Our job as marketers is to help clients move their customers through a journey which culminates in an action that aligns with business goals – such as submitting a form or making a purchase – but there are numerous psychological factors to consider along the way to ensure they stay engaged throughout.
Marketers talk a lot about having “the right content, in the right place, at the right time.” Providing the right information to potential consumers when and where they are looking for it allows for ‘self-discovery’ which, to the consumer, is more authentic and natural than traditional marketing.
Matthew Sweezey, Principal of Marketing Insights at SalesForce, spoke at the Call to Action Conference about his belief that old marketing ideas will no longer work in our new media era. We have entered a world where more people have access to a cell phone than to fresh water, and we can expect that by 2020 connected devices will outnumber humans 7 to 1.
Because of these vast amounts of stimuli, brands are no longer competing solely against their competitors’ content but also against anything that could divert consumers’ attention away from their messaging: text messages from mom, videos of cats, emails from the boss.
Sweezey explains that in order to absorb all of this information, humans use heuristics—a practical method based on our learnings and experiences that is sufficient for completing immediate goals. For example, when we want to manage our email inbox we don’t open each email, read each word, and determine whether or not to keep it before moving to the next one. Instead we scan the inbox, delete the junk based on the text in the sender or subject line, and work from there.
This heuristic action comes from the experiences that develop our desire for authentic content, which we have taught ourselves is not what comes from marketers. This gives marketers the challenge of finding ways to present content in a manner that promotes self-discovery and seems credible and helpful in context.
On social media, people are looking for something to help them escape their day, and enjoy. Sweezy describes social media as “the modern day smoke break.” If the content is helping people to do that, it will come across as authentic. One example is Volvo Construction Equipment’s use of video content. Just a simple montage of machines demonstrating their abilities provides the escape that their brand followers and advocates are looking for in their day.
Once the consumer’s attention has been obtained, the next stage in the journey is to ensure that they continue to engage with your brand so any reservations they have about converting can be addressed.
This is where cognitive biases come into play. A cognitive bias occurs when there is an error in the normal reasoning process which impacts decision-making. This is often a result of filtering information through an individual’s personal likes, dislikes, and experiences.
Many of these cognitive biases can propel the customer journey forward. For example, ‘recency’ is the habit of giving more weight to the latest information as opposed to what we may know historically. This is why marketers are constantly trying to intersect normal consumer behavior and stay top of mind.
Andre Morys, CEO and Founder of Web Arts AG, spoke about how group pressure can also help marketers leverage the cognitive bias of ‘scarcity.’ Travel booking sites are an example of how businesses utilize scarcity by constantly updating visitors on how many people are looking at the same deals as them and how many of these deals remain available for purchase.
Once marketers have finally succeeded at getting consumers to look at their brand content and information, how do they ensure that they will find it useful?
Morys put it best when he said, “conversion is a result of user motivation.” All systems should be clear and transparent and should motivate the consumer with ease and positive reinforcement.
Also important to consider are the two fundamentally different modes of thinking:
- System 1 - Intuitive thinking: fast, automatic, in the moment thinking. For example, when you see 2 x 2 =, you automatically think 4.
- System 2 - Analytical thinking: Slow, effortful, thinking that often requires planning ahead
The average person spends most of their time in System 1 because there is a tendency to gravitate to the simplest way of doing something. To cater to this, Morys suggests that marketers “create a conversion experience that facilitates cognitive ease.”
Michael Aagaard demonstrates this with a display ad he came across.
The ad pictured above gives the consumer the impression that they will be driven to a page that will allow them to see a live demo.
Instead, they are driven to a page pictured below on the left. That landing page had 107 places that could be clicked. It can be tempting to give visitors options, but too many options can be overwhelming to consumers who come in with specific expectations.
To facilitate an experience of cognitive ease, marketers should create a landing page experience more similar to the example pictured below on the right. With only one option, it is very clear the action we would like the consumer to perform.
Most marketers will agree that it’s far more difficult to obtain new business than it is to maintain your current customer base, which is why it’s critical to maintain consumer loyalty post-conversion and ideally have them serve as a brand advocate.
One way to do this, according to Morys, is to continuously appeal to your consumer’s nucleus accumbens (the reward system of the brain). Using a principle called instant gratification, you can trigger the release of dopamine, giving positive associations with your brand.
Many successful businesses rely on this model; i.e., Facebook’s use of notifications. It’s nearly impossible to resist checking what notifications are behind those little red numbers in the corner.
It’s not just notifications that trigger instant gratification. Rewards, sharing user-generated content, and responding back on social are all ways to keep your customers engaged and happy with your brand.
At the end of the day, conversions boil down to basic human nature. Marketing strategies and tactics are strongest when they reduce friction to allow for cognitive ease. By having an understanding of the role of heuristics in human psychology, marketers are able to have a stronger influence over consumers’ judgement and decision-making.