Episode #7: CRO's existential crisis - should we rename this part of digital marketing?

September 17, 2022

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What's this episode about?

A casual chat about our industry and digital marketing.

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[00:00:00] Ryan: We do CRO we're not ashamed to say that 

[00:00:07] If you're a part of this CRO community, then you probably know what we're going to talk about.

[00:00:13] if you're not, then you're probably just better off because I feel stupid even making this video. Cause I find this topic annoying and unnecessary. . But for some reason we just decided to make it anyway to share our perspective. What we were talking about is, should conversion optimization as a whole, marketing discipline , be renamed to something else.

[00:00:37] And I said, if you consider yourself part of this, community of people who do CRO and look at what other people are doing on LinkedIn then you've probably seen lots of posts about people who are really for this and other people who are really against it.

[00:00:51] There are some people who are , so certain that we should change it to something else. And then there's the other group who thinks that it's just fine. [00:01:00] So keep watching the video to see what side we are on . 

[00:01:03] Ryan: Of course, if you've been following us on LinkedIn, you'd probably already know . 

[00:01:06] Gerda: But anyway, this video is , just sharing our perspective on this topic and what we think about it.

[00:01:11] And we also just wanna , share our thoughts on why we think this is even a topic at all and why people are pushing for this , this is not really to drag anybody or anything like that. It's just. Our assessment of the whole situation, because we are at this line of work.

[00:01:27] So we naturally have opinions about these 

[00:01:30] Ryan: things. Yeah. And it's also just so crazy how quick it went from. Nobody knows what CRO is. They never heard of it. Yeah. To now everybody's trying to distance themselves from it. 

[00:01:40] Gerda: Yeah. It's like when we started working in this field, I don't know. It was about the same time, yep. What was it?

[00:01:46] Ryan: 2018 

[00:01:48] Gerda: or, yeah, it felt like nobody even knew what the term really meant, or there weren't many agencies and companies that were specializing in it and then suddenly it felt like the industry just [00:02:00] exploded and everybody and their grandma's dog was doing CRO, everyone's like an expert on LinkedIn and whatever.

[00:02:05] And then came the switch where we started seeing some people very aggressively pushing the agenda of oh, CRO is like the worst term ever. We shouldn't call it conversion optimization. We should call it something else. 

[00:02:19] Ryan: And there's a few. Alternatives of what they think it should be called and various approaches to whether it's the same thing being relabeled, or if they're trying to pretend that they're doing something new, that's basically just 

[00:02:32] Gerda: the same.

[00:02:32] Yeah. Yeah. maybe let's start with the reasons why we think people. trying to change the thing. And like why I said earlier that I personally think that this is like a stupid debate anyways, because, I feel like silly making this video, even talking about this is because I do feel like it's silly to just argue over semantics.

[00:02:52] Compared to just doing the work, because most people are , doing the work to just achieve better results and get more ROI and get more [00:03:00] money and improve businesses and websites and whatever. So in essence, it doesn't matter what it's called so why put so much energy and time into arguing over some abbreviation, 

[00:03:10] Ryan: yeah. True. I think maybe part of the answer to that is. People need labels. Sometimes they need to be able to just put things into a category that they understand . But yeah, it is like when it comes down to it, it's just this semantic debate. 

[00:03:24] Gerda: okay. Okay. So what, in your opinion is the main reason why people are trying to do that?

[00:03:29] Ryan: The main reason, ties into what we said about. CRO coming out of obscurity to have more mainstream recognition or if not, mainstream, at least mainstream within the digital marketing world. And I think that is the reason that some people feel they need a way to differentiate themselves.

[00:03:48] Because if you go back a few years, doing CRO at all was a huge differentiator compared to any other digital marketer, technical marketing, like all sorts of things. But now , the [00:04:00] market has been flooded with people like on LinkedIn these days. There's so many people that are now CRO specialists, experts, consultants, whatever.

[00:04:07] And part of it is people just need some way to put a little distance between the masses who are doing CRO and themselves. 

[00:04:15] Gerda: I think there's the group who is trying to just.

[00:04:17] Literally renamed the same thing they're trying to do. Yeah. But then there's also other people who are trying to sell it as they're doing something different, but in reality, they're doing the same stuff, but they're just calling it something different, 

[00:04:31] Ryan: right? Yeah, exactly. 

[00:04:33] Gerda: What are some of the new, proposed names or, 

[00:04:36] Ryan: I think the one that's gained the most traction is just experimentation instead of calling it conversion rate optimization and it's almost like each.

[00:04:44] Proposed name change. If you wanna call it that has its own kind of motivations. So the people that are generally trying to say, we should focus on calling it experimentation programs, that type of thing. The motivation is to not have CRO [00:05:00] just get pigeonholed into a really niche specialty.

[00:05:03] So they wanna broaden the reach of these activities to other parts of, the organization, which is obviously, a good thing to do. But to me that doesn't really negate the specialization. It's almost like if a pharmaceutical company wants to start applying. AB testing types of frameworks to other parts of their activities that doesn't change.

[00:05:23] The fact that the people testing the drugs are still doing a very specific kind of type of data science and it needs its own recognition as that. 

[00:05:32] Gerda: So you think that experimentation is rather a part of CRO? 

[00:05:37] Ryan: I can look at it both ways because, we know that CRO involves a lot of things other than AB testing, like all of the research and even just the analytics, the data awareness all of those things are packaged into CRO and like the actual running of experiments is just one part of it.

[00:05:52] But then other people that would argue that. Experimentation is bigger than even what you're doing just on the website. And so you can be doing [00:06:00] experimentation on all sorts of things on your ads, on even how you run your business and stuff. You can really extend the experimental mindset to.

[00:06:08] Almost everything really. So I can see it both ways. And then, the people that are saying, we should call it experimentation. They also would categorize all the research and all the other things that go into CRO as just being part of this experimentation umbrella. So they don't isolate experimentation to mean just running the tests.

[00:06:26] . So to me, it makes more sense to look at it as a subset of CRO. . But yeah, like I said, I can see it both ways. 

[00:06:32] Gerda: So there are a couple of other really popular terms these days, which are more geared towards I don't know, wording it around the customer, if that makes sense. For example, customer value, optimization, customer experience optimization. 

[00:06:47] Ryan: Yeah. And those those also have different purposes.

[00:06:51] Like customer value optimization is more focused on. Getting more value out of your existing customers. I usually describe it as a retention [00:07:00] optimization because that kind of hones in on more of what it's really about. It's once somebody has made a purchase, it's great, but how do you get them to purchase again?

[00:07:08] How do you get them to purchase more stuff or more expensive things, so you can squeeze more value out of it. And then customer experience optimization is almost supposed to be just a drop in replacement for. CRO, but the part that doesn't make sense to me about that terminology is up until they make the purchase.

[00:07:25] They're not your customer yet. So it misses kind of 

[00:07:28] Gerda: part of it. Yeah. You still need to attract the customer first and convert them 

[00:07:32] Ryan: actually, right? Yeah. And like a lot of what, if you were to try to define them differently, like customer experience optimization versus CRO, you could almost do it by just saying, CXO is like CRO with an awareness of downstream metrics.

[00:07:47] So say you're on like a lead gen site or something. You could do CRO to get more people to actually fill out the form. But if you want to extend that into say, like lead quality, like how many of these leads actually turn into legitimate [00:08:00] sales opportunities ? Like for me, I have no problem just including that down funnel awareness as part of what we do as CROs.

[00:08:05] I don't see a need to relabel it, but if you wanna get specific about it, then maybe CXO would. a way to just have a slightly higher view. And it's not just focused on the conversion that happens on the website. 

[00:08:16] Gerda: And I if you wanna get even more detailed about all this, then it really depends on what you specifically within your company are working on as well.

[00:08:24] So do you wanna call it website optimization? If you're only focusing on the website, for example, in a large organization. That's like your area of focus. Yeah. But we do optimization sometimes for apps as well. So it's yeah, we can't really sell our service as website 

[00:08:39] Ryan: optimization.

[00:08:40] Yeah, exactly. Like we take the same principles that we would apply to website conversions, and we go either, we've done it with mobile apps or even just like a SaaS product. That has an in product area of the web app. Once you actually sign up for it. And one of the things that's helpful for me is I just broaden my definition of what a conversion is.

[00:08:58] Cause people get really attached to [00:09:00] a conversion means they're on the website. They take the main action on the website. And to me that's one of it. But if you look at more of a dictionary definition of what converting something is, it's just changing something from one state to another So the most common one in CRO is changing a website visitor into a customer. You can apply that same kind of framework to almost anything like converting somebody who arrives on the website, into somebody who takes some action on the website. For example, if you're focused more on micro conversions, leading up to a final conversion or converting one time customers into return customers, and you're always interested in the rate, like you have to in order to optimize metrics, you have to be looking at the rate of something anyway.

[00:09:38] So in that sense, it's conversion rate optimization and it makes perfect. To me, but, I might be a minority in the CRO world at the moment. 

[00:09:48] Gerda: So basically you think that we should just leave it as it is and call it conversion optimization across the board? 

[00:09:55] Ryan: Yeah, I think so. And we skipped one of the other main reasons that [00:10:00] people wanna distance themselves from CRO and that's because there are.

[00:10:03] With anything, with any discipline, there's gonna be unscrupulous people doing it and giving the term a bad name. So people who just come in with kind of hacky solutions and, overusing things like urgency on a website or other psychological triggers and stuff like that.

[00:10:20] So yeah, there are people who are of giving CRO a bad name by taking kind of a hacky irresponsible approach to it focusing too much on the short term gains.

[00:10:29] Gerda: That is also just like such an interesting.

[00:10:34] Solution to the problem, then it's okay, we have these people in our community or industry that are, mudding the name of the, whatever we're doing. So let's change the name but then there will be other people who will kind of mess up that name. So , that's not really like a long term strategy though.

[00:10:50] It's every year you're gonna keep renaming the thing that you're doing. And I think at the end of it, it's also going to. bite the industry in the ass, because it's going to be harder [00:11:00] for people to sell their service because clients or people who are just getting into it and don't really know what it's actually called, then they're gonna be more confused because everyone is calling it something different and they're not sure how to even navigate this world.

[00:11:14] And every year there's a new term. They have to get on board with and . So I think as a long term thing, it's going to. Hurt the industry as a whole, when people put more energy into just arguing over semantics than doing the actual work, 

[00:11:27] Ryan: right?

[00:11:28] Yeah, definitely. At some point, if we just choose a new name, Then there's gonna be the same, maybe not the same ones, new unscrupulous individuals will tarnish the reputation of that name too. So at some point, the white hat CROs we're gonna have to make a stand and defend whatever term it is that we're kinda labeling ourselves as, and I say let's just do that now.

[00:11:50] And just skip to the part where we focus on. Educating the, not just the industry, but potential clients and stuff about how to do CRO properly, how [00:12:00] to take a responsible, long term approach to it and, distance ourselves from the shady practitioners that way, rather than just giving up the term to them and then, trying to make our stand on some other terminology.

[00:12:14] Gerda: It's not even directly related to CRO, but just marketing in general, where a lot of people in marketing just have this obsession about abbreviations. Oh yeah. I've seen it happen for other things as well. Every year there's these new abbreviations that comes out, that means something specific in marketing.

[00:12:31] And then you're just like why are we doing this? Why can't we just say what. Things are, and I've seen lots of memes about that as well, and I've been in that position too, where you like start at a new company and then they have like full on dictionaries full of what these abbreviations within our organization means.

[00:12:48] And at some point it just complicates the communication, like so much. So what is the purpose of doing it? 

[00:12:54] Ryan: Yeah, totally. Yeah. People need these kind of shared reference points even just to be able to [00:13:00] communicate 

[00:13:00] mm-hmm so, yeah. I kind of wanted to touch on the like strategic narrative side of things. 

[00:13:05] Gerda: Okay. You may touch on the strategic narrative side of things. Okay. 

[00:13:09] Ryan: So we mentioned differentiation as being a major reason for this. And this is related, but not exactly the same thing, but it's the idea of strategic narratives.

[00:13:18] And this is high level marketing strategy is to have a story. And basically the way that's being approached from a, a number of people in the CRO space is the story that CRO is the old way. What you really want to be doing is whatever, insert the new term here. And. The reason I bring this up is because the people that are doing this, are using that little bit of story CRO is dead or CRO is the old way, and this is the new way they're doing it because that is a strategic narrative that they have chosen for their particular product or service or whatever it might be. And if you think along these lines, you can.[00:14:00] 

[00:14:00] Identify that if you look at the people that are saying pretty vocally that, CRO is a bad term or that we're doing something that's different from CRO, even though it's pretty much the same thing, they're pushing something, look at what those people are trying to promote. And then.

[00:14:14] It'll click. Like it'll just make sense. You'll say, okay, that makes sense. This is their product. This is what it does. This is the factor that they wanna focus on. It ties in with this story that they're telling about, what is going on in, in the industry and stuff. 

[00:14:27] Gerda: Tied to what you're saying, but with the narrative thing, it's also one of the easiest ways to get.

[00:14:33] Without actually putting in the work. It's instead of sharing, you know what you're doing and educating , you just say that, oh, these other people are stupid because they're just doing this . The old way. But we created this new, awesome thing and it's so much better than everyone else is.

[00:14:49] So come do this in our way. So it's. This bandwagon thing that happens, people are immediately like, oh cool. There's this new thing. We should all get on board. And like all these other people who are doing the old [00:15:00] thing, let's like get rid of them. 

[00:15:01] Ryan: So yeah, it speaks to the power of storytelling because these people don't have any sort of evidence that there's anything wrong with CRO or anything.

[00:15:10] Gerda: On the superficial level it can be pretty convincing . And that's what I'm concerned about as well. Like for newer people or younger people, even people who want to get into starting CRO programs and whatever, And when you , get that messaging from different channels, you start to believe it. And that's how it goes, 

[00:15:26] Ryan: For our part, we're gonna keep the term, we're gonna lean into it. We do CRO we're not ashamed to say that and we also don't have a narrow focus of CRO. We look at at the business holistically and we apply the same principles to lots of different parts of the user journey, customer journey, all of.

[00:15:46] out top of funnel, bottom of funnel. Yeah. And I don't see any contradiction there at all. 

[00:15:50] Gerda: I feel like. it's gonna piss off a lot of people. So we need these disclaimers that this is just our opinion. yeah. We're not trying to say[00:16:00] that anyone else is doing it wrong or whatever, but it is just a funny concept that is popped up so much in our work.

[00:16:07] And yeah, I think the bottom line is that it's just funny and unnecessary almost let's just all focus on doing the work and, sharing results and just what we're doing rather than. Putting in energy and time to argue over what are we calling the thing that we're doing.

[00:16:22] Ryan: . Yeah. And like I said before, we're just one voice among hundreds, at least who are vocal in the CRO space. And it seems like, we are in the minority, it seems like most people are on board with this whole, relabeling it, calling it something else.

[00:16:36] We're okay with that. 

[00:16:37] Gerda: And at the end of the day, , you're trying to sell a service, you have to call it something and you have to call it whatever you're comfortable with. 

[00:16:43] Ryan: Yeah. And that's actually a really good point because what really matters is what your potential clients.

[00:16:48] Call it or . How they think of it. And you can educate them once you start the conversation, to some level you have to meet them where they are to even have the conversation begin. So you have the opportunity to do any of that education.

[00:16:59] Gerda: Let [00:17:00] us know what you think. If you disagree or agree or are you calling it something different. It's interesting to know how different people are approaching it. And wonder if anyone's done even any research on what the potential clients are calling it or how would they like go about 

[00:17:13] Ryan: it?

[00:17:13] The closest thing that I've done is looking at Google search trends. Yeah. And I noticed that, CRO has been picking up steam for years now. And it's actually has a lot of volume. The other terms, not so much. Partially because experimentation is just such a generic term that, you're not gonna see a blip in people searching for that really?

[00:17:32] Because it has so many different contexts. 

[00:17:34] Gerda: Okay. Thanks for watching. Let us know what you think. Bye.

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