Empathy maps and emotional selling….and Donald Trump

I was recently working on a display campaign that was targeted to Republican Electoral College members (a.k.a. “electors”) to get them to NOT vote for Donald Trump. If you haven’t been following the news, there’s a tiny chance that 37 electors to the Electoral College could choose to disobey the popular vote from their state and NOT vote for Trump on December 19th, 2016. This would technically and legally prevent the Donald from taking office in January. Google “Hamilton Electors” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

The display campaign was all wrong. In fact, it was so wrong it was likely to have the opposite effect of what was intended. It was probably going to convince those Republican party officials who are the electors to get behind Trump.

Clearly, the designer of the campaign had no idea how to use empathy maps and emotional selling.

Let me describe the display ads. Picture Trump’s head wearing his signature red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and sporting an angry expression. Then in bold letters is the tag line “Donald Trump is a Russian Stooge”. There were variations on that theme, but you get the idea of the tone of the display ads.

Now that you have that image in your head I’m going to repeat to you who the audience is: Republican party officials who are members of the Electoral College.

I can’t speak for your family but I think we can all relate to that Thanksgiving or Christmas where the Fox News watchers at the dinner table yell at the MSNBC watchers and vice versa. Neither side is capable of convincing the other side of anything and even the most rational and logical of arguments on either side, brimming with factual evidence, cannot make a dent in the armor of steadfast belief that their side is the right side. In fact, many studies show that when someone has a false belief the more evidence you present to them that their belief is in fact not true, the stronger they believe it. This is called cognitive dissonance.

So when you tell someone who cares about the Republican party enough to devote their time and effort to represent that party as members of the Republican Electoral College that their President elect is a “Russian stooge” you’re not going to influence them. You’re going to evoke the exact opposite response. You will tap into the emotion of anger at such an accusation and drive them further into the belief bunker away from your goal of sewing doubt that Trump is qualified to be President.

What this lobbying group should have done is create an empathy map for those Republican electors specifically around the controversial President elect and figured out emotional touch points that would be more appealing. An empathy map is where you profile your audience by getting into their head, walking a mile in their shoes and then mapping out what that target audience is feeling, saying, thinking and doing. 

Here’s what a super simplified empathy map outline might have looked like for a Republican member of the Electoral College having doubts about Trump.

Feeling: uncertainty, apprehension, moral queasiness, concern, worry, patriotism, faith.

Saying: “I love the GOP, but…”, “Trump is too much of a hot head to be an effective leader”, “His actions don’t reflect Christian values”.

Thinking: “Is it right to disobey the will of my state’s voters?”, “This would be unprecedented in history”, “There will be consequences if I choose to pull my vote”.

Doing: Taking long walks and thinking, exercising rigorously to de-stress, engaging in a favorite hobby, working hard on unrelated projects.

Now that you understand your audience better you can use emotion better to appeal to those troubled electors. A better display campaign might have patriotic imagery (an American flag, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) and include tag lines like “Do you love your party but doubt the qualities of the man? On December 19th vote for what’s best for America.”

One thing was abundantly clear this past election and it was that Donald Trump clearly understood empathy and emotional selling and Hillary Clinton did not. Trump tapped into a vein of discontent among working class and middle class voters and mined it rigorously for electoral gold. Hillary positioned herself as the smart choice and the rational choice. She should have taken a note from her husband who was excellent at connecting with voters and “feel(ing) your pain”.

Regardless of your politics, as marketers or lobbyists or salespeople the key to success is finding that emotional pain point and addressing it.




Segmentation on user action

Most segmentation strategies focus on things like gender, geographic location, race, weekend vs. weekday traffic and the like. However, I have found that segmenting by user action is far more effective at driving conversion.

Let’s take a hypothetical that an e-commerce site has a wish list feature. Customers can put items on the wish list for purchase later. Let’s say a customer adds an item to the wish list. Now what does this tell us? It tells us the user is likely to return and since most wish list functions require registration we now have the personal info of this user. That means we can send them a customized and highly targeted email campaign or have the wish list product info dropped into a cookie so when they return a modal pops reminding them of the product.

Here’s another hypothetical: consider a web site with 3 levels for a service: novice, intermediate and pro. Let’s say the pro version has the most profit margin and that’s what you want to focus on. You could watch for a specific path in web traffic that indicates the user is a highly qualified prospect. For instance, if the user is a new user (has not visited the site before) and the pro product page is the 2nd or 3rd page visited by that user. That’s an indicator that this person is qualified, the site can then be optimized to convert that visitor to sale.

When your audience is telling you what they want with their actions, listen.

Cold value proposition, hot leads

Some companies have a hard time explaining themselves. Maybe their product or service is complicated, maybe it’s esoteric or maybe they just can’t find the right words to express themselves clearly. Perhaps their brand guidelines prevent them from speaking a language that most people can understand. A lot of financial companies and consultancies have this problem. If it’s not a tangible product that can easily be expressed in an image or a sentence you have value proposition problem.

Now if that company’s web site is geared toward lead generation, you have an even trickier wicket to play through. If the visitor doesn’t understand why they need the company why would they give away their information? In cases such as those it’s critical to get the prospect to self qualify as soon as possible.

Let’s take a complicated product like life insurance. There’s term life insurance, whole life insurance and variable life insurance. You get the difference, right? The names are self explanatory. Well, no. I had a client that was a major insurance company and they approached the problem of explaining the difference between these products in exactly the wrong way: long explanatory copy blocks. Reading long copy blocks filled with industry jargon leaves the prospect ultimately bored and confused.

The right way to approach this is to speak directly to the prospect’s needs. Create a profile of the prospect for each of the products and then have the prospect tell you he or she fits the profile. For something complicated like life insurance the prospect doesn’t know what they want or need, it’s up to you to tell them.

This can be accomplished in many ways. You can do it with copy: Are you under 50, make over $50,000/year and want protection for your family? Learn more. You can do it with a slider filter. The prospect moves  the sliders for age, health, income, etc. and then the settings are submitted and the optimal product is recommended. You can do it with forms, if just the right checkboxes are added and the form is not too arduous. Under 50? Check. Make over $50,000/year? Check.

Get creative with that customer profile, think about how you speak to that profile and never, never be boring.


You can’t program creativity

Everyone’s talking about programmatic and real time bidding (RTB) advertising. In case you don’t know these terms programmatic and RTB is a robotic way to control and optimize ad spend that is highly targeted. When you start to load a web page your browser details and your cookie details are sent to a market place and ad impressions are purchased on a visitor by visitor basis. This is all done in 100 milliseconds.

Here’s an example: Bob likes sports, he visits ESPN frequently and his last Amazon purchase was a football. This information is stored in Bob’s cookies. Bob uses Safari as his browser. Safari users tend to be more techy and have more disposable income. A sports retailer has noticed that their mobile app has the most downloads between 6pm and 10pm on Tuesdays. The retailer would like to optimize their ad spend to generate the most mobile app downloads. So, Tuesday nights a programmatic campaign targets sports loving, Safari browser using people who made a sports purchase in the last 30 days.

Sounds spooky? Welcome to the modern world of digital marketing.

But a recent study showed that content marketing drives three times more leads than buying a SEM campaign. Why is this? Probably due to advertising overload. On the web we have become inured to ads. I have been on Facebook for 8 years. They know a lot about me. And yet I think I’ve clicked a Facebook ad once, maybe twice. And since it’s estimated that 35% of all adds are now served by programmatic systems it’s guaranteed that I have been exposed to the most targeted of ads thousands of times. But I don’t click. I’m sure graphic designers and marketers spent untold hours trying to make the most compelling display and text ads, but the pure fact that they are ads makes them entirely forgettable. Ironic, no?

But if a product or service had a compelling video or a blog post I would read, watch and maybe even click. If the content showed some creativity and thought I might click. If this content went out of it’s way to NOT sound like marketing or just a page to boost SEO results I might click. Even in this age of big data and software eating our jobs and driverless cars we crave humanity in marketing. 

Reward framing and offer perception

I used to do a lot of offer testing for a company with 35 e-commerce sites. Offer tests work like this: the traffic is split 50/50, one group sees one particular offer to buy, say a “buy 2 get 1 free” offer, the other group is given a different offer of “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”. Now, if the customer buys exactly 3 items and they are all priced the same then the discount to the customer is the same. However, the perception of the offer is not the same. We tested this very offer combo on two different sites during two different times of the year. Each time we tested it “buy 2 get 1 free” out performed “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”.

In a test done in the physical realm, car wash loyalty cards were tested. Customers to a car wash were given two different kinds of loyalty card. We’ve all seen these cards, they have little icons on them and the business owner punches them out or puts a sticker on the icons to indicate a purchase has been made. One type of card had a buy 8 get the 9th free message on it. The other had a buy 10 get one free message but two of the icons that indicate you had made a purchase were punched out. So, both types of cards have exactly the same value, they both require 8 purchases to get one for free. However, for the buy 8 get 1 free card only 19% of customers redeemed it for a free car wash while for the buy 10 get one free with two purchases already made card 34% redeemed it for the free car wash.

That’s a pretty big difference. So, if you’re going to offer the customer a reward of some type, consider re-framing that offer in another way and see which one converts at a higher rate.


Button psychology

For the vast majority of task oriented online marketing it all comes down to the button. During the customer journey we may have started with our prospects clicking a link in Google’s search results, that took them to a landing page where we expressed the value proposition of our product to the user, that may have lead to a showcase page for more information on our product and glossy content and then we ask them to click a button: an add to cart button, a download button, a register button. Please dear customer, just click this button.

In my years of digital marketing and testing two things have become apparent.

1. When dealing with forms, especially one page forms, buttons that indicate that the process will be over with that button click are almost always most effective at converting the customer.

The marketing psychology of this is pretty obvious. Consider the word “submit” for a button. It’s vague. It communicates sending digital information through the ether, but then what? Now consider the dreaded “continue” button. That communicates that there’s more form to come, that punching in your personal information – a process most people hate – is an ongoing process, you could be doing this until dinner time!

Now consider the words “finish” and “complete”. That intones that you’re done. This is the end, don’t abandon this form now, you just have a few more boxes to tick and then you get the satisfaction of having completed the task. It is my experience that “finish” and “complete” can lead to considerable increases in form completion.

2. When dealing with e-commerce sites yellows, oranges and reds are the button shades that convert the most.

Walmart.com’s add to cart buttons are orange, Amazon’s is a dark yellow and Target’s is of course red, but that’s also in inline with their branding. This is no accident. I am sure they are testing this all the time. Orange is empowering, stimulating and reinforces what I like to call the “warm glow of consumerism”, that feeling of excitement you get when you pull the trigger on buying some cherished item.

Of course, you should always be testing buttons but if you’re looking for quick wins in conversion of form completions or purchases, the two suggestions above are likely winners.

The power of one word, or, why copy matters.

The beginning of this post is taken from an excellent episode of RadioLab (they’re all excellent) and I encourage one and all to listen to it.

Facebook had a problem; users were reporting photos as abusive and offensive when they weren’t. Why? People were posting innocuous group photos of family and friends and it turns out that other people in the photos simply weren’t happy that the photo had been posted. They may not have liked their pose, their facial expression or simply didn’t want it public. Having no other option to have that photo taken down, the self imagined victims were reporting the photos as offensive content.

Facebook created a solution, they asked users to select from some options in a drop down to describe how the photo made them feel. Some of the options were things like “embarrassing”, “upsetting”, “bad photo” and “other” along with a box to enter text to describe “other”. When they released the feature they found 50% of users selected one of the named emotions and 34% selected “other”. But of the people who selected “other” the number one typed in response was “it’s embarrassing” – a slight variation to one of the drop down choices.

In light of this data Facebook tweaked the interface. So instead of just “embarrassing” and “upsetting” they changed the choices to “it’s embarrassing” and “it’s upsetting”. This raised the number of people who selected one of the listed emotions from 50% to 78%. One word: “it’s” increased interaction with that content by over 50%. By including “it’s” the blame is shifted from a person to an object. I’m not embarrassed, it’s that photo that is embarrassing.

I recently did a copy test in the global navigation bar of a major electronics manufacturer. The global navigation had 5 options including two items; “Discover” and “Shop”. Now if you’re looking for a new widget from this company, which would you choose to learn more about it? You aren’t ready to buy it just yet, so you might want to “Discover” more information about it. But when you go to “Discover” you find glossy articles talking about other products from the company, not the one you want. “Shop” is the menu item you want, it is where all the products are listed by category and you can drill down to the product detail information. So we changed “Shop” to “Shop Products” and saw a 54% increase in interactions with that menu item and a 35% decrease in interactions with the “Discover” menu item. 

A travel business client has a gift card line of business where you can buy someone a card with a dollar amount attached for travel anywhere. The default amount shown (you can change it, but the dollar amount is very prominent) is $1000. I suggested we do a Valentine’s day promotion with the headline theme of “send the ones you love to the places they love”. It’s a message of giving something you know the recipient will enjoy and the word “love” is used twice – a powerful emotion and a powerful word. The client’s marketing department came back with a different approach of “venture big this Valentine’s day”. The word “venture” as in “venture capital” means to take a dangerous risk. The first definition from dictionary.com is below.

Venture, noun. 1. an undertaking involving uncertainty to the outcome especially a risky or dangerous one: a mountain climbing venture.

So the message is: spend a lot of money ($1000 suggested on the page) on the outside chance that your loved one will appreciate it. The test did indeed fail and my suspicion is that the word “venture” is primarily responsible.

And so you see, a single word can have a powerful effect. Take care with your copy and test it rigorously.


’tis the season

In my game we call it “seasonality”, the term is meant to describe user behavior that can differ wildly during certain periods of the year. This should not be a surprise to seasoned digital marketers, but what’s interesting is that it can have an effect on products and services that one would not normally suspect.

I conducted a test for a loyalty product where the value proposition to the user was the ability to accumulate loyalty points for both airline flights and hotel stays. If you link your hotel loyalty account with your airline loyalty account you can double your rewards. The test was launched 10 days before Christmas and allowed to run for an additional 10 days after Christmas. The test content was a series of banner images – very straightforward. Which image would have the most impact on getting users to link  their two loyalty programs?

10 days before Christmas : 0% lift in linked accounts. Some of the challengers had a slight positive or negative lift but none had any statistical significance.

10 days after Christmas: 15% lift in linked accounts with 97% statistical confidence for the best performing banner image.

This is an interesting result, but more than just a test result we can infer some best practices for this particular line of business. Since the number of actions – linking the two accounts – was roughly the same in the 10 days before and after Christmas it wasn’t that people were too busy in the run up to the holiday to take action, they linked accounts with an equal frequency before and after Christmas. So what changed was the users’ willingness to be marketed to. Of course some of this could be because of the busy-ness of the season, users just want to get the task done and don’t linger on subconscious messaging.

 Business lesson: take a look at other campaigns and channels for these two time periods. You might just find that marketing spend is far less effective in the two weeks before Christmas and thus budgets should be aligned accordingly, either curtail the spend before Christmas or shift it to the period after Christmas when users are more open minded to what you have to offer.


You win! Contest marketing pluses and pitfalls.

We’ve all seen them before, calls to do something to win a prize: fill out a form, send in a picture, tweet with a brand’s hashtag. This is contest marketing. If done correctly it can be highly effective, if done incorrectly it can be a nightmare.

The pluses: exposure, brand building, increased traffic and link building for improved SEO (if your contest is fun and notable it will get picked up by blogs and the media)

The pitfalls: potential legal problems (regulations vary by state!), contest gets hijacked by pranksters and low return on investment.

Books could be written on this subject, so I’m not going to get into this at length, but here are some non-obvious considerations.

Venue picking: do you use Facebook, Instagram, your own site? First, the more venues you use the greater the potential legal hassle so while it’s tempting to use them all keep the consequences in mind. Second, do your due diligence with some analysis to pick the right venue. How many Facebook likes do you have? Twitter followers? What are the metrics on engagement with content on your various social platforms? Third, what venue makes the most sense? Depending on what you’re asking a user to do, pick the easiest tool for the job. If you’re asking for entries into a photo contest Instagram or Facebook is the best choice, if you’re asking for people to submit user generated content your native web site might be the best answer.

Prize picking: If the goal is just to drive traffic then pick an iPad as the prize. Everybody wants an iPad. If you’re trying to build a base of customers with high lifetime value, pick what you sell. If you sell photography gear, give away photography gear.

Rules, rules rules: not only do you need to abide by Federal and State laws, and those laws do differ by state, you have to be aware of the platform’s terms of use as well. And of course, have detailed and bullet-proof terms and conditions for the contest itself. I know, the lawyers always ruin everything, but there’s a reason they make more than you do, they prevent disaster.

Exit strategy: don’t make this contest your Asian land war. Have a plan in place in case, for whatever reason, you need to pull this contest down before it’s over. Talk to the lawyers, figure out your greatest exposure and mitigate for that. Include items in the contest terms and conditions for this exit strategy.



Be the man with the plan.

Testing for testing’s sake is all well and good, but to really understand your customer you should have a strategic plan and calendar that creates long lasting lessons you can draw on. Here’s something I put together for a travel industry client that has a business line selling gift cards. This is a pretty simple plan because the client does not get a lot of traffic and we have to reduce complexity in order to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.

In December:

Q: Does holiday gift giving content convert at a higher rate over adventure travel?

Plan: do a 2×2 copy and image test MVT Surfing Girl image vs. Xmas tree image and copy “I’m sending ____to_____” vs. “Travel is under the tree this year”. Then do a second confirmation test with similar but slightly different content. By having this be an MVT test you can see if the holiday themed copy with the surfing image converts better than the surfing image with “I’m sending” copy, thus giving further confirmation of your findings.

Result: You find out if a holiday theme is the right one for this product. You now have a strategic understanding you can carry over to next year.


In January:

Q: Are cold weather escape images (beach) better at converting vs. winter sports (skiing) and for which region of the country?

Plan: hero image A/B test with generic copy around “getting away” that would apply equally to both. Create geolocation personas by region (New England, Southeast, etc.). Do second confirmation wave with similar but slightly different hero images.

Result: You now know what kind of content appeals to which regional segment. You can carry this learning over to the next year.


In February:

Q: Now that we’ve figured out which kind of vacation appeals to which region how can we optimize that?

Plan: using the regional segments and the winning hero image for each segment, do copy tests to determine the best approach.

Result: You have leveraged the last test to further refine and understand your customer on a much deeper level. Example: You now know that Midwesterners want to see images of the beach and copy that reflects family fun.