Learning From the Best: An Interview with CRO Expert Chris Goward

About Chris Goward

Chris Goward is the Founder & CEO of WiderFunnel. A renowned CRO expert, Chris has developed strategies for Google, HP, IMBE, Magento, and more. He is the brain behind the LIFT Model® and Infinity Optimization Process™ and the author of “You Should Test That!”, a book that has redefined the conversion optimization industry and has shaped today’s culture of testing.

Chris Goward recently spoke in front of 1,000 people at the AB Tasty Conversion Summit in Europe. We sat down with him for a few minutes to chat about CRO, the future of digital marketing, and why we should all be following Silicon Valley’s lead.

Man vs. Machine

[AB Tasty]: We always hear hyperbolic predictions that machines are going to some day render humans useless. From a marketing perspective, should we be concerned? How do you see AI playing a role in the marketing world?

Some of these Silicon Valley companies are optimizing along one channel, they’ll run into a dead end because they hadn’t anticipated the end result of that, and so they’re not infallible.

[Chris]: From an experimentation and marketing perspective, I don’t think it has to be a conflict. If machines can produce great results, then let’s use the machines. I think every year there are marketing buzzwords. AI, right now, is the biggest buzzword and it’s important to understand, and we can use this tool. But right now, people are still necessary. For the foreseeable future, creativity from humanity is important to communicate to humanity, and we’re nowhere near the point that AI is replacing humans in marketing departments on a large scale. It’s just going to improve our effectiveness, if we know how to use the tools, where they’re best.

[AB Tasty]: Should we be driving the tech or should the tech be driving us?

[Chris]: We need to be driving the tech, and even the best companies that design algorithms make mistakes, and the algorithms can do the wrong things and they can optimize in the wrong direction, and in the end, some of these Silicon Valley companies are optimizing along one channel, they’ll run into a dead end because they hadn’t anticipated the end result of that, and so they’re not infallible.

Organization

[AB Tasty]: What are some common mistakes you see companies make with their CRO programs? What’s the best way for an organization to prevent a “marketing fail”?

[Chris]: Well, it depends on where they’re at in the maturity level. So – the way I describe maturity – there are these 5 components of mature experimentation organizations. They have the 5 components that I call PACET: Process, Accountability, Culture, Expertise, and Technology.

At any one point in time, any one organization will have any one of those five components that is their constraint in having optimized results, in terms of producing new ideas that are validated. And so, wherever they are in their maturity, they need to look at those five components and say, ‘Where are we weakest? What’s holding us back?’, and improve that one area until that’s no longer the constraint. And then immediately something else becomes the constraint, because you’ve improved that one area. So move to the next one, and increase that one, and that will increase your production cycle of new ideas being validated into market.

[AB Tasty]: Companies often struggle with knowing how to organize their CRO team. Do you have a particular structure that you recommend?

[Chris]: Conversion optimization and experimentation requires a very diverse skill set, so you need to be thinking about where your gaps are in your organization. The best way to have a CRO team is to have experimentation dispersed throughout the company, so that everyone is thinking about experimentation and coming up with new ideas and contributing improvements. And so what works best is to have an experimentation process that is consolidating ideas and prioritizing and structuring the system, kind of like the ‘center of excellence’ concept, and the expertise that’s needed to make them happen is just filling the gaps that you have to actually present that concept. So, what’s most important is to have all of the data being collected properly so that you get all of these customer insights, that you understand the potential improvements, and then to have the tacticians in place to run the experiments effectively — but how you structure that really depends on what the gaps are in your organization for implementing ideas.

[AB Tasty]: Is it possible for one person to do it all?

[Chris]: It is possible to find the unique, rare people, I call them optimization unicorns, who have this ability to hold these two opposing mindsets, this creative, inspiration driven, and the data-driven mindset, all at once, and be able to switch between the two of them. It’s very rare to find one person that can do that, if you do, hold on to them, tightly. But if you have the right process in place, you can actually bake those two mindsets into the process, so you don’t have to find those unique unicorns, like I said you can get by with a horse that has a bump on its head instead. And, because you just find these point-specialist experts that fill their role within the process — but the process ensures that it happens at some point.

[AB Tasty]: You mentioned that ideally CRO should affect the entire company. Is it generally a challenge to get everyone involved?

[Chris]: Yeah, again related to the maturity of the organization, at the high end of the maturity, that’s one of the factors we look at is how much does the whole organization understand and support the idea of experimentation. Some departments will understand it, some whole industries really embrace it and already understand that experimentation is a core competency for everyone, or should be. Others are still at the early stages, so reading where the company is at and the culture tells you what is needed to move that along the lines. It often is industry based, some industries are still very immature in experimentation. Others, like in Silicon Valley, everyone knows you have to be experimenting, it’s just a given.

User Insights

[AB Tasty]: Have you witnessed a correlation between successful CRO programs and client satisfaction first hand?

CRO programs tend to be focused on the user experience level, and so naturally, if you improve the user experience, you’re going to improve satisfaction in their interactions with the company.

[Chris]: CRO programs tend to be focused on the user experience level, and so naturally, if you improve the user experience, you’re going to improve satisfaction in their interactions with the company. There’s actually much more though, even beyond that. Once you get beyond focusing on user experience, you can actually think about ‘how do you experiment to get customer insights?’ And then you can go even beyond that and say ‘how do we evolve the business?’ ‘what are questions we can experiment with that help us to understand our position in the market, our value proposition, our product mix, our strategic approach to competition?’. You can actually run experiments to test these things which go even further. So there’s so much more potential to think even beyond conversion optimization — I think that’s a really limiting term, but I think that if you have the approach of experimentation, and the same process, you can actually apply that to the rest of the business.

→ To learn how ‘insight-driven firms’ gain more ROI from their CRO programs, download a copy of the commissioned study, Maximize Customer Value Through Strategic Conversion Rate Optimization, conducted by Forrester Consulting.

[AB Tasty]: How do you use user insights to come up with good ideas for experimentation?

So there’s so much more potential to think even beyond conversion optimization.

[Chris]: User insights come from all over the place, so within the explorer phase of the infinity optimization process that I described, there are various data sources. So you want to look at user research, you want to look at your data analytics, user testing, we have a service called Motivation Lab which is user tests designed to uncover user experience challenges, but also to uncover those motivational drivers, for example. This is a messy process of exploring and trying to create some meaning in peoples emotional drivers. And then you take all those ideas, wherever they come from, and feed them into a validating experimentation process.

Words of Wisdom

[AB Tasty]: After years of testing and experimentation, are you starting to notice trends? From those trends, are you able to predict where CRO is heading?

[Chris]: So, when thinking about the relationship of consumers with brands, and where CRO is heading, I think that the biggest growth area is around emotion, and understanding the emotional connection that your consumer has with your brand. Most companies don’t understand at all that the emotional driver behind decisions and brand affinity, and how their brand and every interaction that they have, actually relates to the resonance between the expectations of the brand, and the perception of the brand, and the experience and how they map to those elements. So I think that’s a huge opportunity for CRO to go beyond just tweaking and tuning UX design elements.

[AB Tasty]: What company is an example of good marketing today? Who do you admire?

Understand your customer, understand their motives and their needs and their desires, and simply try to appeal to that.

[Chris]: I think the companies right now that are doing the best work are those who are experimenting the most. We see of course the example of Amazon that everyone, I don’t know if it’s the same here, but last week I was just at the Internet Retailers Conference in Chicago, and everyone’s talking about Amazon and they’re terrified of Amazon because it’s the big woolly mammoth that’s you know, stomping on industries. There are companies here in Europe that are doing the same thing. Booking.com is an amazing example where they’re experimenting everything. They’ve got two floors of people just devoted to experimentation. These are the kinds of companies that are making the biggest progress and insights about their customers.

[AB Tasty]: If you had to condense your digital marketing philosophy into a single sentence, what would it be?

[Chris]: First, understand your customer, understand their motives and their needs and their desires, and simply try to appeal to that.

Get more insights from Chris Goward here!

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