Sell with Stories

It’s all about stories. Finca is a micro loan company. You give them some money and they loan it to people around the world who are trying to improve their lives. It’s a great organization doing vital work. Their website has good photos, but they could be even more effective if they would focus focus focus… Here’s a snapshot of their home page. There is a block at the top that cycles photos from people and small businesses that they loan to, and this photo block is great. However, they could use it even more… the one liner they have under the photo should start to tell a story about the people in the photo. When you click on the photo it should take you to a page where you get to see (with more photos) and read the story of the people in that photo (it takes you instead to their goal of a 100,000 village banks).

On their home page they also have a picture of some people at an event to open a UK branch… this is not a compelling photo, and it distracts from the photos above which are the real people who are recipients of the micro loan. And lastly, the yellow column on the right is also a distractor… small text, lots of text, small images… it draws attention away from the main STORY which should be the photos of the people.

In Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about how and why stories are so powerful. Finca’s home page would be more compelling if they would focus the home page on telling stories of the people that are helped by donating micro loan money, and if you could click on the photos to get the full story. The home page would be improved if they made it simpler, taking off other information from the home page… let it focus on story.

Do you have a favorite site ? or a site that you think is not persuasive enough? Send me the URL and I’ll review it here at the blog.

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A University Gets Neuro Savvy



With the economy the way it is right now I am guessing that colleges and universities are doing whatever they can to attract and keep students. Perhaps that is why we are seeing what is obviously a lot of effort being put into university websites. Even small, less well known colleges.

I happened upon one of these… this is a midwestern school of about 10,000, and whoever is working on their website is doing a great job at designing for the unconscious. There are lots of bold interesting pictures on the home page at the top… these scroll through as you watch them. They show interesting pictures of real students out in the world. The pictures themselves are stories, and they make you want to read more (as in click the Read More button) to find out the story behind the photo. When you do so you get a story, told as a story. As I write in my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? stories are powerful and get and keep the attention of the unconscious mind, as do pictures of people, which they have a lot of.

With competition for students getting tougher, and with students choosing to stay closer to home and save money, these savvy neuro tactics become important for all colleges and universities. Kudos to UW, Steven Point!

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New Research Shows Herd Behavior When Shopping Online

In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click, I have a chapter on Social Validation: When we are uncertain we look to others to see what our behavior should be.

Now some new research tests this idea online. In a series of research studies by Chen (see end for full reference), visitors to a simulated website were given two holiday traveling books to choose from. Both had similar sounding titles, were hardcover, showed similar number of pages, list price and availability.

In the first study Chen showed different consumer ratings. In some cases people saw that one book had 5 stars and the other had 1, or one had 4 and the other had 2, or both had 3 stars. The books with more stars were chosen signficantly more often. Ok, it’s not a big surprise, but it’s good to have some actual data. But read on, the rest of the studies got curiouser and curiouser…

In the second study Chen compared book sales volumes instead of star ratings. People chose the book that was selling the best.

In the third study Chen tested consumer recommendations vs. expert recommendations. One group got this info: “Name of Book Here” is the leading book in the tourism area as voted for online by readers” vs. “Our advisors, experts in the tourism area, strongly recommend “Name of Book Here”. People chose the book picked by consumers more than the book picked by experts.

And in the fourth study, Chen tested a recommender system, (“Customers who bought this book also bought”) vs. the recommendation of the website owner, (“Our Internet bookstore staff strongly recommends that you buy…”) People followed the recommendation of the website owner 75% of the time, but they followed the recommender system 88.4% of the time.

Consumer recommendations are powerful. Social validation at work. Welcome to the herd!

Reference: Chen, Yi-Fen, Herd behavior in purchasing books online, Computers in Human Behavior, 24, (2008), 1977-1992.

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Don’t Personalize: Cluster Instead!

In a TED video filmed in 2004 and published in 2006, Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and Outliers) talks about human variability. The talk is entitled “What we can learn from spaghetti sauce” because he discusses the evolution of commercial spaghetti sauces from only a few varieties to hundreds (at the time of the filming Prego had something like 36 sauces).

Although he is talking about variability in people’s preferences, one of the things that strikes me in the video is that there are clusters of preferences. If you collect enough data you will find that not everyone thinks/prefers/feels alike. However, you will also find that there isn’t unlimited variability, but that there are clusters. Gladwell’s point is that if you design for one preference (strong coffee for example) you will miss the preferences of many, if not most, people.

Market researchers and product developers, he would argue, ask the wrong questions. In fact he makes the important point that you can’t ask people their preferences at all, since preferences are largely unconscious, and asking them to talk about preferences invokes conscious thought. Most people don’t know what they prefer, or will prefer in the future, but they think they do. So they will give you an answer, but it isn’t accurate (watch out those of you who conduct focus groups!).

You might feel overwhelmed figuring out how to plan for or design a product for human variability, but there is a practical way to deal with this. You don’t have to design for each individual with all their variabilities. What you do instead is enough research to identify variability clusters. If you collect data (not by asking! but by testing and observation) you will find that most people cluster into a finite number of groups. And then you can design for those groups. Instead of designing for a million individual preferences you can design for 5 main clusters.

To apply this to the design of technology: Personalization of web sites and web applications, so that each individual can adjust what they see, might not always be the best way to go. If you’ve done your homework you should be able to place each person in the appropriate cluster and show them what they need. Then perhaps they can tinker a little from there. How less overwhelming that would be for both designer and user than starting from a generic template that fits no one.

To watch the TED video:
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html

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Irrational or Just Human?


A favorite theme these days when writing about the unconscious mind and decision making is about how bad we humans are at making decisions. A perfect example is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s a great book, and I recommend that you read it BUT I take issue with one of the basic underlying and overt assumptions. The book explores human decision making, and describes (in an easy to read and entertaining way) some of the research on how people make decisions. I write in Neuro Web Design about all the myriad ways the unconscious mind guides, decides, affects the decisions we make. No disagreement there. But where we disagree is Ariely’s assumption that if we would all pay attention to how irrationally we are making decisions then we would see the light and start to change. He is saying that we can overcome our innate tendencies to be irrational and instead choose to make rational choices.

He’s missing the point. We aren’t actually irrational. We’re perfectly rational — according to the UNconscious mind. It’s an adaptive response (see Timothy Wilson’s book Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unonscious). And we can’t change. That’s like saying that people should stop seeing color. We can’t! It’s just the way we’re built. Our seemingly irrationality comes from the way the unconscious mind has learned to deal with the huge amounts of data that that logical conscious mind can’t begin to process in a quick manner.

I say we accept and embrace the unconscious mind and celebrate what it does for us rather than judging us as irrational. It’s not irrational. It’s being human.

Creative commons photo: http://www.flickr.com/people/christinasnyder/

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Close Up Photos More Persuasive At A Charity Site


This holiday season someone gave me a gift certificate to donate to the charity of my choice at www.globalgiving.com. You can browse through hundreds of worldwide charities and donate to the organization of your choice. Of course while browsing I noticed that some organizations were more persuasive than others. Some used photos very effectively, like the one above with the close up of a smiling girl. But in other instances the photos were not as powerful. In the second photo here the girls are too far from the camera to see their face. It’s not as powerful or persuasive. To make a plea for donation you need to show human faces that are showing human emotion. What better use of persuasion than at a site like this!

Thumbs Up: Credo mobile email hits 5 Persuasion hot buttons


I get plenty of marketing emails, and this one that came the other day really stood out. Credo Mobile… it’s a cell phone service provider that also promises political change! They use 5 different persuasion techniques, all on one page:
1. The word “Free” is very powerful and they use it several times
2. Scarcity — “Offer Expires…”
3. Association — They are a politically active company, and they talk about Barack Obama on the page… they are associating themselves with Obama… like Obama, then you will like them
4. Consistency — The message is: If you are someone who cares about being progressive, then you want to (be consistent) and use a progressive cell phone service provider.
5. Social Validation – -The bottom ofthe page has a customer testimonial, with a name and photo.

Good job hitting persuasion marks Credo!

Sexy Product Needs a Sexier Web Site

PNC bank has created a unique offering for people in their 20s (Generation Y). It really is different, and it’s getting a lot of press. But they seem to have missed the boat at their website.

This is a great example of the concept of “the home page is dead”. At their home page (first picture) you’d be hard pressed to find the link to virtual wallet, (it’s a small item in one of the lists) and they sure haven’t used Neuro Web Design techniques to persuade people to go there. They’ll tell you that they designed a special web site for the product and that their marketing takes people to that website. You’d think they would give it a little play on the home page, using a picture of a 20 year old who is happy with a link there to the product.

If you do make your way to the special virtual wallet site (second picture) you’ll find a site with moving graphics and a lot of text. It looks like it was created by Gen X people for Gen X people… again, no principles of Neuro Web Design… where are the pictures of 20 year olds? Where are the stories of real people with real photos of them talking about how virtual wallet has changed their life? Where is the social networking? PNC will create a big splash with their marketing, but eventually it will fall short. They need to use make use of unconscious persuasion techniques for Virtual Wallet to stick.

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Thumbs Up: Website Uses Principles of Persuasion



The website www.contantcontact.com gets a thumbs up for using principles of Neuro Web Design effectively.

Look at their home page (www.constantcontact.com). On the home page is a large photo of a woman who looks really happy. In fact, she looks positively joyful.

Chapter 10 of Neuro Web Design describes the research on why pictures are so powerful at persuading at a website. The message on this home page is that this person is doing great things with this Constant Contact’s software.

Next look at the large text that says “Look what you can do today! It’s using the word “you” in large letters in the headline, which follows the principles in Chapter 6 on the Self. Using the word You (especially in large font size and in the headline) captures the attention of the unconscious. It tells the unconscious brain that there is something important on the page. You! You are ultimately all that matters to the unconscious, and using the word “You” in large letters gets that message across. The reaction will be for visitors to the site to (unconsciously) assume that the software is for them, and that the company has their best interest at heart.

There’s a link in the top Navigation bar to Customer Examples. When you go to that page (http://search.constantcontact.com/customer-examples/index.jsp) there are stories of how customers have used the software in their businesses. This page uses principles from Chapter 2 in Neuro Web Design on Social Validation. The message is that other people are using this software, so many of them that they need a whole section of the website to talk about them.

At the Customer Example page, there are again pictures and stories (more Chapter 10). This time the pictures are of the emailing campaigns that customers implemented using the Constant Contact software.

Someone recommended that I check out Constant Contact (Chapter 2, Social Validation!). Once there it took me less than a minute to be persuaded to try their free trial. Their website is a great example of Neuro Web Design at work. A big “thumbs up” for Constant Contact’s site.

NOTE: This blog is December of 2008. I’ve decided I like Constant Contact so much I have become an affiliate of theirs, so here’s a link to their website if you are interested in trying them out:


Emails for Small Business with Constant Contact

5 Ways to Engage the Unconscious Mind at a Website


We like to think that we are rational, logical decision makers, but the reality is that most human decisions are made unconsciously. So if that is true, can a website engage the unconscious mind?

Here are five of the more compelling ways to do that. Write back and tell me if you agree.

1. Use sex, food, or danger. The unconscious mind pays attention to the possibility of sex, to food, and to danger. If you use any of these triggers at a web site then the unconscious pays attention. So show a picture of a good looking man and/or woman with a flirtatious look in their eyes, or a full color picture of luscious food, or a scary picture, and you’ll grab ’em. Well, not all sites lend themselves to using any of those, so let’s move on to #2.

2. Use ratings. Ratings invoke the principle of social validation. If we see that other people have rated the (product, idea, author, blog, etc) highly, then we feel we should check it out too.

3. Tell a story. Some of the latest research on brain scans (fMRI scans) shows that people digest information in a story format. Using stories makes information easier to understand, and engages us automatically on both a conscious and unconscious level.

4. Don’t offer too many choices. Research shows that people pay attention to only about 2 or 3 attributes of a product or an offer at a website. If you offer too many choices the unconscious can’t decide (it’s really the unconscious deciding). Too many choices and people freeze up and don’t take any action at all.

5. Use the word YOU. The unconscious mind is all about YOU. You will pay attention if you see the word you.

Check it out. See if you react a certain way to sites that follow these 5 principles.

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