Optimization and the human mind

A conversation with CRO.CAFE’s Guido X Jansen about Experimentation

Customers don’t always make sense to us — but they definitely make sense to themselves. Understanding how customers think is key to unlocking Experimentation success. I recently chatted with CRO.CAFE’s Guido X Jansen about how he leverages cognitive psychology for CRO, why he founded CRO.CAFE, and how he uses “Hobson’s choice +1″ on his son.


Rommil: Hi Guido, thank you for taking time away from your busy schedule to chat with me today. How are you?

Guido: Hot! We have a heatwave in The Netherlands this week so my main challenge is to try to plan work outside the hottest moments of the day 🙂

Could you share with us what is it that you do and a bit about yourself?

Just like everyone else here I’m involved with running experiments to (most commonly) improve the digital customer experience. My background is in cognitive psychology, mostly worked on optimizing online shopping experiences and currently my main focus is to educate teams to run experimentation programs and how to embed that in their broader organizations.

Cool. So Guido, I’d love to learn about what inspired you to start the CRO.CAFE podcast?

I was bothered by 2 things:

  1. I encounter a lot of people in digital marketing that — with the best intentions — are trying to run experiments but they don’t have a good grasp of the basics. Because of that experiment programs are failing, people and companies get disappointed and experimentation programs abandoned.
  2. I see a lot of “misunderstandings” in the CRO community of what “others” in the industry are actually doing: We might think that some well known companies run the most amazing CRO programs (while they are actually not) and there are some small unknown companies that might feel intimidated but that actually do amazingly creative stuff to continuously optimize with very limited resources.

I don’t have the illusion that a single podcast can fix all that, but my hope is that it can at least play a part in spreading industry knowledge and awareness of our work and that we all get a better idea of what others in our industry are actually working on. In many companies, there is a single person responsible for CRO or digital growth and it’s great to provide them with a sense of community and camaraderie outside their own company.

In 2019 it started out completely in Dutch, but this year the podcast has over 50% English content which you can find at https://www.cro.cafe/en/episodes.

I love it.

“…although a lot of technology is involved, we all are still trying to sell something to another human being.”

Changing gears. You mentioned you have a background in cognitive psychology. How do you leverage it for your CRO work?

Well that’s a simple one actually: although a lot of technology is involved, we all are still trying to sell something to another human being. That human being has needs, thoughts, emotions, urges, ambitions, distractions etc. etc.. Having knowledge of how humans make (economical) decisions and the many biases we have is essential to have any form of success as an optimizer.

What are some of the most overlooked aspects of psychology that you feel CROs often ignore?

Our brains are very complex and a lot is going on at any given moment. We have uncovered quite a bit, but the actual depth and complexity of human decision making still goes beyond what scientists currently know. When working in CRO many look for certainties: things that will almost always work and will explain all the things that our customers do. You’re not gonna find many of those certainties, if any :).

I like your thinking. The way I’ve always phrased it is that customers don’t always make sense to us — but they definitely make sense to themselves. Try to understand your customers and the path forward becomes clearer


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Guido, in your opinion, what makes a good CRO strategy?

There are already great tips in the other interviews on how to run experiments itself and of course being successful with that is an important part. The most challenging thing about CRO is building this culture of experimentation and validation inside your company. Not just within your optimization team but within the whole company. Having a strategy for optimizing that is just as important as having successful experiments itself.

Very true. How do you get companies on board then?

It’s not uncommon to see that experimentation and A/B testing is considered “sexy” by outsiders so it’s relatively easy to sell it in the beginning. For long term success however it’s an ongoing effort to keep showing progress, share successes and try to involve more and more colleagues with the CRO process. You need to build the internal processes and systems that enable people to take an active part of experimentation and validation.

“You need to build the internal processes and systems that enable people to take an active part of experimentation and validation.”

Based on your experience, how can you tell if a company’s leadership embraces an Experimentation culture?

Follow the money 🙂

Ha!

So, with those companies who aren’t quite Experiment-driven or even data-driven, how do you convince them to change?

Honestly, I don’t know because those are not the companies that come to me for help: those are usually already convinced they need to change to begin with. I strongly believe that companies that embrace a more experiment-driven approach (in whatever way, doesn’t need to be A/B testing) will outlive the other companies anyway. It’s Darwinism but for companies ;).

Totally agree. Experimentation is not a nice-to-have these days. They are table stakes.

Finally, it’s time for the Lightning round!

Bayesian or Frequentist?

Yes 😉

Cheater! But I’ll allow it.

What is your favourite test from recent history?

Applying “Hobson’s choice +1” to the options I give to my 1.5-year-old boy. Works most of the time ;).

Wow — I’ve never thought of parenting as a CRO exercise. This is an untapped market lol

More about Hobson’s + 1: http://www.wheelofpersuasion.com/technique/hobsons1-effect/

If you couldn’t work in Experimentation — what would you do?

Creating stuff

Describe Guido in 5 words or less.

Show me your proof

Guido, thank you for joining the Conversation!


For the rest of our conversations with Experimenters from around the world, follow us on LinkedIn.


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