Case Study: How a Clever Product Description Boosted One Fashion Brand’s Conversions by 51%

How to speak to customers to nudge them to shop

How to speak to a woman in her mid-20s, and a man in his late 50s and make them both feel you offer what they need? And could these needs be the same? Simon Moore will convince you that they can be and show you how to use this to your advantage.

In this case study, you’ll discover:

  • What common mistakes companies make when designing communication.
  • Why grouping customers according to age or purchase history will not give you the maximum value and what grouping works better. 
  • Why you should not fixate on distinct messages for different groups but find common threads to weave into a single message line. 
  • How a single statement can speak precisely to your target audience’s different motivations and needs.
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Problem: Give me less, but more of what I can work with

It’s 2019 and a top-end UK fashion brand finds itself in a bit of a pickle. Online sales are poor. This is consistent across both the UK and US markets. 

Customers arrive on the page, look around and leave; they may put items in a shopping cart, but churn. This is not uncommon. On average, more than two out of three e-commerce shopping carts are abandoned without consumers completing the checkout process.

But the thing which has raised eyebrows across the board room is this: the company has already spent a lot of money to fix this! They hired market research companies and brand agencies to try to work out their audience. It brought them nothing but a poor ROI and a feeling best described as ”Blimey, this shouldn’t be happening. What is going on?”

Despite having spent a pretty penny and knowing a lot about the 'what,' the company still lacked the 'why' behind the buy.

It’s not like they didn’t have enough to chew on. The agencies gave them plenty; 16 segments of customers grouped according to their age, shopping history, how much money they spent, and where they lived. 

If you take it at face value it makes sense, but if you pause and think about it, this doesn’t really give much to work with. Despite having spent a pretty penny and knowing a lot about the what, the company still lacked the why behind the buy. To add insult to injury they also felt pressure. “Omg we have to come up with 16 different messages for these 16 groups,” was the general sentiment. 

At their wit’s end, and in desperate need of a second opinion (legend has it that they really dreaded writing those 16 messages) they decided to invest some more and turned to Innovationbubble – a behavioural solutions consultancy.

Their job was to adjust this ill-fitting suit (of data) and give it the pep in the step it deserved. 

A team of cognitive and neuropsychologists from Innovationbubble, led by Chartered Business and Consumer Psychologist Simon Moore, set out to tease out the why (the non-conscious motivational driver of the customers). The next step would be to translate this into a simple, fairly universal message which would pack a persuasive punch (ambitious much?). 

Let’s look at how a “little” change in the product description led to an increase of 51% and 23% in conversion rates in the US and the UK respectively.

Get the data about the 'why' not just the 'what'

Innovationbuble suggested getting a deeper and more precise understanding of the customers’ driving needs. For this, they reached out to a select group from the target audience and asked them to fill in a NEOPIC Archetype engine – an online tool designed to identify the core needs of customers and get past conscious artificial responses. 

Innovationbuble suggested getting a deeper and more precise understanding of the customers’ driving needs.

It takes just 5 minutes to complete, but don’t judge it by its size; it took Innovationbubble 5 years to develop. 

To steal Winston Churchill’s witticism: “If you want me to speak for two minutes, it will take me three weeks of preparation... If you want me to speak for an hour, I am ready now.” Cutting it down to brass tacks, takes time.

To confirm they’d get the same pattern outside of the customer base, Innovationbubble also extracted data from prospective and former customers in both the UK and US markets. Around 19,000 people in total participated.

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Cutting down the number of customer segments

Simon’s team identified three distinct archetypes in the company's customer base which allowed them to reduce the 16 original client segments down to 3 actionable groups for messaging and digital interaction.

Let’s look now at what they looked like and what their needs were.

1. Confidence-boosters

These made up around 30% of the customer base. “Mediocre life and job, underconfident, suffering from anxiety a little bit,” Simon Moore sums them up nonchalantly.

Confidence boosters use shopping as an artificial way of building their ego up; reinforcing their sense of self-worth through being able to shop at such a high-end brand.

They frequently hang around the store and spend a significant time browsing the website but buy small items like pairs of socks. It may seem odd at first glance, but as Simon explains it can be traced back to the need this sort of  purchase satiates:

Instead of trying to push these customers to spend 100 dollars every time, the company would be happy if they spend 12 or 15 dollars regularly.

“If I’m a confidence booster, I shop to get self-worth back, to feel more successful. It’s not about the individual products but about the brand. Owning any product from the brand, even a small one, reinforces that feeling.”

He goes on to add: “Traditional methods won’t get this stuff out, they just see that customers spend a lot of time on a website and buy only a pair of socks and they think: “that’s not great! We want them to spend more than that.”  But the funny thing is that confidence-boosters actually spent quite a lot of money on small items - over a longer period like 12 months their worth and retention is quite good.”

So instead of trying to push them to spend 100 dollars every time, the company would be happy if they spend 12 or 15 dollars regularly.

2. Integrators

The smallest group of 20%  was buying the company’s apparel to maintain their group membership. Integrators’ friends were buying the brand and so they were too, not just to fit in but also as a way to impress the group. 

Integrators don’t want to lose out, they don’t want to look different, thinking: If I got the boots from such and such I'm still part of the club

Unlike confidence boosters, who don’t care about other people – they look down at their socks at home and think: “I’ve got these high-brand socks on. I guess I’m doing alright” – for integrators it’s all about projection: “Everyone has to see me in this stuff”.

“Integrators don’t want to lose out, they don’t want to look different, thinking: If I got the boots from such and such I'm still part of the club,” Simon explains.

“When you say it like that it sounds sensible,” Simon points out, “but if that’s the case, why aren’t the fashion brands harvesting this ‘basic knowledge’ already?”

3. Social manipulators

The final and largest audience made up roughly 50% of the market. These "individuals" (which is a slightly kinder name) use the brand as a way to stand out and enhance their social group status both at work and home. For them it was all about leadership and difference. Simon goes on to explain their mental world:

They use the brand as a way to stand out and enhance their social group status both at work and home.

Others will see me dressed like this and think: “Oh my God, they must be killing it”! I’m successful enough to be able to buy the whole outfit. That's gonna cost a lot of money, but hey, it's my way of showing I’m successful. You should be listening to what I’m saying to you.”

Finding common threads

The next step was to speak to these needs. As Simon points out, finding a common theme is key: 

“What we don't want is 3 really distinct messages.That’s going to cause problems. We looked at similarities and found that risk was a common theme they were all bothered with, but from a different angle. So risk in a slightly different context is still an engaging message no matter which of the three groups you belong to. We could take a blouse or pair of trousers and know how to position it for each of the three groups to engage with.”

We looked at similarities and found that risk was a common theme they were all bothered with, but from a different angle.

But first we need to understand who’s concerned about what:

  • Confidence-boosters worry they are not good enough without something high-end.
  • Integrators fear being excluded from the group and are cautious of spending money for no purpose, or worse yet, on something the group won’t be  impressed by.
  • Social manipulators perceive the risk of not being in control; of spending a ton of money without it having the right impact. 

Based on this, the Innovationbubble team then crafted a universal message which included 3 separate risk-alienating lines in the same piece of copy. 

The fashion mogul is pretty tight-lipped about the exact wording (we don’t blame them). But the gist of it is this: 

  • Confidence-boosters were assured that the specific item would be the perfect treat to give them that new-thing feeling. 
  • Integrators were told that it was something their friends would appreciate and compliment on. 
  • Social manipulators were asked to take charge of their wardrobe and were assured this would make them stand out. 

You might be wondering: isn’t this overkill and won't all these different messages in the same piece of copy cancel each other out or get lost?” But Simon reassures us that’s not the case and goes on to describe the perks of a single message: 

“Different people pay attention to different things. We are lazy, we scan down quickly to see what’s relevant. If you're driven by the need to stand out, that’s the kind of message you’ll pay attention to and ignore everything else.

Different people pay attention to different things. If you're driven by the need to stand out, that’s the kind of message you’ll pay attention to and ignore everything else.

Someone who’s an integrator isn’t going to be bothered by the status and ego part of the copy. But they aren’t being fooled by the two messages either because their brain doesn’t even pay attention to them! That's why you don’t need 3 different messages in three letters,” he beams enthusiastically.

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Every item deserves a new description

Simon’s team added this kind of messaging to the product description of every single item on the webpage. This might seem like a lot of work, but the sweet thing about understanding the underlying psychology is that once you know what need(s) it should hit, you can coach the internal marketing team and hey presto, they will be able to come up with stellar copy which packs an impressive punch! 

That’s because you are no longer shooting at a target and randomly selecting what message you hope will work best. You do know, for instance – as was the case here – that you must hit a line message about social status, social integration and ego-boosting. That’s why you address and erase the perceived risk associated with the purchase (money badly spent, not being appreciated by the group, not standing out).

A 15% increase in conversion rate? No 50!

A/B testing ran over the course of 6 months and so seasonality didn’t play a role. The expert team first tested changes in product descriptions on its webpage, before going all in on social media or moving to the store.The main measurement was the conversion rate. Sales of the same products with the same price but with a different description went up by 23% in the UK and 51% in the US market. 

Sales of the same products with the same price but with a different description went up by 23% in the UK and 51% in the US market.

To put those numbers in context; the biggest increase in sales of any previously employed campaign was 7%.  

“They called me and I had to triple check that they meant 50 and not 15! We had millions of questions afterwards about the difference in the two markets but the company was just so blown-away and happy with the results they weren’t gonna frown at it or pick it apart,” Simon finishes up, smiling.

Key takeaways: 

  • Don’t focus only on the what, but on the why behind the buy. This allows you to segment your audience into more actionable groups. Don’t be afraid to hire professionals for this. 
  • Don’t get data only from your customers. Survey prospects and former customers as well to confirm the same pattern even outside of the customer base.
  • Think of ways to use the least amount of copy and the least amount of change to get maximum engagement across different customers. If possible pack it down into a clear message line which speaks to various needs you have identified across your customer base.

Introduction of an expert
  • Case study by
  • Simon Moore
  • CEO, Innovationbubble