The Power of a Word: How a Behavioral Informed Word Choice Increased User Conversions

From Lawyer to Entrepreneur

Brantley was an estate attorney living in Austin, Texas. He spent his days writing wills for his clients and working with startups. He had a good amount of experience working with tech companies, so he decided to attend a Startup Weekend event. When he got there, everyone was a developer and spoke a different language. Brantley wanted to leave, but someone grabbed him on the way out.

“Where are you going? You have to pitch!”

“I don’t have a pitch,” said Brantley.

“What do you do in your day job that doesn’t add a lot of value?” the guy asked.

“I create wills for my clients,” replied Brantley.

“Great! You give away estate planning on the internet,” he said.

A Start with Startup Weekend

Brantley ended up participating in the Startup Weekend, pitched to eighteen teams and seven CEOs, and won. It was on that weekend that Brantley became the founder and CEO of Giving Docs. Today, Giving Docs does just that, provides online resources for estate planning. They primarily focus on making it easy for people to support the causes they care about by allocating a portion of their will to a nonprofit of their choosing.

Nonprofits give $40 billion dollars a year from people dying in the US with more than sixty percent of it being unaccounted for. Brantley knew that their system was antiquated, and he was on a mission to fix it.

Losing Users

Like many new products, Brantley was seeing high levels of initial engagement, but significant drop-off shortly thereafter. His users were failing to complete the will execution process, which rendered his company’s services useless. Brantley and his team began tweaking the process to try to counter the sudden loss of interest users were experiencing while creating and assigning the benefactors of their will.

“We saw early on that one of our biggest drop off points in our funnel was when we asked people to name their executor in their will,” said Brantley.

Finding the Problem

When Giving Docs asked its users to name an executor, they were leaving the site and never coming back. Brantley and his team decided to revamp the entire experience, moving the executor step from the end to the beginning of the process, but results still did not improve. He then tried moving this step to other places in the funnel, but nothing seemed to be working.

Perhaps the registration process was fine, but questions themselves were presenting a problem. One of the concepts Brantley had studied previously was this idea of mortality salience, which refers to a person’s ability and willingness to consider their own death.

“If I look at you and tell you right now that you are definitely going to die one day, your initial reaction is to run from that conversation and not want to talk about it,” said Brantley. “When you are faced with this question, you have a chemical reaction in your brain that forces you out of the conversation. No one wants to think about their own mortality.”

“If you think about it, that is the moment that people imagine themselves dead,” continued Brantley. “This is the moment that they start thinking about their wife, or their dad or a best friend going through their personal stuff and it’s a very jarring thought. You’re asking the users to picture that.”

Using Behavioral Science to Fix Leakage

Brantley then went on to say, “However, if you can get past that, you can start to think about the things that matter, what it means to you and your family, and what type of legacy you can leave behind.”

Brantley had a hunch, maybe it was the word choice that was holding people up. He left the sign-up process as is, but decided to replace the word ‘executor,’ He used words that were similar in meaning, but less likely to remind people of their own mortality.

Mortality Salience

His strategy worked. Changing the term ‘executor’ to ‘person’ or ‘representative’ made all the difference. It didn’t matter where in the funnel the question was placed, so long as the question was framed gently. This small change made a big impact, and conversion rates started to climb.

Eventually, Giving Docs extrapolated on this discovery to inform their entire business. They stopped using the term “will” in favor of “estate planning,” and reframed their brand to remove death-related messaging entirely. Today, all their marketing and messaging is geared toward reminding people of their legacy.

“That’s why we’re Giving Docs, we’re about giving, we’re not about death.”

Decoding the Why — How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.

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If you want to connect, you can reach me here via email (nate@creativescience.co), or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Entrepreneur blending behavioral economics, data and technology to help changemakers inspire and move people to action. Co-founder @creativesci & member @yec.

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