8 Marketing Lessons From Theresa May’s Campaign

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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. 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. 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 (see System 1) and can be very persuasive. However, this does not mean that rational argument should be forgotten. It is important to align implicit motivations with rational benefits (explicit goals) 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
Source: 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.

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 qualitative research to better 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. If you need to understand more implicit motivations or responses to your messages explore using implicit research techniques rather than conventional methods of research.

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:

Remember loss aversion is a powerful motivator. 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 the majority and 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 high personality trait. People who are not consistent are often 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:

Commitment and 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.

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. 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 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.

Why Should Marketers Target the Subconscious Mind?

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How many times have you completed a task or arrived somewhere without thinking about how you achieved it? That’s your subconscious mind in action, making fast and automatic decisions with little or no conscious awareness of the decisions we make.

Why Does This Occur?

Research by evolutionary psychologists suggests 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 subconscious 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 is the more important task 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. He also 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 subconscious brain. Our conscious and subconscious brains co-exist together. Furthermore, 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 often too many calls to actions and a poor visual hierarchy on many websites.
  • 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.
  • 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 on the page. This will ring alarms with a visitor’s brain and cause System 2 to take control.

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 attention 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. Furthermore, these studies also demonstrate that behaviour driven by goal achievement can also operate without conscious thought.

This suggests our subconscious brain automatically searches 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. 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.

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).

Implications 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 subconscious 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 subconscious 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. In reality our mental processing is done by our subconscious.

Implications for CRO:

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

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.

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. 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.

How Commitment and Consistency Influences Behaviour

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The Power of Commitment & Consistency!

Why is commitment and consistency one of the most powerful and persuasive techniques? Why would people ignore long held opinions and follow a course of action against their own best interests? What drives blind commitment and consistency? To understand the answers to these questions we outline the evidence and examples of how to use commitment and consistency to improve your persuasiveness.

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.

The Experiment

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 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 people sometimes act without thinking. They 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.

In this sense commitment and consistency can sometimes lead to undesirable behaviour. People strive to be consistent almost without regard for the consequence.

Why does consistency become a habit?

Due to our motivation to be consistent we will often automatically make decisions based 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.

Commitment and consistency can result in some disastrous decisions when it leads to automatic behaviour. This occurs because people are so keen to be consistent. It is perceived to be a positive characteristic.

Why is commitment so important?

Psychologists believe that stubborn consistency is often the result of people making a public stand or commitment. Once such a commitment has been made people have a tendency to try to ensure consistency at 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. Many MPs still believe Brexit will seriously harm the economy and the UK’s standing in the world. That is quite extraordinary behaviour and is a clear consequence of the power of commitment and consistency.

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 said 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. Research indicates that the greater the effort we put into a commitment, the more effective it is at influencing our attitudes and behaviour.

Furthermore, a written commitment also acts as physical evidence of our support for a cause. It reduces the likelihood that we might forget or deny the act. It may also persuade other people as 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. 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 approach to benefit from the commitment phenomena. When having a chance of winning people know they have to be complementary about the product or service. 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 publicly” – 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 good when 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 in public.

Psychologists found that people are most likely to take ownership of behaviour if they feel they decided to undertake the action without any outside pressure. This means that using a large incentive, such as a cash prize, can be counter-productive. 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 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. 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!

Commitment and consistency is one reason why free trials or offers can be very powerful tools of persuasion.

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!

To achieve a high rating and a positive review of the user experience only target 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 for commitment and consistency!

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 John Chow’s services at some point in the future.

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

Commitment and 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 excuse 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. Otherwise conversion will suffer due to designers being influenced by commitment and consistency.

Example

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
Source: partycasino.com

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. Avoid being overly influenced by commitment and consistency as this can reduce conversions.

Conclusion:

Commitment and 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.

Narrative Fallacy – Why are the habits of successful people a myth?

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What is Narrative Fallacy? and 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. 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. 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.

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 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. We have a tendency to focus on survivors of a process and forget about the many who did not succeed.

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.

What Was The Top Blog Post of 2016

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Top Blog Posts – What Happened in 2016?

Below are some of the top blog posts in 2016. This has been a great year for Conversion-Uplift as I now offer conversion rate consultancy services to a range of organisations. I also migrated from Tumblr to a WordPress and published a Glossary of Conversion Marketing. This has over 250 pages of definitions and examples from the commercial world.

But what caught your imagination most in 2016?

Most Popular Blog Posts of 2016:

1. How to use card sorting – Card sorting tools to improve website navigation. This blog post made it to the first page of Google and attracts a lots of visitors to the site.

2. Customer ratings – 6 top E-commerce rating and review platforms to build trust and credibility. This blog post also got to the first page of Google and is currently the most popular article on the site.

3. Optimisation solutions – Digital marketing toolbox – with over 300 solutions. A regular favourite blog post for anyone wanting to optimise their site or app.

4. Competitor analysis – 10 website audience comparison tools for competitor benchmarking. A popular blog post since it was published in August.

5. Testing solutions – Which A/B & MVT testing solution should you choose? Now includes AI solution from Sentient Ascend.

6. The EU referendum result – They psychology of Brexit – Why emotions won over logic? A topical subject and a psychological perspective of why the UK voted to leave the EU.

7. Cultural dimensions of optimisation – Cross-cultural website optimization. Cultural differences in visitor preferences can seriously upset the standard template approach to website design.

8. Address look-up solutions – 11 free and paid for address look-up solutions. A must blog post to read for any sign-up form or check-out process.

9. Referendum & democracy – Referendum a device for demagogues and dictators? Another Brexit post, this time about using referendum to make such important decisions.

10. Psychology of incentives – The psychology of reward and how to motivate your customers. What psychology tells us about creating automatic responses for marketing purposes. 

How Does The Backfire Effect Shape Beliefs?

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Why do facts not change opinions?

There is a general misconception that by presenting facts and figures that contradict a person’s existing beliefs we can change their opinion. In reality the backfire effect suggests it can have the opposite effect.

Hilary Clinton tried to use facts and figures in the 2016 US presidential election. However, she failed to win enough votes despite Donald Trump running with much more emotive and populist agenda. Why does this happen? How does fake news (or “alternative facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them) influence our existing beliefs?

The backfire effect is a psychological bias which is a tendency for people to reject evidence that contradicts deeply held beliefs. As a result our opinions become even more entrenched than before we received the new information.

This may explain why the attacks on Trump’s suitability to become US president during the 2016 campaign had no impact on his popularity. They rejected the information as unreliable or “fake” as Trump refers to anything that is critical of his behaviour.

What causes the backfire effect?

The experience of receiving evidence that is inconsistent with our beliefs causes cognitive dissonance. This makes us feel very uncomfortable. As a defence mechanism our brain creates new memories and neural connections. This further strengthens existing beliefs to dismiss the new information and eliminate cognitive dissonance. Over time we also become less sceptical of those ideas that support our beliefs which are often the very same concepts that may be incorrect.

Evidence:

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler (PDF), two leading researchers of political science, created fake newspaper articles. They were written in a way that would support a misconception about a specific idea in US politics.

Once a person had read the fake article, they were given an authentic article which outlined a more accurate view of the story. One fake article for instance indicated that the US had found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. The genuine article clearly stated that the US never found such weapons in Iraq.

Participants who had been opposed to the war or who held strong liberal attitudes tended to disagree with the fake story and accepted the second. However, those who supported the war and held more conservative beliefs tended to accept the accuracy of the fake article. They strongly disagreed with the second. Furthermore, after reading the authentic article, conservative leaning participants indicated that they were even more certain than before that Iraq had held WMDs.

Did fake news help Trump?

Emotional factors played a big part in the outcome of the US presidential election.

Research by Ipsos suggests the backfire effect is especially problematic when fake or incorrect news is circulated in the public domain. The danger is our tendency to accept something as true the more we are exposed to it (Availability Cascade).

During the 2016 US election fake news stories circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms. The Ipsos survey found that fake news headlines were accepted as true by those who were exposed to them around 75% of the time.

Furthermore, people who gave Facebook as their major news source were more likely to perceive fake news headlines as genuine stories. This dispels the myth that people can tell what is genuine information on Facebook.

“The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” – Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs

Republican leaning voters were more likely than Democrats to accept fake news as being accurate (84% compared to 71%). Similarly Clinton voters were less likely than Trump voters to perceive fake news as being true (58% compared to 86% for Trump voters).

This is probably because most top-performing fake headlines during the campaign were pro-Trump or critical of Clinton. This would support the backfire effect being triggered by the fake news stories. The majority of Clinton voters who saw the fake news stories considered them to be accurate. The backfire effect appears to benefit those organisations and people who are most willing to communicate inaccurate and false information.

Alternative Facts:

Sean Spicer’s accusation of “deliberately false reporting” by journalists of the numbers attending Trump’s inauguration. Suggests that Trump intends to try to put doubt in the minds of his supporters about the accuracy of media reports. “Alternative facts” as Kellyanne Conway refers to them are lies.

However, the backfire effect means this can be a very effective strategy for making existing beliefs even stronger. Fake news can also put a seed of doubt into the minds of others who have no political allegiance.

Trump has not changed his style of leadership since he became President. He relies on creating social media storms to get his points across and is unlikely to want to lose this weapon going forward. He has changed the rules of politics and his opponents need to realise this and begin to adjust their approach accordingly. That shouldn’t mean using fake news, but they should speak directly to people about their hopes and concerns.

Journalists also need to be careful not to allow President Trump to use such media storms to obscure other more important news. Little time was given to Trump signing an Executive Order to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act. This will potentially remove medical care for around 1.8 million US citizens. No credible plans are in place to provide these people with replacement cover to a comparable level.

Threat to fair elections:

One of the most worrying lies that Donald Trump has consistently promoted is that there were between 2 to 3 million votes illegally cast during the 2016 presidential election. There is no evidence that there was wide-spread voting fraud at polling stations. Most fraud tends to be carried out with postal voting.

However, Trump’s aim may be to simply make it more difficult for people to vote by increasing the onus on voters to prove their identity. The evidence suggests that these kinds of measures often reduce the likelihood of people from the ethnic minorities to cast their vote. As Trump lacks appeal to many in the ethnic minority community this may be a simple ploy to improve his chances of being re-elected for a second term.

 Did fake news influence Brexit?

Image of the UK Leave campaign website

The Leave campaign in the EU referendum also used the backfire effect to their advantage. They understood that amendments or having to retract inaccurate stories would only occur later in the day and by then the content was already circulating and had done its job.

Conclusion:

The backfire effect demonstrates how the human brain instinctively and unconsciously protects your beliefs from harm when confronted with information that is inconsistent. It does this by making those beliefs even stronger and so more resistant to change.

The danger here is that fake news stories will inevitably lead to beliefs that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny becoming more entrenched. This could result in even more polarised positions for the two camps in American politics. Whether fake new stories were the difference between Trump winning or losing the US election is impossible to know. However, as most fake news was supportive of Trump it is possible that it had an insidious influence.

Marketing Implications:

Clinton should have avoided attacking Trump on a personal level. The Democrats would have been better to focus on how they could persuade the undecided voters and engage Clinton’s own supporters.

The backfire effects suggests that we should not try changing people’s deeply held beliefs. For marketers this suggests changing habits (e.g. a free trial) or using an emotional trigger to engage competitor’s customers.

However, the backfire effect indicates that marketers should concentrate on trying to win over people who don’t have strong beliefs. This means not spending money on trying to attract heavy users of a competitor’s product. Confirmation bias is likely to work against you. Furthermore, work by Bryan Sharp indicates that loyal customers offer little opportunity to increase the frequency of their purchases.

There is also limited benefit from targeting existing heavy users of your own product. Their intent will already be high and focusing on survivors of a process that has shaped their characteristics is a common logical error known as survivorship bias. Marketing is unlikely to have any significant impact on their behaviour.

Backfire bias supports the strategy of running a positive campaign that projects both emotional and rational benefits. Inspire people rather than attacking your competitors as the latter is likely to be counterproductive. Prospects are often more likely to respond to an emotional message that taps into implicit or psychological goals than a purely rational appeal.

Related posts:

EU Referendum – Why emotions won over logic?

Brexit campaign – 7 marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

Referendum – Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues? 

US opinion polls – Why did the polls get it wrong again?

The Psychology of Pokemon Go

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Learn the psychological secrets of Pokemon Go’s success!

In just two weeks Pokemon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game designed by Niantic, achieved over 21 million active users in the US, more than Candy Crush did at its peak. The game’s popularity has quickly spread in other countries and it is now becoming a global phenomenon. So, why did Pokemon Go become a such an instant success? What are the psychological buttons that it pressed to create so many users?

1. Nostalgia from a childhood brand:

Pokemon is a brand that has grown across multiple entertainment categories for over 20 years. This provided Pokemon with the opportunity to target an existing and passionate audience of players who grew up in the 1990’s and wanted to indulge in an old obsession. This instantly helped Pokemon Go establish itself on a new platform (smartphones and tablets) and created the conditions for the game to spread through social networks to a more diverse and younger audiences.

Image of implicit goals

Source: Decode Marketing

The desire for adventure and escapism is just one of a number of implicit psychological goals that motivate brand choice. Using the latest research from psychology and neuroscience marketing consultant Phil Barden has identified 6 key psychological goals that brands can be perceived to meet. The extent to which people perceive that a brand will fully meet certain psychological goals that they find compelling will help determine which one they choose.

Image of Pokemon Go in App store

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc, iOS App Store

Learning:

Leverage brand equity by targeting existing engaged customers to give you a head start to building your app store presence. Ensure brand communications target appropriate psychological goals that can help generate a strong emotional response to your game or product.

2. Herd mentality:

As social beings our decisions are heavily influenced by what we think other people around us are doing. When in a new or uncertain situation we naturally look to see what other people are doing as a guide to desired behaviour. Pokemon Go benefited from copy-cat behaviour as our herd instincts assisted the spread of the awareness and adoption of the game through our social networks. Once the number of downloads gave Pokemon Go entry into the download charts this would have further boosted its desirability among trend seekers or gamers unsure about the nature of the game.

Top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

Source: App Annie top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

Learning:

Using social proof and encouraging people to interact with your brand across offline and online social networks is a powerful influence on success or failure. How people interact with each other and what they do with your product or idea will determine the nature of your brand. Not what you set out in your brand guidelines.

3. Novelty gets attention:

Our brains are hard-wired to be wary of change. The blending of the real world with the digital world of augmented reality brings fantasy into the game experience in a seamless and engaging manner. This creates a novel user experience that attracts attention. Novelty is a powerful psychological trigger for stimulating our brain. Although augmented reality has been around for a number years, Pokémon Go cleverly integrates it with a real-world game that also activates user’s curiosity.

Image of Pokemon Go Drowzee

Learning:

Use novelty to grab attention and create curiosity about your brand.

4. We desire control:

The design of Pokémon Go means that players have a good chance of intercepting a monster where ever they travel. There is no necessity to head for a Pokestop or Gym if it doesn’t fit in with the user’s plans. Monsters often pop-up randomly as players go on their daily business.

Pokémon Go allows players to remain in control. It is up to the user to decide how much effort they want to put into the game. This is important from a psychological perspective. Autonomy is one of three basic drivers of human behaviour identified by psychologist Daniel Pink that make people happy and engaged in activities.

Image of Pokemon Go with Venonat showing

Learning:

Autonomy and our desire to act with choice is something people naturally seek. Psychologists believe that it improves our lives. Where possible always offer people choice as we dislike doors being shut or forced down a particular path.

5. Mastery :

Pokemon Go uses achievements to reward players for progressing through the levels of the game. People love to obtain a high degree of competency in activities they undertake. But can easily get frustrated and abandon a game if a task is not realistically achievable. On the other hand if it is too easy to complete players can lose interest in the game. Pokemon Go achieves a balance by setting a low degree of initial difficulty for new players. Using a distance/time barrier to ensure it takes some physical effort to discover more creatures.

Learning:

Ensure challenges and tasks are realistically achievable, but not so easy that players lose interest. Mastery is one of our most powerful and intrinsic motivators which drives our passion for achievement.

Pokemon medal for 10 normal Pokemon

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

6. Variable ratio schedule reward model:

In the 1950’s the American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to understand how people respond to different reward schedules. He discovered that a variable ratio schedule, where the reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken. But the timing is randomised to make it unpredictable, is the best method for encouraging repetitive behaviour. This type of schedule encourages people to complete the behaviour over and over again as they are uncertain when the next reward will be received. It is also resistant to extinction by its very nature and can make some behaviour addictive.

Learning:

Link rewards to the frequency of the behaviour, but use a variable ratio schedule to make the timing of the reward unpredictable.

Pokemon Go level up 4

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

7. Use classical conditioning to obtain an automatic response:

When a user walks near a Pokemon, gym or Pokestop, their smartphone gives an audible buzz. As the players is then rewarded with a new Pokemon or other creature. This sound becomes associated with the forthcoming reward in the same way that Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning creates automatic behaviours by paring a stimulus (a sound) with a response (search for monster nearby).

Learning:

Use audible sounds, smells or movement to create automatic behaviours through classical conditioning by pairing a stimulus with a response. Once users react in a certain way, you may pair another stimulus to the desired behaviour and create a new automatic response.

Image of Pokemon Zubat before capture

Source: Pokemon iOS app

8. We are all social beings at heart:

Unlike most apps, Pokemon Go provides the opportunity to meet new people. It requires you to visit local landmarks and walk to places nearby to find Pokémon’s. As human beings we are hard wired to connect and interact with other people. Indeed, social isolation and loneliness are harmful to our long term health and can trigger depression. Playing Pokemon Go therefore benefits are psychological health by creating opportunities for gamer’s to meet and interact with other people.

Image of Pokemon Go gym

Learning:

Allow people to share or interact with other people as this is an important human characteristic with many benefits for the individuals concerned.

9. We benefit psychologically from walking:

There is increasing evidence to suggest a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health. Walking is beneficial from both a psychological and physical perspective. We have an innate desire to get outside and research suggests that walking can reduce depression and our risk of diseases such as diabetes.

Learning:

Creating a game or product that requires or encourages physical exercise has health benefits for the customer. It can create natural breaks in product usage which improves attention and engagement.

Image of Pokemon Go map

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

10. Good timing:

Launching the game in the summer and just at the start of the holiday season meant that people are already primed and ready to go outside and explore. We are naturally drawn to sunlight because it increases the amount of vitamin D in our bodies which can help prevent cancer and improves our alertness and mental performance.

Learning:

Always consider timing and how it may influence usage to give your product or campaign the best chance of success. Research your audience to identify key factors influencing adoption or likelihood to view your content.

Image of Pokemon Rattata outside Pets at Home store

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

11. Easy equals true:

The app is so simple and intuitive to use that it does not require any detailed instructions or much practice to become competent. This means there is little friction associated with getting started and this minimises cognitive load which encourages continued engagement with the app. Many apps are so poorly designed that they require extensive onboarding instructions and navigation aids. Such complexity can cause cognitive strain and frustration which often leads to apps being abandoned.

Learning:

If your user interface requires detailed instructions or navigation aids to allow users to learn how to use it you have failed. Keep user interface designs simple and intuitive.

Image of Pokemon Gym description

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

12. Piggy back on existing habits:

People are creatures of habit and so adoption is much easier if you can piggy back off an existing habit rather than having to create a new habit. Most smartphone users take their devices with them as they go for a walk or travel to the office or the shops. Pokemon Go was therefore able to benefit from habitual behaviour which assisted take-up of the game.

Learning:

Where possible identify existing habits that your product or campaign can benefit from rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Image of Pokemon Horsea creature

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

13. The power of free:

We are attracted by free apps because people are inherently afraid of loss and free is a powerful motivator because we don’t like to miss out on a bargain. Further, allowing users to play for free minimises the perceived risk of signing up to Pokemon Go because there is no monetary cost to the player if they subsequently find they don’t enjoy the game.

In addition, even partial ownership (e.g. a free trial) tends to make people more attached to what they have and make them focus on what they could lose rather what they may gain. This is why free trials offered by the likes of Spotify and Netflix are so successful.

Pokemon Go generates revenues by players purchasing virtual coins to exchange for items such as Pokeballs to capture monsters. Once players have moved up a number of levels they may also want to pay to store, hatch, train (in the gym) and battle opponents. Companies also have the ability to sponsor locations to attract players to a real location.

Learning: 

Ownership changes are our perception of things and our aversion to loss makes it more difficult to give up things that we have. For non-fremium apps, offer a free trial to give users ownership and allow them to check out the user experience. To monetise a free app allow players to buy in-app currency to spend on digital goods or enter competitions.

Image of loading screen for Pokemon Go

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

What should we take out from Pokémon Go’s success?

Good marketing planning and having the right partners for a venture certainly help. Although we may not be lucky enough to have a global brand that has 20 years of heritage behind it, we can still be careful to create a compelling proposition and ensure that implementation is not rushed. What Pokémon Go does show is that if you can align your marketing with human psychology you will benefit from important drivers of consumer behaviour.

The Psychology of Brexit – Why Emotions Won!

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Brexit – WTF happened?

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

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

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

Herd Mentality:

As social creatures our herd instinct is a strong motivator

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

Image of YouGov poll showing EU referendum intentions by age

Source: YouGov

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

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

Emotions Override Rational Thinking:

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

Leavers cared more

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

Loss Aversion:

People are more concerned about losses than gains.

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

Autonomy:

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

What You See Is All There Is:

People are heavily influenced by what information they can easily access about a topic. Few people have the time or inclination to seek out alternative sources of information to validate stories they read in the media. Indeed, Boris Johnson confessed to a fellow journalist to making up stories about the EU when he was the EU correspondent for The Telegraph newspaper.

Given the amount of misinformation about the EU circulated over the years it was always going to be difficult for the EU to get a fair hearing. There were at least ten myths about leaving the EU that Brexit supporters used to persuade people to vote for Leave.

Project Fear:

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

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

Telling a positive story:

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

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

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

Related to this post is:

10 myths about leaving the EU

Are referendum a device of dictators and demagogues?

Do opinion polls influence voters?

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12 Must Read Digital Marketing Books

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Here are twelve brilliant digital marketing books that will give you insights into conversion rate optimisation, marketing, design, usability and the psychology of visitor behaviour. These are excellent books for helping you define your strategy and identify insights to develop hypothesis for website/app and landing page design and optimisation.

The first three books are specifically on conversion optimisation. Each book brings a different perspective to the subject.

1. Website Optimization – By Rich Page

When I received this book in the post I thought it looked a bit dry and basic. It sat on my shelf for a few months. The more I read whole chapters I realised that this is a gold mine. It’s one of the most detailed digital marketing books you will ever read.

It is crammed full of ideas on what you should be testing and is especially good for outlining a systematic process for optimisation. Without a consistent and data driven approach to optimisation you will struggle to maintain focus. You will certainly not achieve an optimal return on investment (RIO) from your A/B tests and Multivariate Testing (MVT) tools.

Rich explains everything from investigating your analytics, and choosing tools, to putting together a testing plan for a page or journey. As well as being great for understanding the process of optimization there is a lot of detail on what to test. You can tell that Rich has a massive amount of experience. He holds nothing back to help you identify areas and approaches to testing. I found this book particularly good for developing check lists of how and what to test.

Website Optimization: An Hour a Day

2. You Should Test That! – By Chris Goward

Chris Goward founded website optimisation specialists Widerfunnel and he shares their approach. Despite it being a fairly thick book I found I struggled to stop reading it. Chris brings insights from a wide range of sources and has a holistic approach to the process.

This is the most strategic of digital marketing books I’ve come across. It has a brilliant chapter on persuasion and models of human behaviour. The Lift Model that Widerfunnel employ has been widely adopted as best practice for heuristic evaluation of a page.

Chris’ book is also brilliant for dealing with objections to testing and how to engage people in the process of optimisation. There is also a huge number of examples of tests and many vivid images to illustrate the nature of these experiments. I found Chris is particularly good at advising how to develop strong hypothesis before you go ahead with an experiment. A weak hypothesis is often the cause of many unsuccessful tests. Although we learn from our failures you do need a regular stream of successful tests to convince your stakeholders to maintain their support.

You Should Test That: Conversion Optimization for More Leads, Sales and Profit or The Art and Science of Optimized Marketing

3. Landing Page Optimization – By Tim Ash, Rich Page and Maura Ginty

A classic digital marketing book, as landing pages are the bread and butter of our trade. This book is a comprehensive guide on how to optimise the beginning of your funnel. Visitors can land on a multitude of pages, so it is important to seek to optimise them all.

Many people think that landing pages are simple to design and optimize. When you read the book you will get a better appreciation of how complex this process is. Tim and his co-authors take you thorough and systematic process of optimization.

This book is much more than landing page optimisation. Sure, it covers the seven deadly sins of landing page design. But it also outlines Tim’s conversion Ninja toolbox that helps you diagnose problems, identify psychological mismatches and fixing site problems. Other chapters include the strategy of what to test and the mechanics of testing. The book also has many practical examples and ideas for your testing roadmap.

Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions

4. Brainfluence – By Roger Dooley

95% of our thoughts, emotions and learning occur in our subconscious mind. Research suggests that our subconscious mind has often made a decision well before we become consciously aware.

Roger helps us understand how our brain works and how to translate this into improving our marketing and products. He has carefully extracted and summarised the insights from hundreds of interesting pieces of research on how to influence people using key behavioural drivers.

This is one of the easiest digital marketing books to read. It’s a great book for marketers who want a short-cut to understanding what can influence our brain and how this can be translated into marketing strategies.

5. How to Get People to Do Stuff – By Susan

Roger recommended this book to me over Twitter. The book is structured around seven drivers of behaviour:

  1. The need to belong
  2. Habits
  3. The power of stories
  4. Carrots and sticks
  5. Instincts
  6. The desire for mastery
  7. Tricks of the mind

It’s one of those books that you find difficult to put down as it’s packed full of interesting and useful insights. It’s also easy to dip into to find a particular topic. After each insight has been explained there is short summary of the related strategy, which assists you in digesting the important learning from each sub-section. It makes it easy for you to pinpoint relevant content if you want to return at a later date.

How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the Art and Science of Persuasion and Motivation

6. Don’t Make Me Think – By Steve Krug

One of the most well known digital marketing books you will come across. It is a relatively short book to make it easily digestible for people who are involved in building websites and apps. Steve’s mantra is about keeping it simple and focuses on a few key things that everyone should know.

The book begins by setting out a few guiding principles of web usability, “it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory”. This might appear basic advice, but it is amazing how often simple principles are forgotten. The advice given is an excellent understanding of how people browse the web and how they interact with content and navigation elements.

An important aim of the book is to make the reader understand that usability testing does not need to be complicated. Steve is a great believer in doing-it-yourself. One usability test is 100% better than none. He also makes a critical point that “Focus groups are not usability tests”. Focus groups are a potentially misleading method of research. They are inappropriate for evaluating the usability of a web page or user journey.

Don't Make Me Think

7. Designing with the Mind in Mind – By Jeff Johnson

This is an excellent book for you to grasp they key principles of how and why people interact with user interfaces. The book has useful statistics and insights that support the design rules outlined.

The first chapter “We Perceive What We Expect” begins with how perception is biased by experience, current context and goals. Jeff explains how our brain filters our perceptions accordingly and the importance of considering mental processing when designing a user interface.

Other topics covered in the book include how our vision is optimised to see structure, limits on attention shape our thoughts and actions and much more.

8. Drunk Tank Pink – By Adam Alter

If you are interested in understanding the psychology of how human decision making is subconsciously influenced by our names, labels, colours, etc… this is a brilliant book to read. You will be shocked by how our behaviour and perceptions are affected in obscure and surprising ways.

Adam provides some fascinating and useful insights that can be used to challenge design thinking and develop hypothesis for A/B testing new customer experiences. All too often we assume that most people view the world in the same way that we do, but this book explodes that myth. Perhaps not the most obvious of digital marketing books but sometimes I think you need to look outside your topic of interest to find new and useful insights.

9. Influence – By Robert Cialdini

This is another classic text and should be on any list of digital marketing books because it deals with psychological persuasion. The 6 principles of persuasion are now widely adopted by many digital marketers. There is a constant flow of articles based upon these psychological weapons.

  1. Reciprocation,
  2. Commitment and consistency,
  3. Social proof,
  4. Liking,
  5. Authority,
  6. Scarcity

However, the book is still worth reading as Cialdini uses detailed research to explain some ordinary and extraordinary cases of persuasion. Each individual principle is a complex construct that Cialdini carefully unwraps.

You will be shocked by the nature of some of the behaviour Cialdini uncovers. Many famous and infamous events are dissected and explained using Cialdini’s deep understanding of human psychology. The book is useful for generating ideas on how to make content more persuasive, but also how to avoid falling foul of people who are trying to manipulate you for their own personal gain.

10. How to Win Friends and Influence People – By Dale Carnegie

I’ve noticed this book on almost every reading list I have come across on social media. Given this was written over 70 years ago you might wonder why it is on a list of digital marketing books. Well, when I read it I was amazed at how informative and useful it is. These principles are applicable to online as well as offline marketing.

This book is a brilliant and practical guide to human behaviour and how to get the most out of people, whether you are trying to persuade or just motivate them. It is highly applicable to website optimization. Why should you treat people any different when they come to your site than you would if they turned up at the door to your office? I highly recommend this book to to improve all aspects of your life. I’m sure it will also help generate some powerful ideas for improving your website and how you communicate with your customers online.

11. Decoded – By Phil Barden

Phil Barden is a knowledgeable marketer who brings together the latest psychological and neuroscience research and combines it with his marketing expertise. This is a fascinating and highly practical review of what we now know about what drives people to buy products and brands. Although this not an obvious choice for digital marketing books it is an insightful read on the science of buyer behaviour.

Image of implicit goals

Source: Decode Marketing

From a marketing perspective his research into the 6 key implicit (psychological) goals that drive brand purchase is invaluable. The psychological goals outlined in the book offer an essential framework for positioning a brand and evaluating the relevance of proposed marketing communications. It challenges a lot of the myths created by listening to what consumers say are important to them. This gives you a reality check so that you can avoid some of the traps many marketers have fall into.

Decoded12. Herd – By Mark Earls

An excellent book for understanding our ‘herd instincts‘ and how far reaching and ingrained the influence of others is in driving our behaviour. This book explodes many myths about economics, word of mouth marketing, market research and human nature. A must read for all marketers and anyone interested in human behaviour. Mark is an experienced advertising executive and puts his research into context by offering practical advice on how to apply herd theory in a competitive business environment.

Herd - How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Favourite Quotes

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Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman:

Every time I revisit Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow I discover new insights and learn more about human behaviour. I gleaned more from the introduction to this book than the entirety of many other books I’ve read. If you are in business or just interested in human behaviour this book is a must read. It will change your life and how you think about decision making.

Kahneman outlines how two systems are at work in our brains to allow us to function without depleting our limited energy and mental capacity. Understanding the difference between System 1 and System 2 is at the heart of appreciating how humans make decisions. However, the book is much more than system 1 and 2 as it shines a light on the impact of mental short-cuts and cognitive biases. How our brain relies on these short-cuts to cope with the constant flow of decisions in our daily lives.

Thinking, Fast and Slow outlines the nature of system 1 and System 2

The section on over-confidence challenges the trust we place in ‘experts’ to advise us in business and in our personal lives. How our brains naturally focus on what know and ignore what we don’t know. Choices explains why people often miscalculate risk and why we are prone to making bad decisions in certain circumstances.

Here are a few quotes from Daniel Kahneman. It gives you a taster for what is in store for you when you read this brilliant book. You won’t be disappointed:

Cognitive Bias:

We documented systematic errors in the thinking of normal people and we traced these errors to the design of the machinery of cognition rather than the corruption of thought by emotion.”

“We focused on biases, both because we found them interesting in their own right and because they provided evidence for the heuristic judgement.”

Image of cognitive bias codex graphic

Image Source:

Availability Heuristic:

“People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media.”

Over-Confidence:

“However, optimism is highly rated, socially and in the market; people and firms reward the providers of dangerously misleading information more than they reward truth tellers.”

“Judgement heuristics are quite useful but sometimes lead to severe and systematic errors”

Role of Luck:

“Luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome.”

Intuition:

“Accurate intuitions of experts are better explained by the effects of prolonged practice than by heuristics. Skill and heuristics are alternative sources of intuitive judgement and choices.”

“Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvellous than the striking insights of an experienced fire-fighter or physician – only more common.”

“Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.”

Once you read this book, like me, you will want to return to it regularly to learn more about human nature and decision-making. Hope you enjoy reading it.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow