Why Conversion Isn’t The Issue

So a couple days ago, my boy Dexter Abraham posted an article on Facebook about customer development.

And to be perfectly blunt, I found this article completely wrong-headed.

It's not that it isn't coming from a place of experience and knowledge - clearly, it is - but it is also coming from a very shortsighted place. The authors assume from the very beginning that what every single business wants and needs to do is to make the audience happy.

That's not always the best strategy.

What the article hammers home again and again is that if you want to get more people to give you their money, simply ask them what they want and then give it to them.

But the average person is not an expert in what they want. You can see it in every nontechnical person using a computer. The single largest complaint they make is "why doesn't the computer just do what I mean?"

In other words, why can't the computer read my mind?

When we try to make the computer read your mind, of course, it creeps you out and you want to turn that feature off. Whenever advertisers want to track your behaviour and see what ads you actually want to see, which ones you'll actually click, which ones actually inspire you to buy... the first thing you want to do is turn that off and make laws to stop people from doing this.

Most people are extremely bad at solving their problems. Instead of eating what they know is good for them, they eat things that are bad for them. Then they feel guilty, so they eat something else that's bad for them. "I'm already off my diet," they say. "I may as well just pig out and go back to it tomorrow."

And then these people wonder why they can't lose weight.

My wife once tried the Atkins diet. She says she did it for six months. Except she skipped the induction phase, because less than fifty grams of carbs was just ridiculous. But if you don't induce ketosis, the diet doesn't work. It says so right in the book. And after doing just the easy part of Atkins for six months (with several "I may as well go back to it tomorrow" incidents every month), she pointed out that we already know Atkins doesn't work for everybody.

We also know Atkins doesn't work if you don't do it right.

The problem with asking your customers what they will buy is that your customers are largely covered with SHIT from the rest of their lives. What they want is something shortsighted, something that takes into account how helpless and inadequate and trivial they are. They want the pill that makes them lose weight.

We had those in the nineteenth century, you know. They're called "tapeworms."

Turn of the century tapeworm pill ad
Tastes great! Lass filling!

Of course, today, no reputable doctor who cared about the well-being of his patients would recommend such a thing. It's barbaric and disgusting and honestly, what the fuck is wrong with diet and exercise?

Well, SHIT. That's what's wrong with it. Exercise takes too long, and you have to do it yourself, and you can't do things yourself, how can anything you do yourself ever work?

Any solution you get from your audience is necessarily bound up in their problem and also in their inability to solve it. Their solutions are going to be contaminated with the bullshit idea that the problem can't be solved or else they would have solved it. They will have desires and ideas that revolve around the idea of their problem being intractable.

Microsoft Office started trying to reduce complication in the interface around the year 2000. They did a lot of research and talked to a lot of Office users about what was wrong and how to fix it. Everyone was full of ideas about how to organise the menus better, but it wasn't until Office 2007 that a series of interface design experts finally said "What if we didn't have menus in the traditional sense at all?"

Not only is this a solution that would never have occurred to existing Office users, but they hated it. Because people fundamentally resist change, even when they don't like what they have, even when what they have doesn't work. And you just have to do what works anyway, understanding that while you will lose customers in the short term, you will gain them in the long term.

But the ConversionXL article doesn't seem to grasp that. It doesn't seem to understand that sometimes, your problem isn't the product or the conversion or the market, but simply the basic reality that people hate change because they suck.

You can't fix that. You just have to accept it.