Evolutionary Psychology + Marketing with Tim Ash
Tim explains how evolutionary psychology impacts marketing, including website conversions, audiences, and messaging strategy.
Tim Ash is an acknowledged authority on evolutionary psychology and digital marketing. He is a sought-after international keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of Unleash Your Primal Brain and Landing Page Optimization.
Tim has been mentioned by Forbes as a Top-10 Online Marketing Expert, and by Entrepreneur Magazine as an Online Marketing Influencer To Watch.
For nineteen years he was the co-founder and CEO of SiteTuners – a digital optimization agency. Tim helped to create over 1.2 billion dollars in value for companies like Google, Expedia eharmony, Facebook, American Express, Canon Inc., Nestlé, Symantec, Intuit Humana, Siemens and Cisco.
All right, everyone. Welcome to Digital Conversations. I am your host, Billy Bateman. And today I am joined by the great Tim Ash, bestselling author, keynote speaker and digital marketing expert. Tim, thanks for joining me.
It’s my pleasure to be with you, Billy.
Yeah, I’m excited. A lot of people know who you are, but there still may be a few people who don’t know who you are. Just tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to get where you are today?
Tim’s Background in Digital Marketing
Well, that’s a long journey. I was one of the oh geez, the original gangsters in digital marketing. And I’ve been running agencies since 1995, shortly after the internet was invented. And my focus has been on what’s now called conversion rate optimization, or landing page optimization, making websites more efficient.
So, people can, a higher percentage of your visitors will act once they get to your website. I’ve written a couple of bestselling books, as you probably know about it. This landing page optimization, one is the second edition here.
Conversion Rate Optimization Conference
And I used to run what’s called the conversion conference, which was the first industry wide conference on conversion rate optimization. Actually, that still goes on, it’s been renamed digital growth unleashed. And it still happens in the US, UK, and Germany every year.
And they will most people know me for is probably site tuners, the agency that I co-founded, and that specialized in conversion rate optimization. We created over $1.2 billion in value for the Nestle’s Facebook’s Expedia is, and Siemens is of the world.
Keynote, Speaking, Book
A couple years ago, I sold the agency to my business partners and decided to focus more on my keynote, speaking, and writing my new book. I just launched a new LinkedIn learning class on neuromarketing. I’m just enjoying all of the thought leadership that I’ve built up over the years.
Yeah, I know, you’ve done a lot of great things. And it’s interesting, the shift you’ve made from, the conversion rate optimization. It’s very tactical, like, hey, here are the things that you should try and do these things to more of the neuromarketing. How did that shift happen for you?
Shifting to Neuromarketing
Well, I wouldn’t say that our approach was tactical. I think, unfortunately, the industry has been driven by the landing page testing tool vendors. And so that’s all about testing this test that testing velocity, I call it green button, orange button testing. It’s all of this tactical, moving things around on the page stuff.
Strategic Approach to Website Conversion
And when I used to run site tuners, my former agency, we took a pretty strategic approach. What about your email communication? What about your content, marketing, whole side redesigns to make them more user centered?
One time we had a client, an e-commerce client that sold high-end expensive stuff. We figured the highest payoff was to train their phone people is they knew about the product, but not about selling. We trained about 60 of their reps. And the website sales didn’t change at all, but phone orders increased 15%. That was multi-million dollars for them a year.
We were actually pretty strategic about it. And that’s one of my axes to grind against what’s called siara these days is it’s all about the tactical testing. Yeah. Now that it is there, that’s what you hear about, we moved the button from here to here.
What People get Wrong with A/B Testing
Things went up 5%, or, well, here’s just one word in the headline. Yeah, that headline did the magic word, the new freeze sale. Yeah, the thing is, the dirty little secret of testing is this, that you probably only have a few pages, they’d have the traffic necessary to test in the first place, most of your site can’t be tested.
And then what’s going to happen as you get this crossover, your ideas are going to get worse and worse and worse, because you’re using up the good ones. The page in the meantime, as a result of the testing is getting better and better and better. Eventually, they’re going to cross and after one, two, maybe three tests on the same page, you won’t be able to improve it anymore.
There’s got to be other ways to optimize you can’t just rely on tactical landing page testing.
Yeah, so tell me a little bit. I mean, we’ve run into the same problems with bots we built a split testing platform and our and our chatbots and our live chat. There are a few very easy things to test whether, like the CTA, like there’s a couple ways to do a really good CTA.
Test the question order and like a qualifying sequence and what questions are in there, and then everything else is just small little tweaks here or there.
You’re going to get like 70% of your return on like the first three tests Iran.
Unleash Your Primal Brain
Let’s talk about your new book, Unleash Your Primal Brain. Really interesting stuff. You shared some of it at our conference we had last month.
That’s right when I did the keynote. That was fun.
Yeah, it was awesome. I still get feedback that people are finding it. They’re watching it. They’re like, love that you got to love all the things you shared. One of the things I think was really interesting was your insights on the pricing page and rethinking how you put together a pricing page.
Where did you like, how did you get the idea for that? Is there something to even run that as a test?
Well, it’s when I ran Site Tuners, mostly at 1.2 billion in documented value that I mentioned it was a result of these durable neuromarketing principles. I’ve always had a background and now one of my undergraduate degrees was in cognitive science along with computer engineering. And then I stayed in grad school and worked on what’s now called machine learning or neural networks, artificial intelligence.
Understanding the Brain
As far as stuff and seven years in, I quit and started my first agency. But I’ve always had this love for cognition and the brain, how people really make decisions. I guess you could say, I applied it to marketing, and it worked. If you want to have a really good, durable career as a marketer, you have to understand what you’re trying to influence, and that’s your own brain or the brain of other people. Instead of focusing on technology, we focused on these kinds of more universal persuasion strategies and principles based on evolutionary psychology.
People are Driven by Fear
Okay, okay. And one of the things with the psychology that you mentioned in your, in your keynote that I loved is, people kind of were driven by fear. Oh, and, and I think that, the more I think about I’m like, man, how many decisions do we make out of like, fear of missing out? or using something exactly.
We don’t have a lot of fear. At least here in America that you’re going to not have anything to eat, or you’re going to die every day things happen. But it’s not something that comes to mind. Yeah, but it’s more like am I going to be included? Am I going to be successful? Am I not going to be successful? What have you found? Are there ways marketers can really feed into that kind of fear of missing out without being Debbie Downer but still harness that?
We’re more Sensitized to Threats and Losses
Well, it’s funny, you should mention fear, because what I put on the cover of my new book is a scary caveman jumping out at you through the back cover. And that was quite intentional because that stuff gets our attention. It’s not so much about fear of missing out. It’s fear and loss, and anything that lessens our chances of survival.
we’re more sensitized to the threats and losses than we are to upside if I said, Hey, Billy, here’s a nice scoop of ice cream. But first, as you reach for let me whack you on the hand with a hammer. I mean, most people wouldn’t. aren’t big enough ice cream fans, they go for that one, right? Yeah. And that’s because we’re sensitize the losses and the pain and loss of resources and threats of all kinds.
The Mistake of Happy Marketing
I think a lot of marketers make a big mistake by having what I call marketing, happy, happy talk, use our product, and you’ll have whiter teeth and be better looking and live in a mansion and all of that stuff. And the thing is, it is much easier to say, if you don’t use our product, you’ll have crooked yellow teeth, and nobody will want to date you and you’ll die under a bridge in a cardboard box with your pet cat. Right.
What Happens if you Don’t use our Products and Services?
Okay, now that if I paint that picture, all of a sudden, you’re motivated to do something about it. Yeah, to fix that, if that’s the trajectory, you have to do something about it. marketers are really fighting with one hand tied behind their back if they don’t at least paint the picture. What happens if you don’t use our products and services? What does the end of the road look like for you? Yeah. What are the like, the levers or the different things that marketer can pull to help paint that picture that’s like, hey, you’re going to miss out you might end up living under the bridge with your cat.
If you don’t properly run off to find a better owner? Actually,
I would. I would think your cat’s going to abandon you at that point. And if it doesn’t, it’s far too oil. Exactly. It’s not a dog after all. Yeah, yeah. A dog might stick with you. Yeah.
See what People are Saying about it
Well, some of the things that you can do is go to your customer service people and they’re getting an earful from your customers and or go to your social media feeds. And just see in the raw, I mean, not Nigeria, again, pardon me bullshit brand stuff like our brand is the greatest in the world.
Go see what people are actually saying about it, and you’re going to get a lot of information, you’re going to get all the negative stuff. They’re saying, some of the best marketing copy we ever wrote was not writing anything, we would just take things that people were actually saying about their situation, or the product, all the negative stuff, and we just repurpose their words. S I’d say get as close to the customer as you can and listen for the negative stuff, there’s going to be plenty of it.
Get Close to the Front Lines
That’s a good tactical tip, just get close to the front lines, instead of sitting back and talking about return on ad spend. And ROI and stuff like that.
Yeah, I like it. when you’re talking to customers, what, what kind of questions do you suggest asking to get the negative? If you’re able to get on the phone and say, okay, tell me why you like our product, why you didn’t.
Understanding your Audience
I don’t think they’re generic customers. One of the keys to another mistake that marketers often make is not understanding their audience. I mean, we’re very tribal. If your brand is going to appeal to me, I have to understand that you’re on my side. And in order to do that, of the believe that you get me.
The first thing you should do is have a very narrow definition of what your audience is. And then spend time talking about their values, the cultural stories, they tell what’s important to them. And only then should you design your products and your pricing and your messaging for that audience. I think most brands basically are too broad. They say, hey, all a billion people on the planet should buy our stuff and it’s just not true.
Narrow in on your Audience
Okay, I like it. talk to the customer and find out what their pain is. really know who your customer is. What else is there?
Yeah, then that means narrowing. That’s a no, it’s like, okay, so it’s like, okay, who, well, who’s ChatFunnels for? Let’s use your company as an example. Just really quick.
Yeah, so we sell b2b companies that really focus on account-based engagement on the website. For them for that’s who they’re selling to is,
Okay, what size? What, what? average ticket value? What vertical industries? I mean, b2b companies are way too broad. You see what I’m saying? Yeah, we’re going to say, okay, we only sell b2b chat software for enterprise size. b2b companies in the hospitality space. Okay, now, you might have my full attention. If I’m your target audience, you see what I mean? It’s just so much tighter. And then you can really, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine what I’m thinking because you intimately know that small niche,
for sure, for sure, yeah, it makes sense.
Focus on Vertical Industry
if you’re in b2b, you should probably focus on vertical industry, by the way, that’s another general tip that works really well.
Niches You Didn’t Think About
I love it, man. Yeah, finding those industries that you work for. And sometimes you stumble into it. We found one on accident recently, a sales guy did one deal and then realized, man, like, we never even thought about selling to these guys. And now they’re doing a couple deals in the same industry. And honestly, when we built the product, we never, never even Yeah, never thought about that industry.
So, then you can do the same. It’s really important in terms of testimonials that if you have a b2b business, that you have these vertical industry pages, and I’m looking for comparables. So, we were saying let’s say in the hospitality industry. and if you tell me well, we have to work with the biggest manufacturers on the planet. Well, I don’t care because I’m in hospitality.
And even though your software probably chat software functionally works the same everywhere. I need a comparable from my industry. Yep. And so, I have a couple of strong testimonials within each vertical. That’s what’s important.
Other Website Mistakes
Okay, I love it, man. I love it. What do you see as the biggest mistakes people are making on their site besides maybe just being too flowery and everything sunshine and butterflies? What do you see that we’re just doing wrong?
Inside Out Mentality
Well, I’ve already mentioned a couple of not really understanding your audience or focusing enough and I think that’s part of a larger problem, which is, we still have this inside out mentality. We have the megaphone, and it’s like, we’re telling you why we’re great and projecting that out to the world and instead you should be thinking from the outside in.
There are people out there who have a problem. They don’t know what the solution to it is, they might have misconceptions, or they might be misinformed, or just ignorant of certain things. Take them where they are and how are you going to slowly walk them into the sale. It’s not just this standing broad jump Buy our stuff right now but supporting the whole customer journey. having clean information sent for them to follow. not trying to do everything in one interaction with them and understanding that it’s a process.
I think it’s a lot of basically just inverting in saying it’s user-centered and really live and lean into that.
Yeah, I like it. With your new book on the primal brain, I’ve been able to read a little bit of it. And, and I like a lot of what you share. It reminds me of another book that I read years ago, where they talk about the crocodile brain. yeah, to get past the brain, the reptile brain.
You shared a few things with us last month, but for those that didn’t catch the summit, what are the things we can be doing to trigger the reptile brain response? Like what do we need to think about as we’re building our websites to really trigger that action, so they do something?
What Motivates our Actions
Well, the thing to understand is that most actions happen either automatically, or they happen with really strong emotional components involved. there’s the rational thing, part of the brain can give you options, but it doesn’t decide at all, it literally can’t decide. So, what, you have infinitely many things you could do at any given moment how they’re prioritized. by the strength of your emotional reaction, you’re Oh, that was awful. I’m going to run away from it, or Ooh, that’s wonderful. Let me do more of that. So that’s what prioritizes stuff.
And I think most marketers are way too clinical. They’re trying to appeal to the Mr. Spock part of the brain to the rational part. And that’s not the one in charge. So, you’re talking to a closed door, you want to impact me, I think one of the strongest things you could do is have an emotional tone and a point of view and editorial voice. And to really stand for something and to be against other things.
Overcome my Need to Conserve Energy
I mean, to depolarize, and I don’t know, it’s got a lot of bad connotations in politics right now. But as a marketer, you’re trying to overcome, not me buying your competitors products, you’re trying to overcome my need to just conserve energy and do nothing. you want to move me off my comfortable spot, and the only way to do that is with passion and emotions. Yeah, no, it’s always easier to do nothing than to do.
Yeah. Right. Okay. I like it. We’re writing copy, we’re creating images, we’ve harnessed that emotional side of things to get people to act. one thing that came to mind is, when I was dating my, my current, my wife, we dated for a while. I kind of couldn’t make up my mind a little bit. And she was like, hey, if you’re not going to, we’re not going to get married, like, let’s, let’s get all this up.
We took a break for a little bit. And man, after a couple of days, I was like, man, I really miss Chelsea, my life’s a lot better with her than without, it didn’t take long after that to get married. And I realized that was the right thing. But they had to have that kind of emotional reaction to do something different than what we’ve been doing. And that also triggered fear of loss, by taking a break, it was like, okay, what happens when she’s not here? That’s like, for sure. I mean, women know what they’re doing. They’re smarter than us for a reason.
Unleash Your Primal Brain
No doubt, it’s, by the way, I just want to clear the new book, unleash your primal brain. This is not a marketing book. It’s kind of a bit of a chameleon, because if you read it as a marketing book, you get a lot out of it. But it’s also for personal development, for community building for all of these things is basically a guidebook to how human beings evolved and how our brains really work. It’s non-technical, it’s non-scientific, there’s not one footnote or, or table or graph. It is almost like a fast-paced detective story that retraces our evolutionary past.
So, it could help you with relationships though and it could help your personal growth and development too.
For sure. I mean what I’ve read is marketing and sales is kind of how I was coming at it but really, like, you don’t have to be a marketing sales and it would be interesting and helpful to you.
Persuading other Human Beings
I agree. Because I cover memory learning, gender differences, storytelling culture. There’s so much in there I want to share with you. But yeah, it’s certainly most of it is applicable to marketing since that’s at its root just persuasion, other human beings.
So, let me ask you this about this book, like what was the trigger that made you say, this is the book I want to write? And this is why,
Why did you write the book?
yeah, it’s a great question after being in online marketing for 25 years, I mean, it’s fun work. But we’re not curing cancer or anything, we’re basically taking money from the consumer’s pocket and taking it from potentially the bank account of one company and putting it in the bank account of another company. Right? That’s really what we’re doing.
And what I want to do is just level the playing field for us as consumers and individuals against these big companies that are using algorithms and AI. Whether it’s governments or big companies we as consumers, and individuals are bringing the proverbial knife to the gunfight.
Here’s how Human Beings Really Work
And I wanted to say, hey, here’s what they’re really doing: they manipulate us, here’s how human beings really work. you have a more realistic sense of who we are. it’s kind of my give back. It’s not just in marketing, but just helps us understand this very critical juncture in human history of what God is here, and some of the pitfalls of that in the modern setting.
Yeah, no, I, I like it, man, we need that right now. I feel like with everything that’s happened over the last year, across the world, in our country, a little better understanding of how people work. And what can cause us to act or not act certain ways is going to be helpful to anybody.
How Tribalism Affects Us
Yeah, and I’ve applied it to a lot of things. I’ve already applied to, for example, the CEO organization that wants to know about decision making under uncertainty. I’m teaching a course or Brazilian University soon in their MBA program. And it’s about how conformity and tribalism affect us.
So, there’s a lot of things that are just a basic operating system that we need to understand if we’re going to make it through the next few decades.
We Aren’t Independent Alligators, We’re Hyper-Social
Yeah, no, I mean, you bring up tribalism and conformity, like, I wouldn’t mind, we don’t have a lot of time left. But just touching on how that does affect us as people like, because I think it’s very real, that we all kind of want to be in tribes and be included.
Yeah. And it’s and it’s not just that we’re independent alligators, or crocodiles versus herd animals, like most mammals are, but we’re actually hyper-social. And well, we figured out our big evolutionary bet is that we can learn more from our surrounding tribe than we could ever learn in a lifetime of direct experience.
Rely on Our Tribe
So, we’ve learned to rely on our tribe, and especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. We basically override our direct experience in order to be a good team player and survive as a tribe. That’s our edge. And so, you can use that to activate people and make them conform and know what predictable response you’re going to get out of them. Again, it’s done a lot in politics with fear and stuff like that, and populist messages.
But it also can be used by a brand. That’s why I always go back to know what you stand for and know what you stand against. Because you’re only going to resonate for your tribe. Everybody else. You can ignore them.
Yeah. I love it, man. I love it. Before we break, is there anything that if I was really smart, I would have asked you that I didn’t.
No, you are smart. You ask a lot of smart questions, hey, man.
Where to Find Tim
Well, the only thing I’d say is just if you are interested in my keynote, speaking training, or digital marketing consulting, I still do that go to TimAsh.com and if you are interested in the book, I would recommend getting the audiobook version or because I also recorded that myself or the e-book or paperback and it’s available everywhere.
Just go to primalbrain.com and you can actually download the chapter of your choice if you want to check it out first.
Okay, man. Well, I second that Tim’s awesome to work with, and reach out. great guy to have a conversation with and get to know. And thank you so much, Tim, and we’ll chat later.
It was a lot of fun. Thank you, Billy.