CXL Institute — Digital Psychology & Persuasion [Week 2]

Emely Valadez
63 min readFeb 28, 2021

This week, I continued learning about the unity principle for optimization.

Convey Exclusivity, is the topic where Cialdini talks about how Unity can be embodied by both a “join the group” and a “be one of the few” way. Conveying exclusivity or some sort of specialty can be effective. An example are the US Marines and what a cohesive identity and pride they have.

Then next is defining the “Out-Group”: Often, companies try to position themselves against whatever the status quo is or seems to be in their industry. For instance, Planet Fitness takes a hard stance against loud, aggressive, bodybuilder types by putting up signs that say “judgment free zone” and installing “lunk alarms” that go off if you drop your weights or make too much noise. Defining the out-group can be incredibly effective, or it can fall flat because you alienate more people than you bring together.

Next is invoking family ties: for many people, family is their strongest tie. In one of his college classes, Cialdini wanted to compare attitudes of students and their parents by having both fill out questionnaires. Student compliance was always very high — one ignores homework assignments at one’s own peril! But, parents typically responded at a far lower rate, often below 20%.
One small tweak to the assignment increased the parent response rate to 97%. Cialdini said he would give the students an extra point on one test if their parents completed the survey. By invoking the concept of helping a family member, Cialdini increased the response rate fivefold, from poor to nearly perfect.

Next is co-creation or sharing an experience: finally, in a section all to its own in the book, Cialdini explains that Unity can be conveyed by shared experience or co-creation. There’s a neat creative way you can execute on this principle. It starts with a simple question, “can I get your advice?” In the book, Cialdini gave the example of a restaurant known as Splash! Consumers were shown a description of the concept and then asked for one of the following: “advice,” “opinions,” or “expectations.” They were then asked how likely they were to visit the restaurant. Those that were asked for “advice” were much likelier to answer that they’d go to the restaurant.

The Unity Principle is all about appealing to a “We” — a cohesive identity that is shared by a group. You can do this in many ways — family, location, religion, or co-creation. Of course, as is true with most social psychology, results may vary. Appealing to these ties will generally put your probability of persuading or converting your audience a bit higher, but your site also has to be usable, functional, intuitive, etc. But if you use it judiciously and authentically, and especially in conjunction with other methods of persuasion, it can be very powerful.

Fogg Behavior Model
Next I learned about the Fogg Behavior Model, which is a very useful framework to keep in mind. It says that desired paid behavior happens when three things converge. There’s high motivation, “I want to do it.” There is peak ability, it’s easy to take action, it’s easy to do it. And there’s a trigger, something that compels us to take action, like an email in your inbox that says, click here, or a call to action on a website. Playing with these three things, high motivation, ability and triggers is how you, it basically informs you when to ask people to take action.

As an example, to fill out a long form, you can increase user motivation. That is your biggest, most powerful lever there.You need to make sure that the motivation of people you want to fill out your survey is hiked. Increasing motivation is so much more powerful than reducing friction. Reducing friction also is very important. So let’s say in eCommerce,when you need to fill out all this shippingand billing fields and so on,like think of Amazon,like your address and everything is already stored there.It’s so easy to shop on Amazon becauseit’s easy to do it.Or websites where they,auto-detect where you are.So all your location fields already prefilled out.Oh, so much easier to fill out.So people are more likely to go through with action.So think carefully where you place your trigger.So called tractions, your links and buttons.Make sure that before you do that,taking action is as easy as possibleand their motivation is as high as possible.

Design impacts behavior. If you know how to impact behavior, you can design for behavior.

Dr. BJ Fogg from the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University has done some amazing research on credibility and behavioral design.

His model for driving behavioral changes — called The Fogg Behavior Model — explains that three elements must come together at the same time for a behavior to occur: motivation, ability, and trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.

Bottom line is this: Behavior = motivation x ability x trigger. Before I’ll go into how to apply it for boosting conversions, you need to understand the model itself. (All credit goes to BJ Fogg.)

Here’s the model:

Used with permissions by Persuasive Tech Lab

You want to aim top right (high motivation, easy to do, a trigger in place). If you have high motivation and low ability (difficult to do), what you’ll get is frustration. If it’s low motivation, but easy to do (e.g. take out the trash), you get annoyance.

Everything starts with defining the specific desired behavior — in our case, it’s what we want the user to do, our conversion goal. It might be getting people to buy our product, sign up for our software and so on. Using this model as a guide, we can identify what stops people from taking the desired actions. For example, if users are not requesting quotes on your website, the model helps us evaluate what psychological element is lacking.

Let’s look at the elements individually.

Ideally, the user is already motivated to do the behavior (which is why he came to your site to begin with), and your role now is about helping people do what they already want to do (see Ability). The more motivated people are to do a behavior, the more likely they will do it (duh).

You can increase motivation with an effective sales copy and what not, but if you’re trying to artificially *create* motivation to make a behavior happen, you’re swimming upstream (and the current is strong).

Motivation is a term that’s used widely across various fields. BJ Fogg created a framework for motivation that has three core motivators, each with two sides.

Motivator #1: Pleasure / Pain

There are two sides to the first motivator: pleasure and pain. How this motivator is different from others is that the result of this motivator is immediate. There’s almost no thinking or anticipating. People are responding to what’s happening in the moment. Pleasure and pain are primitive responses related to self-preservation: hunger, sex, and other stuff related to keeping the humankind going.

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Pleasure and pain are powerful motivators. It’s the first thing you should consider when trying to boost levels of motivation. This motivator type may not be the ideal approach, especially pain, but a thorough review of motivation means at least acknowledging these options.

Motivator #2: Hope / Fear

The second core motivator in the model is a dimension that has the following two sides: hope and fear. This dimension is characterized by anticipation of an outcome. Hope is the anticipation of something good happening. Fear is the anticipation of something bad, often the anticipation of loss.

This dimension can be at times more powerful than pleasure/pain. For example, in some situations, people will accept pain (buying home insurance) in order to overcome fear (anticipation of your house burning down). However bear in mind that there’s no ranking of core motivators, so you should always give it some thought as to which one is the most appropriate to use.

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Hope and fear have long been powerful motivators in persuasive technology. For example, people are motivated by hope when joining a dating website. They are motivated by fear when they update settings in virus software.

BJ Fogg himself considers hope as the most ethical and empowering motivator.

Motivator #3: Social Acceptance / Rejection

The third core motivator has these two sides: social acceptance and social rejection. It impacts everything from the clothes we wear to the language we use.

As you probably know well from your own life experiences, people are motivated to do things that win them social acceptance and status. People are especially motivated to avoid any negative consequences like being socially rejected.

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The roots of this are again deep in the history of the human race — we depended on living in groups to survive. Regardless of the origin of the social motivator, the power over us is undeniable. We don’t need to look far to see evidence for this — even a simple thing like posting pictures to Facebook is driven significantly by the desire to be socially accepted.

Ability is all about whether the task at hand is easy to do. If you want them to sign up for your product, but it takes filling 10 fields to do so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Remember the $300 million dollar button story? A classic example of how taking action was made too difficult by forcing buyers to create an account first.

Ability is more important than motivation. If I’m committed to eating healthy — my motivation is super high — but there’s no healthy food around when I’m hungry, it’s very difficult to take desired action and I’ll probably grab something unhealthy instead. Motivation alone is not enough.

It’s easier to increase conversions by making it easier to do, not by increasing motivation. If you have to choose what to optimize for, always choose ability over motivation. Become a master of simplification, not motivation. Have it as your goal to always make taking action as easy as 1–2–3.

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The more “work” prospects need to do to understand and/or buy what you offer, the higher motivation is needed. Some think they need to teach or train people to use their software to address the ability issue — which is a good idea on paper — however most people don’t want to be taught and trained. They want single click and done behaviors. Also — don’t ask people to do something that’s against their routine. If they put their kids to sleep at 8pm, don’t have your webinar at 8pm.

Without an appropriate trigger, the behavior will not occur even if both motivation and ability are high.

Let’s say you read a blog post on this blog. You find it useful (motivation), and decide to share it with your followers on Twitter (ability — easy to do). Once you hit the ‘tweet’ button, you see this:That’s a trigger — urging you to follow me on Twitter. You weren’t thinking about following me, but now it’s right there. You probably have the motivation since you just shared my content, and you definitely have the ability — it just takes one click.

A Trigger is what prompts you to take action: green light at the intersection, a lady in the supermarket asking you “would you like a sample?” or an email from your spouse saying, “Call me right now”.

A call to action on a website is a trigger. Be careful what’s in the content of the trigger. You need to trigger the right sequence of baby steps. If you’re selling $50,000 cars, the first trigger should not be “buy now”.

BJ Fogg likens this to the metaphor of swimming. You wouldn’t expect a person to just jump in the water and start swimming. Instead, you need step-by-step instructions and build up. BJ believes this is how we should approach healthy behavior: By providing individuals small steps towards large success.

An example of a successful trigger would be getting an email from Facebook saying your friend tagged you on a photo. Who hasn’t responded to being tagged on a Facebook image?

Obsess about triggers like your business depended on it (since it does)

If you want your business to thrive and keep the sales coming in, you need to obsess about triggers! Don’t be afraid to use them — a trigger is not a nag, you’re helping them. You just need to make sure that you focus on triggering people that have the ability or motivation:

If you trigger people at the right time, they will thank you.
If you trigger when they lack ability, they’ll get frustrated.
If you trigger people when they don’t have motivation (e.g. asking people to shop for a Christmas present in September), you’re annoying people.
2 kinds of triggers: hot and cold

Hot triggers are things you can do right now (e.g. buttons saying “Get immediate access” or “Download now”). Cold triggers are things which one cannot act on right now (e.g. billboard ads for a website you spot while driving).

BJ Fogg’s mantra for effective website design is: put “hot triggers” in the path of motivated people.

Don’t try to artificially create motivation, but instead tap an existing motivation people already have. It’s very difficult to motivate people to do something they don’t want to already do. Understand what motivation already exists then make it easy to get it done.

The importance of drip email campaigns
Are you requiring your users and prospects to remember stuff? If so, you’re doing it wrong. Build your trigger mechanisms as if people would never do anything without you asking them to do so. If your business sucks at trigger design, you’re going to fail.

Almost no behavior happens without a trigger. This is why it’s important to send out promotional emails during Christmas and other holidays. They’re not going to just think “I think I’m gonna go to and buy stuff!” Unless you’re Amazon and have occupied a large portion of their brain space, it’s not going to happen. You need to trigger their behavior with an email or other media.

Understanding behavior types
First step is understanding the target behavior. It has to be as specific as possible if you want to boost conversions. Second step: understand target behavior type. BJ Fogg describes 15 ways behavior can change. Each of the 15 behaviors types uses different psychology strategies and persuasive techniques. Types of behaviors:

Dot — It happens just once (e.g. they buy your e-book)
Span — It happens over a period of time, like for 7 days (e.g. they take part of your 7-day course)
Path — It happens over and over, from now on. (e.g. they join your social networking site and start hanging out there)
There are 5 sub-types for each three:

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Most online conversions (join email list, sign up, buy product) are either green dot (taking a single action for the first time) or blue dot behaviors (taking a familiar single action).

Optimizing for green dot behavior — first-time single action

Green dot behaviors are often used in the beginning stages of complex behavior inductions. For example, if a company is interested in creating a loyal, repeat customer, they might start off with a small introductory offer. This can then lead to more extensive, prolonged relations and, eventually, habitual purchasing behavior.

The main challenge that we face while triggering a Green Dot behavior is a lack of ability. Since Dot behaviors occur only once, the subject must have enough knowledge to successfully complete the action on the first attempt. Otherwise, frustration, and quitting, may occur.

Couple the trigger with a motivational or facilitative element.
Increase the ability of the subject by explaining the novel behavior in terms of one that is familiar.
Increase the motivation of the subject by explicitly highlighting the benefits of the action.
Optimizing for blue dot behavior — familiar single action

Blue Dot Behaviors are among the easiest to achieve. That’s because the person, by definition, is already familiar with the behavior. They know how to perform it (such as exercise, plant a tree, buy a book). In addition, they already have a sense of the costs and benefits for the behavior.

Three core motivators: sensation (pleasure/pain), anticipation (hope/fear), and belonging (acceptance/rejection)
Best trigger: tell the visitor person to “do this behavior now.”
Desired behavior happens when motivation, ability, and trigger converge
In order to boost conversions, you need to

help people do what they already want to do,
tap into the right motivators,
understand the types of motivation,
make taking action as easy as possible,
focus on simplification,
put hot triggers on the path of motivated people,
and generally obsess about triggers like your business depended on it.
How I like to think about Fogg Behavior Model (FBM)
Motivation: I use FBM to decide how much information people need before asking them to take action. I assess the motivation that I’ve built with the copy that came before I ask them to buy/sign up/click, and the button copy itself — is this motivating or not?

Ability: Is the form easy to fill out? Is it easy to buy? How can I make it easier?

Trigger: I like to think of headlines and calls to action as triggers. Are they compelling? Are they visible, high in the visual hierarchy?

Supplemental reading: Fogg Behavior Model website

Lessons from Neuromarketing
If we narrow down the main 3 things our brain is concerned with, it’s the three Fs:

Fight or Flight
The thing is that our brain is dominated by a primitive part. Once you get to know it, you will also sell more.

We have 3 brains
As it turns out, we have 3 brains. Well, not really, but the brain does have 3 layers. Each layer has its own functions: the “New Brain” thinks, the “Middle Brain” feels and the “Old Brain” decides — it reviews input from the other two brains and controls the decision-making process.

Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the Old Brain is responsible for releasing all of our decisions. That part of the brain is the most ancient and primitive part of the brain. It’s called the Old Brain or Reptilian Brain (because we share it with reptiles and all other vertebrates). It’s mostly concerned with survival.

We’re usually trying to talk to the ‘New Brain’ — the sophisticated one — but it’s the brute that makes all the decisions, so we need to dumb it down.

Neuroscience indicates that the Old Brain can be triggered only by 6 stimuli:

1. Self-centered.
According to Robert Ornstein, a famous neuroscientist, the Old Brain is the organ of survival and it is only concerned about its own survival. The Old Brain is highly selfish.

You need to deliver your message in a way that is acceptable to a highly selfish organ. It’s about your customers. They want to make sure you’re on their side and care about their problems. What’s in it for me? Every visitor on your site cares the most about themselves (and their family). They don’t really care much about you. Hence, avoid language that’s about you and make it solely about them and how they can benefit.

2. Contrast
The Old Brain is triggered when something changes. Without contrast, it can’t make a decision. Put a frog in boiling water, and it jumps out (high contrast between the room temperature and the hot water). Put the same frog in lukewarm water and slowly heat up the water: do you know what happens? The frog dies because of the absence of contrast — the water gets gradually warmer.

This is the very reason why before/after works so well. We’re hardwired to spot the differences! The old brain seeks clear contrast in order to make instant decisions and avoid confusion that results in delayed decisions.

You can use it to get people to pay attention to your product by demonstrating its benefits in a before-and-after format:

You’ve seen this before. It works. It doesn’t have to be about fitness, it can be any kind of transformation: wealth, conversion rates, traffic, beauty, size of this or that, cleanliness, remodeling, whatever.

From the book Neuromarketing: ”…the old brain is wired to pay attention to disruptions or changes” such as before/after, risky/safe, with/without, and fast/slow. Therefore, to get the old brain’s attention, create contrast and avoid things like neutral statements that dull contrast.“

Try to come up with a way you could use contrast to prove your product promise. If you do, attention follows.

3. Tangible.
The old brain prefers and scans for tangible input to avoid the extra time and energy involved in thinking. For example, easily grasped words like “more money” are preferred to “maximizing ROI.”

At CXL we could have said that “we leverage opportunities to increase shareholder value” or “we perform state-of-the art marketing optimization to improve your bottom line”. In the end, what we do is about making more money. So we chose a simple message instead that has served us well. There’s not much confusion about what we do, I’ll tell you that.

4. First and Last.
The old Brain is only triggered by a change of state: when something changes, this can mean a potential danger and the Old Brain will automatically be more alert at the beginning and at the end of an interaction. This has huge implications for web design (content presentation) and videos. How your pages, web copy, and videos start and end are hugely important — as that’s the main thing people will remember. For the overall content — if nothing much changes, the brain will stop paying attention to it.

The key here is novelty. Neuroscientists say novelty promotes information transmission.

Our mind seems to gravitate toward novelty. Not only does a novel experience seem to capture our attention, it appears to be an essential need of the mind. Novel means unknown, and what is unknown demands attention of our brain. Once the new thing is known and understood, then we look to find another unknown to master. In order to keep your website visitor’s attention sustained, you need to present novelty every second.

Compare these 2 pages.

Page 1:

Page 2:

Which one was more interesting to look at? Which page captured more of your attention?

(The first image was my creation for this post, second one actual screenshot of Giftrocket).

No doubt about it, right? The latter version had much more novelty, and hence kept our attention much better.

Text-heavy pages

If you have text-heavy content you want users to read — like long form sales copy — you have to use novelty to keep their attention and get as many people as possible to read it.

Here’s an excerpt from a web page using text-heavy, long form sales copy:

Once a visitor arrives on the page and starts reading, the novelty factor disappears within seconds. It’s all the same, in uniform style- Boooring!

What can we do to improve the novelty factor here? How could we spice it up to improve the attention it will gain?

Check out a simple makeover:

Small changes in background color, text positioning and added images make the whole thing more interesting to go through, resulting in an increase in sustained attention.

Different trumps the same

Our brain pays close attention to patterns and quickly learns to ignore anything that is routine, repetitive, predictable, or just plain boring.

Finding changes in the patterns used to be about life and death (noticing enemies or animals in the distance, changes on the horizon). Now the same trait ensures people will ignore sameness and pay attention to different.

5. Visual.
The optical nerve is 25 times faster that the auditory nerve and it is connected directly in the Old Brain.

In fact, if you see a snake, the Old Brain will take only 2 milliseconds before it orders you to back away. Yet it will take your visual cortex (the part of the brain that processes visual data) 500 milliseconds to recognize it is actually a snake: so you had moved away almost instinctively without yet even knowing what you had seen.

Always use images next to text to communicate your key messages. If you have digital products like software or ebooks — show screenshots.

How many words would you have to use to communicate how to use Square? The photo below does it in an instant.

6. Emotion
The Old Brain can only be triggered by emotion. A spreadsheet, even with a fantastic value proposition, will not stimulate the Old Brain. The Old Brain is receiving information from the rest of the brain through a filtering system known as the reticular system. You need emotional stimuli to reach the Old Brain.

Want to get me to care about saving the wildlife? Show me a cute tiger puppy that I can feel for:

Learn more about selling with emotions.

The formula you need
Here’s the formula you need to keep in mind:

Selling probability = Pain x Claim x Gain x (Old Brain)3

#1 Address the pain
First you need to identify the prospect’s pain (the greater the pain, the higher the chance of a sale) and make sure they acknowledge the pain before you start to sell them anything.

Addressing the pain starts with diagnosis. You need to figure out their main pain points. It’s difficult to agree on the best way forward if we haven’t agreed on the problem first.

It’s important to know the language your customers use when describing the pain. Conduct user surveys and pay attention to the exact wording they use. Remember, you need to join the conversation in your customers’ mind.

#2 Differentiate your claims
Our brain is wired to detect contrast, difference. You’ve got to differentiate your claims from your competitors. The strongest claim is the one that eliminates the strongest pain.

When I do qualitative surveys, one question I typically ask is this: “How many different websites did you check out before choosing us?”

Without fail, the majority of the respondents say multiple websites, 4–5 on average. Sometimes 10 or more. Unless your product is totally unique and you’re the only one doing what you’re doing (in which case that’s what you should say), you need to be aware of how you are different as people try to understand why to choose you over others. Help them by providing a strong, unique value proposition.

#3 Show proof of claims
Next you have to show convincing proof of these claims. The ‘Old Brain’ is resistant to new ideas and concepts, so your proof must be very convincing. Show tangible evidence, data, testimonials, case studies.

Your restaurant makes the best omelet in town? Says who?

When you praise yourself, it’s not very believable. When a neutral third-party says something good about you, you can use that as a reference and instantly make your claim much more believable.

This is why you need to use

customer testimonials (full name + photo or video),
neutral expert opinions,
third-party reviews,
verified (scientific) studies
to back up any claim you make.

Papalote uses instagram testimonials to praise their food. This makes it much more believable:

Deliver to the Old Brain
If you want your message to reach the ‘Old brain’, you need to deliver the message in the right form. “How you say” your message is as important as what you say. You need to word your message in a language that can easily be understood by the Old Brain, an organ that was created 500 Million years ago!

Start with a grabber

You need to start with a ‘grabber’ — something that really gets the attention (‘if you’re selling fire extinguishers, start with fire’, like Ogilvy said).

For survival reasons, the old brain is most alert at the beginning and end of interactions. A powerful grabber that presents your gain upfront will help make a strong first impression. Examples are mini-dramas, wordplays, rhetorical questions, case studies.

How’s this for a grabber:

Examples of complete turn-offs would be “Welcome!”, “We maximize your profits”, “Styles you can love”. What you don’t want to be is like Toyota Camry: trying hard not to offend anyone and to be generally accepted by everyone.

The grabber can also be an image. Here’s one that you wouldn’t expect — and serves as a great grabber:

Use large photos

Brain research shows visuals reach the old brain first. Use larger than life photography. Try to come up with a way to visualize the pain before and the solution after using your services.

What do these guys sell? I bet you can figure it out without understanding German:

Getting hungry yet?

Be laser-focused on the target customer’s benefits

Remember — the ‘Old brain’ is concerned with survival. So it only cares about itself and not anyone else. Your message needs to be entirely about the prospect.

Actions that hinder the decision-making process:
Focusing on yourself, company or product to the exclusion of your target and his or her needs. Old brain is selfish, remember?
Not providing clearly contrasting reasons that support your selling proposition. Contrast is important.
Being too conceptual and requiring thought. Your messages need to be simple, tangible.
Communicating unnecessary content and not emphasizing selling points in the beginning and the end. Address the pain, differentiate your claims.
Relying too heavily on words, both spoken and written. Use visuals.
Lacking emotion.
A Big List of Persuasion Techniques
Cialdini’s principles of persuasion are not the only ones — far from it. There are tons of triggers and buttons in our brains that you can push to receive the same, powerful outcome: persuasion.

What follows is a huge list of persuasion techniques.

Focusing effect
“We can only pay attention to a few things”
Most commercial choices have way too many aspects for a normal human being to take them all into account. Therefore, we have a tendency to only focus on a few of them, excluding those that are less conspicuous. Those that have noticeable differences, for example. This way we place too much importance on one aspect, causing an error in accurately predicting how happy we will be with each option.

This unequal focus on aspects is called the focusing effect (the focusing effect is closely related to the attentional bias).

Example from a Nobel Prize winning psychologist
For example, Schkade and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman (1998) asked people how much happier they believe Californians are compared to Midwesterners. In general, we think that Californians must be considerably happier. In reality, there’s no difference…

What happens is that we focus on and overweigh typical differences like sunny weather and the easy-going stereotype of a Californian. Whereas in reality, there is a huge number of aspects that are often even more important influencers of happiness (crime rates, for one).

Online persuasion tips:
Put the focus on only a few (a max of three) USP’s.
Emphasize your most unique USP so intensely that your customers lose focus on less favorable aspects.
Don’t just focus on your best aspects, but also on those that differ significantly from your competitors.
Also, emphasize the huge change that happens the moment people buy your product or use your service.
An A/B test example:

Online Dialogue tested the effect of putting more focus on the interest rate for the online bank ‘MoneYou’ (operates in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany). Moving the interest rate from the title into the visual in a focus-attracting manner improved their conversion rate 17%.

Further reading on the focusing effect:

Schkade, D. A., & Kahneman, D. (1998). Does living in California make people happy? A focusing illusion in judgments of life satisfaction. Psychological Science, 9, 340–346.
Focusing effect on Wikipedia
Context Dependent Memory
“We tend to forget things when we’re out of context.”
Do you recognize the following situation? You enter your basement/garage, but instantly forget why you went there. You walk back, and as soon as you enter the kitchen you go “Oh, I remember, I went to get the juicer!” That’s cue-dependent forgetting and remembering; it is our tendency to forget things which are out of context and to recall information more easily when the original contextual cues are present (the cues that were also present when we learned it).

Take for example retargeting: Someone visited your website and looked at a product. Now you recognize this person elsewhere on the web and promote the same product again in a banner. Since the person is on a totally different website, a lot of the cues are gone. Cue-dependent forgetting tells us that it helps to include original elements of your site in the banner (colors, logos, icons, etc). You might even show the banner that’s already on your site so that people will recognize the banner easily somewhere else.

Using the same contextual cues (coloring, content, pictures, etc.) across media will facilitate the recall of your brand and products more easily and thus increase the likelihood that people will at least browse your product item catalog.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re required to remember a list of 10 words while sitting next to a swimming pool. Meanwhile, I try to remember the same list of words, but being a scuba diver I try doing this on the bottom of the pool.

Subsequently, we’re asked to recall the list of 10 words. Now, who’s best at remembering the list? As early as 1975, Godden & Baddeley discovered that this depends on where we’re asked to remember the list. Assuming all other factors are equal, I’ll remember more when the recall session occurs under water, and you’ll remember better when asked ‘on land’. Changing the cues and context between encoding and retrieval reduces our ability to recall.

Moreover, all sorts of contextual cues influence our memory, such as body position or emotional states. The latter we call “State-dependent memory”. It tells us for example that, if I was drunk while learning something, I’d actually better be off being equally inebriated when trying to recall what I learned.

Online persuasion tips:
In general: Try to create a consistent context in your online presence across platforms and sites using the same contextual cues (from SEO, SEA, display, sites, to apps and social media, etc.).
When you want a visitor to remember you or your offer at some point, prime them with contextual cues that will be present in the situation where you want them to remember you.
When you have a recurring visitor, use cues from their previous visit to help them remember that visit.
And apart from contextual cues, do the same for other types of cues like bodily positions, emotional states etc.

Further reading on context-dependent memory:

Context Dependent Memory on Wikipedia.
State Dependent Learning on Wikipedia.
Body position affects memory for events.
Context-dependent Cues — VCE U3 Psychology
Godden, D; Baddeley, A. (1975). “Context dependent memory in two natural environments”. British Journal of Psychology 66 (3): 325–331
Daniel Casasanto and Katinka Dijkstra (2010). “Motor Action and Emotional Memory”
Self-generation affect effect
“If we figured it out ourselves, we like it better”
The self-generation affect effect (or the ‘not invented here — bias’ as people like Dan Ariely phrase it) is the cognitive version of the physical labor-love effect (also termed the IKEA effect). Not only does physical effort increase liking, but it also works just as well for cognitive effort… We tend to like ideas and information better when they’ve been generated by our own mind (instead of ideas that we read or hear from someone else). Even if people invest just a small amount of cognitive energy in an idea or solution, they like it much more. Not only do we like our own ideas better, but we remember them better too, see: self-generation memory effect).

Because of the self-generation affect effect, we become overly committed to our own ideas. So if you want your customer to remember and like your product, an effective strategy might be to have him generate the information himself (or parts of it).

Lego very successfully employs this tactic with their LEGO ideas product line.

Scientific research example:
Imagine that you’re thinking about solutions to the problem of water waste, specifically how communities can reduce the amount of water they use. Suddenly, Dan Ariely materializes out of thin air. He’s here to help you. He hands you a paper with 50 words, and you’re instructed to combine these words to come up with a solution. You try it, and it works! You come up with the following idea: ‘Water lawns using recycled water recovered from household drains’.

In reality, this is the one and only solution you can create from the 50 words (in that sense it’s not your idea, it’s Dan’s idea that you pieced together). Will this cognitive effort boost your liking for this solution? Ariely found that it will indeed(2010, p. 116)! You’ll like this idea more than other ideas simply because your brain generated it and put effort in it (Dan even found that just giving you the 10 words to form the sentence already boosts your liking for the idea).

Online persuasion tips:
Make people think about your product or service (“play hard to get”):

Ask questions in your content.
Ask for answers in a proactive way (i.e. by means of a feedback tool).
Why they’re considering your offer?
Why did they buy the product when they did?
Try not to just provide your USP’s, but ask your customer to think of one or two himself.
Allow people to tailor your product. Not just to satisfy individual preferences, but also to invest cognitive effort and thereby liking (you might even allow your customers to create and design their own products).
Further reading on the self-generation affect effect:

Ariely, Dan (2010) The Upside of Irrationality. New York: Harper Collins (p. 116–117).
The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love. Michael I., Norton Daniel Mochon, Dan Ariely.
IKEA Effect on Wikipedia.
Affect Heuristic
“We decide differently depending on our emotional state”
The way we feel influences our decisions and their outcomes made in that moment. When we’re happy, for example, we’re more likely to try new things. But if we’re worried, we make more conservative choices. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that our emotional response to a website, app, or Facebook page alters our judgment.

Because of this dependence on our emotional state, we make different decisions based on the same set of facts. Overall, this affect heuristic is involved in nearly every decision we make.

The affect heuristic is typically used while judging the risks and benefits of a choice depending on the positive or negative feelings that people associate with the outcomes. It’s the equivalent of “going with your gut instinct”.

According to the Affect Infusion Model (AIM, by Joseph Forgas), the effects of our mood on our judgments become stronger in complex situations (that demand substantial cognitive processing). So, the more complicated and unanticipated a decision is, the more we rely on the affect heuristic.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re not a regular gambler and you participate in a gambling study. First, you’re asked to watch a video clip. Next, you’re given $10 to gamble in a computerized card-cutting game.

=> How many trials will you play on the gambling game?

Hill et. al. (2001) found that the answer to this question depends on your mood. The videos they showed either induced a happy, neutral, or depressed mood. If you watched the happy video, you’re more persistent (and play more trials) than you would’ve if you had watched the depressing video. This is because gambling, when seen as a new and unfamiliar experience complete with the bright lights and colors that are a characteristic feature of casinos, requires a great deal of information processing, making it especially unattractive to someone in a bad mood.

Online persuasion tips:
Test inducing a tiny bit of sadness or melancholy if you want users to make a conservative choice (like renewing a subscription).
Make sure that when you induce a negative mood, you clearly provide the comforting and reassuring aspects of your offer.
Further reading on the reflection effect:

Affect heuristic on Wikipedia.
Affect infusion model on Wikipedia.
The A€ect Heuristic in Judgments of Risks and Benefits.
The Role of the Affect and Availability Heuristics in Risk Communication.
Facial distraction
“We can’t resist looking at faces”
When we (subconsciously) notice faces in our surroundings, we tend to first scan those faces (as shown in the picture), before looking at anything else.

Moreover, we cognitively process those faces thoroughly. Facial recognition is distinct from object recognition in terms of visual processing. There are distinctly separate parts of our brain involved (the so-called Fusiform Face Areas), and — more importantly — our brain puts a lot of complex processing into analyzing faces. Note: Some visual processing of complex non-face shapes happen in this area as well.

Note: Some visual processing of complex non-face shapes happen in this area as well.

Faces take up a huge amount of cognitive capacity in your brain (mostly subconsciously). Offline, this can be quite persuasive. When someone looks at you, you look back and instantly perceive all their facial expressions. More importantly, you pay more attention to their verbal message as well. Online the same thing happens, but it works counter effectively. Your message is — most of the time — written in text, other images, bulleted lists etc. A face on the page can actually detract attention from your message, ultimately decreasing your persuasiveness.

Scientific research example:
From birth, we’re innately wired to search for faces. According to Mondloch et. al. (1999) newborns show a preference for following moving faces within the first 30 minutes of life. This is likely subcortical, with increasing cortical influence as weeks go by. When we’re four months old, we’re already processing faces as distinct objects.

There’s also neurological evidence supporting the importance of faces. People with a neurological disorder called ‘prosopagnosia’ are unable to recognize faces. However, they do recognize all other objects. The existence of this disorder proves the human brain has evolved a dedicated system for facial recognition separate from object recognition.

Finally, research shows that the more familiar/recognizable a face is, the more it attracts attention.

Online persuasion tips:
Although faces attract attention, they can distract attention from your content. So:

Use faces to attract attention outside your own platforms (i.e. in banners, especially recognizable faces!)
If you currently show a face on your platform (where you have already have the user’s attention), test an iteration without one
If you do use a face… use Gaze Cueing to redirect attention to your most persuasive content!
Further reading on the reflection effect:

Mondloch, Vol. 10, no. 5 (September 1999); “Face perception during early infancy”
Visual perception on Wikipedia.
Physical attractiveness on Wikipedia.
Chris Kelland Friesen, Alan Kingstone, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (September 1998), Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 490–495; “The eyes have it! Reflexive orienting is triggered by nonpredictive gaze”.
Frischen, Bayliss & Tipper — Psychological bulletin, (2007); “Gaze cueing of attention: visual attention, social cognition, and individual differences“.
Attentional Bias
“We pay attention to things that touch us (emotionally)”
The Attentional Bias is our tendency to pay more attention to emotionally dominant stimuli and to neglect other seemingly irrelevant data when making decisions. So the more something touches us, the more attention we pay to it.

Classic examples of dominant emotions are i.e. pain, fear, and sex. Research studying the Attentional Bias effect often involves ‘Dot Probe’ studies. In these studies, a test subject has to look at the center of a screen, where two pictures with different emotions are shortly shown.

When the pictures are gone, a dot (dot probe) appears where one of the pictures was placed, and your reaction time (the amount of time it takes to look at the dot) is measured. Emotionally dominant pictures cue one’s attention: Reaction time is quickest when the dot probe is congruent with the more emotionally dominant picture (except when you have emotional deficits).

Scientific research example:
Imagine you have an intense fear of spiders. Now I ask you to do ‘The Stroop Test’: in this test, I confront you with rows of words that are printed in different colors (e.g., red, green, yellow, and blue). All you have to do is name the color (not pronounce the word).

A consistent finding in Stroop studies with anxious patients is that their color naming of threatening words (spider, arachnid, spinner, tarantula, etc.) is slower than that of neutral words, and slower than with non-anxious patients. This is because it’s hard to ignore emotionally dominant stimuli.

Online persuasion tips:
If your brand or product is related in a positive way to an intense emotion, promote this visually and contextually.
Display your USP’s and CTA close to the most emotionally dominant parts of your page (e.g. an expressive image).
Place counter-persuasive elements (like ‘terms & conditions’ or ‘privacy’) away from the emotionally dominant parts of your page.
Further reading on the reflection effect:

Attentional Bias on Wikipedia
Watts, E N., McKenna, E T., Sharrock, R., & Trezise, L. (1986): Colour-naming of phobia-related words. British Journal of Psychology, 77, 97–108
Fear Appeals
“We will fight threats, but only if we’re told how to defeat them”
A fear appeal is a persuasive message that scares someone with the intent to motivate him to act against the threat. But since we don’t like threats, we tend to deny them or use other defense mechanisms in order to lower our fear. Therefore, fear appeal -or ‘fear evoked persuasion’- is a technique that should be used rather delicately.

Multiple variables have been found to influence the effectiveness of fear appeals, such as perceived severity, individual characteristics, and more importantly, susceptibility. Also, the intensity of the fear: Weak fear appeals may not attract enough attention, yet strong fear appeals may cause an individual to avoid or ignore a message by employing defense mechanisms.

But even with the right amount of induced fear, fear appeals alone are not persuasive enough to motivate behavior. The most important ingredient in an effective fear appeal cocktail is ‘perceived efficacy’. Perceived efficacy is a combination of both self-efficacy (“can I avert the threat myself?”) and response-efficacy (“will the action recommended indeed avert the threat?”).

A clarifying example:
Imagine you’re a smoker and you see an anti-smoking campaign displaying a cruel image and words like “a slow and painful death”.

What would you do? Would you think, “Oh but I don’t want to die, and definitely not slowly and painfully. I quit!” Well, it turns out that smokers simply deny the message. And even if they don’t, they’ll come up with all sorts of counter-arguments, such as “I smoke only 1 cigarette a day”, “but I eat super healthy”, “my family has no history of heart disease”, or “hey, my grandma lived to be 90 and she smoked her whole life!″ You’ve heard them all before.

The campaign shown would probably be more effective if an efficacy-boosting call-to-action had been added, such as:

“Smoking can cause a slow and painful death: Join 230.000 successful stoppers, and go to right now!”
Online persuasion tips:
Use personally relevant threats (not too small nor too big).
Make sure you directly boost your customers’ efficacy by convincingly offering your solution as easy and effective.
Provide a clear and strong call-to-action directly after / next to your scaring message.
And of course, when your customer responds, make him feel good again by reassuring he took a step towards a better life

Reflection Effect
We’re risk-averse when we have something to gain, but risk-seeking when we’ve got something to lose.
The reflection effect explains that we have opposing ‘risk preferences’ for uncertain choices, determined by whether the possible outcome is a gain or a loss. This effect supports both the Ambiguity and Risk Aversion biases, but only in cases where we can gain something.

Conversely, when we stand to lose something, we strongly prefer to take risks that might mitigate the loss (and therefore, display risk-seeking behavior). This risk-averse versus risk-seeking behavior is called the reflection effect.

This reflection effect was discovered by Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his late friend Amos Tversky, and included in their famous ‘Prospect Theory’. The Reflection Effect is expressed in the S shape of the value function in Prospect Theory: concave for gains (indicating risk aversion) and convex for losses (indicating risk seeking).

Scientific research example:
In their famous 1981 article “The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice”, Tversky & Kaheman describe the following dilemma:

Imagine that the U.S. is preparing for an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. There are 2 possible programs to combat the disease:

If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.
If Program B is adopted, there’s a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.
In this case, we display risk-averse behavior and choose the ‘certain option’, Program A (72%).

However, Tversky & Kahneman gave a second group the same cover story, but with a different formulation of the alternative programs:

If Program A is adopted, 400 people die.
If Program B is adopted, there’s a 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.
Now almost all switch to risk-seeking behavior, choosing program B (78%).

Online persuasion tips:
When you want customers to make a risk-averse choice (such as staying with you), test by phrasing your USP’s as gains.
When you want customers to make a risk-seeking choice (such as switching to you), phrase your USP’s as losses.
Further reading on the reflection effect:

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1981): The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice. Science, 211, 453–458.
Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A., Econemetrica, Vol 47, No 2, 263–292 (1979); “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”.
Lindzey, G. & Aronson, E. (eds.) (1985): The Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd Edition.
Gaze Cueing
We automatically focus our orientation to the same object that others are looking at
When we’re confronted with faces, we can’t help but to intensely process the eyes and their highly expressive surrounding region. Eyes reveal otherwise secret and complex mental states such as emotions, intentions, beliefs, and desires. Research indicates that eye contact accounts for roughly 55% of the information in a face-to-face conversation!

Eyes also have the irresistible power to attract and direct our attention. The perceived gaze direction of a face shifts our visual attention as a powerful magnet in the same direction.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re participating in a research study and are tasked with looking at a computer screen when a face pops up. You’re asked to indicate, as quickly as possible, on which side of the face you see a symbol or letter appear.

Against your knowledge, however, your researchers (psychologists Friesen & Kingstone) sometimes try to distract you by showing the face looking in a congruent or incongruent direction (about half a second before the symbol appears on it). Do you think this little trick influences your speed in identifying which side of the face the symbol is on?

It sure does! Congruent gaze cueing (eyes looking in the direction of the symbol) significantly helps you in your performance, whereas incongruent gaze cueing makes it worse…

An A/B test example:
The Dutch online bank MoneYou tested gaze cueing by displaying a face in their ‘mortgage quick quote’ widget looking in the direction of the quick quote fields instead of looking at the visitor. This resulted in a 9% increase of quote requests.

Online persuasion tips:
When using faces on your website, direct their look towards the most important element(s) on your page.
Consistenly place your important elements -like your CTA- on one side (right side is optimal), and have faces on your site looking in that direction.
Place negative elements (i.e. prices) outside the perceived gaze direction.
Further reading on Gaze Cueing:

Frischen, Bayliss & Tipper — Psychological bulletin, (2007): “Gaze cueing of attention: visual attention, social cognition, and individual differences“
Gaze Cueing on Wikipedia
Chris Kelland Friesen, Alan Kingstone, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (September 1998), Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 490–495; “The eyes have it! Reflexive orienting is triggered by nonpredictive gaze”.
Further reading on the reflection effect:

Fear Appeal on Wikipedia
Kaylene C. Williams, Research in Business and Economics Journal, “Fear appeal theory”
Cohen, E. L., Shumate, M. D. and Gold, A. Health Communication, 22(2), 91–102 (2007). “Anti-Smoking Media Campaign Messages: Theory and Practice”.
Forer effect
We most easily identify with vague, mostly positive, and general personality descriptions
The Forer Effect is our tendency to highly rate the accuracy of descriptions of our personality that supposedly are tailored ‘specifically to us’. In actuality, they’re vague, mostly positive, and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.

Because the message is positive but also slightly vague, we inject our own meaning into the it, and thus the statement seems personally relevant (beware that the self-serving bias has been shown to cancel out the Forer effect).

Scientific research example:
Imagine you just started university and you’re sitting in an Introduction to Psychology class. Your professor (psychologist Bertram Forer) gives you a personality test to complete. So you do. A week later Bertram presents the results. The resulting personality description includes sentences like “you have a great need for other people to like and admire you”, “you have a tendency to be critical of yourself”, and “you have a great deal of unused capacity”…

How do you rate the accuracy of this description to fit your own personality? Well, Bertram Forer found that on average his students (back in 1948) rated their personality description with a 4.2 on a 5-point scale. Pretty good for a description that — in reality — was the same for everyone.

Online persuasion tips:
If you want your customers to personally bond with your brand, or if you can otherwise use ‘a feeling of recognition within your prospect’, for the sake of persuasion:

Refer to rather vague and general personality traits (e.g. “Are you the kind of person that likes to share knowledge?”).
List mainly positive traits of your brand or products.
Mention that your solution is perfect for ‘these kind of people’ (and test with having ‘an authority’ mentioning it about you).
Further reading on the forer effect:

Forer effect on Wikipedia
Derren Brown on Astrology
Cognitive dissonance
When we do something that’s not in line with our beliefs, we change our beliefs
When there’s a mismatch between our beliefs and behavior, we experience what Leon Festinger calls ‘cognitive dissonance’. By nature, we humans are strongly motivated to reduce this dissonance.

We can’t rewind time to change our behavior, but we can change our beliefs and cognitions to align with that behavior. In order to reduce dissonance, we simply alter our beliefs, which we actually do a lot.
There are 3 ways to do so:

we lower the importance of the dissonant elements,
we add new consonant beliefs to create a consistent belief system, or
we change an existing cognition.
Cognitive Dissonance is strongly related to ‘self-consistency‘ and is sometimes referred to as “adaptive preference formation”.

Clarifying story:
Ancient Greek fabulist Aesop used a great example of cognitive dissonance in his fable “The Fox and the Grapes”.

When the fox fails to reach the grapes, he decides that in retrospect, he does not want them after all… as they were not ripe yet.
Online persuasion tips:
Integrate cognitive dissonance in your business and sales strategies in such a way that your customers have to internalize buying and using your product.

Play hard to get.
Be expensive.
Be hard to get rid of.
Don’t offer (large) incentives when asking your customers for a favor (such as ratings and reviews).
Even test providing incentives for not buying your product (e.g. in your checkout page).
Choice-supportive bias
I chose this option, therefore its features are the best
We have a tendency to remember our choices as being better than they actually were. We over-attribute positive features to the options we choose. On the other hand, we do the opposite for options that we did not choose: We attribute negative features to the non-chosen options.

Scientific research example:
Imagine researchers ask you several times to choose between two classic cars, each with a couple of distinctive features. After you make your choice and finish the study, the researcher thanks you and ask you to come back in 7 days.

One week later you come back. The researchers (Henkel & Mather) show you the same two car options again along with the list of features. For each feature, you’re asked to indicate whether it belongs to the classic car you chose, to the car you rejected, or if it’s an entirely new feature (Henkel & Mather (2007) actually tested with ‘used cars’, but I like classics better…).

Do you think you’d remember the features correctly? Maybe randomly? Or, has your memory misattributed features to the chosen and not-chosen old-timers? It turns out that the latter of these outcomes happens. Your memory has a choice-supportive bias in remembering which features belong to which classic car. Henkel & Mather found that you associate more positive features with the classic you chose and associate negative features with the one you didn’t

In other words: your memory is your best friend: it tries to help you feel good about your choices.

Online persuasion tips:
In order to get your customers to attribute positive features to you (and negative ones to others):

Test by asking your users why they visit your website or use your app.
Ask them why they bought and use your product.
Show previously visited pages and bought items!
Further reading on choice-supportive bias

Henkel, L.A.; Mather, M., Journal of Memory and Language 57 (2): 163–176 (2007). “Memory attributions for choices: How beliefs shape our memories”.
Choice-supportive bias on Wikipedia
Ambiguity Aversion
We prefer options that are certain
People tend to select options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is known (over an option for which the probability of a favorable outcome is unknown).

The ambiguity effect is relevant when a decision is affected by a lack of information, or “ambiguity”. The effect implies that we tend to select options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is highest. We’re simply reluctant to accept offers that are risky or uncertain.

Two remarks:

Over an initial range, women require no further compensation for the introduction of ambiguity whereas men do.
Curiosity increases attention, thus is induced by mild doses of uncertainty.
Scientific research example:
Imagine a bucket with 30 red, black, and white colored balls. Ten of the balls are red (for sure), the others are ‘some combination’ of black and white (all combinations being equally likely).

Now you can choose between one of two games:

The Red Game: drawing a red ball wins you $100
The Black Game: drawing a black ball wins you $100
Which game do you choose to play? Well, most people tend to favor the red game. Now, the probability of picking a winning ball is the same for both games (1 in 3, and we know there are 30 balls). So why is the red game preferred? Simply because the probability of winning is known. The red game is less “ambiguous”.

One of the theoretical explanations for this ‘Ellsberg Paradox’ considers our experiences with deception. Humans typically feel suspicious when we’re not told what the probability of an event is. This is because often — in real life and commercial situations — it’s usually in favor of the supplier. Our brain is simply afraid of, and therefore aversive towards, being fooled.

Online persuasion tips:
Be specific in your offer and communication style (instead of offering vague information).
Be specific about what happens when people click on a call to action.
Provide ‘feed-forward’ information (‘what’s next is…’).
Use fixed discounts instead of a chance to win.
Try to find the ambiguities in your competitor’s offer and emphasize your certainty there.
Guarantee your offer (money back, no cure = no pay).
Within your portfolio, make your cash cow the ‘most certain offer’.
Finally: In places that need improvement, experiment with small doses of uncertainty.
An A/B test example:

The Dutch Travel company (part of TUI intl.) switched from paper catalogs to online ones quite a while ago. However, customers still indicate feeling uncertain (e.g. “[when] booking online with virtual travel documents and digital payments, I feel less sure that I indeed have a flight and a hotel”) when shopping online. For this reason, they decided to test the hypothesis that adding information about what one gets when one books would lead to a higher number of bookings. They ended up selling 20% more vacations!

Another nice example is the effect of using URL-shorteners: Since they introduce ambiguity in where the shortened link will take you, they tend to get less clicks.

Further reading on ambiguity aversion:

Ambiguity aversion on Wikipedia
Lex Borghans, Bart H.H. Golsteyn, James J. Heckman, Huub Meijers , NBER Working Paper №14713 (2009); “Gender Differences in Risk Aversion and Ambiguity Aversion”
Belonging & Conformity
We prefer to behave in approval with our social groups
Belongingness is our innate need to form and maintain strong, stable, interpersonal relationships. More than we’re often consciously aware of, we want to be part of a peer group, community, and society in general.

Once we feel like we belong to a group, we’ll conform to it and internalize the group’s values and norms. We typically conform to both injunctive norms of our groups (implied approved behavior by the group), and to descriptive norms (common behavior among group members). We may even behave adversely towards groups that we don’t want to be associated with.

Your brand, products, and/or services are social objects that inherently form and play a role within social groups. Therefore, belongingness and conformity have multiple strong, persuasive effects that are relevant to you and available for you to take full advantage of. Does your prospect want to belong and conform to your group?

Scientific research example:
Imagine that a friendly lady knocks on your door and asks for a donation for charity. She hands over the list to write down your name and donation… A recent study by influence guru Cialdini (2011) revealed that you’re more likely to donate when the previous donors are people you know, like your friends and neighbors.

Ryan, Stiller, and Lynch (1994) found that children will increasingly internalize their school’s extrinsic regulations and conform to them when they have a higher sense of belonging to that school (the more secure and cared for they are by parents and teachers).

Paul Rose and JongHan Kim (2011) found that the higher someone’s need to belong is, the more he seeks the opinions of others before acting (and the more someone is self-monitoring, the more likely he is to be an opinion leader).

Online persuasion tips:
Support the forming of groups, connections, and dialogues among your customers and prospects (be it on your own platforms or on previously existing ones).
Find and nourish the influencers within the more important social groups (e.g. on Facebook or niche platforms).
Aggregate as much information about a specific customer or prospect and show that you’re approved of by his or her social peer group (from the device he uses, to more advanced log-in or Facebook profiling data).
Show your customer that members of his social peer group are buyers, users, and advocates (e.g. with ratings, reviews or Facebook piles).
An A/B test example:
A large (unfortunately not-to-be-named) Dutch corporation tested a different image on one of their product pages. The new image did nothing for their overall conversions. However, a deeper analysis revealed that Mac users showed a huge boost in conversions. Guess what… the new image showed someone with a MacBook Pro…

Paradox of choice
We love either 3 or 5 options
If we’re offered just one option, our choice is to either go for it or not. However, if we’re offered two choices, we automatically start choosing between these two, forgetting about the “or not” option existing silently in the background. Not choosing at all becomes a much less obvious option. Therefore, offering more than one option is usually more persuasive.

On the other hand, if we’re offered too many choices we tend not to make a choice at all. Too many choices are simply too difficult for our simple ratio.

That’s the paradox of choice.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re in the business of selling pens, and you have 20 different pens in stock. A prospective customer enters your store. How many pens do you show him?

It turns out that showing about 10 pens is your best bet. Shah & Wolford (2007) found that showing fewer options, as well as more options, will decrease your chances of selling. Buying behavior in their experiment was a curvilinear function of the number of choices, peaking at a value of 10 pens.

Online persuasion tips:
Prevent providing only one call to action. Instead, add a link or another CTA as a secondary choice.
If you have only one product or service, try to create one or two variations of it (like a black or white iPhone).
With a multitude of comparable products, find your product’s optimal choice number via testing. It’s probably in the 3–20 range (In my own experience: The more complex and less comparable your products, the fewer options you should offer).
The same applies for amount of USPs
And for the number of links on a page.
Further reading on the paradox of choice:

Buying Behavior as a Function of Parametric Variation of Number of Choices
Choice paradox on Wikipedia
Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice
We prefer situations that we have control over
Autonomy is the innate and universal desire to be causal agents of our own lives. Our perception of our autonomy influences our behavior. A high level of perceived autonomy comes with feelings of certainty, reduced stress, and a high level of ‘intrinsic motivation’. This increases the likelihood of persistent behavior. On the other hand, taking away our autonomy (e.g. by introducing external rewards and deadlines) undermines our intrinsic motivation as we grow less interested in it.

Situations that give autonomy (as opposed to take it away) also have a similar link to motivation. Studies looking at choice find that increasing a participant’s options and choices increases their intrinsic motivation to said activities. Autonomy is considered one of the three basic, universal, innate, and psychological needs (within the popular “self-determination theory”).

A clarifying story

“Once, there was a man. Kids would come to play on this man’s lawn to have fun. The man began to be annoyed by this, and strangely enough… he paid them a dollar to come play on his lawn. The kids happily took the dollar and played on his lawn. The next day, the man told the kids that he did not have enough money, so he could only give them 50 cents to come play on his lawn.
On the third day, he told them he could only give them a nickel to come play on his lawn. The kids were displeased with this, and told the man he could forget that, and that they would not play on his lawn for such a cheap reward.”
(McCullagh, 2005)
What happened? The man took away the autonomy in their urge to play on his lawn…

Online persuasion tips:
If you want users to repeatedly visit and act:

Prevent mandatory fields and steps
Introduce choices (even trivial ones work)
Allow users to freely go backward and forward
Be careful with external rewards and deadlines
If you want to change the usual choice of your customers, introduce an external reward for their current choice and then take it away again…

An A/B test example:
The Dutch hotel chain ‘Van Der Valk’ tested whether it’s better to indicate mandatory fields (“*=Verplicht veld), or to emphasize optional fields (*=Optioneel veld). Changing to optional fields boosted booking form completion rates 24.7%.

Mandatory fields

Optional fields (+25% conversion):

Further reading on autonomy:

Autonomy on Wikipedia
Self-determination theory on Wikipedia
Visual cueing
Our focus of attention is highly influenced by visual cues
A visual cue is a signal that your brain extracts from what you see. It directs your attention and interest to something in your field of perception.

Now, only 1% of what you see actually enters through your eyes (the rest is — surprisingly accurately– made up by your brain). You can only see really well with your ‘fovea’: The area in the dead center of your retina that’s the size of your thumbnail from an arm-length distance).

Therefore, it’s important to direct your customers’ fovea-attention, for example, by using visual cues in the periphery of their vision. These cues can be obvious (e.g. an arrow) or very subtle (e.g. text in the form of an arrow).

Especially on websites, visual cues have proven extremely effective.

Two clarifying stories

The reason why the moon looks huge on the horizon is simply because our bubble of perception cannot stretch out 380,000 kilometers. It runs out of space. So as compensation, we see the buildings within our perceptual bubble and our brains make an executive decision about the size of the moon relative to those buildings.

Imagine you’re at an airport trying to make it to your gate. Arrows make it easy for you — and others — to figure out where to go. Now, imagine that all these arrows disappear… How many people would find their gate in time for their flight? In an airport, visual cues are vital. They turn places into passages, direct crowds, and urge you to ‘move on’.

Arrows provide the same functions in your online dialogue…

Online persuasion tips:
Use a visual cue to emphasize your most important content/USP/CTA.
If you have multiple chunks of content, visual cues will help your customer consume these chunks in a logical, manageable order.
If you have more content than what’s visible (below the fold or on next pages), use cues to direct attention to it.
An A/B test example:
Online Dialogue tested the effect of visual cues for the Dutch hotel chain ‘Van Der Valk’. Adding the cues (downward pointing arrows), led to:

10 times more visitors scrolled all the way to the bottom of (rather long) hotel homepages
57% more conversions via the hotel homepages

Further reading on visual cueing:

Visual cueing on Wikipedia
Endowment effect
When we own goods, we value them higher than when we don’t
How does our perceived value of items change depending on whether or not they’re ours? The effect that ownership has on perceived value (also known as ‘divestiture aversion’) shows that, when there are two identical products, we tend to value the one we own more.

In other words: We expect more money when selling a product than what we’re willing to pay when buying it.

Scientific research example:
The prototypical studies into the endowment effect involve mugs and other equally priced products.

Imagine Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman gives you such a mug. Shortly after, Daniel asks if you want to trade ‘your mug’ for any other goods. Typically, you’d want twice the money for the product he gave to you than you would for a product he didn’t…

Behavioral economics guru Dan Ariely did a similar study involving a lottery with tickets for the NCAA final. He found that his students were asking 14 times more for the ticket when they won it than they were willing to pay for a ticket in the first place.

Online persuasion tips:
Use trial periods so your customers feel like they already own the product.
Imply a ‘return for free’ policy (obligatory in a lot of countries).
Among existing customers, experiment with asking whether or not they are willing to sell the product for the price they paid. This might make them realize how much they value your product.
If it works, show your prospective customers how unwilling your existing customers are to sell.
When a customer leaves you, try to make him realize the good things he’ll lose.
Realize that prospects probably value their current choice more than they rationally should.
Online tests:
Facebook tested the effect of mentioning the fact that you’ll lose contact with your friends via Facebook when you deactivate your account. This ‘you’ll no longer have this’ technique turned out to be quite effective:

We are more likely to perform actions when we believe in our own competence
Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his/her own competence. According to Albert Bandura — who defined self-efficacy theory — this personalized belief in our ability to succeed significantly affects our behavior. The more competent we think we are (a high level of perceived self-efficacy), the greater our intrinsic motivation to act is.

There are at least three types of information that enhance our self-efficacy online:

Our own behavior: When we’re successful at something, we become convinced that we will be successful at that same thing again.
The behavior of others: When we see others being successful with a certain behavior, we become convinced that we’ll also be capable of success with that behavior.
Rewarding feedback: Positive feedback contributes to the idea that we can achieve our goal by persisting.
Scientific research example:
Two groups of students are engaged in solving a Soma Cube puzzle. Both groups solve the cube within three sessions. The only difference between the two groups is the second session. Group A receives verbal praise and positive feedback during their second session, whereas group B does not. Guess what happens in the (identical) third session? Yep, group A solves more puzzles. Why? Raising our self-efficacy increases our intrinsic motivation to act.

Online persuasion tips:
Provide instant feedback on correct behavior (i.e. green check marks appear when fields are filled in correctly).
Visualize the simplicity of procedures (a progress indicator with three — five clear steps, an easy looking infographic, etc).
Show existing customers who have previously bought items or taken actions.
Use ‘how-to’ pages (and possibly videos) where you show your visitor how easy it is to act.
Use social proof (i.e. 12,452 others bought a product with us today).
An A/B test example:
Luke Wroblewski (former Chief Design Architect [VP] at Yahoo! and Lead User Interface Designer at eBay) studied enhancing self-efficacy by providing positive feedback on a typical web registration form. This positive feedback involved displaying green check marks when a user filled in a correct answer (see video).

The form with inline validation showed compelling improvements (Luke studied 22 average users in a usability test setting):

22% increase in conversions
31% increase in reported satisfaction
Participants strongly preferred the positive feedback version
This study found that positive feedback (the green checkmarks) increased users’ perceived self-efficacy, therefore increasing intrinsic motivation to complete the form.

Further reading on self-efficacy:

Self-efficacy on Wikipedia
Albert Bandura on Wikipedia
Dutch A/B-test for a mortgage broker
Base rate neglect & Base rate fallacy
We’re really bad with numbers
We tend to base judgments on known specific numbers and percentages, ignoring necessary general statistical information. We often erroneously over-evaluate options with high numbers and percentages because of this, ignoring what subset or base these numbers come from…

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re the mayor of a city with a million inhabitants and 100 known criminals. Your citizens want you to decrease the crime rate. The police chief suggests installing a surveillance camera with automatic facial recognition software. The software has a failure rate of only 1%.

Is installing the camera a good idea? Most people would say so.
However… Imagine that the whole city passes in front of the camera. You’ll catch 99 of the 100 criminals but you’ll also wrongly condemn 9,999 innocent citizens…

Online persuasion tips:
When mentioning numbers or percentages:

Supersize your numbers and percentages by changing ‘the base’ (e.g. 99% of our active clients give us a 5-star rating, instead of 80% of all our clients).
Do the opposite for negative numbers (0% of our active users are unsatisfied with our product, instead of 20% of our users are unsatisfied).
Further reading on base rate neglect and base rate fallacy:

Base rate fallacy on Wikipedia
Self-generation memory effect
It’s easier to remember when we thought of it ourselves
We remember information better when it’s generated by our own minds than when we read or hear it from someone else. So, if you want your customer to remember something, a highly effective strategy is to have them generate the information themselves.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re given a list of simple multiplication problems. Some calculations include the answers and for others the answer is absent. You can calculate missing answers in your head (or using a calculator). You are asked to remember as many of the outcomes as possible…

In a study like this, Crutcher & Healy (1989) found that you’ll remember the answers that you calculated yourself best…

Online persuasion tips:
Don’t show all of your USPs, but ask your customers to think of one or two reasons why to buy your product themselves.
Use a feedback tool to ask why customers are considering your offer (open answers).
Even in your shopping basket or on your thank you page, you could test by asking the customers why they bought your product.
Further reading on the self-generation effect:

Generation effect on Wikipedia
Perceptual incongruence
“We automatically pay attention to things that we did not expect”
Only 1% of what you see actually enters through your eyes. Your brain itself fills in the rest. Your brain does this by using prior visual information and established assumptions about the real world. 99% of what you see is ‘computed vision’, based on highly advanced algorithms, providing you with a surprisingly accurate visual image.

Perceptual incongruence occurs when the true visual information gathered via the eye doesn’t fit visual algorithms. When this happens, parts of the brain starts asking for more information (because it doesn’t necessarily fit the algorithm).

Therefore, incongruence can have large effects in directing attention.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you visit a website that displays two banners. One banner shows a brand that fits nicely within the theme of the website you’re visiting. The other does not. Which banner do you think you will remember better and find more interesting?

Dahlén and others (2008) studied this effect of placing ads on thematic ‘congruent’ platforms, versus ‘incongruent’ platforms. As hypothesized, they found that placing ads in thematically incongruent media enhances ad processing and advertising evaluations, and produces stronger perceptions of existing brand associations…

That’s incongruency at work.

Online persuasion tips:
Do something unexpected when someone enters your website (or other platform).
Within your own platforms, use incongruent colors, fonts, images, etc. for important content and interactions.
Purposely advertise on thematically incongruent platforms.
Make the total look and feel of your ads incongruent with each advertising platform.
Online tests:
What breaks the pattern, gets clicks!

Further reading on perceptual incongruence:

M Dahlén, S Rosengren, F Törn, N Öhman — Journal of Advertising, Autumn 2008, Volume: 37 Issue: 3 pp.57–67; “Could placing ads wrong be right?: Advertising effects of thematic incongruence”
Status quo bias
“We have a tendency to do nothing”
We have an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. Even when offered a new option or choice, we tend to stick to the default option.

The status quo bias is closely related to loss aversion and anchoring & adjustments, since the default option is taken as a reference point. Any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.

A real-life example:
In Europe, different countries use different policies regarding organ donation. Ben Saunders (2012) found that there are typically two types of countries in terms of donations: There are countries where a minority (4% — 28%) participates in the organ donor program, and those where the majority (86% — 100%) participates.

The one small difference between these groups is the use of “opt-in” versus “opt-out” as their participation policy. Typically the opt-in countries ask “Check the box if you want to participate in the organ donation program”. Whereas the opt-out countries ask “Check the box if you don’t want to participate in the organ donation program”.

Interestingly, the Netherlands has spent the most public money by far on campaigns etc. to persuade people to participate. This resulted in the highest (28%) participation rate among the opt-in countries, but it didn’t even get them close to the lowest participation rate of the opt-out countries.

That’s the power of the status quo.

Online persuasion tips:
Present behavioral options in such a way that you prefer your customer not to act.
Phrase questions in the same way (you prefer ‘no’ as the answer).
If a question is phrased the wrong way, prefill it (be careful though with multiple prefilled answers, that might result in changing all of them).
If you want your customer to deviate from the status quo, use a disruptive intervention technique like ‘forced choice’ to get your customer to act.
Make your desired deviation the default selection, and extremely easy (‘path-of-least-resistance’).
A/B tests:

The online bank MoneYou tested several ways of getting this so-called “cookie consent” (in a sticky footer, header and popup). Their main finding: When you don’t force web and mobile visitors to make a choice, they don’t make a choice.

Availability heuristic
“If we can think of it, it must be important”
The more easily we can imagine an event, the more often or more likely we are to believe that this event will occur. So we have a tendency to judge the frequency of an event based on how easy it is to recall similar instances. And since memories are highly biased toward vivid, unusual, and emotionally charged examples, these will also influence how likely we are to consider events.

Scientific research example:
Imagine that two researchers (Tversky and Kahneman) present you with a list of people’s names. While reading them, you recognize some famous names. At the end Tversky and Kahneman ask you to estimate which class of names was more frequent: famous or less famous.

Tversky and Kahneman (1973) found that the famous names were more easily recalled (available) compared to the less famous names. Despite the fact that the less famous names were more frequent, the majority of the participants incorrectly judged that the famous names occurred more often…

Online persuasion tips:
Use anecdotes (easy to recall).
Use examples that are frequently and/or recently covered in the media.
Use USP’s and arguments that are vivid, unusual, and/or emotionally charged.
Further reading on the availability heuristic:

Availability heuristic on Wikipedia
Commitment bias or labor-love effect
“We like something more when we’ve invested more effort into it”
More effort leads to more love (but only when we are able to complete our actions). Customization is about more than individual preferences. It’s also about the amount of effort put into it. Customization effort increases liking.

This effect is also called the ‘Ikea-effect’, since Ikea lets it’s customers assemble their own products.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re given a sheet with clear instructions on how to create an origami crane. Then you make one. Dan Ariely found that you value your own creation more highly than other people’s. This is due to the fact that you’ve put more effort into it.

Dan proved this further by making the task harder. Imagine you get the same task, but now with unclear instructions (“for the sake of science” Dan removed the legend). Now the task is harder and involves even more effort.

The result: with unclear instructions, your creation looks even worse (according to others), but you value it even higher than your first creation. Furthermore, after putting more effort into your creation, you’d estimate that others would love your creation as well…

Online persuasion tips:
Allow people to tailor your product (not just to satisfy individual preferences but also to invest effort, thereby liking your product more).
You might even allow your customers to create and design their own products.
In your sales dialogue, don’t just focus on usability (decreasing effort) but play with the opposite as well (“play hard to get”) in order to find the optimal mixture of effort that maximizes liking while ensuring that your customers find the digital sales dialogue simple enough.
An A/B test example:
Having to close a popup requires effort. This might explain why found a 30% increase in conversions among visitors that close a popup questionnaire (see also ‘self-consistency‘, they are closely related)…

Further reading on the commitment bias or labor-love effect:

Commitment and consistency on Wikipedia
Escalation of commitment on Wikipedia
Conceptual & Associative Priming
“Subtle cues subconsciously influence our thoughts, feelings and behavior”
Our brain is fundamentally associative. Each time we have an experience, a huge neural associative representation is activated (e.g. moon: reading this word sets off a series of associations like night, white, wolf, and illusion). This neural representation overlaps with related representations (e.g. seeing a table will also activate parts of the neural network representing chair).

Because of this spreading and overlapping activation in our brain, others can use specific ‘stimuli’ to pre-activate specific behavior that they want to from us (e.g. buying). The desired behavior is then already partially activated, requiring less additional effort to make us display that behavior.

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re having a café latte at Starbucks. A stranger sits down at your table. How do you like him in terms of generosity and kindness?

Well, Williams & Bargh (2008) found that it depends on whether you’re having a normal or an iced café latte. You’ll have warm feelings about him when you hold a warm café latte, and less so if you’re having the iced version. In a second study Williams & Bargh found that the same hot/cold effect applies to your generosity, warm making you more willing to give…

Recent discussions:
In the past couple years, quite a bit of skepticism has risen concerning priming effects. Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman even wrote an open e-mail to researchers who work on social priming to restore credibility in priming, by creating a replication ring to check each others’ results.

Online persuasion tips:
Think about which subconscious emotions and conscious thoughts are involved in buying your product, and subtly prime these during your online dialogue.
For primers, use and test: emotions, matching and stereotyping content, colors, and images (but also the complete look and feel of your pages).
Also consider each desired sub-interaction, and micro-prime these in the step(s) above.
Be cautious of obvious priming which can cause a so-called ‘reverse-priming’ reaction.
Thoroughly scan your online dialogue for negative primes (e.g. minuses, crosses, asterisks, or colors and images that mismatch the desired prime).
Further reading on the Commitment bias or conceptual and associative priming:

Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action
Priming on Wikipedia
Signaling Triggers, Reminders, & Alerts
“Even when highly motivated and able, we need a little reminder to make us act”
In order for us to act, we must 1) be sufficiently motivated, 2) have the ability to perform the behavior, and 3) be triggered to perform the behavior (based on B.J Fogg’s 2009 paper describing his Fogg Behavioral Model). Even when we have both the ability and the motivation to perform a desired behavior, we need a “signal, reminder, alert, etc.” — in other words, a trigger or nudge in order to act.

When motivation and ability are high, these reminders, signals, and alerts should not try to motivate us more or simplify the task (that could even be annoying or condescending). Nor does it really matter what form the trigger takes. From alarms, text messages, mobile push messages, or a call-out or pop-up on your website: they simply have to make us consciously aware of the option.

Successful triggers have three characteristics:

We notice them,
they bring the desired behavior into our conscious awareness, and most importantly:
the triggers happen at a moment when we are both motivated and able to perform the behavior.
Scientific research example:
In his 2009 paper, B.J Fogg provides the following example from his own life: One of B.J.’s goals is to practice the ukulele each day. Although he is highly motivated to play the instrument and it’s easy to do, he often misses a well-timed trigger. B.J. lacks something or someone that says, “Hey, right now is a great time to play the ukulele!” and without this trigger he doesn’t practice.

“Many other target behaviors in my life don’t happen because I don’t get a trigger at the right moment.”

Online persuasion tips:
Are your customers both highly motivated and able to act as you’d like (e.g. buy or use your product)?

Analyze what the optimal timing is to remind them of the option of this desired behavior.
Analyze which media and devices can be used to intervene with your reminder or trigger an alert at that precise moment.
Push your reminder/alert, simply bringing the option into their conscious awareness (without referring to motivators or task simplicity).
Further reading about facilitating triggers:

A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design (PDF)
Sparking Triggers
“Often our motivation — and thereby actions — can be ignited rather easily”
When something is really easy to do, but our motivation isn’t very high, we tend do nothing. However, ‘sparking triggers’ can rather easily boost our motivation, and thereby do make us act.

A ‘Sparking Trigger’ will make us act when:

We notice it,
it levers one or more relevant motivations, and most importantly,
the trigger occurs at a moment when we’re both motivated and able to perform that behavior.
A clarifying example:
B.J Fogg uses the following example for sparking triggers: He hadn’t used his Facebook account in a while, so Facebook automatically sent him a trigger email to get him to sign in again. The mail states:

You haven’t been back to Facebook recently.
You have received notifications while you were gone:
1 message, 9 friend requests
The Facebook Team
Although B.J Fogg describes it differently, Facebook clearly focuses on increasing the motivation to log in by mentioning the message and friend requests, making this a clear ‘Sparking Trigger’ (focused on motivation, not ability).

Online persuasion tips:
Assuming that ability is high, but motivation needs some leverage:

Identify which motivational elements your customer is lacking in order to take action.
Analyze what information will fill in or compensate for each gap in their motivation.
Then, analyze what the best moments are to intervene with this information, and choose the most appropriate medium and/or device accordingly.
Find the most appropriate medium for your nudge and design your trigger to perfectly suit this medium and moment.
Finally send out your ‘Spark’ at the chosen moment, via the chosen medium, including the motivation-leveraging information.
A/B Test:

Visual Website Optimizer tested a sparking trigger by presenting visitors of VWO with a pop-up that interrupts their visit, containing a trigger to sign up. The trigger boosts our motivation by emphasizing ‘Free’ and a Call-to-Action that says [Create A/B test ->]. The pop-up increased signups by 50% in comparison to their original homepage.

Facilitating Triggers
“Often our ability to act — and thereby our acting — can be ignited rather easily”
When we have a high motivation but lack ability, a ‘Facilitating Trigger’ can make us act. A facilitator not only triggers us, but also makes the intended behavior easier to do.

Two clarifying examples:
As a demonstration of facilitating triggers, B.J Fogg uses the example of software updates. These use facilitators more and more often to gain compliance by implying that “one click can get the job done”.

Another good place to find facilitating triggers is social networking sites. They offer users all sorts of facilitators in order to engage more, such as “people you may know”, or by uploading a complete address book in order to quickly and automatically connect with many friends.

Online persuasion tips:
Assuming that “motivation is high” but ability needs some leverage:

Identify which ability elements your customer is lacking in order for them to take action.
Then, analyze the best moments to intervene with this information or functionality, and choose the most appropriate medium and/or device accordingly.
Lastly, embody a self-efficacy and response efficacy boosting ‘Facilitating Trigger’ (a button, link, text, sound, video, graphics, etc.) in a way that fits the chosen channel and moment.
Repetition & Direct Priming
“Repetition helps us learn and react both quicker and easier”
The more we repeat something, the easier we process, remember, and act on it. Repetition simply smoothens our neural pathways. Repetition is also called ‘direct priming’ since each repetition also ‘primes’ later experiences, leading to quicker and more intense reactions (or slower in the rare case of negative priming).

There are two direct priming effects. First, there is a very brief ‘lexical effect’: Each repetition activates its representation in our brain. Then that activation slowly ‘fades away’. This way, the experience remains ‘primed’ during the fading period (usually a few seconds), leading to quicker reactions when it is repeated.

The second effect is a long-term effect: The neural pathways in our brain are smoothened. This long-term effect works especially well for new ‘stimuli’ (since highly familiar ones have already acquired a highway in our brain).

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re given a list with strings of letters. Your job is to indicate whether each string is a word or a non-word (as quickly as possible). Would it help if you were allowed to repeat the list beforehand?

Well, of course, but Kenneth & Chris (1984) found that this repetition effect depends on how familiar you are with each specific word… The less familiar you are with a word, the more it helps to repeat it beforehand (this is called the ‘frequency attenuation effect’ of repetition).

Furthermore, if you want a long-term repetition effect, Kenneth & Chris found that it only works if you not only read the list, but thoroughly practice the word/non-word answers.

Online persuasion tips:
For each link or button, analyse what your customer will see or do the first few seconds after they click and subtly prime this to be located near those specific links.
Use the same words and phrases in your text across pages and in your links/buttons.
Use one consistent visual link and button-format.
Display cross-sell combinations as soon as you know which product someone intends to buy.
Show existing customers what they bought before (if you want them to buy again).
This also applies to other desired behaviors: products they previously looked at, used, rated, etc. (if you want them to look, use, rate, etc. again).
Do the same with the behavior of others (show others who are buying/using the product).
Peak-end rule
“The ending and the highest peak of an experience, determine how we remember it”
The peak-end rule is our tendency to judge an experience — pleasant or unpleasant — almost entirely on how it was at its peak and its ending. Other information, while not lost, is not used in the qualitative memory of the event (i.e. extension neglect and duration neglect).

Scientific research example:
Actual medical patients underwent a colonoscopy (a painful medical procedure). For Patient A, the pain was shorter but more intense. Patient B experienced the same type of pain but with two differences: B experienced no heavy peak, but instead experienced pain for a much longer duration. Therefore, Patient B reported more pain than A during the procedure.

So much for experience.

Now, the memory of the experience:

Days later, when Patients A and B were asked how they remembered their colonoscopy experience (“how bad was it?”), their memories were reversed from the experience itself. Patient A remembered the procedure as being more painful than patient B.

A typical example of the peak-end rule: “The climax and the end determine how you remember an experience.”

Online persuasion tips:
Bring your ‘enlightening moments‘ from your sales dialogue together in one happy climax.
If possible, make sure that this positive peak is at the end of your sales dialogue.
Next, map out all service dialogues, micro-conversions, and other ‘exit points’.
Create small positive peaks there, too.
Use enticing extras, such as the good old ‘unexpected gift on your thank you page!’, or specific extras such as unlocking badges or access to exclusive content, games, or apps.
Further reading on the peak-end rule:

Peak-end rule on Wikipedia
Domestic country bias
“We prefer domestic products over imported ones”
We are biased against foreign products and favor domestic ones. This domestic country bias is manifested in our product perceptions, as well as our buying behaviors.

One should be careful though: The domestic country bias doesn’t apply to all product categories. Moreover, this bias is more prevalent when our patriotic feelings are active (e.g. Independence Day in the US, Kingsday in The Netherlands, or when your national team wins the World Cup).

Scientific research example:
Imagine you’re considering buying a DIY drill. Do you think your preference is dependent on your nationality? Of course, Balabanis & Diamantopoulos (2004) found that:

72% of the Brits consider British DIY tools first (when the attributes and price are comparable).
The same accounts for food products, furniture, DIY tools, and toys.
However, in the same study they found that there’s no British majority when it comes to buying TV sets (here 67% would primarily consider a Japanese product), fashion wear, or even cars. Hence, there’s a strong interaction between the domestic country bias, and the country of origin-effect (our bias to prefer products from stereotypical countries).

Online persuasion tips:
Determine your customers’ domestic origins (via use a social plugin, login+CRM data, IP-address, and/or browser settings).