Austin, Texas sign
PHOTO: Jeremy Keith

ConversionXL Live brought a few hundred experts in growth marketing and optimization to Austin, Texas to share, collaborate and learn from each other. From practitioners responsible for creating household names like Instagram, Airbnb and Subway to innovative new startups, CXL Live created a forum for the industry’s forward thinkers.

Between listening to the speakers and hallway conversations, four themes emerged for me that would benefit any performance marketer.

1. The Customer Is True North

Success in growth marketing begins with a laser focus on the customer and their needs. Several speakers pointed to the fact that too often we make it too complex for our customers to get what they need from us.

One key to creating great ideas to test with customers is to develop a sense of empathy by spending time with customers and “walking in their shoes.” Els Aerts, co-founder of AG Consult and an expert on user research, recommended “starting with the customer and working backward.”

She cited as an example Zembro, a company that sold personal alarms for the elderly. The buyers of the product were typically the children of elderly parents, but seniors were the target users. User research with seniors revealed they felt the product offered peace of mind, but also felt somewhat stigmatized by the idea of wearing a monitoring device. These insights helped the company focus their messaging on the modern and discreet design features of their product which led to an 80 percent increase in product brochure downloads.

2. Culture and Organization Are Key to Growth

Despite the new tools and techniques to drive more conversions, the culture and mindset of a company are really important to driving growth. One way to to stimulate growth is to foster a culture of experimentation, learning and iteration. Instead of only rewarding “being right,” focus on learning. Failures can be key to success through learning and shaping the next generation of experiments.

As you adopt an experimentation culture, it is also important to align the company on shared goals. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) professionals can sometimes get mired in the data and analysis, sometimes to the point of losing site of the big picture. Keeping a collective focus on shared goals, ROI and simple bottom line metrics can help everyone across an organization support optimization efforts.

Mats Einarsen, formerly of booking.com and now senior director of product management at Kayak, reminded practitioners not to assume people “get it.” It’s important to help all parts of the organization understand how testing and experimentation work, and this involves some training.

Yu Guo, data science manager at Airbnb, reminded the audience that openly sharing experiments and results helps spread knowledge and allows teams to find better answers more quickly.

Matt Roach, director of optimization at Sanoma, reminded everyone that putting in place the right organizational structure to support testing is typically the hardest thing to get right in CRO. “Silos are not effective. With CEO buy-in, you can succeed. Without it, you’re fighting every step.”

Merritt Aho, marketing director of testing and optimization at Dun & Bradstreet reminded us that “the best ideas are the result of a process,” and likely to come from collective brainstorming rather than the insights of one individual optimizer.

3. The Speed of Your Learning Is Driven by Your Testing Velocity

It seems obvious, but the more experiments you run, the more you learn. Understanding and tracking this metric helps marketers understand their ability to learn quickly as an organization.

Step one is to begin measuring testing velocity: how many tests can you run in a week or in a month? Step two is to optimize your efforts to increase testing velocity over time.

Several speakers shared advice on how to test faster. In my presentation, I noted that AI-based tools can help marketers test faster by allowing them to test many ideas at the same time, instead of one at a time via manual testing.

Kayak's Einarsen noted another way increase velocity is to periodically recycle test hypotheses: “I routinely ask myself, ‘Where have I tested this? What other pages could I test this hypothesis on?’”

Several speakers also noted that your audience isn’t static. Chad Sanderson, personalization and experimentation manager at Subway noted that people’s behaviors change over time, and manual testing tools don’t account for customer behavioral changes over time.

4. AI Is on Everyone’s Agenda

Increasing testing capabilities and velocity go hand in hand with adopting more robust tools, which is why AI and machine learning were among the most talked about trends at CXL Live.

Attendees at the conference were very interested in AI technology and how it will enhance their careers.

AI excels at four things that are important for Conversion Rate Optimizers:

  • Managing a lot at once: AI allows marketers to test many ideas at the same time. Last year, Guillaume Cabane spoke at CXL Live about testing 4.5 billion versions of his homepage using AI-based tools.
  • Accelerating learning: AI can increase the velocity at which you can test, thereby increasing the speed at which your organization can learn.
  • Listening and reacting 24/7: Machine learning systems monitor your audience’s behavior and can adapt your messaging quickly in response to changes in their behavior. Four hours is how long it took one company’s AI to react to changes in audience behavior when it ran a big promo recently.
  • Acting with precision: AI-based tools finally make it possible to deliver personalized experiences to customers at scale. Marketers are already using AI to deliver 1:1 personalization today.

Use cases for AI include everything from creating more engaging email headlines to understanding the value of different leads.  

The Personalization Zeitgeist

The prevailing theme at this year’s CXL Live was the need to be increasingly focused on each individual visitor in order to drive more conversions. With the customer and their needs as the focus, companies seem to be increasingly focused on personalizing their experiences to optimize websites and drive revenue. Several speakers talked about the holy grail of 1:1 marketing, and there were numerous examples of marketers increasingly using new kinds of tools to help drive personalization and accelerate learning. It’s clear that artificial intelligence will play an increasingly important role moving forward.