Category Archives: Behavioural Economics

What Can Brands Learn From The 2017 General Election Campaign?

8 Marketing Lessons From Theresa May’s Campaign

When Theresa May called the general election in April the polls were showing a lead for the Conservative Party of up to 20 points. It looked certain that May would get a much improved majority in parliament.

However, during the course of the campaign the Conservative’s lead almost evaporated as Theresa May’s popularity declined. This resulted in the Conservative’s losing 12 seats and their slim majority rather than gaining the large mandate May had expected.

Why did this happen and what does the result tell us about the nature of marketing campaigns and strategy?

1. Actions speak louder than words:

Before announcing the election Theresa May had repeatedly said she would not call a snap election. May indicated that she had the mandate for Brexit, the economy was strong and even the Labour party supported the triggering of Article 50 in the commons. However, by calling an early election May created uncertainty about her motivations and whether the future was so positive.

The psychologist Professor Alastair Smith from New York University has studied the outcomes of UK general elections since 1945. He suggests that calling an early election is like playing poker with the electorate.

Image of poker chips and cards on the table

Smith suggests that people understand that prime ministers have access to information about future prospects that the rest of us don’t have. Calling an election early may be  a sign that they are trying to conceal information (e.g. Brexit might be a disaster) and expect to see their popularity decline as a result.

He argues that more competent governments are in less of a hurry to call an election and so it is less confident prime ministers who call snap elections. We should not have been surprised then that Theresa May’s popularity and her party’s lead in the opinion polls declined. Indeed, Smith’s analysis indicated that the larger the governing party’s lead in the polls at the time of calling  an election, the greater the likelihood that their popularity would fall during the campaign.

Implications for marketing:

People understand that major sponsorship or advertising campaigns cost a lot of money and take a long time to recoup the investment. This is known as costly signalling. It demonstrates a brand’s intentions to be around for the long term.

Just as calling an election early shows a lack of confidence in future prospects, brands that fail to support their product launches or marketing campaigns with a reasonable level of advertising or sponsorship spend are indicating a lack of confidence in their ongoing success.

2. Messages need to be meaningful:

From day one May used a few core sound bites to communicate the essence of her proposition. ‘Strong and stable leadership’ and ‘coalition of chaos’ were May’s main messages that were almost immediately turned into memes by opposition supporters.

Psychologically people hate uncertainty and so voters might seek strong and stable leaders to manage instability and uncertainty. However, the strong and stable message was purely an emotional appeal to calm and orderliness, while the ‘coalition of chaos’ aimed to create fear of a Labour government.

“If I lose just six seats I will lose this election and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with Europe.” – Theresa May, 20th May 2017

The Conservative’s  slogans therefore lacked a rational element. They were further undermined by May’s behaviour including her U-turn on their social care policy and her refusal to take part in  live TV debates with other leaders.   In addition, May communicated her messages in an almost robotic way and so struggled to demonstrate emotional intelligence. This resulted in May being referred to as the “Maybot” in the media.

By contrast Jeremy Corbyn ran a more enthusiastic and engaging campaign around changing the status quo and looking after the majority rather than the wealthy minority.  His slogan ‘for the many, not the few’ was an anti-establishment message that may have benefited from recent  political movements.

Although his message was criticised by some commentators as potentially turning off the more affluent voters, it resonated with natural Labour supporters and clearly reflected Corbyn’s own political principles. No one could accuse Corbyn of not living according his slogan as it is something he has campaigned on since he first became a Labour MP.

Implications for marketing:

Emotional arguments resonate strongly with our fast intuitive mind and can be very persuasive. However, this does not mean that rational argument should be forgotten. It is important to align more emotional and implicit motivations with rational benefits to avoid conflicts between our different decision making systems.

When brands create slogans and messages to support the value proposition it is important to provide evidence to support such communications. However, it also necessary to create policies and behaviours within the organisation that demonstrates a commitment to these same values. Otherwise customers are likely to see such messages as soundbites that don’t reflect the real values of a brand.

3. Linking your  brand to an individual is a risky strategy:

Theresa May decided to make the Conservative campaign primarily about her leadership. This presidential style campaign meant that at rallies and in ads the headline was  ‘Theresa May’s Team’ and the Conservative Party was relegated to a small footnote at the bottom of the banner. This was a big departure from the norm in the UK and highlighted how she wanted to focus on her leadership compared to Jeremy Corbyn.

Image of Theresa May's Team at campaign rally

However, as the campaign developed and U-Turns and wobbles were observed this back-fired on the party. Positioning it as a presidential campaign highlighted that May was not as nimble or empathetic as she needed to be to play this as a strength.

Marketing Implications:

Brands that strongly associate themselves with an individual person, whether they are a celebrity or a business leader, run the risk of being damaged if that person’s popularity or reputation declines.  Celebrity endorsements can be a powerful marketing tool, but few brands successfully build themselves around a single individual. Richard Branson has achieved this with Virgin, but he clearly demonstrated that he had the necessary charisma and personality to develop such a brand.

4. Position your brand around what is important to your customers:

Theresa May positioned her campaign on the basis that it was about Brexit. However, what she failed to understand was that Brexit was largely a protest vote. It reflected many issues, including concerns about immigration, being left behind by globalisation, a London-centric economy and declining incomes.

In contrast Labour focused on policies that directly influence people’s lives such as the NHS, education, police numbers and rail nationalisation. These issues resonated much more strongly with people and took the focus away from Brexit. As a result Labour were able to project a much more positive and meaningful campaign.

Marketing Implications:

Listen to customers and conduct research to understand what motivates them. Don’t assume you know what is important to customers as often this is off the mark because of our own perceptions of the world. We get too close to our brands and products and can fall foul of the echo chambers we construct around ourselves.

5. Diversity is your friend:

When Theresa May created a manifesto only a small inner circle of was involved in the discussions. Small groups that lack diversity and insulate themselves from dissenters are very prone to groupthink.

When all think alike, then no one is thinking - Walter Lippman - The danger of groupthink

This is a psychological phenomena whereby groups make poor decisions because there is pressure to conform and ignore information that contradicts their decision. This creates an illusion of invulnerability and over-optimism which means they are willing to take unnecessary and extreme risks.

Marketing implications:

Ensure diversity in group decision making by recruiting people with a wide range of experience, cultural and gender backgrounds and cognitive ability. Re-frame disagreement as a necessary and helpful characteristic of teams and encourage all team members to contribute their thoughts, ideas and opinions.

Don’t be too prescriptive when briefing a problem and avoid quickly criticising other ideas and attacking other team members for ideas that contradict the consensus. Use market research and data analytics to provide scrutiny for ideas and generate fresh insights.

6. People are loss averse:

Prospect theory tells us that people prefer a small, but certain loss to a small risk of a much larger loss. Thus, people prefer an 80% chance of a certain small loss against a 5% chance of losing everything.

Because of this bias, the dementia tax as it become known was political suicide as it attacked the property owning class, many of whom are natural Conservative voters. It created a concern in voter’s minds that if they were unlucky enough to get a long term illness and needed care they might have to give up all but £100,000 of the value of their house after their death.

It was almost irrelevant that if they didn’t need long term care their assets would be safe. After he resigned, Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s special adviser admitted that it had been a mistake not to include a cap when they launched the policy. This would have limited the potential loss and may have made the policy more acceptable to voters.

Marketing Implication:

Focus more on avoiding losses rather than making gains. Guarantees and money back offers help to eliminate the concern that a choice may lead to an unacceptably large loss.  In spread betting for instance automatic stop losses eliminate the potential for unlimited losses that would probably prevent most people considering this kind of betting.

 

7. Provide a positive reason to choose your brand:

Theresa May failed to communicate a positive reason to choose her campaign. The campaign was characterised by warning voters about the consequences of not giving May an increased majority and the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn getting into power. There was little to promote in terms of positive benefits for voting Conservative.

Remain voters in particular who weren’t in a constituency with Liberal Democrat candidate capable of winning were faced with all options being bad (see prospect theory). When people are in a situation where all outcomes involve a loss people become risk seeking.  The status quo is usually perceived as the safer choice and so Corbyn would have been more appealing as he represented the riskier option.

Marketing Implication:

People buy benefits rather than features. Position your brand positively with a compelling proposition rather than trying to undermine your competitors. Identify important implicit (psychological) goals to differentiate your brand and get an emotional response. But don’t forget a strong rational benefit is also important.

8. Consistency is a valued personality characteristic:

Before the EU referendum Theresa May had been on the remain side, though some had criticised her for a lack of enthusiasm. After the referendum result and especially once she became prime minister May become an ardent advocate of Brexit. Further, May had repeatedly said that she had a mandate for Brexit and there was no need for a general election before the end of the fixed-term parliament. Of course she then called a general election.

This lack of consistency created anxiety among some voters that May could not be trusted to keep promises. Consistency and the appearance of consistency is a highly valued personality trait. People who are not consistent are often referred to as two-faced or untrustworthy.  This was compounded May’s U-turn on her social care policy when she introduced a cap after it was heavily criticised and then claimed “nothing has changed”.

Marketing implications:

Consistency can be used by marketers to persuade visitors to undertake a desired behaviour.

Lifehack.org is a lifestyle and well-being site that publishes ideas for self-improvement. When a new visitor lands on the site they are served a pop-up asking the user if they would like to “try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” If a user clicks on the  “I agree” CTA they are immediately served an email capture form with the heading “We think so, too!” Because these visitors have agreed to the first question they feel almost compelled to provide their email address to show consistency of behaviour.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:

Consistency is also important in branding and design. Using consistent branding and design principles can help communicate a professional and user-friendly customer experience. Being consistent with established web conventions also allows users to navigate according to experience and reduces  cognitive load.

Conclusion:

The result of the 2017 UK general election should be a lesson to us all that we should not take our customers for granted. Customers respond to how people in organisation behave according to social norms and expectations that are influenced by many complex factors.

We should avoid behaviours that are inconsistent with promises we make as this creates anxiety and damages trust in our brands. Trust is critical for any relationship or transaction and so we should protect it at all costs.

It’s easy to make assumptions about what we think people want and how they will react to decisions we make. To prevent costly mistakes we should invest in research and insights to improve our understanding of customers.

Take action to avoid groupthink when making decisions. Encourage news ideas and look for information that contradicts your decision rather than just that which confirms it.

People are more concerned about losses than gains. Framing an offer as a potential loss may make it more appealing than promoting it as a gain. Avoid situations where all choices are perceived as bad because this can turn customers into risk seekers.

In digital marketing we have the  advantage of being able to run experiments through A/B and multivariate testing.  By developing a culture of experimentation we can learn how customers respond to changes in the customer experience before investing resources and money into a change. This helps to ensure resources are directed to where the biggest impact can be made.

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.

Why Should Marketers Target the Subconscious Mind?

Should we trust our gut instinct?

If you believe everything written about the human mind on social media you would think that people are incapable of making a good decision. We are certainly prone to various cognitive biases that influence our judgement. Our herd instinct also leads us to copy the behaviour of others when faced with uncertainty or when we want to associate with a specific group of people. But surely these human traits have protected us from danger over thousands of years?

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that many of our subconscious and automatic responses relate to  our instincts for survival. We do not act randomly or irrationally as some writers suggest. Indeed, research by Alex Pouget, Associate Professor of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, discovered that people can make optimal decisions, but only if the choice is made by their sub-conscious mind.

Our subconscious mind has a rational purpose, to protect us from danger and respond quickly without depleting mental energy. People don’t consciously decide to ignore advertising banners or stop to read the copy. These are decisions we automatically make to ease the process of navigating a site. They allow us to focus on what our brain decides are the more important tasks at that moment in time. This is not irrational, it’s what has made our species so successful.

Unlike Kahneman, Pouget decided to avoid asking direct questions of people to determine how accurately they responded to problems. Instead, he studied the decisions that are made by our non-conscious brain and showed that in the vast majority of cases we make the best decision we can dependent upon the limited information available to us.

Many decisions though are not solely reliant on our unconscious brain because our conscious and subconscious brains co-exist together. Further,  our conscious mind (see System 2) is often triggered by visual and audio clutter,  contextual issues and problems that require mental attention. This means that people have short attention spans and are very impatient. This has a significant impact on the digital user experience.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid clutter and competing calls to action to enable our sub-conscious brain to focus on achieving active goals. There are too many calls to actions and a poor visual hierarchy.
  • Use visual cues to assist users find content or calls to action. Avoid flat design as this lacks the cues that users have become accustomed to seeing on a website.
  • Follow established web conventions as these allow users to navigate from expectations set by their experience of other websites.

This product page from Comms-express.com is probably one of the most cluttered pages I’ve come across. It has so much content that not all of it fits fully on the page.  This will ring alarms with a visitor’s brain and cause System 2 to take control.

Image of comms-express.com homepage as example of poorly designed page
Source: Comms-Express.com

 

What directs our attention to brands?

A mass of psychological and cognitive research since the 1970s has shown the goals that direct much of our behaviour can be activated without a person’s conscious intention or choice. Indeed, experiments have shown that much of our cognitive processing is triggered without the conscious deliberation and control once thought to be necessary. Further, these studies also demonstrate that behaviour driven by goal achievement can also operate without conscious thought.

This suggests our sub-conscious brain is hard-wired to automatically search for opportunities to satisfy psychological needs and make decisions that are in our best interest. It is at the very heart of our decision making. When our brain identifies a good opportunity it generates a positive emotion and the brain automatically seeks a decision to enable need fulfilment.

Implication for CRO:

  • Avoid over reliance on rational benefits as these may not get the attention of user’s subconscious mind.
  • Always include implicit or psychological needs in your online communications as these grab attention more than purely rational benefits. Individual psychological goals are outlined later on in this post.

This example of a product page from AO.com is much cleaner and includes strong social proof messages using customer ratings and reviews.

Image of AO.com product page with prominent ratings and reviews
Image Source:

How important are emotions?

So how important are emotions when people are making decisions? The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio observed patients with damage to the ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain which controls our ability to feel emotions.

The brain damage did not influence patients’ basic intelligence, memory or their capacity for logical thought. However, through a series of experiments Damasio found that the loss of their capability to feel destroyed a person’s ability to make decisions that were in their best interests.

Damasio suggests that our thoughts mainly comprise images which include ideas, words, smells and real or imagined visual perceptions. Through our experiences these images become “marked” with positive and negative feelings.

These feelings are associated (directly or indirectly) with bodily states. If a negative marker is associated with an image of an expected outcome it sounds an alarm and our brain will steer decisions to avoid that potential outcome. Damasio suggests that these emotional markers improve the accuracy and efficiency of our decision making process.

‘‘In short, somatic markers are … feelings generated from secondary emotions. These emotions and feelings have been connected, by learning, to predicted future outcomes of certain scenarios’’ (Damasio, 1994, p. 174).

Implication for CRO:

  • Use copy and images that convey strong emotions to encourage engagement and create momentum in decision making. People are less likely to make a decision about a purchase if they don’t feel strongly about your proposition.
  • To encourage a positive feeling towards your brand consider using humorous images or copy to put users in a good frame of mind. Kahneman found that even getting people to smile improved their mood and how they responded to stimulus.
  • Use images of positive outcomes on your website to reduce the risk of your content generating negative associations.

How important is the sub-conscious mind?

The evidence suggests that up to 95% of our purchase decisions are directed by  sub-conscious mental processes. So, if the non-conscious and emotional part of our brain is so important to decision making why do we rely so much on engaging the conscious mind questions about our products and services?

Does it matter if our customers say they like our website or our product if the non-conscious brain is driving behaviour? How do we target the sub-conscious mental processes that direct our attention and ultimately decide what we buy?

Do we buy what we like or like what we buy?

There is substantial evidence that the activation of the brain’s reward centre predicts purchases provided the pain induced by price is below a certain level. As an example, neuroscience research by Gregory Berns and Sara Moore from Emory University compared activation of the reward centre of teenagers who were listening to songs from relatively unknown artists with subjective likeability.

By analysing sales of these songs over a three year period they were able to show that activation of the reward centre was much more predictive of future sales than subjective likeability. What this confirms is that it is the unconscious brain that directs much of our attention and not our conscious liking of a site or brand. Unless our communication engages with the non-conscious brain it probably won’t be noticed by the conscious mind.

Implication for CRO:

A purely rational argument may be completely ignored by the sub-conscious brain as it may fail to activate the brain’s reward centre.  Emotionally engaging messages help us process information more quickly and improve the efficiency of our decision making.

How do we target subconscious motives?

 

Psychological motivations drive attention and much our behaviour.
This motivation model is the intellectual property of BEYOND REASON.

Marketing consultancy, Beyond Reason, have combined the latest psychological and neuroscience research to develop a comprehensive model of implicit (psychological) motivations. As the evolution of the brain occurs over thousands rather than hundreds of years these psychological goals relate to basic human needs and social interaction.

The Beyond Reason model has eight overriding implicit motivations which cover the areas of certainty, belonging, recognition, Individuality, power, self-development, sexuality and physiology. The model is summarised in this graphic and as you can see each motivation divides up into four individual categories.

Beyond Reason use a form of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure the relative strength of different psychological goals. As people are not fully aware of their psychological motives we cannot use traditional forms of market research that rely on self-reporting. Focus groups in particular can be highly misleading as people try to rationalise what brands or communications mean to them when in reality much of our mental processing is done by our subconscious.

Implication for CRO:

Identify what your visitors’ most important implicit motivations are to align your value proposition and communications with customer’s underlying needs.

Image of Airbnb.com lifestyle experiences
Image Source:

Airbnb for example, have created lifestyle experiences to emphasise how their proposition appeals to the desire to be a non-conformist. This may partly explain why the average Airbnb customer’s stay is significantly longer than your average hotel stay.

Indeed, Airbnb’s own research suggests that many of their clients wouldn’t have gone on their trip if they hadn’t been able to use Airbnb. So Airbnb have actually grown the hospitality and travel market as well as disrupting some elements of the sector.

Image of AO.com homepage showing sponsorship of BGT
Image Source:

AO.com uses its sponsorship of the Britain’s Got Talent TV show to provide evidence of stability and certainty. People understand that sponsorship of a major TV show like BGT costs a lot of money and that it will take a long time for the company to get a return on their investment.  This is known as costly signalling and demonstrates to people that AO.com are investing for the long term and plan to be a major player in their sector in the future.

Conclusions:

Attention, preferences and loyalty are most strongly driven by our unconscious mind. Visual and audio clutter on a screen can disrupt this process and lead to mental depletion.

Emotions help people process information and make decisions faster and are involved in all our decisions. Communications that target subconscious goals are more likely to be effective than purely rational benefits as they tap into  human emotions.

Given the sub-conscious mind is responsible for most of our purchase decisions it is pointless asking people to rationalise brand preferences.  Because of this focus groups are a misleading and inappropriate method of research.

It is still necessary to have strong logical reasons to purchase your brand, but they need to be aligned to implicit goals. Because people are social animals the behaviour of others, including traditions and norms, can also heavily influence the perceived value and rewards from a brand.

Finally, optimisers should aim to simplify the user experience to retain attention and build satisfaction and loyalty. Too many choices and complex decisions disrupt our subconscious decision making (System 1 thinking)  and can result in mental depletion.

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.

 

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 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
Image Source:

 

  • 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
Image Source:

 

  • 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
Image Source:

 

  • 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
Image Source:

 

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
Image Source:

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
Image Source:

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
Image Source:

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 hold a surplus balance or to allocate items to different accounts (e.g. banking apps). This can help people manage expenditure according to their mental accounts.

Image of Amazon sign

Amazon uses mental accounting with Amazon Prime Reload, a rewards program which encourages people to sign up to Prime and hold a surplus balance on their account. Prime members get 2% back on purchases when they first pre-fund their Amazon Balance using a debit card.

This may encourage people to load large amounts into their Amazon Balance to avoid ever having to pay for an item through their debit or credit card.  Through createing an ‘Amazon account’  this may encourage more frequent purchasing if the customer maintains a surplus balance.

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
Image Source:

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.

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.

 

Don’t Let This Bias Destroy Your Optimisation Strategy!

Avoiding Logical Errors in Website Optimisation:

During World War II, researchers at the US Center for Naval Analyses were given a difficult problem to solve.  They were asked to recommend where to reinforce US bombers to reduce aircraft losses over enemy territory.  They decided to conduct a review of the damage inflicted on US bombers that returned from combat missions.

What we see is all there is:

Naturally they recommended that armour should be added to those areas that showed the most damage on the planes they assessed. But the statistician Abraham Wald pointed out that the study was suffering from survivorship bias. They had only considered aircraft that survived their missions as the bombers not included in the analysis had been shot down.

Wald argued that the holes in the returning aircraft represented areas where a plane could take damage and still return home safely. Using his insight he recommend they reinforce the areas where returning planes showed no damage. Theses places he thought were likely to be the areas that if damaged  would prevent a plane from returning safely home.

Example of survivorship bias from US airplane in 2nd World War
Image Source:

What is survivorship bias?

Survivorship bias is one of the most common logical errors that optimisers make as it plays on our desire to deconstruct success and cherry pick data that confirms our existing beliefs (see confirmation bias). People are prone to comparing survivors with the overall average despite evidence that survivors have unusual properties, namely that they have been successful.

By only examining successful outcomes we tend to become over-optimistic and may set unrealistic expectations about what optimisation can deliver in the short-term. We have a tendency to ignore the many more tests that have failed to deliver an uplift and only focus on our successes. As a result we tend to overestimate the importance of skill and underestimate the role of luck in the process.

To manage expectations appropriately consider:

  • Huge uplifts from tests don’t happen very often.
  • Testing the low-hanging fruit will not give you a competitive advantage.
  • A majority of tests don’t achieve an uplift. However, negative or neutral tests still provide valuable insights, so don’t ignore them.
  • Conversion rate optimisation is a long-term strategy and not a tactical sprint.
  • Tests that work for one site may not work on a different site. Each site is unique and has its own customer base.

Survivorship bias can also lead to misleading conclusions and false beliefs that successful members of a group (e.g. VIP customers) have common characteristics rather than are the result of a process they have completed. For example, very few, if any, customers are born as VIPs.  Optimisers need to be careful to avoid the following traps resulting from survivorship bias:

Understand visitor types:

Visitors are influenced by the process they complete online. Be careful about including  returning visitors or existing customers  in your A/B tests.

Returning visitors are problematic not only because they may have already been exposed to the default design, but also because most visitors don’t return to a site. Returning visitors are survivors because they didn’t abandon your site and decide never to come back due to negative aspects of the user experience. They weren’t put-off by your value proposition, the auto-slider, long form registration or other aspects of your site that may have caused some new visitors to bounce. They are also likely to have higher levels of intent than most new visitors.

Existing users are potentially even more biased as they have managed to jump through all the hoops and navigate around all the barriers that many other users may have fallen at. They have also worked out how to use your site and are getting sufficient value to want to continue with using it. This means they are likely to respond very differently to changes in content than might a new visitor.

This does not mean you cannot conduct A/B tests with returning visitors or existing customers. You can if the objective is appropriate and you don’t assume the test result will apply to other visitor types. Just be careful about what you read into the results.

Examine user personas:

Similarly each user persona may have different intent levels due to the source of traffic or other factors influencing behaviour. For instance be careful with including Direct traffic in you’re A/B tests as you have to question why they would type your URL directly into a search engine if they are really a new visitor. Perhaps some of these visitors have cleared their cookies and so are in fact returning visitors?

Why do uplifts sometimes decay?

Survivorship bias can also result in management questioning the sustainability of uplifts. When you first launch a tactical change to your website, such as a promotional pop-up, it is something new that none of your visitors will have seen before.

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups
Image Source:

This may result in a significant uplift in your overall conversion rate for both new and returning visitors. However, as a proportion of visitors seeing the prompt for the first time will have signed up, these users will no longer be part of your target audience as they have created an account.

As a consequence this will automatically reduce your overall conversion rate over time as those who are going to be influenced by the pop-up sign-up and those who are not don’t. Further, as more visitors come back to the site after experiencing the new pop-up the proportion of non-customers who have not seen this particular pop-up before will decline to just new visitors. As returning visitors become acclimatised to the promotional pop-up its effectiveness is likely to decline among this type of visitor.

This can make it appear the uplift was not sustainable. However, if you analyse new visitor conversion you are likely to see that the uplift has largely been maintained. But even here there may be a notable decay in the uplift over time as a proportion of returning visitors regularly clear their cookies and so are tracked as new visitors by your web analytics.

This needs to be explained to stakeholders to manage their expectations for the overall conversion rate. If this is not understood this is sometimes used to challenge the sustainability of uplifts from conversion rate optimisation.  To respond to this phenomena it is worth revisiting changes on a regular basis to review conversion rates and to test new variants if necessary.

Frequency of email and push notification campaigns:

A common question that digital marketers have is what is the optimum frequency of email and push notification campaigns. Often people assess this by analysing existing user engagement. However, relying on existing users is a heavily biased approach because these customers have self-selected themselves on the basis that they are happy with your current frequency of engagement. Those who are not happy with the level of contact will have already unsubscribed.

Instead you should test email and push notification contact frequency using an unbiased list of new users who have recently signed up and have not received any campaigns so far. Provided the sample size is large enough and they have never been included in CRM campaigns you should test contact frequency using this clean list of new users.

Pre-screening traffic:

Be cautious about rolling out changes that generate uplifts for pre-qualified visitors. Just because a landing page produces an uplift from a highly engaged email list you cannot assume it will help convert unqualified traffic.

Different types of CTAs:

Why is it that web designers are on the only kind of designers who think that all calls to action (CTA) should look identical? The reason aircraft cockpits have different types, sizes and colours of switches and buttons is to clearly differentiate between their different uses. A newsletter sign-up CTA is very different from an add to basket button or a buy CTA. The nature of the user’s decision needs to be reflected in the design of the CTA and so it is dangerous to prescribe in your brand guidelines that all CTAs look the same.
Types of CTAs

No, you should optimise a page for the specific CTA that is required for the stage in the user journey. As a user proceeds through the conversion journey their intent and needs change. This should be reflected in the design of the CTA. Just because a CTA works on a landing page does not mean it will be optimal for a product page or check-out.

Law of small numbers:

Be careful not to rely on small sample sizes when analysing web analytics or test results. The law of small numbers means that we have a tendency to underestimate the impact of small sample sizes on outcomes. Essentially we often only get certain results because of the unreliability of small numbers. So few survivors are left we get extreme results.

Take care with multivariate tests:

Avoid having too many recipes (i.e. variables being changed) in your MVTs as otherwise you will end up with small sample sizes. It may be better to concentrate on testing one area at a time with a well-designed A/B test. Often a slower optimisation process staying within your traffic capabilities is more reliable than trying to overdo multivariate testing.

Don’t’ take users literally:

Qualitative research and usability testing can provide useful insights for understanding user needs and for developing hypothesis. However, most users don’t reply to surveys on or off-line. Further, neuroscience research indicates that a majority of our decisions are made by our non-conscious brain. This means that we are not fully aware of why we make many of the small decisions when navigating a website. Always make decisions based upon user’s actions and not what they say.

Conclusion:

People are prone to survivorship bias because they lack a good understanding of statistics and so training in this area of optimisation will make your team stronger and less likely to fall into the trap of neglecting users who don’t survive a process.

Thank you for reading this post. 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 Do You Measure Customers’ Sub-Conscious Motivations?

Most Decisions Are Made By Our Sub-Conscious Brain:

Neuroscience suggests that up to 95% of our decisions are made by our emotional sub-conscious brain and yet most research targets the conscious mind. To understand implicit (psychological) motivations it is therefore necessary to access the unconscious brain as this is known to direct attention towards brands and is more predictive of purchasing behaviour than subjective likeability.

What are implicit research techniques?

Implicit research seeks to access the automatic and sub-conscious mind (see System 1) using techniques that do not rely on direct, deliberate, controlled or intentional self-reporting. As a result relatively few research techniques qualify as implicit because many methods of research rely on conscious (intentional) thought.

Image of table showing different types of research and whether they are implicit techniques

One implicit research technique that is becoming increasingly popular with marketers because it is scalable and can measure sub-conscious feelings towards a brand or product is the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

 What is the Implicit Association Test?

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) allows you to measure the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental concepts (e.g. Muslims and Christians) and evaluations (e.g. positive or negative) or stereotypes (e.g. extremists, don’t integrate). It does this by measuring how quickly people can sort words or images into categories each time they are exposed or “primed” to a stimulus (e.g. a brand logo or product).

Why does it work?

It works on the basis that when you are primed with an image, sound or a word, the associations your brain has with that concept are much more accessible to you as it improves your cognitive processing. This means it can uncover the strength of your feelings as it monitors how each prime affects your mental processing speed and accuracy.

IAT achieves this by asking respondents to quickly sort words into one of two categories shown on the left and right hand-side of the computer screen. Participants use the “e” key to indicate if the word is most strongly associated with the category on the left and the “i” key if it belongs more to the category on the right.

How is the data used?

By understanding users’ implicit motivations marketers can design content and messages that are much more emotionally engaging and psychologically persuasive. By combining the findings with data from traditional methods of research we can create a decision-making model that includes both emotion and reason. Such models can generate very accurate predictions of user behaviour which can be used to inform campaign planning and value proposition development.

This allows us to measure the impact of the non-conscious on new product concept adoption, advertising response, brand image, packaging evaluations and more. IAT’s also allow you to understand the needs, interests and expectations of different customer segments, enabling you to better target marketing communications for different target audiences to generate a truly emotional response.

Agencies offering IAT’s:

Due to the increasing awareness of the limitations of traditional research more companies are now offering IAT’s to probe the non-conscious mind of the consumer. This includes companies such as Sentient Decision Science, who have a very informative blog,  The Implicit Testing Company, marketing consultancy Beyond Reason and market research company  COG Research.

Conclusion:

The IAT offers a scalable and affordable way for organisations to measure non-conscious motivations and expectations. Implicit methods of research provide a more reliable and accurate measure of the real influences on a user’s behaviour than more traditional explicit research techniques, such as surveys and focus groups.

Indeed, studies have indicated that IAT results show good correlation with preference and purchase intent. So, if you want to understand true user motivations it is time to ditch traditional questionnaires and focus groups as they are probably doing more harm than good.

Thank you for reading this post. 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.

Why Is SEO The Biggest Scam On The Internet?

False Promises Made By SEO Agencies:

On an almost daily basis I receive emails from companies offering to “optimise” my site. This often includes a guarantee to get my site on the first page of Google (even though I have already achieved that), to send more visitors to my site, to fix broken links, provide site analytics and get more authoritative links to my site.

Image of email from SEO scam agency offering guaranteed top of Google

What the hell is an “optimised site”?

I’m sorry to tell you that anyone who claims to have “fully optimised” your site for SEO or any other purpose is a fraud and is probably charging you a lot of money for little, if any benefit. There is no such thing as a “fully optimised” site as it’s like repairing the roads, the job is never done.

For example if you want to improve your conversion rate listening to the advice of a so called “expert” will have limited impact and needs to be validated through A/B and multivariate testing. Every site is unique and so a best practice may work on one site but there is no guarantee that it will work on your site.

80% of SEO is pure hype:

 

Since 24th April 2012 when Google released their “Penguin” update most of what SEO agencies do has become irrelevant. Even more worrying though is that a lot of what some of these agencies do may actually harm your ranking and they certainly can’t guarantee to put you on the first page of Google.

 

The old tricks don’t work anymore:

Stuffing your site with keywords, content cloaking and blasting blog sites with links to your site don’t work and are more likely to get you penalised. Even keywords are much less important than before as there is evidence that Google now evaluates the content on the pages that link to your site to identify what searches you rank for rather than relying on the keywords that are on your page.

Search engine algorithms are much better than before at spotting attempts to play the system and conversely are more adept at identifying good quality and relevant content. There are still SEO best practices, but these are more about avoiding mistakes than using any tricks of the trade.

 

What drives SEO rankings?

Part of the problem with SEO and why so many SEO scams are circulating is that Google and the other search engines don’t publish exactly what gets you a high page ranking. However, from what the search engines do publish and research carried out by genuine SEO agencies it is clear that it is a combination of quality external links to your site, social indicators (likes, shares, tweets etc.) and good content. As Google can differentiate between legitimate links and the spam that many SEO agencies create it really comes down to good content. So maybe SEO should be re-named content marketing?

Most basic tools are free:

For many of the genuine aspects of SEO there are free tools available that you can easily access. I’ve previously written a post on how to use Google’s Search Console. This is a great free tool that will answer most of the questions you may have about the performance of your site including; crawl errors (e.g. page not found – 404s), external links to your content, average page rank, clicks,  impressions and structured data errors.

Google Analytics is also free and allows you to identify your most popular content and track page speed and conversion goals. If you have the time and resource there is no need to pay SEO agencies lots of money to identify where your problems exist.

 

Why don’t SEO agencies tell you this?

People have a made a lot of money out of SEO and continue to do so and so why would they admit they add little, if any, value? There may also be an illusion of skill for some SEO agencies that psychologist Daniel Kahneman sums it up nicely:

“Facts that challenge such basic assumptions – and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem – are simply not absorbed.” Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, fast and slow

This is not only a waste of money it is quite dangerous for companies. By measuring metrics that don’t influence your bottom line (e.g. Likes and Shares), people can’t stop themselves optimising campaigns using such meaningless targets (see Cobra Effect).

A lot of investment has also been made into SEO and optimisation. Due to our tendency not to want to admit when we have made bad decisions (see Sunk Cost Fallacy), people often carry on with behaviour even when there is no evidence to support it.

12 SEO scams and how to spot them:

  1. Guaranteed Rankings:

It is not possible to guarantee a #1 ranking on Google as their algorithms are far too complex for any SEO agency to play the system and definitely deliver a sustainable first place on Google.

  1. They don’t detail how the will improve your organic traffic:

Many SEO “experts” claim they have “secret” SEO strategies and don’t detail what exactly they are going to do to improve your ranking or traffic levels.  Any legitimate agency should outline in detail tasks they will undertake and agree some targets to measure their level of success.

Image of how I more than doubled organic traffic using content marketing strategy

For example in October 2016 I implemented a new content marketing strategy and by the beginning of 2017 my organic traffic had more than doubled. I knew exactly what my plan was and also had the analytics in place to measure the impact of my new strategy. Anyone who can’t tell you what they plan to do is probably thinking of using black hat SEO techniques that will get you penalised or banned by the major search engines.

Here are a few of the SEO scams that try to leave back links on my site on a daily basis. They don’t even have the intelligence to hide their intent.

Image of comments on blog from SEO scam companies

 

  1. Offer free trial SEO services:

Genuine SEO work is time consuming and takes days, if not weeks, to deliver results. No genuine SEO company is going to offer this for free and if they also ask for access to your admin area or hosting account I would be very concerned about their motives.

Image of SEO audit
Image Source:

 

  1. They have a special relationship with Google or an employee at Google.

This is definitely a scam as Google can’t be seen to have a “special relationship” with any SEO agency and so this will be a simple lie.

  1. Offer to submit your site to hundreds of search engines.

In the UK Google, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for over 95% of searches and so why waste time worrying about other niche search engines?

  1. Low priced SEO:

As I have already mentioned genuine SEO is time consuming and labour intensive and so anyone who offers to do it at a very low cost is either having you on or they won’t do a very good job for you. Concentrate on learning how to use Google Search Console and Google Analytics for free and you will save yourself a lot of money.

  1. We understand Google Algorithms and are algorithm experts:

Search engine algorithms are very complex, dynamic and are frequently updated and so it is virtually impossible to understand for certain how they will rank your site for a specific search query.

  1. We can submit your site to well-known directories:

Some SEO agencies offer to manually submit your site to various directories. This is another scam as this is the internet; the vast majority of people use Google not directories to find a service or a product they are looking for.

  1. We can submit new content to search engines:

Continuously submitting your site to Google is a complete waste of time as it won’t influence your ranking. If you have new content you can submit it to Google for instance using their free Search Console.

Image of Fetch as Google from Search Console

  1. We are partners with Google or work with someone at Google:

Google can’t be seen to partner with any SEO company and nor would any employee want to risk their jobs by illegally working with any such firms.

  1. SEO companies that want ownership of your content:

You should never give up ownership of your content to an SEO agency as you should retain ownership of anything you pay for.

  1. You pay for a monthly SEO package:

Monthly SEO packages can be a great money spinner for unscrupulous agencies. Before signing up ensure you have agreed a suitable number of hours per month that the agency will work on your site and get them to specify in detail the tasks they will undertake for you. Further, agree some targets for quality links and an increase in traffic to ensure you get value for money. Any agency that is not willing to comply with these requests is not worth dealing with.

Conclusion:

OK, so genuine SEO work can be valuable for a site. However, the key here is to agree objectives that have clear benefits  and set performance targets to ensure you get value for money. Avoid signing up with any agencies that use any of the above tactics as they are likely to be poor value for money and could actually damage your search engine rankings.

If you can, educate yourself about SEO practices to allow you to take greater control over organic traffic generation. Further, remember that what your visitors and Google want is great content and that should be your priority. Everything else, including SEO, should be secondary to the content. If you focus on quality content in the first place then SEO may largely take care of itself as good content will attract external links and social media mentions and shares.

Thank you for reading this post. 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.

What is the most powerful weapon of persuasion?

The Power of Commitment & Consistency!

We have all heard stories of how people are often unwilling to intervene when they see a crime committed in broad daylight. Why would people put themselves at risk to assist a complete stranger? Well, in 1972 the psychologist Thomas Moriarty conducted a study to  see if he could use a simple psychological weapon to persuade people  to put themselves at risk of personal harm for a person they had never met before. The research involved the staging of a number of thefts on a New York City beach.

For the experiment a researcher would place a beach blanket within 5 feet of a randomly selected individual. After about two minutes on the blanket relaxing and listening to a portable radio the person would stand up and leave the blanket to walk down the beach.  Within a few minutes a second researcher would walk by and grab the portable radio before trying to make a get-away.

In the control (i.e. no intervention was made) only four people out of twenty tried to prevent the theft. However, the number of people who were prepared to challenge the thief increased dramatically when the researcher asked the individual next to them to please “watch my things” before walking away. In this scenario nineteen out of twenty people challenged the thief.

The experiment confirms that people have a strong desire to appear consistent with commitments they have previously made. Indeed, in his book Influence, the psychologist Robert Cialdini argues that commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful weapons of social influence available to people wanting to change our behaviour.

Why is consistency so important to people?

Consistency is generally regarded as a highly desirable personality trait in our culture. When people don’t appear consistent they are often seen as indecisive and two-faced. The negative perception of inconsistency reinforces the belief that consistency is a valuable characteristic to portray.

However, Cialdini also noted that such is our desire to be consistent that people sometimes act without thinking and abandon strongly held beliefs in order to stubbornly follow a consistent path. He argues that a commitment can change our self-image and force us to act contrary to our own best interests.

“When it occurs unthinkingly, consistency can be disastrous. Nonetheless, even blind consistency has its attractions” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why does consistency become a habit?

Due to our motivation to be consistent we will often automatically make decisions based purely upon achieving this consistency. This of course saves mental energy as it avoids complex decisions. But it can also shield us from the negative and unpleasant consequences of our actions.

“Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason.” – Robert Cialdini, Influence.

Why is commitment so important?

Psychologists believe that stubborn and ill-considered consistency is often the result of people making a public stand or commitment to something.   Once such a commitment has been made people have a tendency to try to ensure consistency at almost all cost even though  it may go against their inner beliefs.

Just look at how UK MPs have supported Brexit since the EU referendum. According to a poll by the Press Association over two thirds of MPs voted to remain in the EU in the referendum. But as the Prime Minister and many MPs made a public declaration to abide by the result the vast majority of MPs voted to support the Bill to trigger Article 50 to take Britain out of the EU.  This is despite the fact that only 52% of voters supported Brexit and many MPs still believe Brexit will seriously harm the economy and the UK’s standing in the world. That is quite extraordinary behaviour.

What kind of commitment?

The psychologist Steven J Sherman arranged for a sample of residents in Bloomington, Indiana, to be telephoned for a survey. Participants were asked to predict what they would say if they were asked to give up 3 hours of their time to collect money for the American Cancer Society.

Not wishing to appear selfish many of the people called indicated they would volunteer. This resulted in a 700% increase in the proportion of people volunteering when they were contacted a few days later by an operator from the American Cancer Society.

Another strategy used by charity call centres involves asking people about their current well-being. The operator asks something like “How are you feeling this evening?” Once a person confirms publicly they are in good health it is much harder for the individual to refuse to help people where all is not well. The theory here is that people who have just indicated that they are doing well find it awkward to appear uncaring by not donating money to the needy in this context.

Start small to aim big!

There is also the foot-in-the-door technique which means that by starting with a small request we can often get compliance later on for a much larger request. This can work in two ways.

Firstly it establishes a commitment to a cause which means we are more willing comply with much larger additional requests. Secondly it can change our self-image from a prospect to a customer or a citizen to a supporter of a cause. This latter effect can result in people agreeing to requests that are only remotely connected to the original small favour they complied with.

Deeds are more influential than words!

To understand a person’s attitudes and beliefs we tend to observe their behaviour. Psychologists have discovered that we also look at our own behaviour to guide our feelings and attitudes. Our deeds are much more influential than words when it comes to our inner beliefs.  And writing our thoughts on paper is one way of showing our commitment to a cause.

Writing our ideas on paper is more effective than a verbal commitment because research indicates that the greater the effort we put into a commitment, the more effective it is at influencing our attitudes and behaviour.

Further, a written commitment also acts as physical evidence of our support for a cause and it reduces the likelihood that we might forget or deny the act. In may also be used to persuade other people because we have a natural tendency to believe that written statements accurately reflect the beliefs of the person who made them.

Strategies for conversion:

This is one reason why salespeople will often ask prospects to complete sales agreements as it is one way of getting them to make a small commitment to the purchase. Many organisations also get staff to set their own sales targets and commit to them by writing them down on paper.

Image of testimonials from winkbingo.com and Google Analytics

Testimonial competitions are another commonly used approach to benefit from the commitment phenomena as to have a chance of winning people know they have to be complementary about the product or service in some way. What they don’t realise is that such glowing statements help change their own attitudes towards the product as they begin to believe what they have written.

“We are truest to our decisions if we have bound ourselves to them publically” – Robert Cialdini, Influence

People can be extremely stubborn with their commitment even in situations where accuracy rather than consistency should be the priority. Indeed, research involving the criminal justice system found that hung juries were significantly more common if jurors had to initially indicate their position with a physical show of hands rather than a secret ballot. The act of publicly sharing their initial opinion appeared to make them more reluctant to change their decision later on.

This can be used to good use where we are trying to encourage people to give up a harmful habit such as smoking, over-eating or gambling.  Many weight reduction programs understand that a person’s private commitment is not strong enough to withstand the many temptations that we come across every day. For this reason such programs ask clients to write down their weight targets and share them publicly with other members and family/friends.

Can a commitment change self-mage?

Studies suggest that commitments have most impact upon a person’s self-image and behaviour when they are active, public and effortful acts. In addition the change is most likely to be long lasting if the person own what they have done.

Psychologists found that people are most likely to take ownership of behaviour if they feel they decided to undertake the action without any strong outside pressure. This means that using a large incentive, such as a cash prize, can be counter-productive as the individual may not accept inner responsibility for the act. Thus for people to take ownership of an act it is best to keep any incentives as small as possible.

Here is a summary of the main approaches to obtaining commitment and consistency:

Commitment and consistency is one of the most powerful methods of social influence

 

Implications for conversion rate optimisation:

As Cialdini points out commitment is key. Get visitors to commit to something small, such as giving their email address for access to a white paper or your website and this increases the likelihood that they will perceive themselves as customers. Once they see themselves as customers this increases the chance they may purchase products or services from you.

Ask a simple question:

Lifehack.org is a leading wellbeing and lifestyle blog that publishes tips on how to improve many aspects of your life. When I was researching one of my posts I landed on the site and came across a great example of how to use a small commitment to improve sign-ups.

After about 10 seconds on the site a pop-up is displayed which asks a seemingly innocuous question about self-improvement; “try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” If you click on the  “I agree” CTA you are then immediately served an email capture form with the heading “We think so, too!”

Example of how to ask a question to get commitment for improving blog sign-ups

Because you have just agreed that you would like to try something different you feel almost compelled to sign-up to act consistently with how you replied to the first pop-up.  This is a really clever way of using the psychology of commitment to improve sign-up rates.

Become a customer for free!

Whilst working for an insurance company we offered prospects the opportunity to sign-up for a year’s free accidental death cover in return for providing their email address and name and address. Due to the low level of cover and the fact that the probability of an accident causing death are quite small this cost the company relatively little money.

However, we managed to sign up many thousands of new customers from the campaign. We could then  target them with other products that they were now more likely to buy as they were no longer prospects, but customers.

Ask for a review!

For apps get a high rating and a positive review of the user experience by targeting loyal customers. Make sure you then email these users to thank them for their efforts and confirm that their review will be publicly available for all users to see.

Run competitions for slogans, strap lines and testimonials with a promise to display the best ones on your website. Once people have written a positive statement about your brand they are more likely to become a brand advocate and will be a positive influence on other potential customers.

Offer a dream!

JohnChow.com offers advice on how to monetise your blog site. On the homepage there is a great heading in the form of a question – “Do You Dare to Dream?” The very prominent single call to action offers you the chance to download John Chow’s free eBook and “achieve your freedom”. This is a form of commitment as the heading is asking visitors a question and the eBook is a possible solution.

Once you click on the CTA you are served a very simple form asking you to enter your name and email address. As visitors have clicked on the CTA which promises “achieve your freedom” they are likely to feel compelled to complete the form to be consistent with their previous commitment.

In addition, as they will now perceive themselves as customers this should increase the likelihood that they will be prepared to buy one of JohnChow’s  services at some point in the future.

Image of JohnChow.com's email capture form
Image Source:

Consistency for consistency’s sake!

Digital marketers can also fall into the trap of commitment and consistency. Brand guidelines create a strong commitment that most people feel obliged to adhere to. However, applying consistency without thought can harm the user experience and reduce conversion.

I often come across copy that is low contrast and unreadable or the CTA is not prominent because designers have blindly followed brand guidelines. Brand guidelines should not be used as a reason not to think about the design and how it appears to the user. Because brand guidelines cover the whole site there are often instances where they just don’t make sense because guidelines are just that. They should guide, but not be applied automatically without thought.

Below is an example from partycasino.com which uses a  grey font on a black background. The contrast is really poor and the use of pink for hyperlinks is especially distracting.

Image of partycasino.com homepage where the colour pink is used for links

Displaying identical navigation elements in the header across the whole site can result in redundant and distracting navigation tabs on certain pages (e.g. Join Now link shown on a sign-up form). This can also lead to situations where certain navigation elements (e.g. an Options tab) only have one menu item on some pages because of the site structure.

Consistency in design is seen as beneficial because the user becomes accustomed to what to expect from a site. However, this begs the question should we never surprise visitors? The answer to this depends on the context, purpose and quality of the surprise. What is the cost of not surprising visitors compared to the benefits of delivering something unexpected?

Consistency is only one of a number of design principles and sometimes they conflict with one another. If we want to optimise conversion this may sometimes mean making compromises with consistency to give priority to more important elements of the user experience.

Conclusion:

Consistency is a powerful force in social influence that can be employed to nudge users towards desired actions. Remember commitment is the main driver of consistency and it is one of the few persuasive weapons that can also change a person’s self-image. Consistency is such a strong motivator that it can even create habits that will sustain long-term behavioural change. Use it with care and also avoid falling into the trap of consistency for consistency’s sake when making design decisions.

Thank you for reading this post. 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.

Why are the habits of successful people a myth?

What is a narrative fallacy?

Have you noticed social media’s obsession with the habits of successful people, how politicians suggest simple solutions to complex problems and the appeal of magical ‘silver bullet’ fixes? People like to simplify things as we have a natural desire to understand what causes events and we hate uncertainty. In the book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes how people can’t help but create narratives that do not exist, particularly when those stories confirm our existing beliefs.

Nassim Taleb coined the term narrative fallacy to describe; “our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them.” We can see this all the time as people create stories to explain random and unpredictable events as this makes us feel smarter and more in control of our destiny.

“Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you will tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you will feel in your views,” – Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan.

Posts describing the habits of highly successful people are a classic example of the narrative fallacy because writers mistake random attributes as causal relationships. There is no one-size fits all answer for how to become successful,  it’s a myth created by bad science.

Image of traits of successful and unsuccessful people
Image Source:

Take this post I saw on LinkedIn which shows the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful people. For each of the attributes shown for successful people I can think of many examples of people at the top of their profession who do not demonstrate these characteristics.

Zappos vs Amazon!

Image of Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos

If we look at major e-commerce retailers in the US, Tony Hsieh of Zappos published a best-selling book on the “happy place” culture he created at Zappos. He managed to build a billion dollar company, but so did Jeff Bezos at Amazon and yet he has a completely different approach to corporate culture. Bezos runs a very tight ship in terms of costs and has a “take it or leave it” attitude towards employees. It is not uncommon to hear complaints about the working environment at Amazon from ex-employees.  So, for every Hsieh you are likely to get a Bezos with a successful company doing the very opposite.

Another great example is Donald Trump. He managed to sell a convincing narrative to become the US President, but he doesn’t accept responsibility for his failures. He argues that anything negative is likely to be fake news made up by the media. Further, within the first month after becoming president Trump tried to take credit for immigration and job-creation initiatives that started before he took office. He’s not alone in his approach either as there are lots of successful business people who have succeeded partly because of their arrogant, overconfident attitude as people often mistake confidence with competence.

Trump’s use of fake news is also clearly a strategy to create a narrative fallacy in the minds of his supporters. He wants them to believe that the media are spreading lies about him to convince them that he is the one telling the truth. When it all goes wrong, which I think is inevitable, he will blame everyone but himself for his failure.

Businesses change and so do people!

A further reason why habits of successful people are a narrative fallacy relates to the fact they are usually based upon the characteristics of the individual after they have become successful. For these habits to be indicative of why they became successful they would have had to remained constant throughout their rise from office junior or  start-up founder to being CEO of a billion dollar corporation.

We all know this is complete rubbish as one can’t manage a small start-up in the same way you do a billion dollar business. For a start the complexity of a large corporation requires a very different approach than you would take with a tiny start-up, both in terms of management style and cultural values.

Hard work and luck matter!

Successful people can teach us lessons, but rather than looking at their behaviours, often it is how they approach challenges and define a problem that is more enlightening. Their experience often gives them great insights into how to deal with challenges, but don’t link an ability to be a good business person with how they live their life. What people often forget is that luck and hard work play a significant role in how successful we become in our professional lives.

Implications for Digital Marketing:

Storytelling can be especially dangerous for optimisers as it encourages us to rely on our existing mental models to generate new solutions. This is because we automatically restrict our testing and learning to those ideas consistent with those same mental models and may fail to consider alternatives that don’t fit with our narrative fallacy. As a result you can damage the efficiency of your program by limiting its scope.

When A/B testing it’s also easy to fall into the trap of trying to explain the psychological reasons why the challenger variant beat the default. We can never really be certain why users behave differently when faced with one design compared to another as we don’t have access to the non-conscious brain which makes most decisions. Further, confirmation bias means that our minds automatically focus on reasons that fit in with our existing beliefs and so we are prone to jumping to conclusions that align with our belief system.

Similar to this is the Causation Bias which is our tendency to see a cause and effect relationship in a situation where none exists. This is especially the case where we find a correlation and assume a causation even though there is no known reason or there to be causation.

How to counter the narrative fallacy?

Establishing a strong hypothesis for an experiment based upon scientific evidence before you proceed is an important strategy as this helps us avoid hypothesizing after the results are known (HARKing). Further, be disciplined with data collection and the length of your experiment to avoid cherry picking data points. When deciding how long to run your test ensure you factor in the length of the business cycle and avoid stopping the experiment before you have both a  high level of statistical confidence and a low error rate (usually below 5%).

Avoid communicating changes in conversion rates for tests that don’t reach full statistical confidence. This just encourages people to create narratives that are not based upon reliable data. Unfortunately some marketers who do not understand statistics will put optimisers under pressure to this, but it should be refused on the basis that it will result in narrative fallacies.

Finally, focus on what action you are going to take as a result of the experiment, rather than thinking about why the result happened.

Thank you for reading this post. 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.

Is LinkedIn The New Facebook?

The First Rule of Social Media Marketing:

I recently saw this post on LinkedIn and wondered why some users were surprised by the negative comments it received.

Image of post on LinkedIn timeline

The post reads; “Last weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to Berlin on a private chartered plane. After being escorted through security ‘VIP’ , we were met with Prosecco before heading onto the plane. If 2017 carries on like this, I’m going to have a pretty great year.”

One user posted this comment in response to the negative feedback:

“Great stuff Tim. What I fail to understand is all the negatively here, get a grip people & if you don’t like it scroll on by & enjoy your day. It’s quite simple really.”

Well, are you guys trying to turn LinkedIn into the new Facebook or are you just submitting the same posts to all your social media platforms? Whichever it is you need to stop doing it because the first rule of social media is to tailor your message to your audience.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site for making contacts and sharing useful content. It is not for boasting about how lucky you are to have been on a private jet. Enjoying yourself at work is important, but LinkedIn is not the platform to distribute this kind of self-congratulating twaddle. It’s unprofessional and annoying to other users.

Indeed, if I was a potential client of the agency concerned I would question their fees if they can afford to send employees on a private charter plane. Maybe the charter plane was paid for by a client or someone else, but that’s not the point. It creates that thought in your brain that is how my fees are being spent.

These types of posts also dilute the effectiveness of the LinkedIn timeline and put off users browsing their homepage. As the comment above suggests you can; “scroll on by” but just don’t expect me to scroll for very long as I can go to Facebook to read this kind of bragging content.

The power of LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is still a very effective social media platform though. Whilst the time line is getting clogged up with mediocre stuff the special interest groups are fantastic for sharing quality content with like-minded people. LinkedIn is currently my number one source of social media traffic because I spent time finding interest groups that closely match the target audience for my blog posts. The content is therefore relevant to users and I get constructive comments and good click through to my website.

Finally:

So I’m not against people having fun at work, but just make sure you think before you post on your LinkedIn timeline. Otherwise LinkedIn will turn into a version of Facebook that will damage its effectiveness as a networking tool. Ask yourself a few questions.  How relevant and appropriate is the content to my LinkedIn contacts. Also, what will it say about me and my company to other users on LinkedIn? The latter is the main point really. As unlike on Facebook where most people don’t give a toss where you work on LinkedIn your job title and company is very visible.

Thank you for reading my post. If you found it interesting 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.