Talia Wolf on Using "Emotional Targeting" for Conversion Optimization

Talia Wolf, conversion optimization expert
Talia Wolf started out in social media. But in the days when likes and comments were the most popular metrics, she was always more interested in something else—how to get people to become customers.
Today, Talia is a conversion optimization expert who helps clients improve their conversion rates through her company, GetUplift.
Talia’s approach to conversion optimization centers on emotion. When you understand the deep pains of your audience, you don’t need to guess at what to put on your website. Or what to say on a sales call, or in a meeting.

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In her conversation with ActiveCampaign’s Chris Davis, she talked about how her “emotional targeting” approach is related to data-driven marketing—and how it can result in 2x, or 10x, the conversions.
The lightly edited transcript of the conversation is below. But if you’re short on time, here are the biggest takeaways.

  1. A lot of conversion optimization today is too tactical. Instead of focusing on button color and individual KPIs, think about how to optimize the entire funnel from start to finish—from the moment your visitors land on your website to the point of sale.
  2. Data-driven marketing has limitations. With data, you can find “leaks” in a sales funnel or marketing funnel. But you don’t necessarily know what caused them or how they can be fixed. Starting with a deep understanding of your customer helps you use data more intelligently.
  3. Your goal is to help your customers achieve their goals. When you start the conversion process by showing people you understand their pain points, it’s a lot easier to convert them into customers.
  4. Reviews are a gold mine for customer research. Look at your competitor’s reviews to find out exactly what your potential customers like about their services—and what they wish your competitors had but don’t. You can use those reviews as language in your copywriting, or even to develop new products.
  5. Start by researching customer pain points. Everything starts with this qualitative data, because it’s the understanding of what your customers want that lets you make sense of what you need to offer them.

Chris Davis: Talia, welcome to the podcast. Glad to have you on. Before I get ahead of myself and jump into talking about conversions—tell us a little about your background, who you are, and how you’ve got to where you are?
Talia Wolf: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.
I’ve been in marketing many years. I started out with social media marketing. I worked in an agency, doing ads, campaigns, building Facebook pages and stuff like that. I was always intrigued by how to turn that traffic, that engagement into ROI, into actual revenue and leads and money.
My clients, they weren’t so much.
They were more about likes and comments, so I took it upon myself to test stuff—without really knowing what I was doing. I was just changing headlines and call-to-action buttons and stuff like that. I didn’t get the results that I wanted.
But when I started researching and reading, I discovered that what I was doing had a name. Conversion optimization. That’s how I got sucked into it and started my own agency.
We ran that for five years, and then we sold the agency to built a startup company. But I very quickly I realized that’s not where I want to be. I really want to go back to conversion optimization and optimizing stuff.
So I built my own consulting company, GetUplift, and I’ve been doing that for a year and a half.
Chris Davis: Wow. Would you say there was a specific point in time when you made that shift from likes and followers and the “vanity metrics” to tracking actual ROI?
Talia Wolf: I think it was when I got a charity company as a client.
I was working in-house for an agency, and there was this amazing charity. I wanted to be doing more. It was great that we were getting the conversation going on Twitter and Facebook, but I wanted to get donations.
I wanted to make a difference and not just be the sidekick that gets told, “okay, now we should post this or post that.” I really wanted to be able to sit there in front of my client and say, “Hey, we raised X amount of money,” or, “Thanks to this, we were able to complete the whole funnel.”
Chris Davis: I remember, back then it was all about the likes, and nobody was really thinking beyond that. Everybody was judging other pages, “Oh my god, 12,000 likes, how did you do it? A million likes, you’re official!” It was a select few people behind the scenes that knew those likes didn’t translate into dollars automatically.
Talia Wolf: I think it’s something that happens when something new comes out.
People were told they needed to do social media, but they didn’t really know why or how. They just knew that everyone had a Facebook page or a Twitter account.
So they ran and spent money on it, but they didn’t really do anything besides say, “Yeah, don’t worry. We’re on social media, we got this,” as a report to their manager.
I think this happens with every field in marketing when something new comes out. “We’re on Snapchat. Okay, we’re on Instagram, don’t worry.”
It’s just a trend. Everyone’s there, so let’s run into it. Many companies spend a lot of money, and it takes them too long to realize, “Whoa, that’s not even converting? Why am I spending so much money on this?”
Chris Davis: Yeah, yeah. That’s the benefit that digital gives us. Digital gives us that insight to see exactly how something is performing.
You see it across the board, and I think it comes from really a lack of understanding of marketing. Even before the digital age, a lot of people didn’t know how to market. You would see another business in the yellow pages and you would say, “I need to put a yellow pages ad in.”
It was like, okay, hopefully if I do this people will come, leads will be generated, money will be made. That really hurts you in the digital age, because you spend a lot and you can waste a lot of money.
There’s no shortage of agencies ready to charge you $30,000 for a website that doesn’t convert, no shortage of consultants that can build out a funnel that worked for someone else and is not working for you, no shortage of copywriters that will write copy that converted somewhere else, but isn’t converting for you.
It can get very expensive very quickly.
Talia Wolf: I agree. I’m actually really excited that you said all of that, because it leads in so well to my framework and the way that I optimize websites. That’s exactly what led me to change everything I was doing with optimization.
When I started out with optimization, I was following certain tactics, I was following someone else’s best practices, I was reading blogs, I was listening to random opinions, and I got no results. If I did get results, it would be nothing that I could scale.
I would be basically testing elements and tinkering with the website, like changing a call-to-action button in their headline, and it got me nowhere. It’s only when I understood what I understand today that everything changed for me. I was able to build a framework that didn’t just optimize a KPI. It didn’t just get more downloads. It optimized the entire funnel and the entire business.

How to use emotional targeting to
optimize your entire funnel

Chris Davis: That’s good. In fact, that’s so good, I can’t wait, Talia. Let’s jump right into the framework. Tell us about your approach to conversion optimization.
Talia Wolf: As I mentioned, I used to tinker with websites. Just play around with the elements on the website, because that’s what people are doing. I was frustrated, because I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted for my clients, and I felt like what I was doing didn’t make sense.
I went back to my bat cave, and started thinking about what conversion optimization really is. I realized that optimization isn’t about getting an increasing KPI, or about changing elements on your websites. It’s about solving people’s problems.
The root of every conversion in life is a decision making process. If you can understand why people make decisions in life, it will be easier for you to build a funnel for them.
If you know why they make decisions, you will know exactly what copy to put in, what visuals, what colors, what images, and what social proof you need on your page. Because you know what motivates them, you know what changes the way they think, or you know how to persuade them.
The thing about decision making is that we are all irrational beings. I know we love to think of ourselves as rational people, but every decision we make is based on emotion. Every decision.
When we buy something, we’re essentially buying a better version of ourselves, a better marketer, a better father, higher self-esteem, I want to look good for someone else. Whatever it is, when I buy something, whatever I buy, what I care about isn’t the what, it’s the why. It’s the value behind that.
I understood that if I could figure out the emotional drivers of a customer, find their hesitations, discover their concerns—what are they worried about, what would make their day, what are they feeling right now, what is the pain that they feel when they’re on the page—and how would they feel if they found the right solution for them?
If I can identify those, it’s so much easier for me to optimize the page. I’ll look at a landing page, I’ll go into Google Analytics, and I’ll see the data, and I’ll discover that there’s a problem with the landing page, or I’ll see that there’s a problem on the pricing page or in the checkout page.
That’s great, but that’s only where you find the problem. It doesn’t help you actually optimize it. When you find a leak in the funnel, how do you know what to optimize, what to change, what changes to make on that page that will actually lead to a higher conversion?
Data is cool and it’s great, and you should be data-informed. But that’s why I really don’t like it when people tell you to be data-driven. I say customer driven.
Know the data, understand the numbers, but then go deeper and understand those emotional drivers of your customers, their baggage, the underlying things they come to your website carrying.
If you know that, if you know the pain, it’s easier for you to create the right experience. You’ll know exactly what copy to use, what headline, what call-to-action button, what psychological colors, what cognitive biases, and everything else.
Chris Davis: Wow.It really takes the spotlight off of you. “Here’s my company and my website. Here’s what I can do, and look what I can do, all of that.”
When you start to focus on making your visitors, understanding that your visitors want to become a better version of themselves. When that is the target and you start taking into account, like you said, all of the psychological triggers, their behavior and all of that, it totally changes how you position your website.

The first pillar of emotional targeting

Talia Wolf: The first pillar of emotional targeting is make it about the customer. You are not the hero of the story.
The funny thing is that the first question I always ask my clients or my students is “why do people buy from you.” As you said, the first thing people talk about is themselves. “We have this and this product, and these are our beautiful features. We have the best pricing in the business, and we’ve got these deals and that deals, and our support is great.” But that’s all about them. That’s nothing about the client, nothing about the customer.
That’s why I love Bryan Eisenberg’s quote. He says, “When your customers achieve their goals, you will achieve your own.” You need to stop talking about yourself. You need to talk about your customer. You need to understand them and show them on the page.
No one cares about your features or your pricing—not at first. They want to see that you know them, that you understand them, that you have gone through that pain and that you’re there to solve it for them, not for yourself.
Chris Davis: Yeah. I had a vision while you were talking, and it’s a person walking. Someone who wanted to be more muscular, right, and they’re walking, and they walk in front of this mirror. And when they look in that mirror, they don’t see them—they see the more muscular version of themselves.
Talia Wolf: Yes.
Chris Davis: That’s the experience that should be communicated via your website. The visitor comes to your website as Clark Kent, but they leave as Superman.
Talia Wolf: Yes. Brilliant. I’m going to steal that. That is gold. Yes.

Behavioral targeting vs. emotional targeting

Talia Wolf: Everyone talks about behavioral targeting. That’s actually where the idea of emotional targeting came from. When the world keeps going towards automation, the world keeps going towards data, businesses see their customers as browsers, devices, geographical locations, gender.
That’s what people look at. But people forget that when someone comes to your website, they have a challenge. They have a problem, and they’re looking at you to solve it. It doesn’t matter what it is—if they’re looking for something to wear that night or if they’re looking to solve a problem within their business. When they come to your website, they need you. They’re looking for you.
The idea of emotional targeting—what stands behind it—is a process of identifying those emotional drivers.
You should start by understanding those emotional drivers. You should then use the power of color psychology, of images, of copy and so many other elements, and social proof in order to speak to your customer’s emotions. But you have to figure those out first.
That’s what emotional targeting is about. We go through a process of identifying the emotions that drive your customers to say yes.
What are those emotions? What are they looking for? What are they worried about? Then we’re able to take the next step and say, okay, if those are the emotions people are feeling right now, here are the emotions people want to feel.
If we take a look at the easiest example—the dating world. Right now someone feels lonely, they want to feel loved. If we take a look at the dating world, I know what people are feeling right now and I know what they want to feel. Now all I have to decide is what do I want to test—the before or the after.
Do I want to make people feel the pain? Do I want to make them aware that they have a pain that needs solving, or do I want to show them the promise? “I know that you’re experiencing this, but I promise you that you can become Y.”
If we’re talking about B2B it’s the same. Right now, you have a communications problem within your distributed company. Right now, you’re feeling frustrated, you’re annoyed. Things are falling, you’re not really sure who’s doing what, and it’s hard to get on the call. That’s one version of the story.
The other scenario is that everyone’s best friends, you’re talking to everyone every day, you know what’s coming, what’s going, what’s happened, everyone’s accountable for their stuff, and the now versus the future.
Emotional targeting is about understanding those emotions the now and what they want, what they’re feeling right now and what they want to feel, and then showing them on the page in order to increase conversions.
Chris Davis: Yeah. This is why expert copy doesn’t work for everyone. That expert has dug deep. They’ve done the work. They’ve done the research for their audience.
Then you go copy and paste, because it looks good, it reads well, and it resonates with you, and perhaps at a glance you even serve the same audience. You take that copy, put it on your page…and you get crickets. It’s because they’ve done exactly what you’re saying. They’ve dug deep. They understand exactly where their audience is emotionally, where they desire to be, their ambitions. They wrote specific to that demographic.

The only type of effective competitor research

Talia Wolf: Exactly. You know when I think about, it really is about understanding your audience. I’m always, I always say that I’m against competitor research, because I feel like it’s the blind leading the blind. Most people don’t really invest in research, and we just copy from each other.
But there’s one type of competitor research that I think is a goldmine for anyone—even if you don’t have a budget or anything. If you only take one thing from this podcast today, I want you to do this. Go on to your competitor’s websites, and look for the reviews that they’re getting. Look for the social proof. Start copy and pasting that into an Excel file.
Look: what are the hesitations people mention? What are their concerns? In the reviews, what are the things that annoy them? What are they really happy about?
All these things are said by people who should be buying from you—and are currently buying from your competitor.
If you can identify the two or three points that keep coming up in these reviews…
This will tell you exactly what you need to tackle in your next email or on your homepage or on your landing page, and what social proof you should be reaching out to get.
If you see that everyone’s complaining about one thing, go to a customer who has had that problem and ask how you solve that for them. Put that on the homepage. That is your social proof. Not a random praise about how amazing your company is, but a review about solving that specific issue.
Your customers, your prospects, are giving copy to you, so use their words. Every word they say can be a headline or bullet points or whatever it is on your page.
Chris Davis: Great. It’s digging deep. It’s digging deep and exposing what you find when you dig deep, right?
Talia Wolf: Exactly.
Chris Davis: You dug deep and found those triggers, now expose them. Put those as headlines. Talk about them effectively.

The results of conversion optimization

Chris Davis: In closing, Talia, you are an expert. Customer-centered conversion optimization, that’s your space. What can you tell our listeners about the benefits? When it’s done right, what results can they anticipate experiencing?
Talia Wolf: Great question. Obviously, you’re going to see a lot more conversions. I’m talking like, 10 times the conversions that you’re seeing right now, because your entire strategy changes.
I want to say that more importantly, what you’re going to notice is two amazing things. One, higher retention rates. When you resonate with your customers from the top part of the funnel, they’re going to stay on for longer. You’re going to get lifetime customers and clients.
The second thing that you’re going to see, is that you’re going to learn a lot more about your customers. If you knew that your clients all want to feel loved, wouldn’t you tell everyone on your support team, product team, and sales team, “Guys, this is what our customers care about the most.”
Now everyone in the company is shifting towards being customer-centric, delivering the message that your customer actually wants to hear. That means more sales, better support, higher retention rates, and if you’re in eCommerce, you could even change the way you’re shipping stuff because you know what people are expecting.
The knowledge that you gain from this kind of work is not just, “I got more downloads” or “I got more sign-ups.” It’s knowledge that you can give everyone in the company. Everyone’s in the same place, there’s no more silos, and we’re speaking the same language—the customer’s language.
That to me is bigger than getting 10 times conversions or double the conversions or whatever it is.
Chris Davis: Yeah. Higher quality customers that you can retain, they stick around longer. They’re going to be true evangelists and help you more than you can help yourself.
I know word of mouth is kind of traditional and everybody is like, “Don’t just rely on word of mouth,” but social proof, it’s just a form of word of mouth—not feeling left out. “All of my friends are going over here. Why am I the weird one not over there?” Right? “Everybody’s liking this, why am I not?”

How can you start doing conversion optimization?

Chris Davis: I love everything that you laid out. If someone is struggling with conversions and they know it what would you say is a good starting point for them? I know you mentioned Google Analytics earlier, and internally I was shouting, like, “Yes, look at the data! Look at what people are … look at their behavior,” you know, start there and build out.
Talia Wolf: There’s definitely a few ways. Obviously, number one is going to be look at Google Analytics. If you’re not doing that yet, you want to identify your prospect behavior. What are people doing on your website? You can also use heat maps, which is a great way to identify what people are actually doing on the website—where are they clicking, how much are they scrolling, what are they reading.
Maybe even more important, if you do one thing, it is customer surveys. Put together a survey and ask people the important questions. Not if they liked your website, not if they liked your product. Ask them what pain they are trying to solve, what lead them to your website today, and collect that data. Collect it, because that’s worth everything.
Actually just today, I tweeted that I finally finished analyzing, and I’m not kidding, 2,000 survey responses for a client.
Chris Davis: Wow.
Talia Wolf: I haven’t even looked at the Google Analytics data yet. I have a ton of work in front of me. That was the first thing I did, and man, did I learn a lot. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I know the exact three things that need to happen strategically on the website right now, the things that we need to say, the things that we need to remove ASAP, and the things that need optimizing.
That’s before I’ve even gone into Google Analytics to find the leaks. I’m going to do that obviously, but this data is also important.
Chris Davis: That’s powerful, Talia. That is truly powerful. Thank you, thank you for sharing, and thank you for being on the podcast. I really enjoyed this one. How can people find out more about you, follow you, get connected with you?
Talia Wolf: You can follow me on Twitter, @TaliaGW. You can read all our blog posts, which are basically very in-depth guides with a lot of templates and frameworks that you can download on my website, GetUplift.co.

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