“I use Tide. I’ve been using Tide for the last 40 years. I’ll use Tide to wash the outfit they bury me in.”
“Uh… Thanks Grammy.” I only made the comment that her clothes smelled nice, but her conviction made me realize something very important, “even if they’re on your site, that doesn’t mean they’re going to buy from you.”
Later on, I overheard my 18 year old sister say to a friend on the phone, “Oh My God, UGH, Do what you want, but I would never be caught dead, in clothes from The Gap.”
As I carried about my day, those two interactions lingered in my mind. Later that night, I came across a post titled “Why A/B Testing Isn’t Enough” by Jeff Lawrence, the CEO of Granify & it was this graph that brought everything sharply into focus:
Even though this graph isn’t very scientific, I think it’s safe to assume that it also reflects your situation.
If we’re being real, you will always have visitors who are never, ever, ever EVER going to buy from you. (competitors, window-gazers, people doing research, etc)
You should of course try to minimize the amount of the “wrong” people who visit your site by sharpening your traffic acquisition efforts & doing more advanced PPC like negative keyword targeting and geotargeting, and otherwise stop wasting money & efforts on traffic that doesn’t convert… but this still doesn’t solve the problem.
The Psychological Reasons Why People Aren’t Buying
Between this graph & the interactions with my family, I hit me that it’s not just pricing or persuasive design that influence a person’s desire to buy.
It’s a convenient thought to believe that changing a few graphics here, telling a better story there, and improving call to actions or microcopy will improve your bottom line.
I mean, obviously it can, but it’s only focusing on the top of the curve within the influence zone:
But what about the bottom part of the curve? This is the harder stuff.
These are the people who might be comparison shopping and looking for specific features that are harder for you to offer; like a better return policy, quality customer testimonials, or free shipping.
Even further down on that curve though, right as the traffic moves out of “will not buy” and into the “zone of influence”, there’s something even deeper & more sinister that prevents people from buying from you. These are what’s known as cognitive biases.
For my sister’s friend it was a combination of the Bandwagon effect, Illusory superiority and fear of losing her own Ingroup bias that ultimately prevented her from buying that pair of “really cute shorts.”
According to wikipedia a cognitive bias is :
“a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other people [products] and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion.”
For my Grammy, this means eating a lighter meal just to afford Tide, if she’s tight for cash. For my sister, this might mean owning fewer outfits overall, but learning how to better mix up her outfits in order to stay within her social circle’s “recommended” brands.
For iPhone fanboys, this means choosing an inferior phone, and defending it, even when you’ve never used an proper Android product in your life. (Go ahead, set the comments ablaze, you’ll only prove my point ;-)
For your visitors, there’s likely a whole mess of cognitive biases that prevent them from picking you.
It’s only once you understand some of those biases that you can convert those who say they’re “never going to buy” from “ok, I’ll give you a chance.”
Understanding Your Competition’s Customer Biases
We’ve talked a lot about feedback loops & qualitative research a lot recently, but it has always been in relation to your customers & how they perceive you. While this is useful, it doesn’t give you a complete picture of how you are perceived in the overall market.
It’s especially important you understand how you’re perceived because it’s not uncommon that prospects & your competition’s customers believe you’re missing a feature or key benefit, when really you’ve had it all along.
For example, I once had a client that sold law office practice management software. When looking at the competitive landscape, I found there were only 3 or 4 direct competitors & a very small handful of periphery competitors that had a similar solutions (like calendars & contact management) but weren’t specifically designed for a law practice.
When surveying the competition, their customers, and the market at large, I learned that most law offices wouldn’t even consider purchasing a practice management software unless they knew:
- That it was being used by real lawyers
- That the company who designed the software had experience working with real lawyers & could “handhold” when necessary
On a deeper level, it’s because they were having a hard time breaking out of the “Status Quo Bias” – where they found comfort things being the same – and in a way were actively seeking out the false consensus bias – where people tend to overestimate the amount of other people who think, feel & act the same way they do – this is also the underlying reason by things like social proof, testimonials & buyer personas can be so powerful.
I had also learned that many of the competition’s customers didn’t believe my client had either of these things because it wasn’t clear in the design, effectively meaning they were working against a major bias that prevented people from buying.
What they didn’t know was that my client had the largest customer base of all their competitors(over 250,000 users) and over 30 years experience.
Now, unfortunately, a new CEO came in right as we were getting ready to go live with the new changes & my designs were thrown out & research dismissed.
In the end, they decided not to highlight their 250,000 customers & decided to stick with stock photos of fake customers to keep with the more standard “professional” feel. In the end, the information about their customer base & experience looked more like this on the page:
However, it appears as though one of their major competitors was conducting similar research around the same time, because they ended up launching a redesign that looked like this.
Now, several studies show that when information is presented larger, the brain is wired to believe it is more important.
There’s also Ingroup Bias, which we touched on earlier, where people prefer to be around others who look, think & act like we do, while showing distrust for the “out-group.”
Looking at the competitor’s page, their “Thousands of Customers” is certainly more important than my former client’s 250,000 users, and the people they’re showing look more real, which from my own research, I know is important to lawyers who typically aren’t perceived very well.
While it’s impossible to know for sure if this has lead to more revenue, I can compare the current design to previous iterations using the wayback machine, and can see that they’ve have been hiring more positions, are opening a second office, and started holding their old conference as of last year, all of which are traditionally signs of growth.
Surveying Your Competition’s Customers
While you might not have access to your competitor’s customer database, there are more than a few methods you can use to find out what your competition’s customers think.
1. Conduct A Direct Survey Using Facebook Ads
One major benefit of Facebook having over 1.2 billion users, is that many people have “liked” pages to form connections with the companies they do business with.
Fortunately for you, that “Like” also makes those connections a targeting parameter for a Facebook Ad.
By clicking on the “people” section on their actual Facebook page, you can get a little more insight as well.
Now, depending on your competitive landscape, and how “locked in” a customer might be, you might be better off partnering with a third party to collect the results.
For example, if MailChimp wanted to survey AWeber’s customers, they’d probably get more response if they partnered with the eMail Institute, than if they tried it on their own.
Designing The Survey For Your Competition’s Customers
When you’re designing the survey, you have to overcome your own Illusory Superiority bias, where you think you’re better than the competition & really just get at the heart of why people shop with your competitor.
Asking questions like…
- What do you like the most about [Competitor]?
- How does their [product/service] benefit you?
- How would you describe their customer service?
- How is their response time?
- How do you feel about [your service]?
- What would it take for you to switch?
…along with other Voice Of The Customer, type questions will help you to identify those customer needs, prioritize them into a hierarchical structure, prioritize those needs, and understand your competitor’s customer’s perception of their performance.
This paper published on MIT gives a great explanation and methodology for using a VOC survey to learn more about what’s important to movie theater customers.
From a competitive standpoint, ultimately your goals is to learn not only where your competitors are weakest, but also determine where on their customer’s radar you are.
In some cases, it may just be they’re not even aware you exist, in others, it might be they have a misperception or simply don’t have enough knowledge about your brand. Either way, this intelligence will help you move forward more strategically.
2. Surveying Competitor’s Customers In The “Wild”
You’ve probably already heard a lot about “spying” on your competitors using social media, but do you actually do it?
According to a 2010 survey by Marketing Sherpa, 72% of companies reported that competitive research & analysis presented a challenge to their landing page optimization efforts.
In a 2013 study by Millward Brown & Compete, a similar trend was found, with competitive intelligence being dead last on the list of popular optimization tactics (even more surprising that A/B testing came in second though)
Realistically though, gathering competitive intelligence isn’t difficult at all. Here are a few things I do when snooping on a competitor.
1. Set up a Twitter search for all the @replies to their customer service account if they have one, or at their main account if they don’t, and monitor it on TweetDeck.
According to a study by Accenture, 66% of people will switch companies due to poor customer service.
— Jan Dobson (@mytruself) July 10, 2014
2. Set up an alert using Mention that notifies me of any mentions (positive or negative) they might get across the internet.
3. If they have customer forums, sign up there & keep track of complaints or praises.
4. Check out the reviews & testimonials on the same or similar products.
The reason for doing this is in order to find where their customers are having an experience gap so you can:
- A.) Improve on in your own business or
- B.) Highlight your strengths where they’re weak to snipe customers from the competition
Another thing I like to do is get away from their branded channels and see what conversation is being had in “unmonitored” communities.
This is as simple as searching “[competitor name] intitle:forum” in Google to see not just what questions are being asked, but where these conversations are happening.
MarketingSherpa has a great article that goes into even more ways to gather competitive intelligence offline as well.
Crippling Your Competition At Their Weak Points
This is where spying on your competition & gathering competitive intelligence allows you to understand what their customers are saying & take advantage of the areas where they are weak.
For example, this post in the 3dcart forums exposes a few major weak points in the 3d Cart’s product design & customer service strategy.
If a competitive shopping cart solution were to run a campaign targeting 3d cart customers, highlighting how their cart
- Fixed the speed & customization problem
- Offered better customer support
- And offered migration services to make switching easy…
It’s not unreasonable to think they’d snatch away a portion of 3d Cart’s customers.
Looking at a more mainstream example of a company using customer feedback to pull ahead of a competitor, it was mostly real consumer feedback that fueled the infamous “Get A Mac” campaign which increased Apple’s market share growth by 42% in it’s first year of being live.
When it won the Grand Effie in 2007, jury chair John Butler said (emphasis mine):
“They managed to do it with humor, class, and honesty without falling into the trap of overtly negative competitive advertising”
This is perhaps the most important element when doing any kind of competitive testing in your campaigns. It’s not about brow-beating the competitor, but to do things tastefully in a way that doesn’t make you look like a jerk.
Groove does a very good job of this – probably because they found a good portion of their customers were switching from, or considering, Zendesk from the feedback loop they had for first time buyers.
If you don’t want to be as direct as to call your competitors out on your homepage, you can also highlight those major differences on comparison pages as well.
This is how Clicky does it:
And this is how SugarSync does it:
Vzaar takes an even more personal approach, by picking off it’s competitors one by one:
Conclusion – So Is Understanding The Biases & Doing The Research Worth The Effort?
Given the research from Marketing Sherpa & Millward Brown from earlier shows that competitive intelligence is pretty low on most marketer’s priority list, and that Accunture estimates there is approximately $5.9 trillion dollars in revenue globally from customers switching companies…
I’d say there’s a pretty big opportunity, if you’re willing to take the gloves off & get your hands dirty.