Podcast: Chris Goward, President & Strategic Advisor, Conversion

January 5, 2024 Sophie Colquhoun

We're delighted to be back with our Industry Leaders Podcast for 2024! This week, we spoke to Chris Goward, President and Strategic Advisor at Conversion, the world's leading experimentation agency and Author of You Should Test That

Chris shares the importance of testing messaging, design and functionality on your website to drive more revenue, and how seemingly small tweaks can make a big impact. He discusses Conversion's levers, case studies, the core principles behind experimentation, and creating a culture of testing and innovation. It's a fascinating episode and we hope some great insight as 2024 begins.

Listen to the full episode below or search Industry Leaders wherever you get your podcast

In this episode, Chris mentions a couple of resources, we have included links to these below:

Levers Framework: https://conversion.com/framework/the-lever-framework/ 
Conversion Benchmarking report comparing leading brands Spotify, Netflix, HelloFresh, Headspace, and Kiwico to see what they're getting right with their UX  - and what they could be doing better. You can read the full report here: https://conversion.com/ebook-whitepaper/subscription-benchmarking/ 

You can also read the interview below: 

Hello and welcome to the Industry Leaders Podcast. I'm Sorcha O’Boyle and on the show with me today is Chris Goward from Conversion. Chris, it's great to have you here. How are you?

Chris Goward: I'm doing well. Thanks for the invitation.

Sorcha O’Boyle: Oh no, we're delighted. Could you just tell us for anyone who might not know, what is Conversion?

Chris: Sure. Conversion is, at this point, the world's leading experimentation agency. So we're a combination of two agencies that joined together, Conversion in the UK and Wider Funnel in North America. And we joined forces a couple of years ago. So what we do is essentially help companies make more confident decisions and improve their user experience and improve their conversion rates on their websites using experimentation, A B testing and UX research to answer questions for the clients.

Sorcha: Okay, and maybe could you tell me a little bit about your Levers Framework? I think that one would be quite interesting to hear about.

Chris: Yeah, sure. So everything we do is based on framework thinking. So taking a step back on that, we've developed many frameworks that help our consultants and our strategists, put themselves in the shoes of the buyer in the consumer's mindset. And Levers is one of those, the main one that we use right now. And it's based on the understanding that there are what we call levers which are really sort of motivational triggers or categories of ideas that can help improve conversion rates or facilitate the conversions for customers.

The levers framework is essentially a big categorization of all of the different types of elements that we can use to improve conversion rates. So, there's the top five categories of levers, including Cost, Trust, Usability, Comprehension, and Motivation. And within each of those master categories, there are subcategories of micro levers or smaller levers that we can use, and we use that so that we can take a sort of rigorous approach to understanding the user behaviour and layering those things on through our lens of how we're looking at the user experience to identify the elements that we can change to test that will lead to growth and improvement through those categories, we can identify which of those categories is most useful in moving the needle. And then we can drill even further down into those types of levers and sort of identify what might be further improvements

Sorcha: And can you explain to me what is the approach that you take? Cause it's quite unique.

Chris: Yeah. So we use experimentation to improve experiences, usually on websites, but in apps and all kinds of customer touch points.

And what that means, I guess, in simplistic terms is, you know, when visitors arrive on your website or your app, they will see an experience. And they may see a different experience than their neighbour because we've designed multiple different experiences or web page designs or images and colours and all of those kinds of things. And we'll be tracking their behaviour to find out which ones are better for the user and which ones make it easier for them to accomplish their goals and, you know, make purchases and convert on the websites. So we drive growth for businesses through the experiments and make statistically significant improvements that we know are better for the business and for the users.

Sorcha: Okay. And when you're talking, you do a lot of experimentation. What if I'm a business owner and I kind of say, okay, listen, yeah, the experimentation sounds great. But I think that what I'm currently doing is working pretty well and using a lot of other kind of options and maybe testing all those kind of things, aren't I'm going to lose out on a lot of sales?

Chris: Well, what we do is because it's statistically validated through experiments, we know that any improvement we make to the website, we can track it right to revenue, and we can track it to the improvements. So the original experience that a company is designed will always be in place, and we will be testing against that.

So a certain amount of visitors will always be seeing the original, and then we'll be testing variations that we have designed. Well, I guess what's unique is that we use a methodology called Mixed Method Approach, which is based on a lot of framework-thinking that we've developed over many years of experimentation. And so we use these methods based on behavioural economics and psychology principles and user experience principles that developed insight-driven data- driven hypotheses that we test against originals. And then so we're not only improving the experience through valid AB tests, but because the way we design the experiments to generate insights, we actually learn about the customers as well.

So you learn insights about what actually motivates them, what makes them want to buy, what makes them want to solve the problems that they have, whatever needs they have. It's unique in that it delivers growth and insights.

Sorcha: And can you tell me a little bit about the principles that your approach is based on?

Chris: The principles that we're based on, well, essentially we're, you know, a bunch of curious people that do a lot of research and reading in all areas. So we're constantly scanning the industry for new research reports, for books on all of those, the topics that can affect user behaviour, so behavioural economics, psychology, and user experience. It's a huge area of research right now. In academia and popular culture as well. I mean, people are talking about these kind of things all the time. You've heard of authors and researchers like Daniel Kahneman and Dan Ariely and these people who are trying to understand how people are predictably irrational, how people make decisions based on cognitive biases, how small changes and nudges can lead to massive changes in actual user behaviour.

There's some talk about dark patterns and using sort of manipulation of people, and we never go into that kind of area. What we really understand is how do we facilitate what people actually want? People are on your website because they have a need, they have something that they're looking for. How do we make that as easy as possible for them? And typically removing the barriers is the most important element, the most important thing we can do to help people complete what they want it to do in themselves.

Sorcha: In your view, how should a business leader think about experimentation? How should they build it into the culture? How should they be using it in their day to day?

Chris: Well, yeah, it's surprisingly, so we've been doing this now for over 15 years and we started Wider Funnel in 2007. I wanted to choose the one thing that was unusual that most people weren't focusing on, and we could have done a lot of different things and, you know, done Paid Search and SEO and all of those things. But I wanted to focus on one thing that I believe we could be the best in the world at. I didn't realise at the time how difficult it would be. Conversion optimization experimentation actually takes several different specialized mindsets in combination to get the best results. It's sort of a concerted effort between specialist experts to do that. So in order to do that, we developed a process and a methodology that uses these framework thinking mindsets that integrate all of these expertise together and to create sort of a beautiful dance that comes out with better results. So there are five things that companies need to think about and do really carefully to have an organization that delivers consistently better results because really you don't want to be looking for tips and tricks.

This tends to be what people start out with, right? They want to start an experimentation program so they get a tool that allows AB testing and they say, okay, give me the top 20 things that I can test on my website. Well, that's completely the wrong approach. So what you need to do instead is create a process and a methodology that consistently delivers insights by really understanding the buyer behaviour. And so you need to think about the process of how to do that, which includes like the experimentation protocols and methodology, like how information gets into experiments. You think about the accountabilities. So I guess what I'm talking about is the five elements process, accountability, culture, expertise, and technology, right?

So the process is how experiments get run. Accountabilities is how you know that you're measuring the right things and how you're tracking individual performance as well as the actual output of the experiments. The culture is how you coordinate people, how you celebrate learning and failure, how you encourage people to take risks, and how big of swings do you take, or do you take incremental approaches. All of those things will affect the experimentation culture. The expertise is you know, how do you build the right kind of specialists or right kind of sort of broad thinkers in combination to work together? And you need sort of a combination of all of those. And then technology is, you know, of course, working with the stack that you've got on the website or the apps and making sure that things are not only that you can get experiments running, but that you can then take the insights and get them back permanently into the experience, which a lot of organizations end up having a real barrier with if they don't choose their technology properly.

Sorcha: Yeah. And I'm really interested in talking about team and culture. So I think in times like now, when there's a lot of uncertainty, you know, cost of living crisis happening across the world, there's issues of supply, you know, there's all these kind of barriers to innovation and change. How can you kind of build a culture where team members feel encouraged to innovate and safe to innovate? Cause I think there's an awful lot of a tendency to go, well, we did this last year and that worked last year. So let's do it again this year. Maybe a better way to ask it is what do you see brands that are doing really well? What are they doing?

Chris: I think you've hit on possibly the most important of the five aspects is the culture and it's the easiest to get wrong, like the culture often is created by the leadership culture. It's created by the whole organizational culture and most organizations don't have humility at their core. They're led by leadership that is often for whatever reason, insecure, and they want to be seen as the experts. They don't want to have questions. It's risky to have humility in business and to have your ideas questioned and to encourage people to actually challenge you as a leader. It can be really difficult. It's vulnerable. And, in business, you know, most companies are not designed to allow vulnerability. So humility is, I think the most important thing at the core and many organizations have tapped into something like the five dysfunctions of a team which is a concept that says that trust has to be sort of the bedrock, right? You have to trust that if you take a risk, you won't be penalized for that. And you have to trust that everyone's going to be speaking their mind and not just sort of playing politics and trying to get ahead. But those kind of cultures are fragile if they're not built on a foundation of authenticity and openness and real communication. So I wish I could say that it's a simple, you know, seven step process to do that, but there are many nuances for how to build a high trust, authentic team.

Sorcha: Yeah, for sure. Maybe something that's a little bit simpler then, and maybe let's move on to tech. So we're looking to, you know, things like AI, and there's so much change, and there's so many decisions for, you know, leaders and teams to make, how do you recommend people to pick out the things that are going to work for you or, you know, test the things that you want to try? How do you stop yourself getting totally inundated just with like new things and new products and new things to add?

Chris: Yeah, that's a real temptation and it's something that continues and it's always interesting to see the latest innovation or the latest sort of buzzwords coming up in industry, and it gets everyone distracted as if that's the only thing that's happening right now and AI is the current thing. A couple years ago, there was personalization and big data and, you know, it's gone through many waves of these things. And AI, of course, is important, and it's going to be increasingly important. But it's not the only thing, and it's not even the most important thing right now.

Your customers are simple creatures. We're, you know, animals that just barely got out of the savannah, and we are sort of searching for solutions to our needs, and we use very primitive methods to do that. We're following a scent trail, like we're in the jungle. So one of the most simple principles we can do is to create a scent trail within our experiences that allow people to just sniff out what they want to find. It's a visceral experience, you know, thinking about how AI can do that. Well, maybe at some point AI will be able to figure that out, but for now, that's a long way off. I think it's important to focus on the fundamentals and facilitating those kinds of experiences rather than sort of getting bogged down with too much advancement.

Sorcha: Yeah, for sure. I've seen on your website, and if anyone's interested, I really recommend they go and check it out, you applied the Leavers Framework to the McDonald's homepage. Right. You've got scent trails. Let's go down to McDonald's. Maybe you could tell us what McDonald's were trying to do and how effective did you think it was? What would you change?

Chris: Yeah, that's a good question. You're right. We published something just recently and there is a PDF, I hink if people search for, Conversion, McDonald's homepage levers PDF, they can download it. But obviously McDonald's is a, is an iconic brand. They've got loyal customers. They have huge marketing budgets. And that's why we chose McDonald's as one of the examples of an analysis to show that any page any experience, even the big budget, big guys can have improvements when there's a rigorous approach applied to thinking about the customers. When we applied the levers framework, we looked at the experience and we had to make some assumptions because we don't have the benefit of the inside knowledge of the data of how people are using website or what the actual goals are, but we can make some pretty good inferences based on all the calls to action. Essentially, we're trying to get people to download the app and sign up for their loyalty program.

So we assumed, okay, that's probably the goal that right now there McDonald's is aiming for. And so from the customer's perspective, looking at these five categories, Cost, Trust, Usability, Comprehension, and Motivation. We could identify where potential barriers are, and now we're not assuming that we know better that we know best about how the customer is going to respond again. It comes down to humility. So we're saying based on our database where we have millions of data points of what's worked for other companies. We can try to tease out some principles here that might apply to this experience and what we found were potentially the three areas that are most important for improvement on that page are Comprehension, Usability, and Motivation.

So I won't get into all of the examples because you know, there's a lot in there and people can download the PDF. But I think one of the most interesting ones is that we noticed near the bottom of the page, as we were scanning through this whole experience, it was a very long page, especially if you're on mobile near the bottom, there's an offer that was for free, large fries when you download the app and sign up and I mean, who doesn't love McDonald's fries, right?

That's probably one of the most tempting things they could offer, but that wasn't mentioned until like 80 percent of the way down the page. So most people are never going to see that. That's a very clear hypothesis that we could say, if you're trying to get people to download this app and sign up, why don't we try putting that up near the top as a teaser, as a way to introduce people and say that, you know, give them that scent trail, give them that enticing motivation. I mean, that's an easy experiment to run that, uh, just swapping the content areas, but there are many others in the PDF if people want to find out more about how we can apply those things.

Sorcha: Yeah, for sure. And if you were to look at across your clients, what are the kind of common issues or things that crop up in your experience?

Chris: Oh, well, there's so many, and I think that's where what we're trying to do is identify these kinds of patterns, whether it's user behaviour patterns or internal organization patterns and sort of collect those patterns that we see consistently across different types of businesses that then imply principles of user behaviour and then consolidate those into frameworks once we see that they're predictive, right?

Once we see that a category of ideas is predictive, and it starts to be reliable that every time we test this principle, it starts to get results that are positive. Then we can bring those into the framework and, something like Levers where we now know sort of powerful categories of ideas that can move the needle and in any type of business, right?

Just one ecommerce brand or one consumer packaged goods brand that these will work for. They should be generalizable across sort of all human behaviour. Those are the kinds of things that we're looking for is how to use framework thinking to apply them to every kind of customer experience.

Sorcha: Yeah, and that's something I find really interesting actually, because a lot of times when we talk to people on this podcast, the kind of a theme that comes up is, the customer is the most important person, the one we're trying to serve, but sometimes they do things that are unexpected, but most of our behaviour is, fairly predictable. I'm sure that there are things, you know, just small blockers that are happening in businesses. that are totally universal and totally understandable but are probably easy to fix. Would you find that a lot of the stuff that you're recommending to brands is stuff that's small, but makes a big difference?

Chris: Yeah. In many cases, you're right. The complexity of the experiment or the complexity of the change does not sort of imply the magnitude of the improvement. You're absolutely correct that, you know, sometimes very small things. So what we're trying to find again is from the consumer's perspective, what are the cognitive changes that are more dramatic?

And it might be something simple, like a few words that imply a different value proposition or a different type of benefit that they'll get. And those few words can be much more powerful than a complete page redesign. They could take, you know, hundreds of hours and a lot of technology and headaches. So that's where it's important to really try to get into the consumer's mindset to understand the barriers that they're facing in their mind to taking the next step, to taking the next action and then finding how to remove those barriers.

Of course, there is complexity because there will be user experience problems that tends to be where some of the technical complexity comes in. If there's load speed problems, if there are error problems, if there are, you know, those kind of technical barriers, well, that's going to bring in your dev team. But from a user motivation perspective, the changes are often very simple that can have a dramatic improvement.

Sorcha: You mentioned a couple of writers at the top of the episode. Could you maybe tell us what book would you recommend?

Chris: Oh, well, there are so many. There are, you know, foundational ones like Dan Ariely has good ones. Predictably Irrational is a foundational one that all of our team has to read.

Sorcha: Why does the whole team have to read it?

Chris: Well, it's such a fundamental principle of understanding that people are not necessarily rational creatures. The old economics model of the rational man who just makes the decision based on the pros and cons waiting isn't actually true. We make decisions emotionally. And we defend those decisions rationally. So even when we think we're making purely logical decisions, we're fooling ourselves, we make them emotionally, and then we make up rationalizations to justify our emotional decisions. So understanding that principle is so important so that we don't, you know, fall into the trap of thinking, Oh, if we just make more sense than people will automatically do it. Well, no, that's not the case. We need to think about what are the cognitive biases, which are irrational, but lead to, you know, beautiful outcomes for people. So that's an important one.

And then there are, you know, sort of functional books like Web Design for ROI. It's an old one by a friend of mine, Lance Loveday. And it's a great book for, you know, specific to web design. There are behavioural economics ones that are, are more conceptual and strategic like Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, another book called Nudge. Of course, there are specific conversion optimization books that are much more about the principles. My book's getting a little bit old at this point. It's, you know, 10 years old now called You Should Test That, which is really about some of our foundational frameworks. But, um, there are many, many on the market that are helpful. And I think what's interesting with this space is that, like, ideas can come from anywhere, great ideas on how people are motivated. There's not just one textbook that will give people all the answers. You really have to be a sort of a lateral thinker and curious. That's the most important thing. Curious about human behaviour and why people act the way they do. You'll uncover some principles that might come out of reading Dostoyevsky or something that's, you know, completely outside of the field. And it will give you an insight into why people are the way they are. And that's really what it's all about.

Sorcha: Yeah, for sure. And this may be a slightly unfair question for you, Chris, but, if you had a crystal ball and you were able to predict, this kind of optimization space in the next couple of years. Where do you think the smart money is?

Chris: That's a good question. What we're doubling down on is collecting more and more data from experiments and experiences. So we've built a database that we have been storing all of our experiments in for quite a few years now. And essentially, we run our company based on that platform, and now we're actually building AI into it, that's enabled us now to be able to feed questions to the AI that then generates ideas and insights. We have our AI actually analysing experiment results and spitting out insights. And so the more data we can feed into that, we believe the more valid and interesting that AI output will become. I think the future is all about owning proprietary data that leads to some important insights.

Sorcha: Okay. Yeah. You've opened up a whole can of worms there with that one. And just before we wrap up, Chris, you've mentioned a couple of books. What are you reading at the moment?

Chris: Oh, uh, what am I reading at the moment? I have a few on the go. I'm kind of in the stoic philosophical corner right now.

Sorcha: What's it called?

Chris: There's one I just finished called Life is Hard by Kieran Zetsia, which is amazing. Right now I'm reading The Art of Living a Meaningless Existence, which might sound a bit dark, but it's actually encouraging. And I just read a Bruce Lee book called Be Water, My Friend, which is more of a sort of a mindfulness book. Oh, and Outlive by Peter Atia, which is sort of a longevity health and wellness.

Sorcha: Okay. It sounds like you've got like the full spectrum there. You've got mind, body and soul.

Chris: Yeah, maybe that's true. That's a good way to think about it.

Sorcha: Yeah. Okay. Listen, Chris, that was really interesting. If somebody wants to find out more about Conversion, where can they find you?

Chris: Well, the easiest way is at conversion.com. We have everything publishing regularly on there. We're also publishing quite regularly on LinkedIn so you can sort of follow our executive team there or page. I'm sure, but conversion.com is the best place. And just Googling some of those resources. Want to learn more about the Levers framework? Google conversion Levers Framework or Conversion McDonald's homepage or whatever it is. And, you know, I'm sure Google knows how to find it.

Sorcha: Yeah, I'm sure Google does. Thanks. All right. Thank you. That was Chris from Conversion. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Industry Leaders Podcast. And don't forget that you can catch up on all of our previous episodes, wherever you get your podcasts.



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