Select Page

Have you recently asked How people make choices? No matter what you are engaged in, marketing, teaching, consulting, this question applies. How people make choices is exactly what the MECLABS Institute studies. Daniel Burstein is their Senior Director of Content.

How People Make Choices – A Master Class for Marketers

MECLABS Institute, Daniel Burstein, How Do People Make Choices, Marketing Experiments, Marketing Sherpa

MECLABS Institute was founded about 20 years ago, by Flint McGlaughlin. He saw an opportunity to understand how people make choices with the growth of the internet. Back in the late 90s, it was pretty embryonic!

Flint saw the internet not just as a way to communicate, but as essentially a living laboratory. That’s because in real-time you can monitor a customer’s decisions. Then see what changes you can make to affect those decisions. Using that knowledge, learn how you can best serve those customers.

Who are MECLABS Institute?

MECLABS Institute has completed over 20,000 marketing path experiments. They conduct theses experiments with research partners who are Fortune 500 companies and small start-ups who have the traffic to do that. They publish findings into how people make choices in Marketing Sherpa and Marketing Experiments.

Discover What Works In Optimization

MECLABS takes a very evidence based approach. To understand how people make choices, you have to battle what Daniel calls “marketer’s gut”. We all have it. I think this will work. I think that’s going to work. As opposed to listening and researching how customers actually make their decisions and choices. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at what works.

What works best? Newsletter Ad or a Single Call to Action Email?

Daniel described an experiment with a publications business who work with MECLABS, between an ad at the bottom of a newsletter and a single purpose email from their Editor (Download our free report). And at the bottom of the newsletter, here is a banner ad that you can click and download the free report. They did the test at the end of 2017. Daniel had a sense that the direct email would pull far more responses. Earlier this month, they reviewed the responses. One of Daniel’s analysts pointed out that counter-intuitively, they did a lot better with those ads in the newsletter. Daniel’s golden gut was wrong. So the experiment taught them something about how people make choices. It told them that the ad at the foot of the newsletter worked better so they intend to focus on that as the method for promoting their free report.

Your gut can put you in the right direction. But look at the data. Experiment to look at what really works, because sometimes it is surprising.

Different audiences perform differently.

With some audiences, an email in letter style with one single call to action, will work better than a newsletter. Imagine, there’s five to seven articles at the top, then the banner ad at the bottom, maybe another ad too. Maybe 10 calls to action in the entire piece, linked to the content from that publication that they are used to. In other situations, a single call to action email performs better, because it is a direct conversation asking for that one thing. In this case, the audience probably is highly engaged with that newsletter and is highly engaged with that information. Moreover, the reader has got to the bottom of the newsletter!!

Do you want to understand Marketing Rules of Thumb?

Just tell me what to do. Do I do a GREEN button or a BLUE button? Beware dear reader, there are principles don’t follow “best practices”.

“Best practices are just pooled ignorance”
Flint McGlaughlin

MECLABS cannot tell you what will work in every situation. What you want to do is to learn from YOUR audience in your situation. Come to all this with a mindset of putting the customer first and how I can learn from them.

A good example. At the Marketing Sherpa summit in Las Vegas, Daniel was talking to someone – who was saying ‘here’s why this event is so valuable to me’. Worth the price of admission. Now, Daniel had worked really hard on the content, and he was hoping this guy was going to tell him it was about the content, but he didn’t say that at all. He said, last night he was at the bar and he met someone from a direct competitor. They got talking about what he does and what I do that does and doesn’t work. He found out that the thing he was copying from them doesn’t work for them at all!

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn from others. What it does mean, is you should take that learning with a grain of salt. Use it to inform hypotheses and use it to test with your own audiences.

Value Proposition

MECLABS Institute has a graduate programme for communicating value with the University of Florida. Built into the programme is their 20 years of research into how people make choices. Around that, they have built patented methodologies to help marketers understand how to put some of this into action. They have done a lot of research into value proposition and how it works.

At a high level, the answer to a value proposition is:

“If I am your ideal prospect, why should I buy from you rather than your competitors?”
MECLABS Institute

Why is this such an important question to answer for your business? Daniel has had a long career in marketing and advertising. One of the roles he performed was that of copywriter. As a copywriter, Daniel worked with different types of marketers. One marketer, that product they have been working on, they spend 40-80 hours a week thinking about and that is their baby, they love it. That product is the best in the world. But, you cannot tell someone their baby is ugly. Working on copy, you need compelling copy, and you therefore have to see the product through the eyes of your prospect.

No-one cares. So ask that question and see it from a prospect’s eyes. It helps you see the competitive landscape.

Better products do not mean sales. Remember, Lotus 123? Google developed a single focused value proposition to counter Yahoo. In the mid late 90s, Yahoo got ahead as the search engine for a time and then they focused on being a portal – serving up a page full of news, sports etc. Google stripped everything down to search.

The 4 Elements to an Effective Value Proposition

  • Appeal
  • Credibility
  • Exclusivity
  • Clarity

Appeal is how much do I desire this offer? Sometimes marketers stop at this. Don’t! A product that offered hair regrowth overnight would have high appeal – especially to Graham! However, can I trust their claims – credibility. It would have low credibility.

Match appeal with credibility.

Exclusivity is where else can I get this offer. If there was 100 companies offering that product, then why should I buy from you?

Clarity is what are you actually offering. This is a place where marketers can really get in their own way. Be clear about what are you actually offering. Does you prospect understand your message, do they understand what you are offering?

Don’t undercut your credibility by having all these BOASTFUL claims, that people don’t actually believe at the end of the day.

Once you have determined your value proposition, you are just communicating it clearly to your audience.

Marketers are too reliant on the star-performer

Daniel makes the case that advertising agencies, marketers rely on the star performer who really just gets it. Many though dont have these guys. They are just very ‘lumpy’. Unlike manufacturing and methodologies like 6-sigma, the marketing world has way too much reliance on the star performer.

There is a need for education. That’s why MECLABS has patented methodologies. For marketing leaders and business leaders to use. This helps the entire team to work in a methodological fashion. So you are no longer just reliant on an individual star performer, it is something you are basing your whole marketing approach upon.

Follow their marketing methodologies and you’ll be in danger of doing better than you were!

You are consistent and you are doing it in a way where you learn from the customer. So now what do I know about my customer. MECLABS calls this building up a customer theory.

Use this methodology ANY PLACE YOU WANT TO TAKE A DECISION. Just think how people make choices.

Example: Recruiting – what is the right job for you?

How can you foster all those decisions that makes the best decision for them? As long as there is choice, the economy is run on choice. So, how can you help people make the best choices for them?

Before you deliver anything in your consulting practice, is actual value. Actual value hidden behind a very risky decision. They don’t know that actual value until they have experienced your value. So what we have to do is increase the PERCEIVED VALUE. To the point where that meets the ACTUAL VALUE you are going to deliver for them.

Then you have to deliver on it.


Best analogy is BASF – we don’t make the X, we make the X better. Making Everything Better…

That’s essentially what optimisation is.

Whatever your marketing is, optimisation is about trying to make that optimal. How can you improve that thing?

When you think of what a typical business does, they invest a lot of money in marketing, media, content, and other ways to get INTEREST. They are trying to get as much interest as possible. An ad in the newspaper, etc.

They need to turn that interest into ACTION. Often, these days, that means visiting a landing page.

If you are spending so much money on the front end, to get people to a landing page, if you get a 10% conversion, by using optimisation if you are able to 2%, you are not just getting that improvement on the landing page, but on all the way back through your funnel, all that money on newspaper ads, content, branding etc. You are increasing the ROI on all of it.

Optimisation of landing pages is really important. It is far away down the funnel to really have an impact.

What is the Optimisation Methodology?

MECLABS Institute has 10 heuristics that they teach. Elements that you have to consider to improve conversion, to get a yes, to get a sale.

Conversion heuristic: walks through the steps to how do you increase the probability of conversion?

C = 4m + 3v + 2i-f – 2a

It is NOT an equation to solve, but a THOUGHT TOOL, a methodology to think through how can I increase the probability of conversion (C).

C = the probability of conversion. This is about tipping the scales in your favour. It is not absolute.

4m = M stands for motivation. 4 is the highest number, because motivation has the highest impact on conversion. You are gaining an understanding of your customer’s motivation. Who is coming to you and how can you best serve them? If your grandmother and your daughter came to your website they would have different motivations. The better you can understand those motivations the bigger the impact on conversion. They might have arrived at your site from different ads placed to attract different audiences, so understanding them, aids conversion.

3v = maximising the force of your perceived value. Refer to the information about value proposition again. Make sure your value proposition is clear, and balances appeal with exclusivity.

These are positive factors about how people make choices, increase motivation and perceived value and people are more likely to convert. Now we see the negatives…

2i-f = these two elements weigh against each other. F = friction, this is something that STOPS people from converting. Friction is a psychological resistance to an element in your sales process.

Friction – when Apple releases a new iPhone, there’s always a line outside the store. A lot of friction. We are super impatient with some processes, your ATM, getting a hamburger. Apple have tapped into  motivation and perceived value so much that people will go through that friction to get it.

For most processes people will not put up with a lot of friction. We should try to reduce friction.

The “I” is the incentive that you want to outweigh the friction. Free shipping, Free delivery, 10% off, etc. But, be careful. Some marketers abuse incentive.

“Incentives are the bacon of marketing tactics”

If you aren’t a good cook, then add bacon. It’ll taste better. Some marketers do this. They dont have CLEAR VALUE, so they don’t understand how people make choices, or the customer’s motivation, they just throw an incentive on there.

2a = anxiety. If you ask too much information, you’ll raise anxiety and conversion will drop.

This works as a recipe for marketing. Its more than that, about how people make choices.

Apply to students:

Motivation – different students have different motivations for work. Some want to go out and earn money. Some students want to change the world. To have a positive impact on society. Some students just want to learn more. Some students want to take it easy, a good culture, somewhere to make friends, play ping-pong.

The point is not to wag your finger at the market and tell them how it should be, the point is we each have our intrinsic motivations. Understanding those intrinsic motivations for the students will help them select the right place to work for themselves. For us, understanding the intrinsic motivations of our customers will help serve them better. AND what motivations you can and cannot PROFITABLY serve.

This helps you understand why you cannot be everything to everyone. Because at the end of the day you’ll disappoint them. Hurt your brand.

Perceived Value – that’s your value proposition – what value you offer and what value you don’t. MECLABS helps you learn, but if you want 9-5 that’s not MECLABS.


Global Leadership Summit – Chicago. They have marque speakers. Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook, for example. MECLABS would test different speakers to different segments to get a sense of how those speakers affected conversion. By doing that, they got a sense of what drives people to their event. Is it the BRAND itself, because they have a good brand, or would the speaker route be more effective.

The Global Leadership Summit 2017 Speaker Notes

What they learned that the speakers were less effective than their own brand to draw people to the event. Their own brand was strong enough.

Split testing methodology. 

Version A with one headline and version B with another headline. Measure and value the traffic between the two. The maths is important. Needs to be statistically significant. It helps us understand what people might not be able to tell you directly why they made a choice.

Remember it is all about how people make choices.

We make decisions based on emotion and back fill with logic. So split testing can help you understand at a deeper level how people make choices.

Step back and say how does my customer experience something.

Here’s a link to that worksheet:

Daniel also discussed BairFind, check them out here:



Value is required throughout the funnel. Go to a baseball game!

The Inverted Funnel

It’s a thought process. If you orient the funnel at the top, it gives the impression that people will just drop into the funnel. But gravity is against you. PEOPLE DROP OUT OF FUNNELS!

We need to keep pushing people UP the funnel against gravity. It is not just getting that ONE communication and we are done. It won’t be strong enough.

The space programme calls it escape velocity. Rockets need MIGHTY big rocket engines to lift them into space. Same idea for conversion through a funnel.

Baseball analogy, you get to the 3rd inning and you stop seeing value – you’re out of there! 🙂

Micro yesses. You need to get so many in a row. Different steps. Go to your white board. What decisions does your customer have to make to get to the final yes?

See you ad. Give it attention. I’ll look at the landing page. Sign up for a email newsletter. What are these yesses? Note them down. Act on them.

Contact MECLABS Institute

Their goal is to learn and to teach. All this information they provide, 99% of it is absolutely free.

The Next 100 Days Podcast is brought to you by Graham Arrowsmith and Kevin Appleby