoking emotion, as well as how to appeal to the human brain, and the human eye. Why Imagery…
Most of us are in our late 20’s, living in Downtown Vancouver, where there’s plenty of public transit, parking is difficult, and expenses are high. Owning a car doesn’t really make sense.
Until one of us needs help moving, of course.
My boyfriend, Andre, owns a 1997 GMC Sierra 1500; needless to say, he gets hit up constantly for truck-related favors.
We hear a lot of:
“Hey Dre, can you help me move on Saturday? I’ll buy you beer!” “Dre! Can you help me move on Saturday? I hate to ask, but you’re my only option.” “Andre, can you help me move on Saturday? No pressure, of course, if you can’t do it…”
The initial request (“Can you help me move?”) is almost always accompanied by something else: a bargain (“I’ll buy you beer”), a reason (“you’re my only option”), an out (“No pressure”).
For our friends, it seems instinctual to cushion the request somehow, to urge Andre to say “Yes” and dissuade him from saying “No”.
Think about all of the times you’ve asked a friend for a favor. Do you ever simply ask for the favor, or do you find yourself negotiating in some way? I, for one, try to frame my requests in ways that make them almost impossible to refuse.
As marketers, we do the same thing. After all, most of what we do revolves around trying to get our users to take an action. In the social science community, these ‘negotiations’ are referred to as compliance gaining techniques.
Four compliance gaining techniques you should test
Get this list of 4 of our favorite “Loss Aversion”-specific compliance gaining techniques. Learn how these techniques work and get ideas for how to test them on your website.
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In this post, I’m going to examine the concept of compliance gaining through a marketing lens.The question is: How can you leverage compliance gaining techniques in your marketing to get your users to say “Yes” rather than saying “No”?
When your mom gently advises you to wear your helmet or when a friend asks you to set him up, the message source (mom, friend) are trying to get you to do something.
To clarify, compliance gaining is often confused with persuasion, but they are different. While persuasion is often concerned with changing a person’s attitudes or beliefs, compliance gaining seeks to change behavior.
There are numerous (read almost 900) strategies you could categorize as compliance gaining, from “bargaining”, to “complimenting”, to “persistence”, but here are some of the more pervasive compliance gaining techniques you may have heard of as a marketer:
Types of compliance gaining techniques
You ask your user for something small first that they will most likely say yes to, then ask for something larger (the actual action you want them to take) at a later time. Researchers have several theories as to why this is effective, one of them being your user’s desire to remain consistent with what they previously said.
Example: If your web page features a form, you can break the form into multiple steps. Start by asking for easy-to-give information; save bigger asks for later steps when there is more to abandon. Once your user starts saying “yes”, they are more likely to continue to do so.
You ask your user for something big that they will most likely say “No” to, followed by a smaller, more reasonable request (the actual action you want them to take). Guilt and self-presentation help explain why this is effective: Your user has already said “No” once, and won’t want to say “No” twice.
Example: On a non-profit website, you might start off by asking your user to sponsor a child for $20/month. This is a fairly large request. Your user may feel badly for saying “No” to this initial request, making them more receptive to your next request for a smaller, one-time $20 donation. This is your intended request.
You ask your user for something in a confusing or strange way the first time around. You immediately follow-up by re-framing your request or giving your user a reason to say “Yes”.
Example: Some brands use a catchy, clever headline that isn’t clear at first, that they reframe with informative copy just below the main headline.
In this example from Apple, the headline reads “Light. Years ahead.” The dots disrupt our thinking framework and the copy below helps reframe with adjectives such as “lighter”, “better”, “thinner”. We are less likely to resist the reframe because our brain is busy with the initial disruption and the adjectives help to convince us.
Note: Be careful about making your content too disruptive. You could lose visitors due to a reduced information scent.
Dump and Chase:
You ask for something and your user says “No”. You respond by asking “Why not?”, repeating your request in a slightly different way. Urgency and guilt are at play here: You’ve created a sense of obligation by asking “Why not” and the repetition of your request can make it seem more important, more urgent.
Example: Your user may decide they are not ready to buy from you. That’s where mailing lists come into play. If they sign up for your mailing list, you are able to repeat your offer (via email) in various ways until that user’s concerns have been met and they finally do buy.
There are many more compliance gaining techniques. But my favorite of the moment is referred to as But You Are Free or BYAF.
But You Are Free to refuse…
But You Are Free refers to a situation where I ask you for a favor followed by a gentle reminder that you are free to refuse my request.
Wording can vary, but the key to this technique is to acknowledge the target’s freedom to say “no”.
In 2000, French researchers Guéguen and Pascal published a study that demonstrated the BYAF technique for the first time. In the study, experimenters asked passersby if they could have some change for the bus, followed by the statement “But you are free to accept or to refuse”. The Control group of passersby was simply asked for change for the bus, sans compliance gaining technique.
Their findings showed that passersby who heard the follow-up phrase were more likely to comply with experimenters’ request and gave twice as much change as those in the Control.
This experiment was based on psychological reactance theory. Introduced by Jack Brehm in the 1950’s, the theory states that “individuals have certain freedoms with regard to their behavior. If these behavioral freedoms are reduced or threatened with reduction, the individual will be motivationally aroused to regain them.”
Freedoms once granted will not be relinquished without a fight.
– Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Guéguen and Pascal proposed that the phrase, “but you are free to accept or refuse”, weakens the target’s perception that their freedom to say “no” is being threatened by the initial request. Instead of being motivated to refuse, in order to protect their own freedoms, the target is reminded that their freedoms are still in tact, allowing them to say “yes”.
Recently, I asked a coworker for a favor via Slack, followed by the phrase “No pressure, of course.” Even though I really needed this favor, I added the phrase “No pressure” to my request—it was automatic. It was the BYAF compliance gaining technique. (My coworker said yes.)
Now, before you go adding a “You are free to accept or refuse” sub-head to all of your calls-to-action, let’s go a little deeper…
BYAF in a marketing context
In 2013, Christopher Carpenter published a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of the BYAF compliance gaining technique in Communication Studies. He wanted to know, given the research that has been published on this technique, whether or not BYAF is effective in a sales situation (among other questions).
Carpenter cited past researchers who theorized that “people are more suspicious of self-interested requests and cognitively process such requests more thoughtfully,” which would render the BYAF technique less effective when a request is being made in a sales context.
However, when Carpenter completed his meta-analysis, he found that the effect of BYAF on a target was equal for both prosocial requests (compliance benefits some worthy cause rather than the requester) and self-interested requests (compliance benefits the requestor) e.g. a sales request.
The BYAF technique has the virtue of being adaptable to potentially any context. That the effect size was consistent for both prosocial and self-interested requests in a variety of contexts…is reflective of a technique that has widespread value. All that is required for the BYAF technique is that the key phrase is added to the request.
– Christopher Carpenter
So, is BYAF a compliance gaining technique you can use when you’re talking to your prospects? Quite possibly. You should test that!
In personality psychology, individuals with an internal locus of control believe that their behavior and actions are guided by their decisions and efforts, while individuals with an external locus of control believe their behaviors and actions are guided by external forces.
People with an internal locus of control are more proactive and self-motivated, while those with an external locus of control are often more passive.
One theory as to why BYAF works is that the requester is giving control back to the target by adding the phrase “but you are free to _____” to a request.
For one WiderFunnel client, DMV.org, our Strategy team wanted to test giving control back to the prospect, just like the BYAF technique does. Rather than emphasizing a prospect’s freedom to refuse, however, the team wanted to emphasize the prospect’s freedom to choose.
DMV.org is a privately owned publisher of helpful information about the DMV. The company earns revenue through performance-based advertising on their thousands of content pages. For example, on a license renewal information page, a banner within the content offers visitors an opportunity to check car insurance rates.
When we tested the BYAF spin-off, we were testing on the second step of DMV.org’s funnel, where visitors select a provider.
We tested a single sub-headline isolation on this page, adding the phrase “The one you choose is up to you!” This phrase was meant to remind visitors that they are in control, they are free to choose exactly what they want to choose. Our Strategists were targeting the same mental sweet spot that the BYAF technique targets.
The addition of this phrase led to a conversion rate lift of 28.9% for DMV.org.
Testing compliance gaining in your marketing
Persuasion principles and compliance gaining techniques are extremely helpful to consider when you’re planning your digital experiments. Of course, persuasion principles are just one source of information you should look to when planning a test.
Related: For more sources of information, check out Chris Goward’s post outlining WiderFunnel’s Infinity Optimization Process. Pay particular attention to the section on “The Explore Phase”.
It is always helpful to de-construct the persuasion principle or psychological trigger itself to try to get at the heart of what is actually motivating someone to act. In the case of BYAF and “the one you choose is up to you”, the motivating factor might be the simple fact of reminding a visitor that they are in control of their decision.
What might your users respond to?
What are your favorite compliance gaining techniques to test? Have you seen success with the BYAF technique in your testing? Tell us about it in the comments!
Work long enough in Conversion Optimization and you will hear this phrase:
“We tried [insert popular a/b testing tool], but there was a latency issue so we stopped testing.”
In 95% of cases, by “latency issue” they’re referring to the noticeable flicker or flash of the original version of a website before test changes are seen. It even has its own acronym: FOOC (Flash of Original Content)*. Here’s a beautiful example I created on the WiderFunnel home page:
An example of FOOC I created. This is not how you want to be A/B Testing.
Why does FOOC matter?
According to a team of MIT neuroscientists, the human brain can identify images in as little as 13 milliseconds.
FOOC can take longer — from 100 ms up to a whole second. Your website visitors will notice.
“Our A/B testing tool had a bug that delayed the $25 activation fee from being crossed out until a few seconds after the page loaded. This error ended up creating a much larger uplift than having it already crossed out on load, when the bug was fixed. The result now is that the activation fee shows, and then is crossed out after a few seconds.”
That insight came from a lucky side-effect of the FOOC error, but most times it’s not a good thing.
Whether good or bad, you need to get a handle on your FOOC. It hinders your ability to run controlled experiments. If your variation content is appearing with a flicker every time your page loads, how do you know what effect that’s having on your results?
You don’t, unless you isolate the flicker.
Why does FOOC happen in the first place?
All client-side A/B testing tools are inherently susceptible to FOOC.
“Client-side” means that the changes in your test are being applied as your web page loads, through a tag on your website. This is how the most popular tools on the market do it.
A diagram showing how Optimizely’s snippet works. Source: Optimizely
The client-side nature of these tools is what makes them so easy to get started with: a solo marketer has the ability to launch experiments without the need for a development team. It’s what makes the WYSIWYG Visual Editor a reality.
But that selling point comes at a price. For page changes to occur, a couple things must happen: the snippet of the tool must load and the page elements being modified must load. If either takes too long, your A/B test is in the gutter.
Luckily for us all, there are ways around the challenges of client-side tools.
Follow the eleven tips below, and even if you’re a noob jQuery dabbler, you’ll be able to launch FOOC-free experiments.
1. Speed up your website
Besides being one of the proven ways to increase conversion rates, speeding up your website is a first step in helping prevent flickering or long waits during A/B tests. My favorite tool for this has always been WebpageTest.org. Simple, free, effective. Have your front-end development team look into some of the issues and track performance over time.
Continue to check your site over time, as small changes can have a big impact on speed.
2. Put your snippet where it needs to go
I’ve seen snippets in footers and I’ve seen them served via Google Tag Manager. Don’t doeither. For example, Optimizely’s needs to go as high up as possible in the <head>.
Whenever possible, move your snippet up to the top of your <head>, assuming you have trimmed jQuery in the snippet.
The drawback is that, yes, Optimizely will be adding a few milliseconds of load time to your pages when loaded for the first time. We haven’t found it to be an issue unless the remaining suggestions aren’t followed.
3. Reduce the size of your snippet
Archive any paused experiments and draft experiments that you don’t need the preview links to and load only a trimmed version of jQuery (this is especially important when loading your snippet at the top of your <head> tag). This will reduce the size of the snippet being loaded on your website, mostly affecting first time visitors.
Archive those experiments taking up space in your snippet.
4. Roll up hotfixes
If you’re using your testing tool as a way to make fixes to your website, roll those changes up into project code rather than running them in a separate experiment. If you’re one of many who don’t have access to project-level code, then implement that code along with your current experiment.
Put “hotfix” code into your project code rather than in an individual experiment.
5. Order your variation code to match your website code
If you’re changing something at the top of your web page, position that change at the top of your variation code. jQuery waits until it finds the element on the page to make the change. If that element comes earlier than later, it will move on to the next line.
This way the content at the top of your website gets changed as quickly as possible.
If using jQuery in your variation code, order it so that you’re making changes in the same order that elements load on your website.
6. Consolidate your variation code
If you want to up the size of your headline and change the color, do so in one swift line. If you decide later that you want to reduce the size of the headline, update your existing code rather than adding another line of code to make the reduction in size.
Group changes into one and remove unused changes.
In conjunction to consolidating code, when making changes via the Visual Editor, keep the scope of your changes to the most specific HTML element possible. Rather than selecting “#mainbody” to modify the attributes of a sub-element, select that sub-element to begin with.
7. Temporarily hide the <body>
No matter how fast your website is, if your original content is loading before your variation code has time to run, you will experience FOOC. To get around this, you’ll need to quickly hide, then show the <body> of your page.
Hide the body of the page as quickly as possible by forcing it at the experiment-level.
This hides the <body> as fast as possible, assuming you’ve placed the snippet at the top of the <head>. Then, in your variation code, put a fail-safe (say 3 seconds) to show the body again if something goes wrong.
Insert your variation code after that.
Finally, make the body visible again. Note the 500 millisecond timer on this one. Keep it as low as possible, just enough to avoid a flicker. After all, FOOC is still better than a really slow loading website.
Be sure to customize your timers to make sense for your website and the test you’re running.
This gets rid of any flashing of original content (assuming your snippet is not loading asynchronously or too late on the page). The potential drawback is a perceived slowness of the website on first load. That’s why you set a timer to make sure the body is shown before a set threshold.
8. Learn front-end development fundamentals
Brush up on your front-end development.
Starting here, most of us will need a front-end developer’s help (I’ll admit, I got help from our dev team for this part). If that’s not an option, don’t worry: with the tips above, you should be able to launch FOOC-free tests. Like this article so far? Let me know! Tweet
Now on to steps 9 through 11:
9. Use CSS as much as possible
By default, Optimizely and VWO visual editors produce your edits via jQuery, even for simple things like changing colors. CSS is a faster way to go, whenever feasible.
Instead of this:
Do this in the Edit Code window:
And add this to the Experiment CSS (or an external stylesheet):
10. Cache your selectors
The DOM is slow. To avoid making redundant calls to it, store selectors you’ll be re-using as jQuery objects. In the example below, 3 changes are being made to the same selector.
Cache selectors you’ll be re-using to avoid going back into the DOM.
To change the background color of an element in jQuery it goes something like this:
Optimizely has published quitea bit on how to deal with sites using angular or other single page app-type situations.
Are those all of the ways to reduce the chances of FOOC? Certainly not. Feel free to add suggestions or questions in the comments below. We can make this an AMA of sorts, regarding FOOC.
FAQs about FOOC
Can I use asynchronous loading to avoid FOOC? You can try, but it probably won’t work. Asynchronous loading addresses a separate issue: helping with overall site speed, not FOOC. Given the speed of modern CDNs, snippets loading synchronously should be the least of your concerns. But, if you’re like our neighbors here in Vancouver, PlentyOfFish, with a bajillion users hitting their site at the same time, you may want to be considerate of what and how things load on your pages.
Can I use a server-side / proxy testing tool to avoid FOOC? You could, but say good-bye to most of the benefits of a client-side tool.
I noticed a major slow down when I added XYZ A/B testing tool on my website. Should I switch to a more popular tool like Optimizely or VWO? Perhaps. There are some tools out there that don’t use distributed CDNs and that include jQuery by default in their snippet. Yes, some will slow down your website.
PS: If you’re an Optimizely power-user, consider checking out a project by WiderFunnel Labs, Liftmap, a great way to increase your A/B testing velocity by managing your CRO workflow.
VenueSphere is an online third-party referral business that helps individuals and companies find a perfect venue for parties, meetings, conferences and other events. They are based out of London and their service is completely free for visitors.
To capture leads, they have a neat and simple form above the fold on their homepage. The headline, just above the form, “Looking for a venue in London?” describes the value proposition aptly. The headline is accompanied by a sub-headline that originally read, “Call us or fill in a form to speak to a dedicated venue coordinator”. This is how it looked on their homepage:
Quoting Ben at Venue Sphere, “Our homepage is fairly broad – it doesn’t perform brilliantly in getting conversions because it’s not very focused. So I wanted to get people’s attention, so they read more about what we do.” And so he decided to play around with the sub-headline in an attempt to increase the leads they were getting. He wanted to try something more dynamic and attention-grabbing. The new sub-headline read, “Stop right now! Call us or fill in the form and we’ll do the hard work for you for free” which he set up for test with VWO.
The goal that they were tracking with VWO was the visit to the thank-you page (that appears when people fill the contact form), which is equal to the number of leads from the form.
This is how the new sub-headline looked on the homepage:
Close to 1200 visitors became a part of this test and the variation emerged as the winner. The new sub-headline recorded a whopping 69% increase in leads.
Ben had also integrated the test with Google Analytics and he also added, “I was also able to see that our phone conversions were better with the variation, as was time on site, pages per visit and bounce rate.”
Here’s a quick comparison image showing the control and variation:
Why the Variation Won
To understand why the variation was able to get 69% more leads, let’s deconstruct the new sub-headline into three parts:
Part 1: “Stop right now! Call us or fill in the form”
After reading the headline, this part in the sub-headline clearly directs the visitors what do they have to do next. The “Stop right now” phrase with an exclamation at the end though sounds abrupt or forceful but it definitely got visitors’ attention. Quoting Ben, “I was concerned that it might be too forceful, that it might put people off, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I think that there is a strong case for saying that users want to be told what to do in certain situations”
Part 2: “and we’ll do the hard work”
This phrase assures the user that VenueSphere takes complete responsibility of helping them find the perfect venue. It also directly lets the visitors know that finding the most delightful venue could be lot of hard work and VenueSphere would do it all for them.
Part 3: “for free.”
And comes my favorite and the game-changing part! The magical word “free” finally lets the visitors know that they just have to fill the form and the company will help them find the perfect venue. At absolutely no cost.
Another customer of VWO was able to increase their conversion rate by 28% by adding the word “free”. Read the full A/B testing case study here.
I am not sure which part motivated the visitors most. The first where they were directed what-next, or next when the company took complete responsibility for them, or the last — that it was all for free! But I would definitely love to see VenueSphere perform more tests where they test these messages and understand what is it that their visitors care about most — the fact that the service is free or that they don’t have to do absolutely anything to find a venue.
Tell me what do you think! Let’s talk in the comments section below.
You probably know by now that you should speak with customers and test your idea before building a product. What you probably don’t know is that you might be making some of the most common mistakes when running your experiments.
Mistakes include testing the wrong aspect of your business, asking the wrong questions and neglecting to define a criterion for success. This article is your guide to designing quick, effective, low-cost experiments.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Content is King”? Being a Web developer, and therefore having a job that’s often linked to content creation, it’s likely you have. It’s a fairly overused but true statement about what draws visitors to a site.
From a Web developer’s perspective, however, some may argue that speed is king. More and more, I’m starting to favour that stance. In recent years many experienced front-end engineers have offered their suggestions on how we can improve the user experience by means of some performance best practices.
In recent years there has been a move away from generalist Web designers to specialists such as content strategists, user experience architects and front-end coders. Where once there was a single job, there are now many, with ever-narrower spheres of responsibility.
While my peers are becoming more specialized, I have stoically refused to do so, remaining a generalist. If anything, my interests have broadened, encompassing subjects such as marketing, psychology and business strategy.