The story behind a 45:1 conversion ratio

Picture of a bowl of lemons on a table with the Confessions of a Developer logo in the top left with the word "developer" crossed out and "Designer" scribbled under it
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In the past, we’ve covered topics like collaborative coding, communication and project management in our confessions of a developer series. This time, we’re shining the spotlight on design and exploring the unique challenges that designers face in their career. Take a glimpse into UX/UI Designer Mark Wilson’s experience maintaining a client relationship in the first ever Confessions of a Designer:

Everyone has had an experience with a challenging client. Whether you’re serving at a restaurant, caring for a patient or working as a lawyer, there will always be a moment that challenges your customer service skills.
This is a story about one of those challenging moments. It’s also a story about a stubborn client, hundreds of emails and an agency that just wanted to make things work.

The story begins as any memorable story does…in an office

Several years ago I was working as a designer at a marketing automation agency in London. The agency focused on email marketing and I knew the ins and outs of my job. We ran a bunch of successful campaigns and were generally very confident about our level of experience.

Enter: the challenging client

We were tasked with executing an email marketing campaign for a new client, and they were set about using their own designs. The purpose of the campaign was to push an SEO conference educating business owners on changes in Google’s algorithms. I took one look at the artwork and knew it wasn’t going to work for the company’s goals. When I tried explaining this to the client, I was met with objection.

I’m not saying everything that leaves a designers mouth should be taken as gospel, but this client was not even considering our advice. They were not taking into account our collective years of experience and thought we were just trying to take their money.

Deep down I knew we were right. We had collected tons of data about email structure, terminology, language etc. We knew what would make people want to click on an email. I tried justifying our rationale and giving reasons why their layout would be unsuccessful in a campaign.

My pleas were not working.

They objected again and insisted on using their artwork in the campaign. The client told us that they knew what they were doing. That’s when the team and I did something unorthodox.

We offered to create new artwork for free and split test the two versions 50/50

Basically, we offered free A/B testing. An A/B test is where you make two or more different versions of a piece of content such as an ad, landing page, or email, and in each version you modify the text, call to action, colors, images, videos, buttons, or virtually anything else that could make an impact on user experience.

This came as an expense to us. We were giving them our services for free, and testing for free as well. Maybe we were being stubborn, but we also just wanted to create an appealing and successful campaign. That’s the thing about many designers, we genuinely care about our work, no matter how small or stressful the project is.

After some back and forth, the client agreed to let us test. So I thoroughly analyzed their designs and created new artwork.

Here’s what I came up with: 

Problems with the clients artwork

• Banner image was cut off on desktop and mobile views and relied heavily on the user scrolling
• Descriptive text and CTAs were placed a long distance down the page
• Reason of the email was in the descriptive text, the main message was very generic
• CTA didn’t have enough impact and used one word ‘register’

Improvements made

• Reduced the height of the banner to fit in desktop and mobile views
• Messaging in image banner was more focussed to the subject of the email, giving the user information straight away and why it’s relevant
• CTA was more descriptive and introduced ‘your’ to be more relatable to the user
• Pulled out important information, users don’t like being made to work for the information. Therefore ‘dates’ and ‘what’s included’ were important sections
• Multiple CTAs so the user will be able to click on the button wherever they are within the email

After all the improvements were made, I ran the tests.  The result?

A 45:1 click through rate ratio on my artwork

It wasn’t so much of an “i told you so” moment as it was a “thank god we decided to user test” moment. It was also the moment I learned three lessons that have helped me in my professional design career.

1. User testing is extremely valuable

User testing is very useful when you want (or need) to push different ideas. Of course,
some clients don’t like the idea of testing since they see it as two or three times the work. But it CAN come back with the right return on investment.

From my experience, implementing A/B testing can result in reduced bounce rates and increased conversion rates. What makes A/B testing even more powerful is the fact that the newly gathered data can be used to inform different marketing areas.

A/B testing is also a way to get an answer rooted in facts, instead of opinions. This is what happened for us. We got to the “right” answer through user testing. Its the value of experimentation culture – no boss, manager, copywriter or designer can disagree with cold hard data.

2. Earn trust early on (If you can)

The user testing we did also improved our relationship with the client. I guess you could say we “earned” their trust. Of course, I wish it hadn’t taken all that time and energy.

Looking back on this experience, there are some things I could have done differently. I would have tried even harder to establish a trusting relationship from the beginning. I would have showed them our previous campaigns, been transparent with our ideas and offered recommendations instead of rejecting their artwork completely.

Would it have led to a different outcome? I’m not sure. But it would have helped to try.

As with any relationship, it’s a very tricky to establish trust right away. In our case, we had an “us vs. them” mentality from the get go. Maybe our tone or way of defending our ideas was wrong. Maybe we gave the impression that we were not willing to collaborate. Maybe we just weren’t the right agency for them.

I’ll never be sure, but I do know that trust is one of the most important things you can have in a customer relationship. Or in any relationship, really. Now I know for a fact that without trust, a relationship is doomed to deteriorate.

3. The client is not always right…show them why

You get a lot of clients that think they know best. In my case, I see a lot of Marketing Managers that don’t like to be told they’re doing something wrong.

But sometimes they are doing something wrong. And that’s okay.

The key is to be respectful of their ideas. Don’t simply tell a client they are wrong or berate their way of thinking. Show them.
If you are an agency or business offering any kind of consulting, advice or service, then you have to stand up for what you believe in (in an effective way). When we offered to test the emails pro bono, we weren’t trying to be awkward. We were trying to prove our point to them, since the trust was missing.

I wouldn’t normally recommend doing something for free, but sometimes it’s worth it. At the end of the day, if I’m not speaking up as a designer, then I’m not doing my best job.

Mark Wilson is a UX/UI Designer and adventure enthusiast. For more of his insights, check out his blog Pressing the Right Buttons: 10 Tips for a More Compelling CTA.