Influence can be defined as the power exerted over the minds and behavior of others. A power that can affect, persuade and cause changes to someone or something. In order to influence people, you first need to discover what is already influencing them. What makes them tick? What do they care about? We need some leverage to work with when weâ€™re trying to change how people think and behave.
But thereâ€™s a problem. You wonâ€™t be able to meet and get to know everyone. You wonâ€™t have the luxury of learning their life history and what they hate or love. In the online world, people are ghosts. They drift into your website, showing up only as a number in your traffic statistics. Who are these people that come in to your website? Who is viewing your content and checking out your products?
If you donâ€™t know the answer to all these questions, how are you going to influence them? The solution is to find and analyze general patterns of human behavior or thought. These patterns are indicators of how most people operate: by learning them you would have acquired the tools to exert influence over them. You donâ€™t need to know everyone personally to understand what drives them and what they love or hate.
I recently read Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click by Susan Weinschenk, a book about how our online behavior is influenced by both conscious and unconscious thought patterns. I found it fairly interesting because it provided some scientific explanations to tactics that many marketers have been using for the longest time.
At only 130 pages long, the book is a very easy read because its tailored for the average person and not specialists. The downside of this is that it only offers a very general overview of brain science and how it relates to websites.
Contrary to its name, it also talks more about psychology than general web design/usability. If youâ€™ve read Robert Cialdiniâ€™s work or other books on persuasion tactics you would easily recognize many of the concepts mentioned in the book.
While I would preferred a lot more depth on some topics covered, it did offer a handful of helpful tips you can implement immediately to improve your website. I thought Iâ€™ll do a quick summary of these tips while adding in my own unique analysis and comments.
But before we begin looking at what you should do on your website, you must first understand how your brain works.
Trium Brain Model â€“ We Have Three Brains, Not One
The trium brain model is a theory developed by Paul MacLean in the 1960s to explain how the human brain has evolved. This simplified understanding of the brain became an influential paradigm amongst psychologists and some neuroscientists. As the name suggests, we donâ€™t have one brain but three. These are all layered on top of each other and were developed during different stages of evolution. They are as follows:
1. The old brain. Also known as â€˜R-complexâ€™ or reptilian brain. The old brain is primarily concerned with your survival. It scans the environments for threats and benefits. It controls instinctual survival behavior and is also in charge of autonomic functions such as heart beats, digestion, movement and breathing.
2. The mid brain. Also known as the Limbic System or mammalian brain. The primary seat of emotions, memories and attention. This is where your emotions are produced and where positive or negative feelings arise. The mid brain includes the amygdala, which is involved in connecting events with emotion and the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory recall and converting information into memories.
3. The new brain. Also known as the neocortex. This is the logical part of the brain that involves rational thoughts, thinking skills as well as language and speech processing.
According to this theory, we are only fully conscious of our new brain, the neocortex. But our mid brain (limbic system) and old brain (reptilian brain) are largely unconscious. Our unconscious is incredibly efficient, smart and useful. Neuro-scientists have estimated that our five senses receive 11 million pieces of information every second with our conscious brain only processing around 40 pieces. The rest is being assessed by the unconscious automatically.
The unconscious brain helps you to determine what you should pay attention to with your conscious brain. Your decision-making behavior is greatly influenced by the unconscious brain. According to Weinschenk, the best website is designed to talk to all three brains, both the conscious and unconscious.
Such a website would be the best at encouraging any visitor to take action. Hereâ€™s what you can implement on your website to talk to all three brains:
1. Show ratings and reviews by other users
Allow visitors to rate and review products on your website. Make sure that ratings and reviews are clearly displayed on your site or product pages. Allow users to include more information about themselves such as their gender, name, location and occupation. This makes the reviews even more compelling since it creates an instant persona (e.g. 36 year old stay-home mom from Boston).
Why do ratings and reviews work? Social validation. People look to others when deciding what to do, especially when they are not sure of what action to take. This is part of the mid brainâ€™s unconscious urge to fit in and belong.
When ratings and reviews are clearly displayed, they help to unconsciously trigger peopleâ€™s need for social validation while allowing their new brain to rationalize that they are making a smart choice. They work on both the conscious and unconscious: to the rational thinking mind, user ratings and reviews are also more credible than profit-seeking ad copy.
2. Provide instant gratification and a quick fix
When deciding to make a purchase, we often influenced by how fast we can have the product (gratification). In an experiment participants were asked to choose between getting $5 now or $40 at a later date. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) reports show that when they thought about waiting, the new brain or pre-frontal cortex was activated.
When they thought about getting the money right away, the mid brain lit up. This shows that the emotional mid brain is aroused when people think of getting something rewarding right away. You can take advantage of this even if youâ€™re not selling a digital product or something that ships the next day. You can activate the same emotional triggers by using words like â€˜instantlyâ€™, â€˜immediatelyâ€™ or â€˜fastâ€™ to engage the mid-brain. Integrate them and other similar words or phrases into your site copy.
3. Put the most important action to be done first
When you want your visitors to buy a specific product the most, make sure that it is highlighted and displayed as the first item on the page (either at the top or beginning of a row/column). A study of an e-commerce site selling tents showed that visitors picked the first tent to appear on the page 2.5 times more than any others. This is an unconscious preference. Do some similar testing on your website to see if you notice any sales differences.
The idea behind this is simple: what comes first is unconsciously regarded as the best. So even if youâ€™re not a vendor but an affiliate, put the product you want to get sales for first. For example if youâ€™re doing a review site promoting a couple of products, make sure that what you want to sell the most is the first to be seen when someone lands on your website.
Having had some experience with affiliate review sites, Iâ€™ve noticed that youâ€™ll eventually find a â€˜winnerâ€™, a product that converts the best. If you notice that a product not in the first spot converts better than the one that is, make them switch places. Sales may go up.
4. Use the illusion of scarcity
When something has a limited amount to it, its assumed value increases. We will want it even more. Make your product/offering limited by showing a limited stock quantity or limited time frame. This is a common tactic that most internet marketers and offline/online retailers use. And it works. Because we feel good when we gain objects of value.
The way you frame scarcity is important. Iâ€™ve seen some marketers combine scarcity with exclusivity by restricting access to a limited number of people. The term â€˜Inner Circleâ€™ is a widely used in many niches offering paid membership programs to demonstrate exclusive premium value. Scarcity is enhanced when exclusivity is stacked onto it.
5. Build reciprocity by giving away something for free
When someone gives you something, it triggers a sensation of indebtedness, which you will unconsciously want to get rid of by giving something back. Create this feeling of indebtedness in your visitorâ€™s mind. You can give away things like free product add-ons, free guidebooks, free content, free downloads, free shipping etc.
A study mentioned in the book suggested that visitors are twice as likely to complete a survey form after they were given access to free useful information, as opposed to being allowed access to the information only after completing the form.
Does this mean that youâ€™ll get better email opt-in conversions after giving away free content first? Research would say so. But I suggest that you perform your own tests to get a more accurate reading of what works best for your website.
From my general experience, I do get higher quality subscribers (judging by email open rates and no. of unsubscribes) when I first provide value-added freebies while making opt-ins optional. When I lock content and only allow people access after they perform an action, I inevitably get some tire-kickers whoâ€™ll unsubscribe or not open emails later on. When I think about it now, reciprocity DOES seem to play a big role in actual audience responsiveness.
6. Learn to use food, sex and danger
These three things are related to survival and appeal to the old reptilian brain. Use headlines and pictures that look or sound frightening to emphasize danger. The old brain is primarily focused on ensuring your survival. It puts your entire body and mind on high alert when it comes across any threat.
When you are in this heightened state of awareness, whatever you encounter is more deeply engrained in your memory. Thatâ€™s why you see TV commercials using exciting and dangerous scenes like a car chase, sky diving or a sexy woman to promote products like credit cards and beer.
Use pictures of food on your webpages, it instantly attracts the attention of the old brain. Imply the presence of sex through the use of faces, bodies and things associated with sexual behavior or experience.
Are food, sex and danger really so attractive to the unconscious? Think about it. What are you drawn to when youâ€™re bored online? Many people gravitate to celebrity gossip or porn (sex), food sites or thrilling content (extreme stunts/sports/music videos/movie clips on Youtube etc). Maybe you would rather work on math puzzles or read a knitting blog instead. But not many would.
Learning how to integrate each of these three topics into your website will be an interesting challenge. A while ago, I wrote about Cracked.com and how their style could help you create super popular content for social media sites like Digg.Â Cracked.com is a great example of a site that often has all topics (food, sex, danger) in constant rotation, both in their content and their use of images/references.
7. Limit the choices available and promote bundles
While people think they prefer many choices, the numerous options available often lead to decision paralysis. Too much choice may cause your visitor to not take any action at all. The Paradox of Choice is a fantastic book which examines this issue in much greater detail.
So how do you solve this problem? You donâ€™t have to reduce your inventory range, you just need to highlight specific actions you want taken.
My solution is to simply choose for your visitor. For example, certain products could be moved into a â€˜Editorâ€™s choiceâ€™ or â€˜Most recommendedâ€™ or â€˜Top 3 choicesâ€™ list which is then displayed prominently on your site. Alternatively, you can create a wizard user interface which asks the visitors certain questions, one after another in order to ascertain what product suits them the best. The final result will show the recommended products for his/her specific needs.
Our brain has a unconscious fear of losing and weâ€™ll make decisions to avoid loss, especially when we feel the loss will be painful or disadvantageous. This fear of losing can be activated by bundled products/services. This means that instead of allowing visitors to select the core product first and then choose addons, you promote a product bundle and then allow them to subtract items from their final order. Subtracting is akin to â€˜losingâ€™ something.
Many e-commerce websites practicing different levels of bundling. Take Amazon.com as an example. Instead of promoting bundles over single products, every single product page showcases a bundled package with a reduced price. On top of that, they promote bundles indirectly by including the buying statistics/patterns of other customers.
8. Speak to your visitor by using the word â€˜Youâ€™
A quick and easy way to grab the attention of the old brain is to use the word â€˜youâ€™ often in your copy. The old brain is self-centered and focused on what is good for you, hence itâ€™ll often unconsciously prefer what better emphasizes how You can benefit.
Here is a comparison of sales copy. The second one should appeal to you more:
No. 1: â€œThis software has many built-in features that allow for photos to be uploaded, organized, and stored. Photos can be searched for with only a few steps.â€
No. 2: â€œYou can upload your photos quickly, organize them any way you want to, and then store them so that they are easy to share with your friends. You can find any photo with only a few steps.â€
In my opinion, â€˜you-centredâ€™ copy is part of the bigger ad strategy called personalization. Youâ€™re writing copy that speaks their language. And that entails knowing what your prospect or target market likes/dislikes and desires. Write as if youâ€™re talking to a person sitting right next to you. She is your prospective customer. She is your blog reader. And she is your friend. Donâ€™t be afraid to use slang or community lingo to connect to their thought processes.
9. Get your visitors to make a commitment
People are more likely to take action after theyâ€™ve made a small commitment first. This is because a small commitment activates a persona which the person will seek to maintain with future decisions. For example, asking someone to wear a small badge to promote breast cancer awareness is an example of a small commitment.
This activates a persona which makes them think â€˜Iâ€™m a person who cares about cancer patients.â€™ Later on, they will be far more willing to make a donation to a breast cancer charity because the action of donating is completely consistent with the persona they have taken on. In fact, donating maintains that persona and makes them feel good about it.
Your goal is to activate a persona within all your site visitors. This persona will eventually push them to take a specific action, be it buy, donate or subscribe. Methods you can use include using quizzes and surveys around a topic that is related to your product or website focus. The simple act of writing, typing or signing something strengthens their commitment to to your website/company/brand. The more public the commitment, the stronger it will be.
Getting your visitors to commit to your website is incredibly easy. You donâ€™t always need to get something from them, like their email or vote. By simply allowing comments, youâ€™re allowing visitors to be publicly committed to your website. Polls and surveys work equally well too because they make your visitors interact with you. They arenâ€™t just lurking viewers anymore, but participants within a community. Step it up a notch or two after that.
I think its important not to overthink it. Ask for what you want. As long as its not an outrageous demand, youâ€™ll get people to respond and invest their time, especially if youâ€™re already worked on developing reciprocity.
10. Use images that demonstrate similarity and attractiveness
Use images of attractive people who are similar to your target marketâ€™s demographic profile. People are most influenced by people they deem to be both attractive and similar to them. The old brain is unconsciously sizing up people you see and their attractiveness can rub off on your website itself, much like how an attractive person in a cellphone ad makes the cellphone look more enticing.
This doesnâ€™t just apply to images. Most internet marketers know that in order to appeal to a certain group of people, you need a human face that will be the focal point of their empathy and connection. Hence, the widespread use of pen names, stock photo pictures and even a made-up history or life story. While it may be entirely artificial, these methods do work to engage website visitors.
11. Be a master at telling stories
Use stories as part of your sales copy or weave them into your content/blog post. When we read or listen to a story, our brains physically react as though we were having the same experience ourselves. When combined with pictures, it is a very powerful way to immediately grab attention, convey information and ensure that your reader retains your message.
Story-telling is a fantastic method of persuasion. Itâ€™s almost like a hypnotic process. Iâ€™ve noticed that I tend to suspend rational thought when Iâ€™m thoroughly engaged with reading or hearing a fascinating story.
Iâ€™m fully conscious but my mind is taken over because Iâ€™m actively visualizing the situation by generating images to accompany the words Iâ€™m reading/hearing. And the images Iâ€™m creating are generating emotions at the same time. A skilled story teller can easily embed suggestions or increase oneâ€™s perceived value subtly by using stories.
This is a really powerful persuasion tactic and something I would encourage you to learn. All of us can tell stories but not all of our stories are as persuasive as they can be.
So there you have it. These methods of extending influence are easily applicable in most circumstances so put them into action as soon as you finish reading. Feel free to spread the word and share this article with anyone you know.
If you found these tips useful, you should probably subscribe to my blog via rss or email. Just so youâ€™ll get easy updates on new articles about persuasion, influence and marketing. ^_^
Written by Maki