The Psychology of Brexit – Why Emotions Won Over Logic!

The UK European Referendum captured world-wide attention and generated intense and passionate debate in the UK. Despite the economic arguments being clearly in favour of Remain, as no one could accurately predict the impact of Brexit, the UK is now heading out of the EU.

The Remain camp and their “Project fear” strategy completely failed to win the hearts and minds of older voters in particular. The fatal error the remain camp fell into was to rely almost solely on rational considerations. Emotions, social influence and mental short-cuts  are often more powerful drivers of behaviour than logical analysis of a problem.

But why was the Leave campaign more successful at  engaging people at an emotional level? The Leave strategy focused on messages that triggered strong emotional responses (e.g. autonomy – getting back control) and encouraged voters to discuss issues that they were concerned about (e.g. immigration).

Herd Mentality:

 

Sheep on the road image
Source: FreeImages.com

We are super social creatures who seek out and interact with other people as part of natural bonding processes. As a result our opinions and behaviour is more heavily influenced by our social networks  and what we think other people are doing than we are aware of. For this reason controversial statements that spark a conversation between people are more persuasive than simply communicating a  rational argument to inform voters. The Leave campaign extensively used emotive promises and narrative about the EU to encourage word of mouth conversations that spread across social networks.

Image of YouGov poll showing EU referendum intentions by age
Source: YouGov

 

Our herd mentality appears to have helped the Brexit campaign gain momentum as they were initially well behind in the opinion polls. David Cameron hugely underestimated the depth of feeling in the provinces about factors such as immigration and economic inequality, and a general disillusionment with the EU among older voters.

People copy opinions and behaviour if they want to fit in with their social networks. The Leave campaign galvanised support using strong psychological narrative (e.g. taking back control) to grab attention and generate discussion. This was helped by a very negative,  almost bullying strategy by the Remain campaign which probably alienated many undecided voters .

 

Emotions Override Rational Thinking:

 

Image of faces showing the 7 emotions
Source: http://www.affectiva.com/

Emotions are one of the most powerful influences in our decision making tool kit. Many of our judgements and behaviour are directly influenced by feelings of liking or disliking rather than rational consideration. And yet Remain constantly focused on rational arguments and the negative consequences of leaving the EU.  Perhaps as a consequence of this leavers appeared more motivated than remain supporters because those parts of the country that voted remain had the lowest turn out.

Leavers cared more

People also have a tendency to like (or dislike) everything related to a person and so having a popular politician spearheading (i.e.  Boris Johnson) Brexit may have been sufficient for some people to align themselves with the leave campaign.  In this sense the Remain campaign may have lost support from Labour voters because David Cameron was of course the leader of the Conservative Party. Continued austerity and a Government focused on London and the South East may have further alienated many voters from supporting a campaign strongly associated with the leader of the Conservative Government. This was probably further compounded by the low key profile of Jeremy Corbyn during the campaign as he did not appear totally committed to the cause.

Loss Aversion:

 

People are more concerned about losses than gains.

The Brexit campaign were especially good at using basic psychological triggers to cut through the noise. They consistently used loss aversion, our tendency to be more concerned about potential losses rather than gains, to grab attention. Leave played on gut feelings around jobs being taken due to immigration, the subsequent drain on the NHS, and wage stagnation. An emotion often linked to loss aversion is regret which people try to avoid at all cost. The Brexit campaign used this to their advantage by emphasising  that the referendum would be a once in a life time opportunity to break away from Europe.

Autonomy:

People are also strongly motivated by the desire to be in charge of their own destiny. Leave tapped into the issue of a lack of power and control by talking about the EU being un-democratic, and limiting our ability to set laws and manage immigration. Immigration is again a deeply emotional subject for many people and although the Leave campaign may have been regularly criticised for focusing on this issue it undoubtedly resonated with older voters. But most importantly all these issues were framed around “taking back control” even though they could not offer any guarantees that immigration for instance would actually fall.

What You See Is All There Is:

People are heavily influenced by what information they can easily access about a topic. Few people have the time or inclination to seek out alternative sources of information to validate stories they read in the media. Indeed, Boris Johnson confessed to a fellow journalist to making up stories about the EU when he was the EU correspondent for The Telegraph newspaper. Given the amount of misinformation about the EU circulated over the years it was always going to be difficult for the EU to get a fair hearing.

Project Fear:

As humans we hate uncertainty and suppress ambiguity because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Project fear certainly communicated uncertainty about an exit from the EU. This is one reason why status quo bias often leads us to avoid change because outcomes are more predictable if we stick with existing option.

However, project fear was a tactical mistake because it was almost entirely a negative message and it mainly related to macro-economic matters. This was too rational a strategy as such issues often appear remote from daily life and less relevant ordinary people.  Further, project fear was reinforced by various threats from both the Remain camp (e.g. emergency budget & more austerity cuts), and external parties (e.g. Obama & OECD). This may have came across as bullying rather than a considered argument and probably resulted in anger which would have alienated voters from the Remain point of view.

Telling a positive story:

People are naturally much more motivated when they have a clear purpose in life and can see how their actions relate to personally meaningful goals. The EU was originally set up with the intention of bring once warring countries together in a peaceful and collaborative community.

And yet the Remain campaign failed to tell a positive story about the overall goals and achievements of the EU. For instance the EU has been successful at encouraging the advance of democracy and western economic thinking in Eastern Europe, improving workers rights and protecting press freedom. Very little attention was paid to this aspect of the debate and yet having a purpose is one of our strongest psychological motivations.

Some of the most passionate speakers for Remain (e.g. Shelia Hancock) focused on these higher goals, but the official campaign completely ignored these more emotionally engaging and meaningful messages. The Remain campaign failed because those in charge did not understand basic human psychology and motivations.

Related to this post is:  Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues?

Do opinion polls influence voters?

Why do people prefer to follow gut instinct to research?

Thank you reading my post. If you found this of interest please share using the social media icons on the page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

How To Improve Your Website Navigation Using Tree Testing

How Good Is Your Site Navigation?

 

How easy is it for your visitors to use your navigation and find what they are looking for? Do you get complaints from users that they can’t find what they are looking for on your site?  Have you tested the findability of items in your navigation structure (often called taxonomy) with real users? If not then you might want to consider a usability technique known as tree testing or reverse card sorting.  This can significantly reduce problems with your navigation.

 

What is Tree Testing?

 

Image of a tree
Source: Freeimages.com

Tree testing evaluates the findability, labelling and organization of topics on a website. Most websites are organised into a hierarchy (a “tree”) of topics and subtopics. Tree testing is a way of identifying how easy it is for users to find individual items in this hierarchy.

However, unlike normal usability testing, tree testing is not carried out on the website itself, but instead users browse a simplified text version of the site structure. This removes the effects of the design, including visual cues, and navigational aids (e.g the internal search box) and other factors that might influence how quickly visitors find what they are looking for.

 

How Does  Tree Testing work?

 

There are 6 steps to complete a tree test:

  1. Users are given a find it task to complete (e.g. “find a portable DVD players for less than £20).
  2. Participants are shown a text list of the top-level topics of the website.
  3. Users select a heading, and then are given a list of the subtopics to choose from.
  4. Participants continue choosing topics in the tree, and can backtrack if necessary, until they find a topic that achieves their aim or they may abandon the process if they can’t find what are looking for.
  5. Users will then repeat the process a number of times with different find it tasks to test the findability of a range of items in the tree hierarchy.
  6. Test results will then be analysed once a sufficient number of users have completed the test.

 

Image of welcome screen for remote tree testing
Example of welcome screen for remote tree testing – Source: Userzoom.com

When Should You Use Tree Testing?

 

If you want to identify the root cause of navigation problems tree testing may be the best solution because it removes the effect of the design of your website and other navigational tools and aids from the equation. With no internal search to assist your user tree testing helps to isolate navigational deficiencies so that you can make the necessary improvements in your taxonomy. Tree testing is often used for:

  • Identify which items, groups or labels are causing problems for your users and set a benchmark of “findability” before you update your navigation. This might then lead you to conduct a card sorting exercise to improve the usability of your taxonomy.
  • Measure the impact of a proposed improvement or implemented change in the findability of items in your navigation structure. This will allow you to validate if the change you are making helps improve findability, makes no difference or actually creates a new problem.

Which Elements  should You Test?

For a small website with less than a hundred items you may be able to test your whole navigational structure. However, for large ecommerce websites with literally thousands of items on the site this is not practical or cost effective. In this instance you should use your web analytics to identify less common paths that can be removed from the testing process.

To decide what to test you should start by defining user’s goals and the top tasks that they need to accomplish to meet their goals. This normally involves getting both users and stakeholders to rank the main tasks so that you can identify what both groups agree on and also identify any low priority tasks that internal stakeholders wrongly believe are important to users. It may also be useful to include some items that cross departments as these create their own issues for users and items that have been identified as problematic from open card sorting or Voice of Customer research.

 

What Sample Size Do You Need?

 

As Steve Krug points out, “Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.” Whilst this is true, we have to bear in mind that with tree testing we may be dealing with a complex navigation structure and that it is important to conduct a reasonably robust test if we are to draw any reliable conclusions. The key outcome metric should be whether the user successfully found the item they were asked to locate and so this simplifies the analysis to a “Yes/No” metric.

I have outlined below the sample size required to achieve a confidence level of 95% and  assumed 50% of users find the item. I have assumed 50% of users find the item because 50% generates the highest possible margin of error and so is the worst case scenario.

Image of sample size required for specific margin of error at 95% confidence level
Sample size required for specific margin of error at 95% confidence level.

 

Generally you should limit the number of tests each participant completes to 10 depending upon how long on average  each task takes to complete.  Otherwise participants may become fatigued and they will also become e experienced users of your site structure which could influence the test results.

Should You Ask Participants Questions?

 

After each tree test it is useful to ask participants to rate the difficulty of the task. This can provide a guide to the usability of finding the item. Keep questions to a minimum but understanding how users perceive a task can add context to the test data. It can be useful for instance to compare task completion data with survey answers to identify any items where user perception does not align with task completion as this could highlight areas of particular concern.

Tree Testing Solutions:

Tree testing may not be one of the most well-known forms of usability testing, but it certainly offers the potential to help organisations resolve problems with their navigation structure. If you want to investigate tree testing further you can check out these solutions:

  1. Treejack from Optimal Workshop: One of the leaders in web-based usability testing for information architecture, Treejack  is a popular solution for evaluating website navigation without the normal visual distractions.
  2. Usability Sciences: Offers a web-based solution and will analyse the findings to determine the effectiveness of your site structure. They will provide specific recommendations on changes to your labels, structure and placement of content within your navigation hierarchy.
  3. UserZoom: Provides a web-based service to identify navigational issues early in the design process. UserZoom will analyse any attempts where participants have trouble navigating to ensure this is resolved before your site goes live. It will also give you a measure how well users can find  items in your hierarchy.

Thank you reading my post. If you found this useful please share with the social media icons on the page.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Remember what your visitors want from your website!

 Compare what your visitors are looking for on your website with what you have on your homepage.

 

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.

Are we taking the benefits of European membership for granted?

Until a few weeks ago I was busy optimising the websites and apps for 4 brands at a large online gaming company. I had 10 A/B tests running simultaneously and was seeing some excellent results that should have given a good return on investment. However, the company had recently been taken over and the preferred organisational structure was to replace centralised teams with roles dedicated to an individual brand. As a result my role disappeared and the company decided to recruit junior people for each brand to do my job. This was not ideal for me, but these things happen.

Luckily I was approached almost immediately to work on a short-term project as a freelance consultant in Paris. Although this was only for a month I jumped at the chance to gain experience of a new sector and the opportunity to work as a freelance consultant.

I have now completed the project, but as result of the work I was doing in Paris a local company has asked me if I could improve their websites for them. This has led me to investigate setting up my own business. This is obviously a risk, but it got me thinking about the up and coming European Union referendum.

Would I have been able to work in Paris if the UK were not part of the single market? Probably not as free movement of labour from a non-European Union country is not guaranteed. Sure, we have lots of people moving to the UK for work, but it works both ways. Is this something we now take for granted? My experience reminded me of the amazing opportunities there are for working in other countries because of our membership of the European Union. It would certainly be a great loss if we don’t retain the freedom to work in other European countries because of the referendum result.

Thanks for reading this short post, and if you need some help optimising your website or apps, whether you are in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, or any other European country, please bear me in mind.

You can view my full Digital Marketing and Optimization Toolbox here.

To browse links to all my posts on one page please click here.

  • About the author:  Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com.  He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.  By  aligning each stage of the customer journey  with the organisation’s business goals this helps to improve conversion rates and revenues significantly as almost all websites benefit from a review of customer touch points and user journeys.
  • Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com  and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website.  If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to neal.cole@outlook.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch and view his LinkedIn profile.