Elite Camp 2014 – Why This Was The Best Conference Of The Year

Elite Camp – a conversion conference in Estonia I’d never heard of a few months ago, that turned out to be the best conference I’ve ever been to.

Elite Camp Conference

My colleague Matt and I flew across from Manchester (early) on Friday morning, with the conference kicking off at 3pm in the afternoon. Ants Anupõld, who had helped organise the conference, was there to greet us as we arrived in Tallinn as we all boarded a bus to the conference venue. As we drove through the city, Ants provided a funny and insightful commentary on the city and its historical heritage.

Room with a view

Ants told the incredibly interesting story of Estonia’s development of a digital chip-and-pin ID card, which is used for everything from banking and healthcare to electronic voting. The integration of the ID card is such that an individual can set up and register a business in 3 minutes(!), which led fellow conference attendee Maurice Beerthuyzen to christen Estonia ‘the first startup country‘.

The conference venue was about as far away from a typical UK conference as I could ever imagine – a remote beachside spa hotel off in the woods, about 45 minutes from Tallinn. Speakers and attendees alike stayed, ate, drank and partied in the hotel – creating a profound sense of camaraderie in the group.

Day 1: Legends of Conversion

Brian Massey: Humility and Ecstasy – Insights from 500 Tests

The keynote speaker – one of America’s finest – ‘The Conversion Scientist‘, Brian Massey, is famous for presenting in his trademark lab coat – which literally makes him smarter (look it up).

The theme of Brian’s talk was a series of ‘WTF Moments’ (like ‘what the fuck happened there’?). As the weekend wore on, WTF became a good slogan for the conference itself.

Some notable causes of WTF:

  • Whiteboard (explainer) video outperformed a webinar video by 60%
  • Shocking emotional CTAs can outperform compassionate ones (e.g. “Stop Lying” to drug addiction victims)
  • Almost every time they tested static banners versus carousel banners, static ones performed better – HOWEVER if you switch around the messages in the carousel you can see the opposite (61% uplift in one test!)
  • If you want people to call you (for lead gen), offer up a crazy big form to put them off filling it in!
  • Some tests can get different ‘winners’ in different browsers (H/T to Peep for chipping in with Evergage as a suggestion for personalising such experiences)

André Morys: The Million Dollar Optimization Strategy

The over-riding point I took away from André’s talk was that CRO isn’t really about ‘increasing conversions’, it is about GROWTH. He referred to ‘The Zalando Effect’, referencing the aggressive European e-commerce company Zalando, who have a CRO team of 80 for Germany alone – postulating that their commitment to testing and optimisation was driving their outstanding growth.

André continuously emphasised the point that conversion optimisation should be about increasing profits – which isn’t necessarily revenue.

The Zalando Effect

Bart Schutz: Wheel of Persuasion – The Brain Science of Selling Money

Introduced by Peep as ‘The Last Man Standing’, Bart justified this nickname by consistently outlasting (and outdancing) everyone else come party time. Bart is one of the owners of Online Dialogue, a company specialising in the psychological aspects of conversion optimisation, so it should not come as a surprise that Bart had his own definition for CRO as well: “It’s trying to separate a consumer from their money.”

Bart argued that we need to influence the consumer’s brain, which is split into two modes of decision making:

  • System 1: Fast, emotional, intuitive & associative, effortless, unconscious reasoning
  • System 2: Slow, rational, logical, effortful, conscious reasoning

Whilst Bart explained the various techniques to satisfy each of these modes in several different scenarios, he claimed that on the web, System 1 wins out most of the time. Some methods to satisfy system 1 include telling the user where you want them to look (visual cues) and placing your messages within emotionally charged content (e.g. images).

Party 1: Cult of the Lab Coat

After some live website critiques (which was effectively 11 guys on stage tearing apart your website) DJ OptimiseOrDie got the party started. Matt, and I, however, were drawn to the group of orange clad men who had pulled up chairs in front of the TV for Spain Vs Netherlands in the World Cup. With no particular bias ourselves, we joined them in their support, and were richly rewarded as Robben et al dismantled the holders, causing another WTF moment and crazy celebrations from the jubilant Dutch.

The highlight of the evening, however, was when we got chatting to Brian Massey later in the evening (who is both hiCult of the lab coatlarious and a surprisingly good dancer). This was one of the nicest things about the environment at Elite Camp – the speakers were just as approachable as the attendees, happy to mingle and chat with anyone.

A few drinks in, Brian got us to test his lab coat theory by fetching some spares he was conveniently carrying. It worked – we were smart enough to leave the party at 4am (which was in the process of rolling onto the beach…).

Day 2: The Leaky Bucket

It’s fair to say we weren’t the only ones feeling the after-effects of some, shall we say, ‘over exuberant’ partying the night before, as Day 2 got underway. ‘The ‘leaky bucket’ appeared to be the theme of the day (or possibly the weekend), as I can’t count the amount of times that phrase came up.

Judah Phillips: Building a Digital Analytics Organization – Creating Value with Your Data

Judah Phillips – who literally wrote the book on building a business on digital analytics and data driven insight – presented some of his methodologies for using data to reduce costs and increase profits.

The main thing I took from Judah’s talk, which was highly detailed and comprehensive, was that everything starts with analytics – you need proper data to be able to make informed marketing and business decisions.

Ton Wesseling: My Daily Job as a Growth HackerThe Barefoot Presenter

Ton (‘The Barefoot Presenter’) Wesseling’s presentation centered around his ‘daily job’, a specific client he’d been working closely with – optimising the booking process for a hotel chain called Van Der Valk. A primary message in Ton’s talk was in the value of creating a tight team where everybody knows the drill – something I whole-heartedly agree with.

Ton emphasized that optimisation is about learning to understand behaviour – in this case study, what was causing people to back-click (rooms booked) and what could you do to increase click-throughs (introduce scarcity). He also drilled home the importance of re-testing: if you get a positive result from testing, re-test it. Was it a fluke?

Craig Sullivan: How to Completely Scew Up Your A/B Testing

Craig’s presentation was a veritable tour de force of CRO tips and tricks, with as much ‘how not to do it’ as ‘how to do it.’ Some of my favourites:

  • Get lots of people involved in generating potential hypotheses to test
  • Integrate your testing software with your analytics (great for segmentation)
  • Minimum test length: 2 business cycles (also aim for 350 ‘results’, also try this tool)
  • Don’t rely on confidence intervals to stop your test – use error bar separation (aim for no overlap on the bell curves!)
  • Do browser testing on your split tests
  • Don’t run A/A/B/B tests (you just reduce your sample size and increase test length)
  • In 9 years and 40M split tests with visitors, the majority of gains came from playing with the words
Craig Sullivan Elite Camp

Michael Aagaard: How to Be a Better Conversion Copywriter – Actionable Insight from the Trenches

Michael Aagaard (otherwise known as ContentVerve) told us all to “come to terms with your role as a conversion copywriter” – as a writer you want to find the sweet spot between creative and analytical copy.

The primary message from Michael’s talk was to focus on optimising decisions – what is the decision you want people to take?

You can increase the chances that users will make these decisions by improving clarity, offering tangible benefits and reducing friction (psychological resistance in the decision making process).

Make your pages, design and copy laser focused to optimise the decision.

John Ekman: Content Marketing That Converts

John’s presentation, aptly renamed ‘The Conversion Side of Content Marketing’, was about applying conversion principles to maximise content marketing efforts:

  • Marketing messages that are consistently running
  • Using segmented, precise messages at critical points in the prospect’s decision process
  • Test!
  • Measure!
  • Close the deal

The methodology for this is to first build the content, then optimise the lead management process, and only then build this into a marketing automation system. The point of content marketing, as John sees it, is to maximise customer lifetime value.

I really liked John’s model for a ‘conversion focused’ lead generation site (which we may test on Hit Reach):

Conversion Focused Lead Generation Site

Party 2: The Country That Never Sleeps

Estonia never gets dark
Look how light it is at 10pm!

Estonia in June is rather surreal – it never gets dark. Well, it does, but blink and you’ll miss it – we managed to spend the whole weekend there without seeing darkness once… WTF??

To be fair, this was in part due to the crazy party going on inside (which interfered with my ‘enjoyment’ of England’s inevitable defeat to Italy). By the time they kicked us outside at 3am, it was bright as day once again. As some of the delegates decided to go for a early-morning swim (don’t ask me why), rumour starting spreading around camp that someone had ordered pizza.

We all know that pizza takes around 10-20 minutes for delivery, right? Not when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it doesn’t. The nearest pizza joint was in Tallinn, so fair play to the driver for keeping the pizza warm 45 minutes after he set off! (WTF?!)

Day 3: Estonia Day

Showcasing local talent, the third day included talks from the two organisers Peep Laja and Priit Kallas.

Jaan-Matti Lillevälja: Responsive UX Techniques for Transactional Sites

Highlight of the day – Jaan-Matti started his presentation by literally drilling holes into a bucket – just to emphasize the point a little further.

Leaky bucket

Since mobile is such a growing market, Jaan-Matti’s talk was extremely relevant, particularly to a web design company such as ourselves 🙂

Responsive web design doesn’t always optimise for behaviour – it optimises for screen size, so it is important to consider ways to improve the experience for mobile users:

  • Make clickable elements minimum 40 x 40px so they are usable with thumbs
  • Make sure any error messages are clearly visible
  • Use a ‘load more’ button instead of pagination – easier to click
  • Use a ‘click to call’ button for completing phone conversions
  • Pre-fill forms using geolocation data (location fields, shipping costs, custom messages etc…)
  • Optimise for speed – a 1 second load difference can have a huge impact on conversions

Peep Laja: How to Figure Out Where Your Website is Leaking Money

As the organisers of the show, Peep and Priit saved themselves for last – and they didn’t disappoint. If you don’t already read it, I implore you to check out Peep’s blog ConversionXL – one of the best marketing blogs out there – and it was the quality of his blog that convinced us to go across to Estonia for the conference in the first place (content marketing FTW).

Since we’d been hearing about leaky buckets all weekend, in his presentation Peep went ahead and showed us how to find them. Peep firmly believes you should start with conversion research every time – as “there are no conversion clairvoyants.”

First thing to do: Walk your conversion path (i.e. ‘Buy your own shit’) and perform human-led heuristic evaluation. Analyse each page in terms of Value Proposition, Clarity, Distraction, Friction and Urgency.

Then, when you have a hunch about about a page, use data to confirm – with heatmaps, analytics, record browser sessions, conduct user testing (whilst analytics can help tell you where problems may lie, you need qualitative data to tell you what they are).

My favourite quote from Peep’s talk was a point that some of the other speakers had made, yet it sounded so much better in Peep’s inimitable style:

Averages lie… segment the hell out of it to find real insight

Priit Kallas: Remarketing – How to Get the Most Out of People Who Already Know You

The title of Priit’s talk is quite a nice definition for remarketing, which for those that don’t know is a method for displaying targeted paid ads to people who have previously been on your website – whilst they are busy browsing somebody’s else’s.

Remarketing (or retargeting in general) is the final step in conversion optimisation: how you can get your customers to re-engage with your product after they have left the conversion funnel (and thus increase conversion rates).

Priit went through some details on how to set up remarketing, then ran through several interesting applications:

  • Shopping cart abandonment (hook up to Google Merchant Feed to display specific browsed products to people)
  • Product overlaps (e.g. for people that bought an iPad but not an iPad case, show them ads for a case)
  • Seasonality (e.g. People who buy around Valentines day, create a list and remarket to them in a year’s time)
  • SAAS trials: add signups to segmented lists, and only show ads for the last 5 days of the trial
  • Utilise the ‘mere exposure effect’ with branded ads that have no CTA, so people get exposure without clicking your ads – branding for free!
  • Segment and target repeat spenders and high value spenders

Plugging The Holes

Estonia From The Air

Spending the weekend surrounded by such smart people (wearing lab coats no less) really opened our eyes to the depth and breadth of CRO as a discipline, of which we have only so far scratched the surface.

To anyone who owns a website, CRO seems like a complete no-brainer: without plugging the holes in your conversion funnel your website is literally leaking money.

Thank you Peep, Priit and Ants for organising such an enjoyable event; and thank you Estonia for being such a welcome (and well-lit) host! The only shame is that we didn’t get to see more of it. Oh well, I guess we’ll have to go again next year…


4 thoughts on “Elite Camp 2014 – Why This Was The Best Conference Of The Year

    1. Ha! No it’s because you’re a scientist!

      Well it’s either that or you deliberately conditioned your audience with the Zumba moves, only to step it up a few gears when DJ Craig started spinning tunes.

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