• Conversion Rate Optimisation

2nd Mar 2016

9 min

Some of us at PRWD are keen comic book fans and had been waiting with bated breath for the new Deadpool film. A few days after seeing it, my mind turned, bizarrely enough, to conversion rate optimisation. This is because when you break it down, many aspects of the film and its troubled production reminded me of what it takes to make a conversion optimisation successful. So here it is, five things that the Deadpool film can teach you about conversion optimisation.


CRO requires breaking the fourth wall

1. Break the fourth wall

Get interacting with your audience

One of the biggest slaps in the face fans received from the abomination that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine was Deadpool having his mouth sewn shut. By silencing the wise-cracking hero, Wade Wilson/Deadpool was stripped of his interaction not only with other characters, but with the audience. Deadpool is perhaps most famous for breaking the fourth wall (when a character speaks directly to or otherwise acknowledges the audience), so by taking this away, the producers lost an asset. In a roundabout way, many businesses are in effect ‘doing an Origins’ and sewing their customers’ mouths shut. With the growth of big data and analytics, many businesses are removing the voice of the customer and reducing them to numbers on a screen. Just like anyone doing conversion optimisation, if you don’t interact and learn from your users you are doomed to fail (just ask the team behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine if they wish they’d sat down with their audience).

This new interpretation of Deadpool is unrestricted; he repeatedly breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the audience. Unfortunately, many businesses view (and many expert bloggers write about) interactions with users in a negative light. My colleague Sophia has written a great article demystifying user research, explaining why every business should sit down with their users and the positive impact it can have on your offering.

Users are a gold mine of insight if you have the right tools and knowledge to extract it. Granted, user research can be a difficult business; it requires experience and patience to gain access to those delicate pieces of insight which can unlock the potential of your website. Getting user research wrong (or not conducting it) and introducing bias can yield false insight. This will ultimately lead to bad hypotheses that often produce failing tests or a unintuitive website. In today’s economy, you don’t often get a second chance to impress a visitor.

2. If at first you don’t succeed…

When a test fails, don’t just call it quits

CRO is about learning from failure, not quitting



It would have been easy for comic book fans to give up on both Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool based on their previous appearances. The filmstruggled in development hell for years until a convenient script leak went viral. Ryan Reynolds was quoted “I’ve been trying to get it (the film) made for 11 years, its crazy…We developed the script six years ago, wrote this fantastic script, it leaked online and Deadpool fans went nuts for it.” Due to the resilience and determination of a select few and the studio listening to their audience (there’s that research point popping up again), the film eventually made it to production. Since it’s release the film has broken countless records including the biggest R-rated opening weekend. I’m sure other fans like me (and Fox’s accountants) are glad those four never gave up.

When conducting testing, sometimes even our best ideas fail and that can be hard for our egos to swallow.  The test that you lovingly formulated and nurtured did not yield the massive uplift you had dreamed about. After the failure of X-Men Origins, so many people were ready to throw in the towel and the same goes with failed A/B tests.

Instead of calling it quits, what you should be doing is learning. Why did it go wrong and how can we take this learning forward?

The bottom line is, your ‘failure’ has taught you about your users and what doesn’t work for them. Good experimental design can allow you to create tests that help you identify themes or techniques that resonate with your users. So take a deep breath and dive into the results, you might be surprised. Chances are, you will likely find out more about your users than you thought was possible. This new insight is invaluable when creating new hypotheses or iterating old ones and can lead to big success in the future.

3. Team up with the X-Men

Collaboration with a multidisciplined team can supercharge your performance


CRO is all about team work

X-Men by Greyloch. Flickr

Like any superhero movie, the protagonist never acts alone. In some way, shape or form they receive help from others with a different skill-set to themselves, whether that’s the Avengers or in the case of Deadpool, the two X-men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Inevitably, it is through a joint effort that the protagonist achieves his goal, which is usually saving the world (or smaller, a city) from destruction.

Though conversion optimisation might not tackle anything as large as saving the world, working collaboratively within a multidisciplined optimisation team adds exponential value to tests. To be able to call on an expert in persuasion or a data scientist allows you to see a holistic view of a project and will lead to a higher quality of more varied hypotheses. The most successful examples of conversion optimisation programmes usually derive from multi-disciplined teams that incorporate all arms of a business – including those many would overlook – such the marketing department, UX Designers and Front End Developers. Our Senior UX Designer Phil recently explored the current role of designers in the industry and how creative problem solvers like him are underutilised. You don’t need to have seen a lot of films to know that the fine line between success or failure can hinder on the exclusion of valuable members of a team.

4. It isn’t all about looks


CRO is not all about looks so says Deadpool


One of the foundations of the film, both narrative and humour-wise, is on Deadpool’s appearance (having being left disfigured by an experiment). Deadpool believes that his future happiness hinges on his appearance, despite everything else he has going for him. But what does this teach us about conversion optimisation?

Any UX Designer can sit down and design something that looks good. That can then be passed to on to the dev team and implemented into a pixel perfect design. Everyone’s happy now, surely? Well, no. That’s not how it works. Sometimes sites can adopt wonderfully beautiful designs that are essentially hollow shells that provide an empty experience for a user. Too many times has the priority for website design been on its looks and visuals, with hours spent on typography, animation and gimmicks to try and differentiate one brand from its competitors. Too often have I seen the use of crazy CSS transitions instead of usable and intuitive functionality. One of my favourite sites is the Bang & Olufsen PLAY site. This site manages to be beautiful whilst at the same time remain useful and intuitive. Animation and hover effects are carefully designed to improve learnability or to draw a user’s attention, not just for the sake of being ‘cool’.

Designing for conversion is not really about pushing the limits of CSS, it’s about producing compelling user journeys with minimal friction. As Senior UX Designer Phil states, the ‘lack of creativity’ in website design is not a bad thing if you’re providing a positive user experience. A pretty transition will not compensate for a lack of functionality.

As it turns out, it is the other qualities of Wade Wilson/Deadpool (such as his sense of humour and devotion) that his girlfriend desires, not his looks. The same can be said about users wanting a website that works, rather than one that’s pretty.

5. Easter eggs: it’s about the little things

Deadpool is full of little Easter eggs, such as the expected Marvel Stan Lee visit and references to his past failings as Green Lantern. The creative team clearly understand and appreciate how much their audience loves the little things.

I personally believe that truly compelling experiences are ones that also understand and promote the more finer details. Neglecting these on a website usually leads to unexpected and unwanted interaction that plants the seed of doubt in a user, with each one transforming a possible ‘converter’ into the dreaded ‘non-converter’.

My favourite analogy about getting usability right comes from Steve Krug’s book Don’t make me think*. In it, he pens the term ‘Reservoir of goodwill’. When users enter a site they arrive with a reservoir containing an individual level of goodwill that can’t be refilled. Every time we encounter a problem or an unexpected action on a site the level of the reservoir is drained. When the reservoir is depleted the user will likely leave. Unfortunately the problem doesn’t end there. Alongside not converting in that session, your user’s perception of the site and the brand may have been permanently damaged. They may never return or become a customer. If you have provided an especially bad experience a user could even take to a public forum to potentially influence other prospects.

Deadpool leverages the awful experience you received from X-Men Origins film to provide some of the funniest Easter egg jokes in the whole film. A great example of a business getting the little things right can be found on AO.com. From their replication of a personable in-store experience into their online offering, to the little-pop up when you highlight a product name saying ‘we price match’, AO.com look to make your experience on their site the best it can be. Each ‘little thing’ builds up into an overall pleasurable experience.

Signing off…

So there we have it. Five lessons from the Deadpool film that you can apply to conversion optimisation. If you have any other films that can provide lessons to the world of CRO, please feel free to leave a comment or tweet them to @PRWD.

P.S there is no post-blog easter egg for the next blog post here. It’s over.

* I believe this book is an essential read to anyone interested in web usability or conversion optimisation. I like to re-read it from time to time as it really reminds me about how important it is to get site basics right. You can find it here.

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