Studies have illustrated how expectations can determine results.
When used correctly, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy that delivers the action you want.
For example, give someone the word “yellow,” and then ask them to pick a fruit. They’re more likely to pick a banana.
This same phenomenon works the other way, too.
You can give people the wrong clues or cues, and it will take them longer to select the right answer in a subsequent test.
Pop psychology refers to this as priming, where “exposure to a stimulus influences response to a later stimulus.” It gives you the power to train someone positively, or negatively, without them even consciously realizing it.
Online, priming can start even before signup, during the Acquisition stage.
A customer searches for “skis” in Google, sees “free shipping” plastered all over the ad text in the search engine results (SERPs), and they become more likely to click through to your site.
In other words, you’re laying the groundwork here, long before signup, to properly set someone’s expectation.
But it goes even deeper. Zero-in on one of the results that look promising and click:
It takes you to that exact product page for the same make, model, and year.
They even use additional incentives like a “Deep Winter Sale” price and a “Buy Now, Pay Later” installment feature. (In addition to the “Free Shipping” that caught your eye earlier.)
Your expectations were initially set with the first stimulus (the ad). And now the promise is being fulfilled perfectly with the rest of the page.
Message match might seem obvious, except that 98% of advertisers in one informal study got it wrong.
Beyond being better for the consumer, message match can also drive your acquisition costs down, too.
WordStream’s Larry Kim analyzed accounts with over $100 million in annual ad spend.
He found that a one point increase or decrease in your Quality Score (which measures, among other things, message match) can swing costs by as much as 16%.
Your Cost Per Acquisition, then, increases or decreases by 16% as well.
Similar findings came from Jacob at Disruptive Advertising.
They audited hundreds of millions in ad spend, finding a 13% correlation between Quality Score and your Cost Per Acquisition.
Why does this matter?
It’s important because Activation starts the minute someone sees your ads, offers, or messaging on other platforms before they even hit your site.
And it matters because Activation is the ‘priming’ step for Retention down the road. So you can’t accurately retain people until they’ve been properly activated.
Ty at Appcues calls Acquisition the “upstream bottleneck.”
Appcues pegs the benchmark Activation rate at only 30% based on their data, meaning 70% of your visitors won’t activate at all.
Appcues also found that a “25% lift in activation increased MRR by 9.3% more than the same percentage increase in acquisition and 3.3% more than the same percentage increase in retention.”
The trick is to start with setting the proper expectations before people hit your site, based on:
And what they’re willing to do next
Search is based on intent.
People type in exactly what they’re looking for. So they’re often closer to buying. The trick is to figure out what people want. Then, you know how to plan each step of their path through your site to Activation.
Someone Googling “top CRM products” is evaluating their options, while another doing a brand search (like “Base CRM”) is expressing purchasing intent.
Your job is to use techniques like content mapping to make sure what they find lines up properly. That might sound trite, but it’s not in reality. Let’s perform this actual example to see how most get it wrong.
Type in “top CRM products” and look at the copy used by the first three ads.
Each one is about their own product. Except, that’s the wrong user intent.
If you’re evaluating options, you want to see a side-by-side comparison -- not an overt advertisement. Now, contrast that with the Capterra example on the bottom of the page.
If you’re looking to compare the “top CRM products,” which result will you click? The one giving you the comparison. We haven’t even gotten to the company’s website or messaging, but it’s already off the mark.
Capterra’s page content, on the other hand, answers the query the best.
Yes, your site’s homepage is important. But it’s not always the most popular path to conversion. People will create their own informal funnels on your site (if you don’t do it for them).
Building and optimizing these ‘user flows’ can help transport the right people, to the right pages, at the right time.