A Conversation with Scribe Media’s Michelle Mosher about Experimentation
The CRO and Experimentation industries are interesting ones that live at the intersection of so many fields such as psychology, development, product management, UX, business, culture, and statistics. Experiment Nation has gone deep into many of these subjects over the last few months — but the one topic that we haven’t shone a light on, much to my embarrassment, is diversity.
Like the fields that make up these industries, those that work in them come from every part of the world, and from diverse backgrounds. I recently spoke to Michelle, not only about the standard fare of the difference between working client- vs. agency-side, the impact of COVID on her day-to-day, but most importantly, the need for us to do what we can to ensure that the voices and opinions of Experimenters who are often ignored are heard.
Rommil: Hi Michelle, how are you?
Michelle: Hey Rommil! I’m doing alright, thanks for asking. Hope your day is treating you well so far.
Thanks for taking the time to chat today! For the benefit of our readers, how about you share with us what it is you do today and a bit about your career journey thus far?
Sure! As of the beginning of August, I’m the Growth Marketing Manager at Scribe Media: a fast-growing Austin-based company that truly believes in their mission: to help everyone write, publish, market their book. I was hired on to manage their websites and create a CRO program. They’re a great place that truly values their people and their authors — a real rarity these days! I’m very grateful to have joined them.
Up until the end of July, I was the Conversion Optimization Lead at Cvent, a large Event & Hospitality Saas organization. There, I created their internal CRO process and helped facilitate communication and transparency between various marketing departments and stakeholders. Before my time at Cvent, I was a Senior Conversion Strategist at CXL Agency.
Many years ago, in my previous life, I worked in various Supply Chain Management roles. I was absolutely bored and miserable until I decided to pivot to UX Design and accidentally landed my first role as CRO Analyst instead. The rest is history.
I can’t imagine why you’d find Supply Chain Management boring? I’m kidding, I’m sure it’s incredibly interesting for some talented folks out there….just not me. lol
So, how has the epidemic impacted things for you? And have they affected how you approach Experimentation?
It’s been depressing and some days have been more challenging than others. I struggled a lot with motivation initially. At my worst, handling optimization for an events industry Saas company felt trite and meaningless in the wake of social distancing and all the pain people were experiencing. I also felt very insecure about my job given how integral travel and in-person events were to my industry. At my best, I noticed an uptick in user interest in information and focused a lot of my efforts on increasing blog and resource lead capture. Cvent was also able to quickly create a highly-converting product that enabled events professionals to pivot their in-person events to virtual. This product was one of the main sales lead generators during the peak of the pandemic, so I conducted a lot of iterative tests on its sales page. Collaborating with UX and Content Strategy, we ultimately implemented an iteration that nearly doubled the initial conversion rate.
All in all, I’ve tried to stay positive and adaptable, focus on the highest area of opportunity (even if that meant having to abandon older projects and roadmaps), and pull in other internal stakeholders for increased collaboration in order to produce the highest quality outcomes.
I hear that. I can empathize with that — it was, and still is, a very surreal situation. That said, I’m glad you were able to push through.
“There are plenty of Black people, people of colour, and women in optimization who have their own unique wisdom to share.”
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work at a place I held on a pedestal and it was great to have unlimited access to CXL Institutes courses (which really are the gold standard in terms of CRO education). Also, many of the agency’s analysts I worked with are so kind and brilliant and I learned a lot from them. My fondest CXL memory was my trip to Estonia (where the European agency is headquartered) to meet everyone on the team. That was an incredible experience I’ll never forget!
That all being said, they face the same challenges that all marketing agencies seem to run into: client retention and screening, work/life balance, management issues, etc. No workplace is perfect and the agency setting isn’t for the faint of heart. However, if you’re new to CRO and want to level up your experience in the shortest amount of time, a respected agency is your best bet.
I definitely remember my time in agency (as well as at start-ups). I feel I’ve aged 10x faster because of it — luckily I also learned a lot as well.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve heard from clients during your time at an agency?
That CRO is strictly A/B and multivariate testing. Some clients tend to retain the “Alway Be Testing” mantra that was popular when CRO first started becoming a concept. They read the buzzy case studies citing giant lifts from a simple headline or colour change and then want to run similar tests on their site. However, some clients don’t have the traffic level to support small, incremental tests. In the case of low traffic volume, A/B testing can be a waste of their time and money. To achieve significance in these circumstances, one would have to run a rest for quite a long time and take the risk of working with muddy data. So, when conducting CRO on low volume sites, I rely on implementing improvements based on a heuristic analysis paired with qualitative and quantitative insights. Then I monitor the conversion rate post-implementation. I’ve seen up to 2x increases in revenue based on heuristic-informed page redesigns for small volume clients. Is it riskier? Sure. But much better than waiting 2 months for the results of an incremental test that would have produced a small lift.
Having worked in-house and at an agency, can you describe to us the major differences in how you approach optimization?
Simply put, you have a whole lot more reach working in-house. There’s more transparency into the organization’s marketing efforts and strategy, more insight into the branding and voice, implementing wins can be easier (if you’re in close collaboration with your internal dev team), and you’re able to follow up with sales on the lead quality of your experimentation efforts.
On the other hand, you’re usually able to move a little quicker in an agency setting due to the increased design and development manpower. In an in-house setting, you usually have to compete with other stakeholders for those resources, which can sometimes make progress seem like it’s going at a snail’s pace.
Can you describe to us your most favourite Experiments?
I get a lot of satisfaction out of Cart page experiments. I guess all analysts have certain pages we gravitate toward, and the Cart page is my shining star. It’s close to the bottom of the funnel, has some of the highest intent users, and it’s usually prime for a more user-friendly makeover. Some of my most impactful experiments have been on Cart pages.
Changing gears a bit. With all that’s going on, particularly in North America around equity, diversity, inclusion, and Black Lives Matter, I was wondering what your thoughts were in terms of how the Experimentation industry can do to its part?
It seems like every time I log onto Linkedin, I see another large Optimization-themed webinar or event being promoted. They’re pretty popular in our industry and usually well attended. But when you start paying attention to the speakers’ list of these events, you’ll notice that it’s usually just the same 10–15 (mostly) white men being recycled over and over again. Are these men the most informed on all things CRO? Probably not. In fact, a lot of them are upper-level managers and business owners who have been mostly removed from running ongoing CRO programs for years. There are plenty of Black people, people of colour, and women in optimization who have their own unique wisdom to share. The industry should absolutely put a concerted effort into featuring a more diverse pool of speakers.
I once had a conversation with one of the go-to speakers about this same issue, which I recall quite well. He told me that he felt affirmative action was “reverse racism” and people should be free to “get the speakers they want” for their events and webinars. I tried to explain to him that the speakers featured were probably not chosen for their exemplary insights and skills, but because they had already spoken at previous events. Despite my best efforts, he refused to believe that there were plenty of well-qualified people of colour and women who could have spoken in his place. In his mind, he was asked to speak because he saw himself as one of the best. I’d love to see this level of toxic entitlement dismantled in our industry.
“The [CRO] industry should absolutely put a concerted effort into featuring a more diverse pool of speakers.”
I hear what you’re saying. On a related note, I recently looked back at the Experimenters I’ve interviewed over the past few months and eye-dropped their faces. This is what I found.
Taking this a step further, I was also recently called out for only interviewing men. I hadn’t even noticed that I did that — it definitely wasn’t done on purpose — but the fact that I didn’t even realize what I was doing was a real wake-up call for me. We all, including myself, have to do a better job of promoting diversity in this industry, in whatever way we can.
With that said, it’s time for the Lightning Round!
Bayesian or Frequentist?
What is your biggest optimization pet peeve?
Testing gimmicky urgency elements like timers. They usually tend to work, but they’re so manipulative and lazy.
If you couldn’t work in Experimentation/Optimization, what would you do?
I’d be a florist, artist, or a librarian.
What? Not a Supply Chain Manager?
Describe Michelle in 5 words or less.
Idealistic, Compassionate, Artsy, Hardworking, Honest.
Michelle, thank you for joining the conversation. It was a pleasure to chat with you.
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