Default: Path of least resistance or effort

July 11, 2011

from the Fan Foundry “Why We Buy” series  

Like water flowing downhill, human tendency is to take the easy way and the familiar way.   This has implications for website design, e-commerce, sales negotiations, marketing automation, training and fostering loyalty.

Design

In Web design, Recursive (repetitive pattern) Web navigation follows this principle.  It’s all about consistency and reliability.  Early Web designers borrowed print publishing navigation techniques, and today still use these familiar layout patterns to ease the user experience.  We expect websites to offer a top of page menu bar that persists as we navigate the site’s pages.  Minor clues such as changes to the menu bar’s colors or other features help us trace our journey of discovery through the site, so we can confidently concentrate on consuming content without losing place.  Some designers call it “breadcrumbing” after the children’s fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, in which the two lost children found their way out of the woods by retracing their trail of bread crumbs.

The usability motto seems to be: “Don’t make me think.  Reassure me.  Keep it simple, familiar and intuitive.  Don’t make me work more than absolutely necessary.  I prefer the path of least resistance and effort”.  Let’s not mistake this for laziness; rather it is an indicator of the fleeting nature of human attention, especially online, especially these days.

Captivate

While directing sales and marketing for Piehead Productions, I visited the Usability lab at Fidelity Investments, where every day millions of dollars in customer revenue are dependent on a pleasing, authoritative visual site navigation experience.  This dependency exists at every touchpoint in the customer experience – not just the website, but also in back-end fulfillment systems, brick-and-mortar locations, phone and email communications, etc.

Visual navigation science research at Fidelity tells us that the most important fields of information on any screen are – in exact order: (a) the top left, (b) the top center of the page (“hotspot”) just below the top navigation bar, and (c) the right column horizontally to the right of that center hotspot. Our eyes tend to focus our vision on these three fields, in sequence, when we first arrive at a website, seeking validation.   Of course, you could short-circuit this process by inserting a huge blinking headline somewhere, but then the site would be perceived as “busy” or “annoying.

According to Marketing Experiments, site visitors typically take no more than 8 seconds at those 3 fields to get  validation by answering the following questions:

  • Why am I here?
  • Did I get what I expected?
  • What else can I do here?

If your site content can promptly answer those 3 questions, people will likely spend more time on your site, value its content, and visit again. Conversely, if your site is confusing and cannot satisfactorily answer your visitor’s questions, then sadly the Back button often becomes the path of least resistance.

Design is part of Content.  Good content, supported by good design, including visual layout that supports visual navigation, convinces people to validate you as a worthy place to confidently transact business.

Convert

How does the Default principle influence and motivate transactions?  Landing page forms, Profiling and Configurator pages are a few useful examples.

Landing Pages. When preparing a landing page, conversation or other transaction setting, use Defaults to speed the transaction and improve convenience.  A website registration page, for example, might be default-set by you with the “I wish to receive email from you” box pre-checked.  The visitor would have to uncheck that box if they wish to opt out.  This might be perceived as tricky or manipulative – until you read the following true story.

Real World Example – Here is an actual current example.   At QVew, I performed an A/B test to determine an optimal approach to build an email list for a particular campaign.   I first configured the landing page form with the “keep me informed” box unchecked.  Very few visitors checked the box.  Later, I revised the form so that the checkbox was, by default, pre-checked, meaning any such visitor form submissions would result in those visitors being added to the email list.  Instantly we began receiving completed landing page forms with the “keep me informed” box checked – almost unanimously.  Visitors had overwhelmingly decided to do nothing and leave the box checked.  Fortunately, email recipient opt-outs are also low, thanks to some attentive follow-up marketing.

In the A/B test above, overwhelmingly people left the checkbox alone.  Checked or un-checked, it didn’t matter.   They followed the path of least effort.  Our subsequent marketing email “open” rates experienced a dip due to the abundance of new “sleepers”, but at least we earned the opportunity to cultivate a relevant relationship, and we subsequently converted some sales and are cultivating new relationships.

Profiles.  Just ask Amazon.  By enabling people to create an account and store a profile and credit card information, you greatly simplify the checkout process and increase the likelihood they will transact with you again.  Amazon, Expedia, Netflix and other large commerce systems “remember” you when your return.  Their Recommendation Engines “flag” you via email with notices about merchandise that match your stated preferences and past buying behavior.

Configurators.  Cell phone and computer sales sites enable people to sort and select product options like size, color, price and other features  options to determine availability of solutions that match their preferences and requirements.  Once done, it’s a simple matter to place your order.

Valuing the Investment of Time and Effort

Here is the important part – and it’s also a glimpse at a couple of additional “Why We Buy” articles that deal with phenoma known as “sunken cost” and “time value”.  Once we have completed a configurator experience, we value that investment of time and effort by saving the page settings and any passwords, and bookmarking the page for quick retrieval.  In the few scant seconds it takes to make a buying decision, we are more likely to re-use a stored configurator page than to re-type our information into a new system.  Following user instincts gives you the opportunity to build loyalty by making people’s lives easier.

For more topics from the “Why We Buy” series,  click here.  Use the “email updates” button (right sidebar) to automatically receive monthly updates.

How are you applying knowledge of the human tendency to follow the Path of Least Effort/Resistance, or Default, to improve your audience experience?


Mobile Email Formatting Tips

May 26, 2011

[ 2017 update: Can you believe it?  Most email marketers don’t bother to read the manual, and the results fail.  Here is a one page crash course on the highlights of any email marketing practice.  ~Ed ]

Over half of all internet Searches are now performed on smartphones.  Smartphones represent 1/2 of all mobile phones, and tablet sales overtook laptop and PC sales years ago.  Almost everyone with an email account reads it one-handed, on the go, for at least part of each day, and some days the only device available is the mobile phone or tablet.  For many decision makers, mobile email is the weapon of choice for staying in touch.  Remember, however, that many smartphone users do not automatically download images, and a subset of users still prefer to receive only text, not enhanced formatting.  The moral: design your email messages to suit all mobile readers if you want good results.   Here are a few considerations.  As usual, I’ve included some resource links at the end of this post.

1.  Header fields (Sender and Subject)

email on smartphone

On the small screen, it’s even more crucial to clearly identify yourself and your relationship/organization in the Sender and Subject field.    Many email preview screens only display header info.  Readers visually scan the first few lines of a message before deciding which messages are worth their time.  It’s the electronic equivalent of sorting your postal mail while standing at the wastebasket.  Ever done that?  Thought so.   Effective Sender and Subject information will vastly improve your open rate.

The Sender field should ideally have a human’s name in it and/or your business name, if you are a business.     Example:  “Jane Doe | XYZ Corp.”   The Subject field gets a succinct headline (<40 characters, ideally) front-loaded to convey the main benefits to the reader.  If you have more than one subject, consider sending a separate message for each, unless you can weave multiple subjects into a single theme to fit that brief 40-character Subject line.  According to Epsilon, who have tested millions of emails for the world’s largest companies, the top factor in improving email open rates is a short, sweet, “front-loaded” subject line – one that has been a/b tested.  Mary Meeker of KPCB states that audiences prefer content that makes them feel Connected, Excited, Curious, Interested and Productive.  Do as many of those as possible in your Sender and Subject lines.

What does “front-loaded” mean?

It means your subject line or sentence leads with an impact statement that clearly states the benefit to your dear reader, whose internal radio is perpetually tuned to WIFM (What’s In it For Me).  Here’s how to / not to:

  • NOT DO: “We are excited to announce that our….”  You just wasted 40 characters and risked being unopened, deleted or spam filtered.
  • DO: “<Member perk> from <your or your bizname>: (describe your member Perk here in 1 or 2 words)”.  Like a news editor, you want an eye-catching headline. This is your one shot at getting and keeping attention.  Work it.  Pro tip: avoid punctuation [!].

Avoid gimmicks.  Example: the “re:” gimmick spoof.  The “re:” tag indicates a forwarded message – NOT one originated by you.   Gaming the audience’s inbox in this way is actually a frequent scammer / phishing tactic.  You don’t want that reputation.  ‘nuf said.

2. Top of message body: Text, not Graphics

If you follow these following 3 rules, you’ll stay out of the weeds:  (1) don’t make me think; (2) don’t make me wait; (3) don’t make me work.   We’re not lazy, we’re busy.  Save time by not placing graphics in the upper left corner of your message body.   Use that valuable piece of real estate for an impactful text message.  Shrink that image height down to no more than the equivalent of 5 lines of text, so it’s easy to scroll past and keep the reading momentum high. Get to the point quickly.  Help your readers to begin benefiting right away.

Speaking of Graphics:  Users of devices set to text-only who have clicked your juicy headline don’t want to find a blank white box with a little red X in the upper left corner.  Interrupting  busy people’s “flow” or confusing them with guesswork will result in fewer opens, clicks and conversions, and more deletes and unsubscribes.  Best practice:  lead with text, minimize use of graphics, and shrink graphics to button size, thumbnail size, or narrow banner.   If your graphic is so large that no text is visible on-screen or – worse – your Call to Action is not visible in the first screen or two, move it up, and shrink it.  If your graphic is illegible when shrunk to small-screen size, design a new one that works.

3. Navigation and Conversion

Limit navigation complexity.  Use a left-aligned, single column format, not a multi-column newsletter format that awkwardly requires a one-handed user to fumble and shake the phone to switch from Portrait to Landscape view.  Opt for using screen-width-percentage tags rather than absolute pixel width, so your messages format on the fly to fit a myriad of device screens.  Height:  If possible, limit it to just minimal scrolling (max: one additional screen’s worth of content below the visible screen of content).

4. Data Capture

If you include a data capture form, avoid multiple required fields.  Just capture the bare minimum information to advance to the next level in your relationship with the reader.  Do you really need their mailing address if you already have their email address?  If the answer is still yes, then start by asking for just zip code for doing location-based business.  QR codes are great for this purpose; NFC (near-field communication) is just starting to show up in devices and points of sale.

5.  Call to Action (CTA) links

Support your main topic or offer with both buttons and text links.   Some people prefer to click buttons; others will click text links.  Satisfy both camps.  Be sure your link supports the Subject line of the message.   Clearly state any time-limited offers or timeliness of the message to inject urgency and help people prioritize and enjoy the benefits.  Make your action button large enough so it can be reached by the outstretched thumb of those one-handed gadget-slingers.

6. Buttons and Links: Size matters (Placement, too)

Spacing of buttons and links deserves consideration.  Buttons work great on smaller mobile touch screens because they can be larger than text and reduce fat-finger misfires.  Consider separating each text and button link by at least a line of text or equivalent blank space, to help fat fingers navigate effectively and avoid those annoying misfires that send us to an errant download.  Avoid that common error by not placing links in adjacent lines.  Misfires are annoying.  Rule of finger: skip a line of text / space between links and buttons.

Equally important:  send your recipients to mobile-optimized landing pages.   Mobile-optimized means everything mentioned in this article.  Optimizing your website for mobile may mean providing alternate navigation, especially if your main website menu is of the horizontal drop-down type – another frequent cause of fat-finger misfires.  Your mobile-friendly website menu should be of the “hamburger” variety (search:  “hamburger mobile menu”).

7. Alt text tags

Many email users set their devices to “images off” to improve download speeds.  If you decide to include a graphic image, note that every graphic element can be easily given a compelling, descriptive “Alt text”  label that will still appear in a text-only message in place of the graphic, to let readers know what they’ll receive if they decide to download a graphic version or select the “display images” option.   Moreover, HTML 5 will let those alt tag fields function as live links – without downloading the graphic element – which is great for busy people who don’t want to pay or wait for graphic images to load onscreen.  Use the <Alt text> tag to help people quickly decide when and what to click. Bonus: it improves SEO!

8. Visual text/graphics balance – the 80/20 rule rides again

At least 80% of your message should be text with text links, and no more than 20% clickable graphics.  This helps make certain your full message gets across quickly even if it’s the text-only or “images off” version, and it ensures fast, successful downloads for people who want the full visual message.  Even 4G mobile download speeds are generally slower than desktop device speeds.  A good acid test is to first compose your email as a text-only version, to be sure that your entire message and action links are visually appealing, tell the complete story, and generate a response.  Once you have tested the text-only  version, consider adding a graphic element or two that visually reinforce the main message and call to action.

9. Social Media Buttons:  Share or Snare?

If you have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other complementary accounts that might help readers get to know you better, include those link buttons.    If you opt for social “sharing” buttons, place them prominently alongside content your audience might wish to share.   Caution: while it’s magnanimous to provide social “share’ buttons so viewers can share your email with others, experience has shown that email readers generally would rather get more info themselves to facilitate a decision before they decide to share it.  With this in mind, it is actually more effective to have your social media buttons link to additional information to facilitate buying decisions.   Whichever route you choose, label it clearly. Your own circumstances may vary; it is best to A/B test the social sharing / snaring button to determine which has best effect for your audience.  Above all, don’t “mix” the buttons.  They should either be all “share” or all “snare”, to avoid user confusion.

10. Consider using cascading style sheets (CSS).

CSS can help detect and change the size of image and text to comfortably fit different sized device screens.

11.  Test!  Testing alone gets 82% more revenue!

Set up a Test list (internal users, including you), and scrutinize every aspect of your email before you hit the big Send button.  Don’t forget to just look at it in your inbox Listview, to be sure your Sender and Subject lines, and the first few lines of text, flow in an informative, non-redundant way. At Fan Foundry, we have discovered that our lifetime conversion rates exceed industry norms simply because we test our messages.   We have an 82% higher lifetime conversion rate across all client campaigns, based on comparison to performance reports from prominent email marketing software providers like Epsilon, Return Path, Lyris and MailChimp.  Does this mean that until email testing becomes more standard practice, you too can get 82% more revenue from your email marketing simply by testing?  Possibly;  try it! Here’s how.

Send a test email to your own mobile email reader – or as broad a variety of devices and email software as possible – to check for visual appeal and link performance.   Some of the more sophisticated marketing automation software products actually have this testing feature built-in.   Test a different subject line, a different graphic, a different CTA (Call to Action) button, etc.  Send each version to a subset of your target list.  Note the results.  Does one combination yield better conversion results?  After all the hard work you’ve done to create your gorgeous, compelling email outreach campaigns and acquire a faithful audience,  the few minutes spent testing gives your marketing ROI significant lift.   Wouldn’t you like to earn 1.82 times your ordinary revenue?  Well, then, test.  Conversely, if you ignore this step and send an error-laden email, don’t be surprised if people begin to ignore you and your results suffer.  Don’t be that person!  Make it count, grow your audience and build loyalty!

What has your experience been?  Any tips to share?  I’ll add them here and credit you.  Or you can discuss below, or just ask a question.




Accurate Sales Forecasting: the AIM HIGH approach

January 7, 2011

Sales and Marketing really are a power couple, and need to know one another’s business intimately to succeed together.   I know what it’s like to lead a quota-busting sales and marketing team, and have had to work hard at achieving sales and marketing alignment, so I thought I’d share some playbook pages from the Sales side of the aisle.   If you read between the lines, you’ll find it contains implications for the marketing mission every step of the way.

I chose to talk about forecasting because I humbly believe it is the most vital skill any sales professional can possess.  Without it, your revenue projections are a fairy tale, and your organization can’t reasonably plan its financial and operational future.

With that said, read this admittedly cutesy formula, and think about what types of questions you’d ask your prospects and customers to determine if you have accurate information to satisfy these 7 facets of converting a Lead to a Qualified Opportunity and plotting its trajectory in your sales pipeline.

~

The AIM HIGH Approach to Accurate Sales Forecasting

1. Align with appropriate internal and external partners.  Partners could include members of the customer’s organization (or their partners) who contribute necessary skills and knowledge, or other third parties you can identify who could help you comprise a complete solution.

2. Ingrain pain and urgency.  Find out how broadly and deeply the pain is felt — is there an executive champion? A critical event causing urgent attention?  A persistent motivating force?  Use the customer’s language to express this, and refer back to it occasionally to re-validate it.

3. Measure how your product/service can solve the prospect’s need.  Paint a hard, statistical, monetary picture of how your proposed solution can solve a need, and take action to make that vision a reality.  Get agreement with your customer on how success will be measured and verified.

4.  Harden the decision criteria and processes.  Gain clarity into the necessary steps and individuals involved in getting to final approval and sign-off.

5.  Identify all buyers – economic/financial, technical, executive, etc.   Discuss all possible players, even those your prospect might dismiss as irrelevant, if you think their support matters down the road.  Extreme example: suppose you are selling a cloud computing solution.  You and your prospect might ordinarily think the I.T. organization is not relevant.  Actually, I.T. plays  a vital role in validating cloud computing solutions for security of information and access, and increasingly are the experts in building account access solutions, so their standards and expertise are often critical.

6.  Gain trust through internal champions with strong political capital.   Ask your key prospect contacts about how they see your solution impacting the organization, and listen for clues to organizational strategy, institutional patterns of practice and key buyers’ alliances and affiliations.  Include social networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter in your research to determine how closely your key prospect contacts are aligned.

7.  Hoist your solution over the competition.  Give your customer the information they need to convince themselves that your solution is the right fit.  Consider external competitors (know what & how they sell!) as well as internal ones – – apathy, inertia (stay the course, status quo).  Note: the “right fit” can be based on price, feasibility, etc. – not necessarily superior technology.   Often the best solution just lays on their template nicely, requiring less effort to implement, or perhaps matching their own complement of people and processes.

How do you spell forecasting success?  Holla back!


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