Unspoken Assumptions

wise guyRemember this classic scene from the Odd Couple?

Felix Unger: [to woman on witness stand] Ah ... you assumed. My dear, you should never assume. You see, when you assume... [Felix writes the word "assume" on a blackboard] ... you make an ass out of u and me.

Want to know what really gets in the way of better conversion rates? All too often it isn't what you do. It's what you don't do! It's not what you put in to your conversion system; it's what you leave out of your conversion system.

I'm talking about the unspoken assumptions every business makes when it plans for conversion. Come see what I mean.

Best practices only take you so far

I can give you lots of best practices for managing the details of your conversion process. I can tell you that red call to action buttons don't work as well as green call to action buttons. I can tell you that asking for unnecessary information on your web forms will mean fewer visitors will fill them out and hit the submit button.

Tweaking your conversion tactics will help. Tweaking is good. We even help you learn how to tweak effectively.  But it will only deliver so much and no more.

Answer me this: you're about to create a landing page for a product or service you plan to advertise through Google AdWords. You've made the active window content on this landing page totally relevant to the intention of the click-through. Now ... do you include lots of additional navigation on that page or not?

That additional navigation could take your customer away from the primary conversion goal of your landing page. "Eeep," you think. But what if your customer requires that additional information to build the confidence necessary to take the conversion action you want her to take?

Best practices would tell you to minimize the potentially distracting navigation. But, in principle, you aren't going to persuade your customer to do anything unless you meet her buying needs.

What are her buying needs? There's no black and white answer I can give you. It depends. That page may be perfectly sufficient for your more spontaneous visitors. For your more methodical visitors or those who aren't ready to complete the buying decision process (the latency factor), it may not be enough information.  A client of ours recently discovered the truth of this after optimizing introduced them to the glass ceiling! 

Assumptions define your framework for conversion and persuasion

There's a bigger picture you need to grasp and address before you can get your conversion rates belting out the big show-stopper tunes. What's the bigger picture? The assumptions you make that provide the context for the buying audience on your site, in your ad or email campaigns, and in all your marketing efforts.

Every business makes assumptions about who its customers are, what they actually know about the business and what they actually need. You can't create a system without this information. So if you have a system, you've built it upon information based on assumptions you have made. These assumptions, whether explicit or implicit, can come from your marketing department, from the tech folks who manage the mechanics of your site, from the very limitations built into any software package or even by your analytics team.

For example, let's say you have a Contact Us form that provides a comment field. You limit that comment field to 500 characters. That's an unspoken assumption that 500 characters is all your visitor needs to describe his situation adequately. Is that the best assumption? Is it based on an understanding of what that visitor needs to say?

You can get all your tactics playing nice on the same, and still not be able to persuade your visitor to click.

The sad fact is, most businesses aren't even aware of the assumptions they've made and don't really question the assumptions of which they are aware.

Examine your assumptions

Everything you do either detracts or enhances your ability to persuade your visitors to complete your conversion goal. Everything. You can't leave even a tiny piece of it to chance.

The "killingest" assumptions businesses make revolve around how their customers buy. Suppose you and 99 other people go into an electronics store and purchase the exact same item. That's 100 sales. But you can probably guess those 100 sales didn't unfold in the exact same way. No properly-trained sales person would ever use the exact same language or structure the sale the exact same way for every single customer. And yet, ecommerce sites routinely assume one product page is going to meet the needs of all customers interested in that product. Talk about your huge assumptions!

What's the solution? Well, it lies in therapy-speak's equivalent of "checking in" with the people about whom you are making the assumptions. No, I'm not talking customer survey forms or focus groups. I'm talking personas. I'm talking digging into the perspectives and motivations your customers possess ... the perspectives and motivations they bring with them whenever they approach the decision to buy anything, from the most impulsive purchase to the most complicated consensus arrangement you can imagine.

These are almost always NOT the same perspectives you think they should have!

Why do you expect people to take any action? Wouldn't it be nice to get inside that why and answer it in your persuasive process? Because when you manage to get inside your customers' different perspectives, you can see how your assumptions lead to a breakdown of persuasion.

And you can fix it!

Want to see an example of the unspoken assumptions Apple made in one of their iPod pitches? Good ... then check out the next article for Unspoken Assumptions in Action!

Volume 145: 01/01/07

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