Why Do Most Attempts At Behavioural Change Fail?

Most Behaviour Change Fails!

Have you ever tried to change a long-standing habit or create a new habit? Perhaps you tried to give up smoking, eat fewer sugary foods, start taking regular exercise, or just spend less time on social media. It’s often difficult isn’t it and the same is the case when we try to change the behaviour of website visitors. Indeed, studies suggest that most attempts to change behaviour fail.

Why do most attempts at change fail?

BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasion Lab conducts research on how to change behaviour using technology. The BJ Fogg Behaviour Model explains how three elements must converge simultaneously for a behaviour to occur. The model highlights that for people to complete a task they need the necessary motivation, the ability and a trigger to prompt the behaviour. When an action does not occur, at least one of these three elements must be missing.

Image of BJ Fogg's behavioural change model
Image source: BJ Fogg

How can we use the model?

The Fogg Behaviour Model has been created to help designers understand what stops people from completing a behaviour. For example, if users are not completing a target behaviour, such as a quotation request form on a price comparison site, the

Three core motivators – Psychological drivers:

Fogg highlights three key motivators; Sensation, Anticipation and Belonging. Each motivator has two sides; pleasure/pain, hope/fear and acceptance/rejection. Although this is a simplistic model of motivation, these core motivations can be applied to all uses and they get us to consider psychological drivers of behaviour.

Ability – Making things simpler:

If you want someone to do something they must have the ability to do so. It might seem obvious, but we sometimes wrongly assume everyone knows what we know and that they have the same skills as we do. We have two options here. We can either train people to improve their skills or we can reduce friction by making the target behaviour easier to complete.

Training or on-boarding is the more difficult route as people are generally impatient and lazy. As a result users will often avoid having to learn new skills. Designing an intuitive interface is normally a much better option as this fits much more closely with human nature.

Simplifying an action to make it easier to complete should be your preferred option in most cases. Ease of completion is a function of our scarcest resource. This is often either our time or money. Users are very impatient and so a behaviour that requires more than a few seconds may fail because the user is not prepared to sacrifice the time needed to complete it. This is why it is sometimes a good idea to inform users how long an action will take to manage expectations and encourage them to allow the necessary time for the task.

Money is another scarce resource and so if a behaviour needs £25 to complete and you don’t have £25 to spend, then it’s not easy is it. This is why a free trial can be an effective way of reducing friction to undertaking a behaviour.

Triggers to prompt behaviour:

Congruence bias can result in us testing just the things we decide are a problem rather than looking at other things

Triggers prompt or remind us to begin a task and without a trigger the target behaviour will not occur. There are lots of different names for triggers; prompts, call to action, request and cue to name but a few.

Triggers can be an external prompt, such as a mobile phone push notification or a pop-up message on a website. On other occasions our daily routine or habits may trigger a behaviour. For many people in large cities going to work triggers buying a coffee or checking Facebook may prompt us to upload our latest photos. Some of the most powerful triggers though are major life events such as starting work, marriage, moving home, birth of a child and children leaving home.

Trigger in action:

I sometimes play poker on Facebook with Zynga the online gaming company. I haven’t played for a week or two and so Zynga sent me an email offering me the chance to win some free chips. The trigger is a simple call to action of Open Now. The motivation involves scarcity as the offer expires within 24 hours of receiving the email.

Image of email from Zynga.com to trigger user to sign in
Image Source:

Although the target behaviour is to get me to sign in and claim my prize, Zynga’s larger objective is to get me playing a game of poker.  The use of loss aversion is an effective way to motivate me to click on the call to action and as Facebook remembers my login details the behaviour is very easy to complete.

How to apply the Fogg model to digital marketing:

The Fogg model is a powerful resource for evaluating how to encourage behavioural change in digital marketing as it has been specifically constructed for use with technology.

What is motivating visitors?

People buy benefits rather than features and so it is important understand your customer’s needs and what they want from your product or service. Marketers need to communicate a compelling proposition that includes psychological motivations as well as more rational benefits to motivate users. This needs to be sufficiently appealing to justify changing their behaviour and perhaps switching to a new supplier.

So before designing a page or website first consider what need your product or service is solving and how important is it to your prospects. Make sure you identify the most important needs so that you don’t make the mistake of promoting something that is not salient to your customers. Use the implicit association test to identify psychological motivations as people don’t have full access to our deeper, emotional drivers.

Evidence of social proof can further enhance the perceived value to prospects because of our natural herd instincts. However, perhaps most crucially is that your value proposition is communicated with engaging imagery and compelling copy to persuade visitors that it will deliver on your brand promise.

Rewards can be used to provide a further motivation to complete a task. However, make sure the reward is something people want and be careful to adjust the frequency of the reward to optimise its effectiveness. Read my post on the psychology of rewards for more details.

Evaluating ability:

If your target behaviour is not easy and simple for visitors to undertake it will create friction which can prevent even the most motivated user from completing a task.  Apart from being lazy, people have limited attention spans and are often interrupted when browsing. This is what it is important that the user experience is intuitive and there is a clear visual hierarchy.

To get an accurate assessment of how easy your site is to navigate usability testing is essential for any organisation that is serious about addressing ability issues. Observing visitors trying to navigate and complete tasks on your site is much more insightful than asking them direct questions. Your analytics can tell you where there may be a bottleneck, but usability testing tells you why there is a problem.

Browser replay tools, such as Hotjar or Sessioncam, can also help identify where problems may occur. Session replay recordings are like undirected usability tests as you don’t know for sure what visitors are trying to achieve. However, by encouraging people in your organisation to spend time watching session recordings it is surprising how frequently usability problems are identified.

Image of Widerfunnel.com lift model
Source: Widerfunnel.com

I find a heuristic analysis with the help of WiderFunnel’s Lift Model is also very useful at highlighting potential shortcomings with a screen or user journey. This begins with the value proposition and how compelling it is to your prospects. Use the model as a check list of what to look out for and you will soon come up with a long list of items to consider.

Frequent sources of friction:

There are some elements of web design that consistently cause friction and result in a poor user experience. Friction can reduce both our ability to complete a task, but the anxiety it creates can also harm motivation. So, if you have any of the following friction generators on your site I would recommend that you remove them if it all possible.

Using registration as a landing page:

Let me say this once. A registration page is not a landing page! Sending off-site visitors directly to your registration form is lazy marketing. Use a dedicated landing page that is designed to inform and persuade.

Registration pages should not be designed to inform visitors about your value proposition and should be focused on getting visitors through the sign-up process and not to persuade them that your offer is right for them. It’s also a poor user experience as it doesn’t conform to visitor’s expectations.

Sign up forms with a pop-up before the first page:

When a user clicks on a button to launch a form to input information for a quotation or open an account the expectation is very clear. The visitor anticipates being taken directly to the form. Given this strong expectation it is not advisable to interrupt the user journey with a pop-up or interstitial to offer users another choice.

Image of pop-up immediately before a form on https://www.theidol.com/
Image Source:

Theidol.com launch a pop-up to promote their comparison service immediately after the user clicks on “Get a Quote” CTA. This is a poor user experience as it is confusing for the visitor. The risk with interrupting the user journey in this way is that it’s not meeting customer expectations and can be perceived as too aggressive. It would have been better to offer the price comparison service as the primary CTA on the home page and made the existing option of getting a single quote a secondary CTA.

Dont’s use CAPTCHA:

Forms are a common source of friction and so it is important to take care when designing them. However, CAPTCHA fields are notorious for annoying and frustrating users. They are often implemented by IT security teams to protect a site against bots, but there many other better ways of achieving the same aim without causing friction.

Image of CAPTCHA on wrexhamfc.co.uk
Image Source

 

Allow users to decide when they are ready:

When a user lands on your site many will not be ready to convert. If they have never been to your site before they need to establish your credibility and may want to browse to find out more about what you offer. However, many sites wrongly assume that visitors are ready to convert on their first visit and offer no secondary call to action.

Image of https://www.theidol.com/ homepage with secondary CTA
Image Source:

To build visitor motivation it is necessary to design user journeys that allow for establishing credentials (e.g. customer testimonials and awards), information gathering (e.g. white papers or blogs) and lead capture (e.g. newsletter sign up form).

Always include a secondary CTA as people like to have a choice and you need to allow for those users who are not yet ready to commit. The above homepage from theidol.com prominently displays a primary and secondary CTA to give users the choice.

Homepage Sliders/Carousels:

So many websites have auto-sliders or carousels on homepages that you would be forgiven for assuming that they must be an effective means of communicating multiple products or value propositions. Management love them because they can allow them to avoid making difficult decisions about what should be on their homepage.

Here is the carousel on Very.co.uk which changes every few seconds as the user is reading the text. This can also be annoying to visitors if they are not fast readers.

Image of Very.co.uk with homepage carousel
Image Source:

However, the vast majority of A/B tests and usability studies have shown that few users interact with them and they can often harm conversion rates. Because carousels often look like adverts they are frequently ignored and have few clicks on calls to actions. In addition, even fewer visitors click on second, third and other panels that are included in a carousel. This means that prime real estate on your homepage is not performing effectively and so should be removed.

Welcome screen:

When a visitor successfully completes your registration process, don’t dump them into a blank page and expect them to work out where to go next. Make sure you provide a suitable welcome message and provide on-boarding information or cues. It’s an important stage in the user journey, and so make sure you take advantage of it with suitable content.

Image of on-boarding user journey for Deezer.com
Image Source:

Deezer, the music streaming app, has a simple and easy on-boarding process. When a user completes a short sign-up form they are first asked to select music genres they like. Users are then asked to indicate their preference for a series of artists. Once this is complete the user is presented with a unique play list called “Flow” which reflects their music tastes.

Conclusion:

BJ Fogg’s behavioural change model is a powerful framework for considering how we can nudge visitors towards their goals. Most attempts at behavioural change fail, not because people can’t change, but rather because at least one element is missing. People need a trigger, but also the ability and motivation to change. Use this framework to identify which elements are missing in your user journey and address these deficiencies to improve your chance of success.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope you found it useful. Please share using the social media icons below if you like this post.

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 marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • 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@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

 

 

How To Get Started With Google Optimize

Google’s Free A/B Testing Solution:

Do you want to conduct A/B tests using a simple to use visual editor but you don’t have the budget to afford the established tools? Well, you can now conduct A/B and multivariate tests for free using Google’s new solution, Optimize. Register for free so that you can start conducting online experiments. Find out what does and what doesn’t work on your site and stop having to rely on best practice!

What is Google Optimize?

Google Optimize is the free version of Google Optimize 360 which is an A/B testing and personalisation platform. Optimize allows marketers to run up to 3 A/B tests (or multivariate tests) at a time and provides a simple to use visual editor that enables a non-technical marketer to set up experiments in a matter of minutes. It also integrates fully with Google Analytics.

 

Google Optimize (free) and  Google Optimize 360

So, what are the main differences between Google 360 and Google Optimize?

Limit on number of tests. Optimize only allow you to run up to three concurrent experiments. For many small and medium sized sites that have no one dedicated to conversion rate optimisation this may not prove to be a major restriction. I know even large websites that struggle to run more than a couple of tests at once and would save tens of thousands of pounds if they switched to Google Optimize.

Optimize allows you to conduct multivariate tests, but it limits you to 16 variations. Again, for many sites this may not be a problem because the more variations you have the more traffic you need to complete the test within a reasonable time scale.

No audiences. The free version of Google Optimize does not allow the use of Google Analytics audiences to target which visitors to include in tests. However, there are other targeting features available to use.

Objectives have to be pre-set. Unlike Optimize 360 there is no ability to analyse additional goals after the test has been set up. Although this is a useful feature it can lead to lazy thinking as you should have a single success metric linked to a strong hypothesis.

How to get started with Google Optimize?

Assuming that you already have Google Analytics implementation of Google Optimize is a simple process that looks like this.

  • Create an account and container
  • Link to Optimize to Google Analytics
  • Paste snippet into Google Analytics script
  • Add snippet of code to eliminate flicker from A/B tests

When you register for Optimize you will be asked to create an account for your business and then a container for each website. You should then link your container (the individual website) to your Google Analytics account as this allows the two tools to share data. I recommend you do this as it allows for analysis of your tests within Google Analytics.

Optimize then prompts you to add the Optimize snippet to your site. This is only a single line of code that is inserted before the last line of your Google Analytics JavaScript.

Image of snippet of code for implementing Google Optimize

To minimise page flickering from A/B tests Optimize also recommends that you add some additional code to each page immediately before the Google Analytics code.

Create an experiment:

You are now ready to set up an experiment and Optimize gives you three types of tests to run.

  • A/B tests: Two or more variants of a single page
  • Multivariate test: Two or more different sections of a page to be tested
  • Redirect test: Sometimes called a split test where you test one or more whole new page or path on a separate URL.

 

Image of types of experiments in Google Optimize

My example here is an A/B test where I have changed the heading to make it shorter and snappier which also brings more content above the fold.

Image of heading A/B test from Conversion-uplift.co.uk

Visual editor:

Optimize has a simple to use what you see is what you get (WYSIWG) visual editor which allows you to add, remove or change content. To access the visual editor you will need to download the Chrome extension for Optimize or use a browser that supports CSS3 selectors.

You can now create the variant you want to test using the visual editor or specify the URLs you want to test if you plan a redirect test.  To make changes using the visual editor click on the heading or container you wish to amend. This will then open up the menu with quick tools to make simple changes to text, typography and orientation. If you select the Edit Element button you will see more advanced options which include Remove, edit text, edit HTML and insert HTML.

Image of edit and advanced edit options

Make sure you save your changes and confirm you are “Done” to create your variant.

Setting Objectives & Targets:

Before you publish your experiment you must set your objectives and decide what audience you want to target. If you have linked Google Analytics to your account you can use any goals that you have set up in GA as an objective. Optimize also has Pageviews, Bounces and Session Duration as default objective options.

Optimize allows you to select up to three objectives for each experiment. For my A/B test I selected Bounces and Pageviews. You should then decide which users you want to target as this needs to be set before the experiment begins. Click on the “CREATE RULE” button to open the side menu.

Image of how to create a rule in Google Optimize

For many tests you may want to only target new visitors to your site. This ensures that visitors won’t have previously seen the default experience which could otherwise skew your test results. Google Analytics sets a cookie on the user’s first visit to your site. This means you can target an experiment to new unique first time users by specifying a short value for Time since first arrival. To set this up create a behaviour targeting rule like this:

Targeting new visitors – Example 1

Variable Match type Number Value
Time since first arrival Less than 10 seconds

 

To target a test to any page that a new user visits in the first hour since they first landed on your site, create this behaviour targeting rule:

Targeting new visitors – Example 2

Variable Match type Number Value
Time since first arrival Less than 60 minutes

 

The current targeting options are as follows:

URLs. Target individual pages and sets of pages. URL targeting enables you to pick the page where your experiment is to run. This allows you to target a single page, a narrow subset of pages, or Hosts and Paths.

Behaviour. Target visitors arriving on a site from a specific channel or source. It allows you to target first time users and visitors from a specific referrer.

Geo. Target users from a specific city, region or country. When you type in the Values field, you will see suggestions from the AdWords Geographical Targeting API to speed up rule creation.

Technology. Target visitors using a specific browser, operating system or device. Optimize tracks the browser’s user agent string to identify which browser a visitor is on, what version and on which operating system.

JavaScript Variable. Target pages using JavaScript variable values. This allows you to target according to a value in the source code of the page in the form of a JavaScript variable.

First-party cookie. Target the value of a first-party cookie in the user’s browser. This allows you to target returning visitors who will already have a first-party cookie from your site.

Custom JavaScript. Target pages using a value returned by custom JavaScript. This allows you to inject JavaScript onto a page, then target your test based upon the value in the JavaScript returns. For example if you wanted to target users visiting your site during the morning hours you could write a JavaScript function that returns the current hour. Then set a targeting condition that looks for a returned value that is less than 12.

Query Parameter. Target specific pages and sets of pages. Query parameter targeting explicitly targets values that occur in the query string of a URL. These are found between the question mark and the hash mark in the URL query string.

Data Layer Variable. Rather than referencing JavaScript variables in your targeting rules, you can reference key-values pairs that are contained in the data layer. You may want to create a targeting rule that uses shopping cart data or other information available on the page. For example, you might want to target users who have just completed a purchase of more than £100. This information could be stored in the data layer and so Optimize could retrieve it from there.

Personalisation:

These targeting options allow you to easily use Google Optimize for personalisation as well as for testing. For example, you could use Optimize to display a different image or heading for new visitors compared to returning visitors. Alternatively you could change the heading or message for visitors arriving from a specific source of traffic or customize text according to the user’s location.

Reporting test results:

To view the performance of your test variants simply go to your experiment and select the Reporting tab in the top left-hand menu. Alternatively you can view results in Google Analytics by selecting Behaviour>Experiments. This provides a simple improvement overview which compares your variant with the original experience.

Image of reporting from Google Optimize

Here we can see that in my headline test variant 1 currently has a 69% chance of being the best performing experience. However, the test had only been running a few days and so it was far too early to make any definite conclusions.

Length of tests:

Google Optimize recommends that all tests are run for at least two weeks. This allows for the weekend effect as people often behave differently during the week when they are at work compared to when they are at home for the weekend. It is also important to consider how long your business cycle is so that you don’t end a test before a full cycle has ended.

After the test has been running a reasonable length of time and you have a sufficiently large sample of users included in the test  Optimize will display a definitive recommendation about the test. This is very useful if you are new to testing.

Conclusion:

For a free tool, Google Optimize is a powerful and easy to use A/B testing engine that will meet the needs of most small and medium sized websites. It is by far the best free testing solution currently on the market and it has most of the functions and capabilities of paid for solutions.

It allows companies with small or even non-existent budgets to conduct tests and begin to personalise their user experience. Google Optimize may be a game-changer as far as A/B testing is concerned. Expect to see more organisations begin to run tests and experiment with personalisation. Given the cost of some paid for solutions I would expect some organisations will consider switching to Optimize.  If their current testing solution is not being fully utilised they could potentially save thousands of pounds a year by switching to Optimize.

Related posts:

Optimisation process – 8 steps guaranteed to boost your conversion rate. 

Importance of web analytics – 18 Free & Paid Web Analytics Solutions.

Types of A/B tests – How to use A/B testing to optimize your website.

Strategy – How should you prioritise your A/B test ideas?

Thank you for reading my post and I hope it has inspired you to create a Google Optimize account and start running experiments and test personalisation on your site.  If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

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 marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • 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@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.

How To Use Behavioural Science To Boost Conversions

Why Is Behavioural Science The Key To Effective Marketing?

In the book, The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored, by Paul Rouke, a number of the contributors argue that for conversion rate optimisation (CRO) to be a significant driver of growth a customer centric approach needs to be embedded into the company’s culture from the C-suite downwards. There was also a consensus that it is essential to understand users and align the customer experience with their desires and motivations.

“We need to re-align optimisation to the user experience. Understanding our users, listening to their feedback and empathising with their needs is the only way to truly understand what needs to be optimised.” Dr David Darmanin, Founder & CEO of Hotjar  – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

However, whilst this sounds all well and good, CRO can only be a driver of genuine business growth if it first persuades more visitors to achieve their goals. The business’s goals should of course be aligned to customer goals. Think about it, improving awareness, engagement, intent or the overall customer experience doesn’t matter two hoots unless you persuade more users to convert in  a profitable and sustainable way.

“Conversion rates area a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. They’re a reflection of your effectiveness at satisfiying customers. For you to achieve your goals, visitors must first achieve theirs.” Bryan Eisenberg, Founder & CMO at IdealSpot – – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

To persuade users we need to understand the nature of human decision making. This means identifying how the mind operates and what mechanisms are involved in human decision making? But also what are the main forces that shape behaviour? To what extent do factors such as emotions, context, past experience and social influence drive behaviour?

Why behavioural Science?

Behavioural science examines both of these aspects of human decision-making. Behavioural economics for instance covers the analysis of our cognitive function, but also social, contextual and emotional factors that shape human behaviour. Neuroscience is making great advances in understanding how our brains respond to different types of stimulus. Most of these factors are largely ignored by the field of economics and yet much of marketing theory has been influenced by economic thinking.

For example are people really rational, independent thinkers? In the book Herd, Mark Earls points out that humans are “super social apes” and we constantly monitor and copy the behaviour of others. We align with groups we wish to associate with (herd theory) or copy others to learn new ideas and behaviour (social learning). This means we are automatically drawn towards brands that people in our social networks buy. In this respect we are almost the exact opposite of the agents that economists assume we are.

Behavioural science therefore allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the decision making process and the factors that influence user behaviour. So what are the practical implications and how can we use them to improve the persuasiveness of our digital marketing activity? Below are six key insights and implications for CRO.

1. What About The Subconscious Brain?

Marketing is often ineffective because it fails to target both the conscious and non-conscious parts of the brain to get an emotional response. A purely rational argument does not communicate to the part of the mind that makes most of our decisions, but at the same time behavioural science cannot save a poorly designed product or weak value proposition.

The psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have shown that the mind works at two levels. System 1 is our fast, intuitive, emotional and largely automatic brain which is continuously running in the background. It also largely steers our other level of thinking, System 2. This is a slow, analytical, and deliberative brain. We use System 2 for self-control and cognitive effort, such as resolving complex problems and mental maths. However, because System 2 quickly depletes a shared pool of cognitive energy we use it sparingly and so we rely on System 1 for most simple decisions.

Image of difference between System 1 and System 2

This concept of the mind has been further supported by Professor Gerald Zaltman whose research suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. Roger Dooley also makes the point in the book The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored.

“Today, there are many poorly optimised websites that even elementary CRO approaches can help. Once the basics are fixed, though, more sophisticated approaches will be needed to keep improving conversion rates. A key part of these better tactics will be to focus on the customer’s non-conscious decision-making using brain and behavioural science.” Roger Dooley, Founder at Dooley Direct LLC – (from The Growth Strategy That’s Being Ignored).

Implications for CRO:

  • The explosion of literature about the non-conscious part of the brain has led some marketers to focus purely on emotional messages. This is misguided as a strong explicit goal forms the foundation of relevance and motivation to purchase. Ensure you establish a strong connection between rational and implicit (psychological) goals to avoid conflict between the System 1 and 2.
  • Targeting the non-conscious brain requires thinking about our underlying motivations that we often don’t express but are important drivers of behaviour. This means considering how people want to feel about their actions and the brands they buy. Even if people are not consciously aware of a message that targets an implicit goal research (Ruud Custers & Henk Aarts, 2010) indicates that it can still become more accessible in a person’s memory and so the brand has more chance of being top of mind.

“Implicitly activated goals not only make products or brands more accessible, they also result in a more positive attitude.” – Phil Barden, Decoded.

 

  • Lean Cuisine for example used underlying motivations to create an ad “#WeighThis” which went viral. The ad creators realised that eating healthy, low fat food is often not about your weight. People make an effort to take care of what they eat for a purpose. Psychologically they want to feel good about themselves. As a consequence the ad focused on getting people to talk about what really matters in their lives. Rather than using scales to measure their weight they were asked to weigh what they are most proud about their life. 
Image of Lean Cuisine ad "#Weigh this"
Image Source:

 

  • Asking people direct questions about why they purchased a product or made a decision is fundamentally flawed. Customers don’t have full access to their underlying motivations and post-rationalise when asked to explain why they made a certain decision.
  • Focus groups are the biggest failure here as you also have group dynamics involved which makes feedback almost impossible to interpret. They are often the default method of research and appear to be popular because people enjoy watching a group of strangers rationalise about their product or creative.
  • But in reality we don’t sit in a bubble with a bunch of strangers trying to say clever things about something we don’t really care that much about. Neither is it normal to talk about digital content when we know the person who thought up the idea may be watching us behind a one-way mirror. This is as about as far from reality as anything we could think up in our wildest dreams.
  • Observing users (e.g. usability research), listening (e.g. social media monitoring) and using implicit research methods (e.g. Implicit Association Test) are more reliable methods of research as they don’t rely on self-reporting. Direct questioning at the time of a user visit can be useful to obtain feedback on the user experience, but be aware of the limitations of such research.
  • For understanding how people react to new content or new products the most reliable method is a controlled experiment. The scientific method used for A/B testing for instance allows us to measure real changes in behaviour rather than rely on biased and flawed research techniques.

2. Psychological Rewards Drive Attention:

Brands are objects in our minds and relatively few brands connect at an emotional level. We respond emotionally to brands because they help us meet psychological goals not because we are particularly loyal to them. Brands, however, can use these psychological territories to differentiate themselves from competitors and to improve their appeal to customers.

Neuroscience research (Berns & Moore, 2012) indicates that products and services activate the reward system of our brain. Indeed, this is more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability and the intensity of the brain’s response is related to the value we expect the product to deliver.

A neuroscientific study (Carolyn Yoon, 2006) indicated that brands are simply objects to the brain and brands are not perceived to be people with personality traits. People buy products to achieve explicit (rational) goals which relate to the product category.

Brands on the other hand help us meet implicit or psychological goals. People respond emotionally to a brand when it helps them achieve a goal and not necessarily because we feel deeply attached to it. However, the more important a goal is the stronger we relate to brands that are relevant to that goal.

Marketing consultancy Beyond Reason combined findings from both neuroscience and psychological research to create a comprehensive model of implicit motivations. Research shows that implicit goals focus our attention so that even subconsciously we notice brands that may help us achieve an active psychological goal. Brands that we think are most likely to help us achieve a goal get the largest share of our attention. This may explain the attraction of guarantees and compelling value propositions that promise a desired outcome.

Image of Beyond Reason's implicit motivation model
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

 

Our brains respond to the difference between reward (i.e. achieving goals) and the pain (i.e. the price) we feel when considering a purchase. When the difference is sufficiently large we will be open to purchasing a product. The net value can be changed by increasing the expected reward (i.e. improve the benefits or performance of the product) and or reducing the pain (i.e. lower the price). Another way to improve the perceived value of a product is to use social proof to demonstrate how popular the brand is.

Implications for CRO:

  • Use the Beyond Reason implicit goal map to review your value proposition and messages on key pages. Beyond Reason’s implicit research methodology identifies and provides a weight to each implicit purchase motivation so that you can align your value proposition and communications to your customers’ psychological goals. You can then use A/B testing to evaluate how communicating these psychological goals influence conversions on your site or app.
  • People like what they buy, not buy what they like. Providing reasons, both rational and emotional can help to persuade visitors that what you offer is what they are looking for. However, the serial position effect suggests that you should position your most important points at the beginning and end of a list. Don’t list your benefits in descending order of importance because people have a tendency to remember the first and last items in a list.
  • Focus on habit formation or disrupting existing habits. Research by the late Andrew Ehrenberg suggested that most brand loyalty is driven by habits and availability, not by a strong emotional attachment to the product. Marketing strategy should be designed around people’s habits. It is easier to piggy back onto an existing habit rather than create a new one and so look to see how your product or service relates to everyday behaviour.

 3. The sales funnel is a myth!

Decision making is not a linear process as suggested by many models of consumer behaviour. It’s complicated and is not conducted in isolation from what else is happening around us. This means that people are easily distracted because they have multiple goals battling for attention at any one time.

  • The traditional sales funnel suggests we act rationally and go through a mythical sequence of steps before purchasing. In reality our brains are constantly bombarded by stimuli and as a coping mechanism our brain creates a cognitive illusion that makes us feel in control and rational. However, this process filters out information that our brains deem to be unimportant and distorts other inputs to protect and enhance our self-esteem.
  • In these circumstances a more appropriate analogy would be a leaking bucket that is standing on a ship’s deck. The water in the bucket is anything but tranquil as it is constantly being churned up by emotions, incomplete and inaccurate memories, social interactions and many other factors that can instantly cause us to change course. In figure 1 below I have summarised all the key elements that behavioural economics identifies as influencing behaviour.

Figure 1

Image of behavioural economics decision bucket
Source: Conversion-Uplift.co.uk 2017

 

Implications for CRO:

  • Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, backfire effect and bias blind spot shape our view of the world and make it very difficult for brands to change strongly held beliefs. What this suggests is that brands may be wasting their time and money by targeting existing customers of large competitors as they are unlikely to alter their opinions and habits unless something seriously goes wrong. Don’t use rational arguments to change people’s beliefs because often this will just result in those ideas becoming even more entrenched.
Image of cognitive bias codex graphic
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  • Brands can grow faster if they focus on increasing overall penetration by targeting visitors who are not strongly affiliated to any particular brand and use CRM activity to engage existing customers. This is supported by research published in the Journal of Advertising Research  which points out that your next customer is likely to be your most profitable visitor because average basket values increases as a brand franchise grows in size.
  • The insight here is to be less concerned about what your competitors are doing and put more effort into communicating a compelling proposition to new users and visitors to your site.

“Brands need to target inclusively and stand for a vivid, clear but broadly appealing benefit. A narrow, exclusive focus on the ‘most profitable’ households is a recipe for stagnation and decline, not for brand health.” Journal of Advertising Research, 2002.

  • Repeat key messages at key stages of the user journey to improve the likelihood that visitors will notice them. Repetition also plays to the availability heuristic which means we are more likely to believe something that is familiar to us.

“When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it must be true.” Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Revised Edition

4. Brands are framed by people not brands:

Because people are extremely social beings we have highly developed and complex social networks. We are constantly thinking about or observing the behaviour of others. Much of our behaviour is made and shaped by interactions with other people.

Whether it is the brands our parents purchased when we were young, what our colleagues talk about at work or the latest game that our Facebook friends are playing. These interactions are key to many of the choices we make and often we are not even consciously aware of how others influence us.

Indeed, to influence mass behaviour Mark Earls argues that we need to stop thinking about customers in the “I” perspective and begin considering them part of social networks and tribes of “Us”. He uses the analogy of trying to predict how a fire spreads through a forest. We wouldn’t concern ourselves with the characteristics of an individual tree and focus on a tree in isolation. Instead we consider how trees are connected to each other and how the landscape might influence the spread of the fire.

Implications for CRO:

  • People often conform to trends or fads, and may even ignore their own beliefs because they don’t want to miss out (i.e. loss aversion) on what everyone else is doing (see bandwagon effect). Use social proof (e.g. Facebook followers, customer numbers and testimonials) to communicate how popular your brand is to benefit from this phenomena.
  • Ratings and reviews are especially important when people are faced with a large number of similar options as they often don’t have the time or expertise to evaluate each item. Here social proof acts a short-cut for determining which providers they can trust.  com effectively uses the Trustpilot rating platform with a prominent site rating in the header and clear customer rating and review information just above the price on the product page.
Image of AO.com product page with prominent ratings and reviews
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  • When you faced with a number of similar options, such as pricing plans, people find it difficult to decide between them. One way behavioural economics suggests you can make it easier for users is to indicate which plan is your customers’ most popular choice. Many visitors will select the most popular plan because it is seen as a ‘safe option’ when faced with uncertainty.

Spotify extensively utilise the bandwagon effect in their music app by displaying how many people are following a song, album, artist or playlist. This encourages users to explore new music and build their own playlists. Such behaviour improves user engagement and increases the potential value of customers.

Example of social proof from Spotify.com
Source: Spotify.com

 

  • People also consciously copy the behaviour of others when they want to be associated with like-minded people and participate in similar experiences. Use customer research to understand what beliefs and attitudes are most important to your visitors and align your behaviour and business ethics accordingly.

For example, Innocent drinks sell a range of premium smoothies to a health conscious audience. However, to communicate its high ethical standards it has a brand promise to be socially responsible in how it sources its ingredients and it guarantees to give 10% of its profits to charities which fund projects that alleviate hunger around the world. This socially responsible stance fits well with many of its customers and probably helps it to maintain a premium price.

Innocent smoothies promise
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  • Be careful about social norms and traditions when entering a new market or launching a new product. When Apple launched the original iPhone in Japan in 2008 it struggled to sell because it didn’t conform to market norms. By 2008 Japanese consumers were already accustomed taking videos and watching TV shows on their smartphones. The iPhone did not even have a video camera or the ability to include chips for debit card transactions or train passes. In Japan many people use trains to get about and credit cards are rarely accepted.
  • Pepsi broke a social norm with the Kendall Jenner ad as they tried to use political protest for commercial gain. By attempting to co-opt a movement of political resistance and mimic anti-Trump and Black Lives Matter protests, Pepsi over stepped what was perceived to be acceptable by many people.
Image of Kendall Jenner in Pepsi ad giving a can to policeman
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5. People do not seek a perfect solution:

Most of the time people are satisfiers rather than wanting to maximise economic utility. We don’t have the time or resources to look for “ideal” solutions. We use our gut instinct and heuristics to identify who we can trust and aim to avoid disasters rather than seeking perfection. We are probably happy most of the time if our decision results in something that is in the third quartile.

Implications for CRO:

Avoid using words to describe your offer as “ideal” or “perfect” as this is not aligned with real user behaviour. People want to know who can be trusted rather than if your product will change their lives.

Everything is relative. People automatically want to compare offers because they don’t necessarily know what above average looks like. Including comparative information on your site which includes some benefits where you are inferior to your competitors can help build confidence in your brand. People understand it is rare to find something that is better in every aspect and value honesty in the people they deal with.  An independent source for comparative information can carry further weight.

Offer money back guarantees or free returns to demonstrates confidence in your product. This also reduces the perceived risk of the customer making a mistake and feeling regret.

6. Ease the pain of payment:

Neuroscience research has indicated that an excessive price activates a part of the brain called the insula. This is normally a part of the brain associated with experiencing pain which suggest the people can suffer from a form of mental pain when considering the cost of an item.

Implications for CRO:

Free trial offers and buy one, get one free offers are good strategies for reducing pain felt due to the price of an item. This also plays to our human tendency to be loss averse. People fear loss greater than a gain and are also attracted to free or discounted offers because they hate the feeling of regret when they miss out on something appealing.

Image of chart showing hyperbolic discounting curve
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Delaying payment can also significantly improve a user’s likelihood to convert because a payment in the future is perceived to be worth less than a cost immediately incurred. (see hyperbolic discounting). Ecommerce stores routinely benefit from this phenomena by using buy now, pay later promotions and by allowing customers to pay in monthly instalments.  Littlewoods.com is very effective at using  the buy now pay later proposition to reduce the pain of a purchase and this allows the e-commerce retailer to charge a significant premium for products on its site.

Image of spread the cost banner on Littlewoods.com
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Brands can also reduce the pain from a payment by using the concept of mental accounting to associate the purchase with an existing household budget. People have a tendency to allocate money into separate subjective pots, such as house, weekly shop, holiday, savings, windfall gains and housekeeping money. They tend to be more willing to dip into some accounts, such as housekeeping and windfalls, than others, such as savings or house (i.e. rent or mortgage).

Image demonstrating mental accounting
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To benefit from mental accounting brands can seek to position their product or service as naturally coming from an appropriate and easily accessible mental account (e.g. air freshener from weekly shopping). In addition brands could allow customers to allocate items to different accounts (e.g. banking apps) to help people manage expenditure according to their mental accounts.

MYJAR.com  uses its brand name to associate itself with the mental accounting concept because in the UK it is still common practice to keep spare change or money for a specific purpose  in jars. Traditionally it was common to use jam jars to store cash for different needs (e.g. beer money and milk money).

Image of email from Myjar.com which uses mental accounting concept with the use of the term jar
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Conclusion:

Behavioural economics in particular provides us with a framework and language to create strategies for behavioural change. As shown above, behavioural science creates many opportunities for us to be more persuasive online. Roger Dooley is correct in suggesting that we need to be better at targeting the non-conscious brain because this makes most decisions. However, neither should we forget to link the emotional with rational reasons why we buy as without System 2 thinking we may lack substance.

Beyond Reason’s implicit motivations model provides valuable insight into how we should discuss brand positioning. Many brands have similar features and benefits, but we can use implicit motivators to have informed discussions about how to best differentiate our brand using deep psychological and emotional goals.

The importance of social interaction cannot be overstated. Brands are nothing without human interaction, whether between customers or with staff via digital channels or offline conversations. People use the popularity of your site as a short-cut to deciding whether they can trust you. Social influence should, therefore, be one of your strongest strategies for influencing visitors to engage and convert.

As well as seeking to increase the value of your brand (e.g. through product enhancements) behavioural economics suggests we also look at the pain of price. It is important not to look at these factors in isolation because it is the net difference between the perceived value and the cost of an item that determines likelihood to purchase.

Thank you for reading my post and I hope it has given you some ideas on how to improve your site and generate hypothesis for A/B and multivariate testing. If you found it useful please share using the social media icons below.

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  • About the author:  Neal provides digital marketing optimisation consultancy services and has worked for  brands such as Deezer.comFoxybingo.com, Very.co.ukpartypoker.com and Bgo.com. He uses a variety of techniques, including web analytics, personas, customer journey analysis and customer feedback to improve a website’s conversion rate.
  • 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@conversion-uplift.co.uk. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.