Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How Sermo increased the opt-in rate for a rented list by 197%

Are rented lists effective? What can I expect for a conversion rate on one? Are my emails even getting read when I rent a list?

These are all good questions, and the answer is…

It depends.

The best we can do is look at what other people have done and try to apply similar principles to our rented email list campaigns.

With that in mind, here’s one campaign run by a company called Sermo. Sermo is a physicians-only social network that charges pharmaceutical companies for access to their audience.

It begins with a rented list from Fierce Pharma.

Sermo wanted to use some survey data that they had gathered from their audience as an opt-in offer for an audience of pharmaceutical companies.

Serma pic 1

Once the audience clicked on the download button, a pop up showed that asked for email and information.

Sermo ran several tests with single article emails, and the results came up inconclusive over and over again.

What they found, however, when they looked closely at the metrics of those tests is that each campaign’s conversion rate varied widely.

Serma pic 2

That told the team that the main thing affecting the conversion rate on these emails was the content itself.

The team hypothesized that if they created a send with different content options in the same email, the opt-in rate might improve significantly. So they created a treatment email and tested it.Serma pic 3


They found a significant increase in opt-in rates for people who clicked twice on the email (their most qualified prospects).

Serma pic 4

By examining the data in their rented list campaigns and creating an informed hypothesis, the team at Sermo was able to increase email capture rate by 197% on their most qualified prospects.

Here’s the full case study for you to use in your own presentations…

You might also like:
Download the free Quick Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization
Are Letter-Style Emails Still Effective?
Email Messaging Test: 104% increase in conversion from rented list
Email Conversion and Lifecycle Messaging: How Marriott Rewards generated 86% more email-driven revenue

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Online Content: Is Longer Really Better?

Writing online content is something of a balancing act. For years, SEO experts have pointed out that Google loves longer content.

Your readers? Not necessarily.

As a writer, that means you’re kind of stuck in the middle. Write too little, and your content won’t rank. Write too much, and most people won’t read your content.

‘Tis a conundrum, no?

The good news is, Google has realized that word count and keyword density aren’t always the best predictors of relevance. People care about their on-page experience—not the keyword count.

As a result, Google has placed an increasing focus on user experience. In Moz’s 2015 report on non-keyword ranking factors, 4 of their top 10 factors relate to user experience:


Given this trend, the odds are that as Google gets better at discerning great on-page experiences from the ho-hum ones, many pages with a lot of text but little value will start dropping through the ranks.

As a result, it’s not enough any more to write in-depth, keyword rich content—you have to optimize your content length for user experience. And, to do that, you need to know how much content your audience really wants on a page.

Fortunately, figuring that out isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think. To help you out, let’s take a look at how users interact with content and how you can test your content to maximize its effectiveness.

Is Longer Better?

Since Google has historically prioritized longer content, most companies and blogs have spent years producing long-form content. Often, this content is good, high-quality writing that delivers a lot of value (case in point, the Kissmetrics blog).

But the question is, is longer better?

For some sites, it probably is. But, to tell you the truth, I rarely read through everything on a page, even if I care a lot about the content. As it turns out, most people act the same way online.

In fact, Chartbeat ran a study to see just how far people make it through a typical blog post. Turns out, your average user only reads about half of a blog post:

So, while you may have written an epic, 8,000-word blog post about the psychology behind the Chewbacca Mask Lady’s viral video, most people aren’t going to read the whole thing. They’re going to bail long before your oh-so-compelling conclusion.

Sure, your article might rank well, but if people don’t finish reading it, will your article help your business? That’s debatable.

This idea holds especially true for site pages and landing pages. The internet is littered with enormous pages like this one (I rearranged the page into 3 side-by-side columns to improve your reading experience—see what I did there?):


Pages like this have a lot of good content, but all of that good content gets lost in the length of the page. Yes, the information a potential customer needs is probably on the page, but if they can’t find it, they’re not going to have a very good experience.

The point here is that crafting a compelling user experience doesn’t mean writing a lot of content. In fact, depending on your audience, writing more may mean people read less and therefore convert less.

But how can you know what sort of content length your audience prefers? To answer that, you’ll need to run a simple test.

Testing Out Different Content Lengths

When it comes to conversion rate optimization, a lot of companies focus on major page elements like headlines, hero shots, form fields, CTA buttons, etc. Content length often sits at the bottom of the list.

This is a shame, because content length is a major part of your user experience—especially if you run an active blog.

For example, at Disruptive, we were recently helping OURrescue optimize their site. Now, OURrescue is an amazing group. They travel the world saving kids from sex traffickers. It’s pretty hard to top that.

To fund their rescues, OURrescue runs a regular blog that discusses the (often heart-wrenching) details of their “missions.” Each blog post ends with a call for donations to help fund further rescue efforts.

In keeping with most blogs, OURrescue’s articles were usually a minimum of 1,500 words long and very detailed. The blog was generating decent donations, but my VP of Conversion Rate Optimization, Chris Dayley, started to wonder about the length of their content.

Were they writing too much? Too little? Would OURrescue get more donations if they changed the length of their content?

To answer these questions, Chris asked OURrescue to write short, medium and long versions of a few articles. We then used Optimizely to send traffic to each of the post variants. Similar to Chartbeat, we tracked how far users scrolled through each post (using Hotjar), time on page and the donations generated from each version of the article.

On desktop, the results were about what you’d expect (note, we tested multiple articles, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re only showing the variants for one article):


The longer the posts, the longer people spent on the page. That makes sense, since longer posts take more time to read. However, the mid-length articles actually had the highest completion rate.

So, while readers spent more time on the longest version of the posts, more people actually finished the articles and saw the donation CTA on the medium-length versions.

Things got even more interesting when we looked at our mobile users:


On mobile (which is where most online time is spent these days), the longest post variants had the lowest time on page. The middle-length page variants had the highest time on page.

The shortest version of the posts, however, had the highest completion rate—nearly double the completion rate of the longest variants.

Now, these stats were all very interesting, but none of them really answered the most important question: which length of content provided the best user experience?

Or, to put things in more concrete business terms, which version of the articles produced the most donations?

As it turned out, the “winning length” varied between desktop and mobile:


Compared with the longest version of the articles, the shortest versions drove over 80% more donations on mobile and the medium-length versions drove almost 30% more donations on desktop.

So, was longer content better for OURrescue? Not by a long shot!

What makes this data particularly interesting is the fact that time on page wasn’t a particularly good predictor of donations. Page completion rate, however, was.

If you think about it, this makes sense. After all, with a CTA at the bottom of the article, if people weren’t finishing the article, they weren’t seeing the CTA, which meant they weren’t donating.

Now, it’s possible that adding a floating CTA users could see throughout their reading experience could help improve donations further, but that’s hardly the point of this test. Since the CTA was at the bottom of the article, that meant that people who saw the CTA were having a good enough experience to get to the bottom of the article.

So, what drove donations for OURrescue? It wasn’t the articles with the most words—it was the articles with the best user experience.

All this being said, these were OURrescue’s results. Your audience will be different. It’s very possible that you could run this same sort of test and get completely different results.

But, if you don’t test the length of your content, can you really be sure that you’re providing the optimum user experience?


So, is longer content really better? For years, long content has been a great way to get ranked on Google, but that’s beginning to change.

These days, both Google and your readers are looking for content that provides a great experience. That means your online content needs to be the right length for your audience.

As Google continues to focus their algorithms on providing ever better user experiences, it’s time for online marketers to do the same.

Have you ever tried a test like this one? What were your results? Do you agree that online content should be optimized for user experience, rather than word count or keyword density?

About the Author: Jacob Baadsgaard is the CEO and fearless leader of Disruptive Advertising, an online marketing agency dedicated to using PPC advertising and website optimization to drive sales. His face is as big as his heart and he loves to help businesses achieve their online potential. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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5 ways effective UI design promotes UX

A user experience is something that every website offers to those who visit it. However, the experience will differ from website to website in a wide variety of ways.  Some are easy to navigate, some are a joy to use, some are clunky but you can still plod your way to where you want to go, and some are so difficult to understand that you just hit the back arrow on your browser.

One of the biggest influences on user experience is the user interface—the actual design that users will interact with—there are several factors that make up an interface, such as how easy it is to navigate through a website or how easy it is to read content. Users will also form their opinions based on the website’s perceived value and usefulness. The better it helps them accomplish their goals, the more useful it will be perceived to be.

The emotions that users feel while using your website, will end up having an impact on the associated business. If users can easily find what they are looking for on the website and feel satisfied, they are more likely to purchase from it, meanwhile, if they feel frustrated or confused, it is quite likely they will move along and purchase from someone else that offers them a better user experience. Lackluster user experiences hold many businesses back from their full potential, leaving their websites underperforming, and wasting valuable advertising dollars when visitors are not converted into customers.

Below are 5 simple, but potent, ways in which clever user interface design promotes successful user experience:

1. Improving page load speed

The page load speed of your website is an extremely important element of user experience. While designers often get caught up in trying to show off their visual design skills, the truth of the matter is that website visitors generally care more about page load speed than gaudy adornments.

According to a recent study by Kissmetrics, nearly half (47%) of all consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less; if your page takes longer than that to load, it is reducing the quality of the user experience. If your page takes more than three seconds to load, you will have, on average, 40% of visitors abandon your website; that will increase by 7% for each additional second it takes your website to load. A slow website translates into lost opportunities and lost sales.

Additionally, while slow load times cut down on the number of conversions your website generates, slow load times also work to reduce the number of opportunities your website will give rise to by having a negative impact on its search engine ranking. The effect is small, but you certainly want to do everything you can to improve your website’s search engine ranking.

To help keep your pages loading in under 3 seconds, try utilizing the following tips: first, opt for a simpler design style avoiding unnecessary items and flashy decorations (in A/B tests, simpler designs generally outperform ornate designs anyway); second, optimize your images in a graphics program, you don’t want to use html to resize them; third, avoid using too many plugins, they slow down the experience for site visitors; fourth, if your site is popular, consider utilizing a content delivery network to improve server response time.

2. Leveraging white space

White space is often overlooked but it is a very important part of effective user interface design. I am sure you have been in the same situation as most designers where clients view white space as empty space and rush to fill it, thinking white space is a waste. In fact, the opposite is the case; white space is one of the most important parts of a website.

If used properly, white space can dramatically improve the user experience of a website. White space helps make a user interface easy on the eye, which helps retain visitors and keeps them reading. It does this by making content more legible. The white space around website text and images helps people improve comprehension and creates a better user experience.

White space also helps improve the appearance of your website, giving it a nice, clean professional look. White space helps reduce confusion on the part of visitors as websites lacking in white space often look disorganized. You want to create a nice balanced look for your website using white space to separate different blocks of content.

White space is also effective to highlight something important such as your call to action. The proper use of white space in your design helps guide your visitors’ attention to key parts of your website and without it, visitors may overlook important items.

A wonderful example of this is the Chanel website. It is a beautiful, clean site that uses white space well to draw your attention to key areas of the site.

3. Cutting down the amount of text

Website visitors will generally just skim your web pages looking for important keywords, significant headings, and scannable lists. Visitors are typically in a hurry to find the information they’re looking for and will skip over content that appears to be inconvenient or irrelevant. Because of this, you should understand that visitors will most likely not read your content if it is not formatted to this pattern of behavior. Avoid creating long blocks of text that appear uninviting to users wanting to quickly scan your website. When it comes to the modern web, less is definitely more.

You also want to avoid over-indulging in promotional writing, as customers will quickly see through fluff and stop reading. Having the correct tone is important. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, objective copywriting in a concise, scannable style results in 124% better usability.

When and where it is possible, utilize visuals as people tend to be better engaged by visual content. Utilize icons, attention grabbing images, video clips and infographics to help get your message across rather than relying on large blocks of text.

Bellroy illustrates this concept well on their website as they keep text down to a minimum amount and showcase their products with big, easy to view images.

4. Reducing visual clutter

Treat your website visitors’ attention as a precious resource. As visitors arrive at your website, remember that they will be quickly scanning for pertinent information and not paying full attention to everything on the page. If you clutter up your user interface, it will overload website visitors with too much information, make your website seem complicated and reduce the quality of the user experience.

Start by removing items that are not essential. By getting rid of anything that isn’t necessary to the user completing their intended actions, you will reduce the clutter and improve visitors’ ability to focus on and comprehend essential information. 

ETQ’s website shows how by eliminating clutter you are able to focus on the products themselves.

5. Providing a clear call to action

You should have a clear goal for visitors who arrive at your website. You want this to be obvious to visitors and easy for them to complete. Perhaps you want visitors to make a purchase, request a quote, or just to call you, let them know what to do to keep them moving forward after landing on your website. 

Your call to action is how you tell visitors what action they should take while on your website. We regularly see websites with no clear call to action and it is no surprise when we find out they are not performing the way their owners’ hope. Your call to action should stand out and make it easy for the visitors to take the desired action.

Before deciding on your website’s call to action it is best to understand your visitors’ reasons for coming to your website. Having a call to action that runs counter to visitors’ intentions will reduce its effectiveness. If visitors just want to make a purchase but you push them to ask for a quote it can cut down on the effectiveness of your call to action.

Dollar Shave Club’s buttons just beg to be pushed. Their website illustrates how clear calls to action can draw your attention and promote forward movement.


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Monday, January 30, 2017

Your Customers Don’t Care About Your Product: They Care About Progress

It’s true. Your customers don’t care about your product. Don’t worry, they don’t care about your competitor’s products either. Your customers don’t care about any products. Thankfully, your customers do care about something, which is why they buy your product.

Your customers care about the progress they will make as a result of using your product.

As Growth Marketers and Product Builders, it’s our job to make sure customers understand how our product will change them for the better. Then we can create an efficient customer funnel that turns potential customers into loyal, repeat customers. We use data to optimize each stage of the user lifecycle. However, it’s easy to get bogged down in user data and product features. When we lose sight of whether or not our customers have realized the better life we’ve promised, the customer becomes stuck in our funnel and we lose our customer.

By understanding the progress our customers are hoping to make, we can increase conversions at any stage of the user lifecycle: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, and Referral.

Customers Buy Progress

Customers actually don’t buy your product. They aspire to be more awesome, and they believe your product will help them get there. They buy the vision of themselves being more awesome. This visual from Samuel Hulick explains why customers buy products.


Customer progress is a key concept of Jobs To Be Done (JTBD). I was first introduced to the above Super Mario graphic by Alan Klement’s book on JTBD, When Coffee & Kale Compete. The JTBD helps us focus on the customer’s desire to make life better and the progress they are hoping to achieve. With this focus, we can grow faster and build better products.

Alan lists 10 JTBD principles in his book. We’ll focus on two.

  1. Customers don’t want your product or what it does; they want help making their lives better.
  2. Solutions and Jobs should be thought of as parts of system that work together to deliver progress to customers.

The rest of this article will show how growth and product teams at B2B and B2C orgs have used these two principles to create better top of funnel marketing messages and increase LTV and retention through progress-centric product updates.


  • Create ads and content that focus on progress. Progress is overcoming an emotional struggle to make one’s life better.
  • Make sure you have the right understanding of progress for your audience.

Case Study

TownHound was a dual-sided marketplace that was picked up by Google just 8 months after launch. It was a mobile app that brought restaurants more patrons during off-peak hours by offering discounts to its users. In just 3 months, TownHound was able to sign on 6x more restaurant partners in the San Jose, CA region than it’s behemoth competitor Groupon.

This is a huge accomplishment because two-sided marketplaces are tricky. You need a high volume of Demand (customers redeeming TownHound deals) in order to build up Supply (restaurant partners that offer deals). Bryan Solar, Co-Founder of TownHound, understood the progress that his customers were hoping to achieve, which he used to guide his paid acquisition strategy.

Early on, his Facebook and Instagram ads were just doing okay. TownHound was bringing on new users, but they weren’t sticky. Users would download the app, redeem a single deal, and then poof, they were gone. He wasn’t acquiring the right users.

He needed more quality users in order to satisfy the balance of his two-sided marketplace. He decided to interview customers that had redeemed more than one deal.

Bryan’s interviews led to a huge discovery. He learned that his best users were dating app users. His repeat customers were using TownHound while on first, second, or third dates.

  • TownHound’s Restaurant partners want more patrons during slow hours: Monday – Thursday nights.
  • Dating app users typically meet for dinner during the week because weekends are too precious to waste on a potentially traumatic first Tinder date experience.
  • It’s a match!

Bryan learned that his best customers didn’t use TownHound to get discounts on meals. They use TownHound in order to find the right person for a relationship. He also understood that his customers didn’t necessarily love to go on dates. Dates are exciting, but they’re also stressful and expensive. For many, dates are a necessary evil.

When TownHound’s ad content changed, quality user growth and restaurant partner growth rapidly increased.

  • Before: Ads focused on saving money on dinner.
  • After: Ads focused on relieving the pain of going on expensive dates.

Bryan found his core audience and tailored acquisition efforts to focus on their progress, rather than the function of his product.


  • Re-highlight the progress that was promised in acquisition.
  • Link onboarding process to progress or overcoming a struggling moment.

Samuel Hulick, the creator of the Super Mario graphic above, runs UserOnboard.com – a site dedicated to onboarding and activating users. He sat down with Ryan Singer of Basecamp and discussed how JTBD can be applied to the onboarding process. Ryan noticed a change in the way he approaches onboarding when customer progress is his goal.

“That’s really interesting to look through a Jobs-to-Be-Done lens, because then the question becomes ‘what can we do to help this person decide that this is the right tool for them?’ That’s a very different task for the designer than ‘how can I thoroughly explain the mechanisms of my products?’”

Case Study

Le Tote is an e-commerce subscription service for women that delivers a personalized box of clothes directly to their customer’s doorstep. Le Tote’s monthly subscription lets customers wear the clothes they receive as long as they want, and then receive a new box in exchange for sending back their previously worn garments. Le Tote is old-school Netflix for women’s clothes.

Le Tote uses style preferences, ratings of previously shipped garments, and sizing info to curate a box of clothes for each customer. In theory, the more you use Le Tote, the better the service is at matching you with clothes you’ll love.

However, Le Tote doesn’t have a history of customer feedback to leverage when shipping a box to a first time user. It’s critical that Le Tote gets the first box right because it’s essentially a “test drive.” Send a bad box to a first time user and the likelihood of them sticking around for a second box is slim.

If the first box is critical to a new user adopting Le Tote, then the onboarding process incredibly important. Le Tote needs to gather as much info about their customer’s style preferences during onboarding as possible in order to make a great first impression, without bombarding users with tedious onboarding tasks. So how does Le Tote get users through a lengthy onboarding process without seeing a drop in conversion?

Here are two steps in the process. The user is met with easy to answer questions about occasions that are hard to dress for and weather, which is uncontrollable.


Now, think about the progress that Le Tote’s customers are hoping to achieve. They want access to new, trendy clothes in order to feel confident in situations that matter. Buying a new garment from a traditional e-commerce site for every special occasion can get expensive. Plus, ‘that perfect new shirt’ tends to lose it’s magic after a few wears and a couple months in the closet. A Le Tote customer wants to feel confident in new clothes while maintaining wallet-friendly peace of mind.

Le Tote communicates progress by highlighting a few occasions that customers have struggled to get ready for in the past. This reminds the user why she’s jumping through onboarding hoops — to overcome these struggling moments and make progress. This is easily forgotten when onboarding focuses too much on the product and not the user, and we activate fewer users as a result.


  • Use data to track changes in usage behavior.
  • Interview customers when behaviors change to understand if customers are making progress.
  • Make product changes when features are standing in the way of progress.

Your marketing and sales efforts have promised the solution to a struggling moment, and your customer has chosen your product to take them from ‘Normal Mario’ to ‘Awesome Fireball Throwing Mario’.

If you don’t deliver progress, your customers will churn. How do we know that we’re delivering progress?

Behavioral data helps us understand which features are being used and how often customers are coming back. This data is incredibly actionable, but it doesn’t tell us if our customers are actually making progress.

Customer interviews are key to improving retention. Data will help uncover behavior changes of our customers, but interviews will reveal the why behind those changes. Alan Klement gives us examples of behavior changes to investigate through customer interviews: “When someone purchases a product, begins to use a new product, stops using a product, suddenly uses a product more, and suddenly uses a product less.” (p. 190).

Case Study

Wade Warren, Co-Founder of Resource, is using JTBD to guide the product roadmap of his candidate sourcing platform. Resource finds candidates and then writes personalized, custom outreach that comes from an internal recruiter’s identity. It’s a platform that helps recruiters with limited hiring bandwidth to build teams faster.

Resource has a feature where new candidates are automatically screened in – which means that they are contacted without explicit recruiter approval.

Wade noticed a decline in usage in the product. People were signing up for Resource, adding a number of roles and using it for a few weeks, before suddenly pausing their roles and stopping usage. His team interviewed customers to understand the root of the issue. One of his interviewees was a user that had stopped using Resource, but then began to use it again.

She got responses from a few candidates who had been automatically screened and was forced to speak with candidates that weren’t a good fit, which caused anxiety. She paused her Resource roles and went back to contacting candidates through Linkedin.

Then, she saw a recruiter on her team using a buried feature that allowed her to individually pick the candidates to be contacted: “I saw Sarah clicking approve and asked, ‘what is that’. She explained to me that you can screen each individual candidate in Resource if you change this setting.” She immediately went back to Resource.

Wade heard this same story from a few different customers, so his team made a product change. Automated screening was switched from a default feature to a feature that must be toggled on by the user. Once this switch was made, he saw usage go up and churn decrease across all of his customers.

Although the original feature performed its intended function of reducing work for his customers, it caused anxiety. Wade’s interviews helped him better understand the progress his customers wanted to achieve: “We didn’t think that giving our customers more work in the product would mean them making more progress, but counterintuitively did.”


  • You’ve already delivered some progress. Find ways to deliver more progress.
  • Add features that make progress easier to achieve.

Case Study

When Bryan’s team at TownHound focused their acquisition strategy on dating app users, he started acquiring quality users. He noticed an increase in quality feedback as a result. The feedback he got informed a product update that increased both retention and revenue because it helped to deliver more progress for his users.

TownHound rolled out a new feature that is similar to a feature in the expense reporting app, Expensify. The new feature allowed users to redeem their discounts by snapping a photo of the paper receipt in the app after the meal was over. Before this feature, the user could only redeem a discount by showing a waiter or waitress a confirmation page in the app during the meal.

At its surface, this new feature provides TownHound users more flexibility when redeeming their discounts while at dinner. It could even allow a user to redeem a discount after leaving the restaurant if they forgot to show their waiter the in app coupon.

The new snap-a-photo feature does offer flexibility, but more importantly, it contributes to progress for users who are on dates. Dates are stressful because first, second, and third impressions matter. We want to impress the person sitting across the table. Although most would agree that living frugally where we can is an admirable characteristic, a first date typically isn’t the place to tout this trait. The new snap-a-photo feature allows a TownHound user to redeem their discount without their date knowing. They don’t have to worry about being perceived as cheap!

TownHound is used to help create a meaningful dining experience for users that are looking for a new relationship. Bryan’s team at TownHound had a deep understanding of the progress his customers were hoping to make and the role that TownHound played in delivering that progress. If he had viewed his product simply as a “deals app”, he wouldn’t have been able to make a key product update that brought in more revenue as more users redeemed second, third, and fourth deals.


  • Use incentives that align with progress to influence referrals.
  • Don’t assume increased credits, storage, or currency equals progress.

If you help your customers make progress, it’s likely that their friends will hear about your product. Unfortunately, word of mouth alone won’t raise our K Factor above 1, so we must encourage referrals. Social networks like Linkedin and Twitter have had huge wins through productized referrals. Josh Elman explains how his teams at Twitter and Linkedin created winning referral programs in this video called 3 Growth Hacks: The Secrets To Driving Massive User Growth:

Linkedin and Twitter are social networks, so the “better with friends” referral play works incredibly well. What about products that aren’t social? How do we build an effective referral program for customers?

The common referral incentive we see looks like this: “If you use my referral code when you sign up, we each get $10 off our purchase.” Sometimes the reward for the referrer is delayed until the new user makes a purchase, but there is usually a give and a get incentive. In other words, “I give you $10, I get $10.”

Case Study

Le Tote used the standard give/get strategy early on, but couldn’t find the right mix of give/get secret sauce in order for their referral program to take off. Le Tote is not a social product.

Before working as Director of Growth at Le Tote, Luke Langon implemented referral programs at Lyft and two other mobile apps that he co-founded. Luke interviewed his customers in order to find out what give/get incentive would work best. His goal was to increase the percentage of users participating in referrals.

He learned that many of his customers weren’t referring friends because their give of $25 only covered half the cost of their friend’s Le Tote box. This means that their friend would still have to pay in order to test drive Le Tote. His customers didn’t like the idea of recommending a new product that forced their friends to pay. The get of $15 was intended to incentivize a referral, but not all customers were motivated by saving money on their next Le Tote box.

Le Tote’s referral program became a top acquisition channel when it shifted from ‘Give $25/Get $15’, to ‘Give a free box, Get nothing.’ Referrals achieved the lowest Cost Per Acquisition compared to all other acquisition channels and ranked second in volume of new subscribers.

Le Tote’s subscription does help customers save money on new clothes, but this isn’t how they make progress. Le Tote’s customers make progress by feeling confident during important occasions involving people they want to maintain or create a healthy relationship with. This progress is more important than saving money, which is why the old referral program didn’t work for many customers.

How to start using progress to benefit you and your customers

Customer interviews will help you discover what progress means to your customers. Remember, progress is overcoming an emotional struggle to make one’s life better. You need to uncover an emotional hurdle that has nothing to do with your product. When you use progress as your guide, you will create more wins throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jobs To Be Done, JTBD.info is a great place to start. It’s run by Alan Klement, who’s book I linked at the beginning of this article.

If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment below or feel free to reach out!

About the Author: Chris Brophy likes to drive growth for consumer-focused startups. He’s currently consulting startups on growth strategy at Tradecraft and exploring his next adventure. If you’d like to chat about growth, JTBD, or live music, reach him at cabrophy89[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Essential design trends, February 2017

An interesting visual presence above the scroll is the first impression a user gets of a website. Whether that user continues to click can depend on a number of things, including imagery, readability and overall interest in the content.

This month we are looking at three trends that make a distinct first impression—dark color overlays on images, brutalism and hollow lettering styles. Here’s what’s trending in design this month:

1) Dark overlay on images

It doesn’t matter if the hero image is still or moving, a dark color overlay can help even colors in a way that makes it easier to add text and other elements to a layer on top of the image. While this might sound like a shortcut at first, there’s a lot of value in this technique.

The primary reason to opt for a color overlay is to enhance readability. Most images contain light and dark color variances, making it a challenge to add lettering that is readable on every device. Even if there’s a perfect placement for desktop wide screens, the same image and text combination may render undecipherable on a mobile screen.

That’s where a color overlay helps. The semitransparent wash of color over an image or video should amp up the contrast. Then white or light-colored lettering has a place and will remain readable.

Dark color overlays are visually interesting for other reasons as well. Don’t get stuck in the trap that dark means black or gray. A dark overlay can be any color, such as the green used by Internetum, below. A fun or unusual color choice can help draw users into the design.

A dark overlay can do one more thing: it can help camouflage an image or video that you don’t want to be at the forefront of the design. This could be because the image is a little old, a little soft in terms of composition or just one that falls a little flat. A color overlay can change the mood of the image, make it a little less prominent and help the design focus more on other content, such as text, calls to action buttons or other graphic elements.

Overlays can be really dark, such as Digital Werk or can provide a subtle darkening in the manner of Lytton Living. You know you have the right balance when you can still see the image and all layered elements are easy to read.

2. Brutalism

Ugly. Harsh. Sharp. Busy.

These are just a few of the words that some have used to describe the brutalism website design trend. But just because a designer experiments with brutalism does not mean the design is a hot mess. It’s quite the opposite.
This style employs a different style and sensibility that includes things you see and things you can’t. Ben McNicholl described it this way in a post for Envato: “’Brutalism’ comes from the French word for ‘raw,’ so keep that in mind when you’re writing your code. 
“A website doesn’t have to be a horror show of unordered images and clashing font colors; the way the code has been written is also symbolic of the style. Embedded CSS, untabbed code, HTML tables, the list goes on.”
There are enough examples of brutalism that there’s a whole website gallery devoted to these designs.  In the introduction, the website refers to brutalism in this way: “In its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism and frivolity of today’s web design.”

What’s particularly interesting about brutalism is that the design looks so different from all the flat and minimal styles that have been so prevalent. If you come across one of these designs, you can’t help but stop, look and explore. Whether you think it is beautiful or ugly or something in between, that’s the ultimate goal of any website design.

3. Hollow lettering

Letters with interesting fills are beginning to pop up all over the place. What’s interesting about this trend is that it has two distinctly different looks:

  • Hollow lettering over an image or colored background, such as C&C Coffee.
  • Lettering filled with an image on a plain background, such as The London Loom, with an alternative version where you can almost see the image with a background with subtle transparency, such as My Mother Before Me.

While this trend has a lot of visual impact and is a lot of fun, it can be somewhat difficult to execute.

When it comes to hollow lettering over a photo, there aren’t always that many typeface options to choose from and designers can get stuck using the same few fonts. This is not an ideal situation for web projects at all. There’s more flexibility for non-web projects where you don’t have to worry about font integration and rendering.

When it comes to filled lettering, the trick to making it work is that the images inside letters need to be discernable. If users can’t tell what the image is, then the design won’t be effective. To help, most designers opt for thick block letters here so there is more room for images to show through. Images are often more abstract, or textiles or landscapes because the human brain tends to fill in the blanks of the image and it still works for them. It’s much more difficult to use images with faces or objects that you need to see in a certain way because they have to be positioned perfectly within characters.

Despite being somewhat challenging, both lettering styles can be visually interesting and fun to create.


Unlike some other trends where you can implement small changes, these three options present more of an overall style shift. Can you see yourself using any of them in future projects?
What trends are you loving (or hating) right now? I’d love to see some of the websites that you are fascinated with. Drop me a link on Twitter; I’d love to hear from you.

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