Lessons Learnt from Digital Elite Camp 2018

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to speak at Digital Elite Camp 2018 in Estonia. While the majority of talks were specific to conversion rate optimisation (CRO), for this post, I have specifically sought out lessons more applicable across the wider industry. While I’ve excluded any lessons from my own talk (as I have no idea what others might best take away from it!), my slides can be found online here.

  1. Peep Laja – Optimisation extends beyond websites – everything, including life, can be and is constantly optimised (and you should lift heavy weights as a result).

Laja’s talk revolved around repeating patterns in the world – not just in our tech, but in our lives – and how we optimise them.

What this means in a practical sense is that as well as looking for ways to optimise our websites through improving simple features to better suit the user, we can optimise ourselves. We can go to the gym, eat healthier, and look for better routes to work, and that’s all optimisation.

This talk in particular spoke to me as it really tied in with the Kaizen principle of “continuous improvement”. Everything we do can be subjected to some form of optimisation, and we’ll see a greater ROI as a result.

  1. Hana Abaza – Marketing polishes a turd. Positioning makes it fertiliser / Fewer leads, higher quality.

Despite my efforts to take one core lesson from each talk, Abaza’s offered two key ideas that stood out to me as highly relevant to everyone in the marketing industry.

The first is the importance of positioning and branding. How you talk about an item or product is different from how you present it to your potential customers, and is just as important. Before you can begin to talk to people about what you offer, you have to know what it is that you’re offering, and know why it will be valuable to them. In terms of the example that makes up the title, marketing is able to “polish a turd”, as the phrase goes, while positioning reimagines the product as fertiliser – which, in the vast majority of cases, is much more valuable than the alternative.

At Kaizen we’re in the process of developing our branding offerings to establish them as usable in their own right as well as being a core part of our content marketing. The lesson learnt here goes to show that not only are we on the right track by prioritising this, it’s something that companies should be looking at as a first step on the path to any marketing, rather than an alternative to other options.

The other lesson was one of quality vs quantity. While traditionally, sales is a scramble to get company hands on as many leads as possible in order to maximise revenue, there needs to be a moment to breathe, and to identify leads which are going to have more effective long term results. That is, it’s better to have fewer leads of higher quality than to have an excess of poor leads.

Success is only important if it’s sustainable – and it’s better to cut down on the number of opportunities in hand and really give them focus than to spread your attention across far too many.

  1. Chris Out – What extra skill does your team need to hit more of their targets?

Additional skills can be vital in “optimising” a business. Identify limitations in your company and add additional, complementary skills through training sessions and courses.

Even skills not directly important to a team member’s specific targets (e.g. design skills for a PR team member) can have advantages thanks to the greater understanding of how the rest of the business operates. That’s not to say that any and every skill will be valuable – but building a portfolio of abilities across a team, or ensuring that every team member shares one skill that ties into the core business offering can go a long way towards creating effective teamwork.

This works particularly well when considered alongside Ed Fry’s “North Star metric” lesson in point 4, as well as using Andy Carvell’s Mobile Growth Stack model in point 10 as a basis for identifying bottlenecks and opportunities.

  1. Ed Fry – What’s the one “North Star metric” a whole team can get behind?

A vital lesson for anyone working with an expanding company that doesn’t currently have a clear forward vision is that of the “North Star metric”. Fry suggests that if the whole company is working towards a singular goal – whether that’s leads, or revenue, or links built – it can help to establish a sense of cohesion and drive everyone together.

Identifying this metric is only half the battle – you have to be able to relate it back to every team member in some way, so that everyone can see their clear goals and steps towards contributing to that goal.

There’s a (probably apocryphal) story in that JFK once visited NASA and introduced himself to a cleaner there. Upon asking what the cleaner did, the cleaner responded “I help to put humans on the moon”.

While unlikely, the story illustrates that NASA has one clear metric – people on moons – that drives the entire company forward.

  1. Alexa Hubley – Don’t vote on an idea – vote on a concept within it that appeals to you.

This is particularly relevant in content marketing, where ideation after ideation can leave even the most creative team members feeling stale and out of ideas.

By identifying features that appeal in wider ideas, rather than signing off on the idea itself, you can start to build new concepts that use the emotional and interesting hooks of weaker ideas to build strong campaign concepts. You need not take an idea wholesale during ideation and make it work – you can just take the parts that already do.

  1. André Morys – Prioritise impact over speed.

“More speed, less haste” is a lesson that has to be taught time and time again, but it’s not lost any potency. And its sister lesson is this – even speed isn’t as important as final impact.

Along with Hana Abaza’s second lesson in point 2, which makes clear that long-term ROI is more valuable than rapid fire short-term opportunities, it’s clear that industry experts put their money behind looking for big chances to leverage their assets to their maximum potential, not turn a quick but limited profit.

  1. Karl Gilis – Hope is not a strategy – learn the principles.

There’s a lot that could be unpacked from Gilis’ concept here, but the driving force behind it is that blindly accepting that what worked for others might not work for you.

Instead, you should learn the basics – the building blocks of the industry, whether that’s the effect of design and UX on users or how copy affects CRO – and base every business decision on those principles.

  1. Craig Sullivan – Don’t jump to conclusions about data – prove it, and check. / It’s better to find a bottleneck problem and fix it than optimise something functional.

As with Hana Abaza’s talk, there were too many lessons available to simply break it down to one option. Sullivan raised a very valid point that often, when presented with data, we’ll make assumptions about the causes behind it and won’t bother to check further.

Data isn’t a story by itself – it needs stories to explore it, something than Ivan Bager also emphasised in his talk. But while we can develop a story to explain the data and explore it, it’s still vital to check the validity of that story. Lukas Vermeer made a suggestion that supports this requirement (though it’s not the lesson from his talk discussed here): make every test with a hypothesis in mind, to guide the research.

Sullivan’s second lesson applies to every aspect of life, even outside of business. By finding a problem which is slowing everything else down, and fixing that, you can achieve ten times the results of carefully fine-tuning something that already works to a decent standard. Too often we become hung up on getting the most out of something that’s already working close to maximum efficiency, when we could be eliminating a major problem that is actually much more limiting.

  1. Annika Oorn – Personalise for segments – personalisation is key.

Oorn’s talk was highly relevant for CRO specialists, and anyone with a focus in that industry would do well to attend one of her talks. In terms of wider lessons, however, it was a simpler takeaway – companies still aren’t taking advantage of personalisation opportunities when it comes to improving products and services for their actual clients.

By targeting specific segments of your customers with specific products, and cross-selling/upselling to them, you can greatly enhance both engagement and revenue. It seems simple, but even in 2018, many companies are simply allowing this opportunity to slip by.

  1. Andy Carvell – Divide your processes by goals (e.g. acquisition, monetisation), then colour code by current efficacy to see where your company is bottlenecking.

Carvell’s talk was incredibly useful in terms of presenting a repeatable, adaptable model for improving a business. While in his case, it was specific to mobile growth companies, there’s a huge amount of scope for developing what he calls the “Mobile Growth Stack” for any industry.

The Stack is a model for identifying limitations and bottlenecks in a company or product model. First, start by dividing the process into specific goals. For Kaizen’s link-building content product, for example, that might include Idea Development, Research, Design, Development, and Outreach.

Each of those is then broken down into their component parts – such as writing briefs and press releases, contacting journalists, and so on.

Each “block” (the component parts, and their corresponding goals) is then colour-coded by its current efficacy. This could be as simple as green (for maximum efficiency), orange (where improvements could be made) and red (for a bottleneck) or more complex, depending on your needs.

The resulting diagram is a very easy-to-interpret visualisation of where the business is suffering, and can help inform training possibilities (as highlighted in Chris Out’s talk explored in point 3) or hiring necessities, as well as resources needed. As time goes by, the stack can be enhanced and improved for your business to give finer and finer detail on where limitations are arising.

A more complete understanding of the stack in its proper form and how to use it can be found in Carvell’s own article on it here.

  1. Jonathan Epstein – Machine learning for optimisation is not only faster – it also allows AB testing with lower traffic.

Epstein’s talk focused on his company Sentient’s product, the upcoming technology of machine learning – which is also something that I touched on in my own speech.

Machine learning has a lot of opportunities available, not least in CRO – it can open up opportunities for testing faster and with lower traffic. It’s liable to have affects across the wider industry as well, particularly in SEO, and in the future possibly even in copy and creative elements.

  1. Lukas Vermeer – Test all assumptions to avoid wasting time.

While I have already mentioned something I learnt from Vermeer’s talk in point 8, what I want to focus on here is his point that assumptions are dangerous. He himself spent a great deal of time trying to optimise a section of a webpage with no great results – only to find that the issue wasn’t with the layout of the section itself, but that the section existed at all.

By testing existing assumptions – such as whether a particular service is even necessary – we can eliminate time sinks and avoid devoting resources to projects likely to waste time and energy.

  1. Momoko Price – People don’t want your product. They want the life your product creates for them.

A vital early lesson for anyone with an interest in marketing, branding, and copywriting more generally, Price spent some of her talk correcting the common misconception that a company is trying to sell its product. Consumers have no interest in the product itself – that is, how well it’s crafted or the expertise of the people who crafted it.

Rather, the interest lies in what the product can do for the consumer’s life. While this might interact with descriptions of the product, the focus needs to be on how it can offer a better life and why the consumer needs it, not on the quality of the product itself.

  1. Ivan Bager – Create a 30-second version of your story – the elevator pitch.

Bager’s talk was about stories, and more importantly, about storytelling. While there are always more articles about how to tell a story, a practical point with which I came away was his instruction to craft an elevator pitch for each story.

By developing a 30-second version of a story (which might be a campaign, or a company, or a data set), we boil it down to its core components and draw out what’s actually interesting about it.

Compare and combine this with Alexa Hubley’s point 3, in which those crafting ideas vote on concepts within them rather than on the ideas themselves – boil the ideas down to their simplest form and take away what works.

  1. Els Aerts – User testing increases sales dramatically – provided you do it correctly.

One of the more technical lessons throughout the conference, Aerts’ core piece of advice was specifically relevant to user testers – but can be applied to most if not all industries.

That is: recruit the right users, and be an empathetic but neutral moderator. User testing is without purpose if you’re influencing the results, but you also have to engage the user with the questions you pose, to ensure you’re getting worthwhile answers out of the tests.

Applying Lessons

In theory, the discussion of each lesson above should give a clearer idea on how to use them. But the real advantage I took from Elite Camp was a combination of the ideas; none of them are, on their own, as effective as a synthesis of multiple concepts.

Each of these ideas are things that you can either start integrating into your company immediately, or for which you can keep an eye open in times to come. Kaizen has already started to integrate them as part of our commitment to continuous improvement – if you want to keep up with the leading experts in CRO, you should consider doing the same.

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