How Vegas Taught Me Not to Gamble on Online Marketing

By Rachael Harris-Evans, VP, Account Services, West Cary Group

I’m a direct marketing fanatic because it’s a field that’s shaped by the power of data. There is no gambling and no guessing. There is only truth sustained by science and mathematics – and various paths of optimization leading toward attaining that truth.

I’m not alone. The 2014 DMA Statistical Fact Book revealed that 66 percent of marketers believe that data-driven marketing drives positive value for their company today – and 93 percent believe it will in the future. At West Cary Group, we know how vital it is to our clients’ bottom lines that we maintain our position as forward-thinking marketers.

Photo courtesy of Conversion Conference, Las Vegas 2015

Photo courtesy of Conversion Conference, Las Vegas 2015

So when I saw that there was an upcoming Conversion Conference and, with it, an opportunity to glean even more insight into online direct marketing strategies – in this case, conversion rate optimization (CRO) – I took the leap. I leapt in spite of the fact that it was being held in a city that was founded on luck and chance. Sin City. Las Vegas.

I reasoned that with sessions being led by business strategists, web psychologists and digital marketers, this was no long shot. For three days, attendees would gather and volley over new ideas about how to take existing traffic and convert it into eager consumers.

I wasn’t disappointed. After networking with top minds from the industry and mingling with national and international attendees, I learned that what happens in Vegas isn’t always a gamble. Here are my top three takeaways for maximizing CRO:

1. Make it easy on the user. The brain is divided into two systems. System one is virtually automatic and impulsive, which often results in inaccuracy. System two, or the rational brain, is measured and methodical. If the action you want your audience to take requires engagement from the rational brain, it’s vital that you make that decision easy to process, or your audience can fall victim to a state called info paralysis. Overthinking often leads to brain fatigue and inaction. Simply put: Find out what information the brain needs in order to act and make it easy to access that information.

Remember that’s it’s sometimes okay to break the rules for the purposes of increasing engagement. Take Airbnb, for example. Everything we know about direct response and conversion tells us that a call to action (CTA) should be front and center. But following an image-heavy website redesign in mid-2014, the Airbnb site relies on minimalism. Here, users share in a community, browse and experience. You may never have had any desire to visit Prague, but, gosh, doesn’t it seem appealing when a bedroom’s antique light fixture and lakefront view take center stage? A CTA would only serve to distract the brain and lower user engagement.

2. Test wisely. There’s a lot to test. Not all of it is useful. Color scheme…CTA button placement…font size…. It can all be overwhelming. Remember to prioritize your testing by evaluating potential impact and ease of implementation.

This can be plotted in a trusty 2x2 matrix, which allows you to easily compare two items by two attributes along four quadrants. The things that are easy to test and have high potential impact should be prioritized over those that are difficult to test and have low potential impact.

3. The old direct mail rules still rule. Visual fluency is just as important in online marketing as it is in direct mail. Pictures can be moving. But too many can result in an onslaught of non-rational information that can promote distraction. Use copy efficiently. Use icons as a method of conveying simple concepts. Don’t overwhelm the user: The more easily visual information is processed, the more we like and trust it.

One great beauty of direct marketing is that it’s never done. New data comes in. Market conditions shift, and we continue to optimize to develop campaigns that drive even more powerful ROI. The play of CRO within this realm is equally fulfilling to watch (I told you I was a fanatic). What I learned at the Conversion Conference, I’ve taken with me in order to identify more areas of opportunity and optimize online experiences to help our clients achieve their business goals.

Who says whatever happens in Vegas has to stay there? 

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