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Conversion psychology – 4 more ways to impact decision making

A quick recap

In our previous article we talked about why we are primed to think in certain ways. We had a look at the familiarity effect, the ambiguity aversion principle, specificity principle, and the paradox of choice.

This time we are diving back into psychology and pulling out another pearl or two of conversion wisdom.

Let’s get going…

Belonging and conformity principles

Explanation

Background

People have a primitive need to belong and be accepted by others. Even groups which exist outside of conventional society such as criminal gangs will have social norms that create a sense of belonging and result in conformity.

Belonging has been recognised as an important psychological factor in getting people to make a purchase by the Fogg behaviour model. The need to belong is identified as a potential motivating factor behind a conversion by this model.

It is also included in the updated version of Cialdini’s persuasion principles under the “unity” principle, where a strong affiliation with others influences decision making and therefore conversion.  

The need to belong is discussed at length in general psychology by authors such as Maslow (known for the hierarchy of needs) and Gilbert (known for compassion-focused therapy). Although there are many criticisms that can be directed at these theories and models, the importance of belonging has long been widely recognised in psychology.

Belonging and conformity in purchasing behaviour

Whilst the need to belong is more noticeable in social interactions, it can extend to our decisions about what products and experiences we pay for. This is because conforming to the attitudes and behaviours of a group helps increase acceptance by that group.

What we do and what we buy sends a message about who we identify as and who we identify with. We are less likely to make a purchasing decision that goes against the cultural norms of our self-identified group than we are to make a socially approved decision.

For example, do we “belong” to a group of people who take expensive luxury cruises, or do we belong to a group who backpack around Asia? Similarly, are we OK with belonging to a group who don’t use a smart phone, or do we feel we belong in a group that “has to have” the latest model of iPhone?

Implementation

Get your target audience to self-identify through social proof

When we self-identify as being the target audience of a website, we are identifying ourselves as belonging to a group of people.

Social proof such as testimonials, reviews, and information about the number of people from “our group” who have taken an action all make us more likely to believe we can do the same, actively follow in their footsteps (and thereby conforming to the social norm of our group).

It is important therefore that it is easy for your target audience to identify if your website is for people “like them”. You can create a sense of belonging through the words you choose to use and the types of people you feature within imagery, video, and testimonials.

Social proof can be made more persuasive if the people it is connected to are not only similar to the target audience, but their experiences are relatable, appear genuine, and they are in some way aspirational or appear to be an authority on the subject.

Social proof is so important to conversion, we even use it on our own website.

Another example of social proof is a social influencer claiming to have lost weight with a diet tea. They are likely to be perceived as aspirational and an authority to people who follow them.

This is a form of social proof as they are someone the target audience identifies with and they have claimed a product works. It is an application of Cialdini’s authority principle, a principle that states we are more likely to accept and believe a statement if it comes from a place of authority.

Similarly, a CEO of a fortune 500 company claiming that a piece of software revolutionised the way their company works would be social proof and a source of authority for business leaders.

Use personalisation to reinforce the idea that your company and the people who buy from it are in the same group

If you have a broader target audience, you can use personalisation to tap into that sense of belonging. For example, a frequent user of a travel website may receive an email based on the type of trip they usually book. If someone typically books city breaks, they may receive an email along the lines of the following:

“Get excited about your next trip”

“3 European city breaks recommended by people who love a weekend escape”

Even if you don’t have a lot of data on your users, you can use the Forer effect (also referred to as the Barnum effect) to your advantage. The Forer effect is the tendency for individuals to strongly resonate with vague descriptions of their personality, so even a little bit of personalisation can help create a sense of belonging.

Align your values with those of your target audience

It is one thing getting your target audience to identify as part of the group that buys from your company, but another thing entirely to give your company a “human” persona with the same values as your target audience.

A company is not an individual. It can be difficult to ensure that everyone involved in marketing, website copy, and customer service are singing from the same song sheet. It is difficult to create the illusion of a single personality, and yet many brands manage it successfully.

When we think about a brand with which our values strongly align, we may feel a sense of connectedness which mirrors the sense of connectedness we feel when sharing the same perspective as a friend. In a way, the brand has become human, we feel an affiliation with them which goes beyond simply “liking” one company over another.

To really drive home your brand values, they should be at every stage of the user journey.

  • A user just landed on your website – brand values.
  • A user is looking at your product/service page – brand values.
  • A customer just made a purchase – brand values on the email confirmation.

Keep pushing your brand values through your email marketing and social platforms to increase the likelihood of that customers (or potential) customers see themselves as part of “your” group.

Create a community

Support the forming of groups and dialogues amongst your company, customers, and prospective customers by harnessing the power of social media.

Show prospective customers that your customers are part of their social or professional peer group. Get people to engage with you, and with each other.

Take an interest in the community you are trying to build, ask questions, spark conversation, demonstrate that you value your community’s input and that you are creating your offering in partnership with them.

Benefits

Building community around a brand will encourage deep loyalty to it, and as we know, brand loyalty is much sought after due to the long term financial stability it creates.

Brands which have customers who connect with each other (online as well as in the real world), and see being part of that customer group as part of their identity, have been successful in creating a community and a sense of belonging around their brand that encourages loyalty.

Loss aversion

Explanation

Loss aversion is both the fear of missing out, and the fear of losing something you already have. It therefore applies to actual and desired ownership (such as having a Netflix subscription, or not subscribing whilst subscription cost is slashed for a limited time).

Loss aversion is closely linked to the endowment effect, which states that people place a higher value on items they own than those they don’t. Some research suggests that owning an item can create a link between the item and a person’s identity, especially if the item was instrumental in helping the individual overcome an unpleasant experience.

Loss aversion can also be linked to choice supportive bias and cognitive dissonance in that the user has made a decision to do something, think a certain way, or buy something. You can read more about these biases below.

Implementation

Use loss aversion as a motivating factor

Loss aversion can be used by emphasising the negative impact of not taking action within a value proposition (or selling point). As people are more motivated to avoid loss than achieve gains, emphasising a potential loss can tap into subconscious motivators.

For example, luxury travel could be sold in two ways. You could talk about how amazing taking an expensive vacation is, or you could talk about how you only get one life and by not enjoying travel as much as possible, you are losing out on living your life. This strategy has been used in marketing by Expedia.

Scarcity and urgency trigger loss aversion

Loss aversion is strongly linked to scarcity and urgency (a Ciadini principle of influence), as both are designed to encourage the user into action through the fear of missing out.

Loss aversion is often used online to tell a user that there are only a few items left in stock (scarcity) or that there is only a small amount of time left to receive a benefit such as a discount, or secure the items left in a basket (urgency).

Lower churn through loss aversion

Loss aversion can also be used to highlight what a subscription customer would be losing out on if they were to cancel.

Telling a user the number of loyalty points that would disappear, the benefits they would no longer have access to, or simply reminding them of what they have benefitted from so far can help prevent subscription cancellation.

Highlight loss to encourage loyalty

A way I personally “fell victim” to loss aversion was when the company Facetheory® emailed me after a purchase and told me that by not registering, I was losing out on claiming the loyalty points I had just earnt.

I didn’t technically have the loyalty points in the first place, but the thought of losing the possibility of having them made me sign up.

Did I realise I was being manipulated? Sure. Did I care? No. It was a good tactic, and one that likely will encourage me to return.

Benefits

Loss aversion can be applied successfully when the user is active on the website. It can also work as a recovery mechanism if they leave without purchasing, through abandoned basket emails and remarketing. It can help you get those immediate conversions, and reclaim those you thought you had missed out on.

Choice supportive bias

Explanation

Provided we were not presented with too many options (and were therefore doubting our decision at the point of making it), we may be inclined to believe that we made the best decision we could have once the decision has been made. 

Choice supportive bias is the idea that humans sometimes remember their choices as being more positively weighted over other options than they actually were. It can mean that people are attached to the choices they have made in the past, and may be reluctant to choose a new option if it is positioned as an equal alternative to the one they originally chose.

Choice supportive bias is closely linked to the idea of cognitive dissonance, where new information about our decision arises that suggests our decision was the wrong one, but we dismiss it. We feel uncomfortable being wrong, so we find ways to cling onto our original belief that we came to the right conclusion.

Choice supportive bias also connects to Cialdini’s commitment/consistency principles of persuasion. These state that once someone has made a commitment to something (they have begun a process, such as adding to basket), they are more likely to be consistent in following through on that action. 

Implementation

Reassuring the user they are making the right decision

People want to believe they are making the “right” choice. By providing evidence in favour of a decision, you help the user make the decision in the first place.

We previously discussed how eliminating a paradox of choice helps users make a decision. We have also talked about how evoking a sense of belonging or unity and providing social proof can lead to conformity.

You can also actively address potential objections within your copy, so the user has fewer reasons to doubt their decision once it has been made and has evidence to combat any cognitive dissonance.

Reaffirming past decisions

A way of using choice supportive bias to boost conversions is to show previously visited pages or previous purchases. Amazon uses choice supportive bias is to indicate to customers which products they have previously bought with the option to “Buy it again”.

Takeaway apps which show you your previously ordered menu items, or suggestions based on what you typically pick are also using this principle. Whilst seemingly being altruistic (as they make your life easier), these tactics are in place to make the purchasing process more impulsive (which results in higher conversions and higher order values).

I saw a good example a few years ago, and I kept a screen shot of it (because I’m cool like that). It was an email from Compare The Market reminding me that I previously chose to use their website to buy car insurance. This makes me inclined to believe my past decision was a good one and encourages me to make the same decision again, as it is the easy option.

Something being easy is a persuasive factor in itself. According to the Fogg behaviour model people are less likely to complete complicated tasks as this reduces ability. This is sometimes referred to as “friction”, as in the MECLABS Institute conversion formula.

Abandoned basket emails can also harness choice supportive bias. By showing positive customer reviews for the abandoned products on the basket abandonment email, you are reassuring the user that they made the right, socially approved decision to pick them.

All they need to do now is finish the last step – and what’s more, because you saved their basket for them, that is easy to do.

Presenting your offering without dismissing others

Positioning a new option as a way of addressing a new need has the potential to be more successful than discrediting the original decision as people can get defensive of their previous choices. If you believe you made the right decision in the past, having someone insult that decision can feel like a personal insult.

For example, using emails as the main form of work-based communication would have worked well in the past when they were used to communicate formal messages. Informal discussions and collaboration on projects could just happen in person.

But a more remote workforce means new methods are needed to handle collaboration and team bonding, which is where instant messaging and collaboration platforms like Slack and ClickUp come in.

Discrediting email is less likely to result in an uptake in new software than pointing out the changing work environment and how these new processes address the needs of that new environment.

Self-Efficacy

Explanation

Perceived self-efficacy is the belief humans have their own ability to produce an effect. It was a term made popular by the psychologist Albert Bandura.

Believing in our ability to do something makes us more likely to do it. If users have already successfully achieved a task online, they are more likely to believe they will be successful again.

In simple terms, self-efficacy is self-belief.

Self-efficacy is linked to the Fogg behaviour model which states that anything that is non-routine reduces the ability of users to complete the task of conversion. It is also linked to the idea of cognitive fluency, which is a bias against things that seem complicated, due to an association with risk.  

Implementation

Social proof

Whilst Bandura’s theory focused on learning, we can see it in action through social proof.

Seeing other people being successful achieving a task (or a result) can create a boost to self-efficacy if the individual identifies with those who have succeeded. There is a “if they can do it, so can I” thought track.

Therefore, if someone the target audience relates to has given a testimonial about – oh, I don’t know, increasing their conversion rate, then it is likely the target audience member will believe they can too.

The more frequently social proof is seen, (and the more likely the user is to be able to recall it), the more likely they are to believe it is true according to the familiarity effect and the availability heuristic bias. This makes it more likely the user will believe they are capable.

Making a process seem easy

Another way self-efficacy can be improved to increase conversions is to provide clear, easy to follow guidelines of the steps involved in a process the user may be unfamiliar with.

For example, setting up a customised subscription or purchasing courier postage are less likely to be widely experienced processes than a simple ecommerce transaction. These processes are more likely to create anxiety and prevent conversion due to their unfamiliarity.

Any unfamiliar process can be daunting (especially if part of this process takes place offline). Step-by-step process graphics can help the user imagine moving through the steps and being successful completing the task.

Helping a user visualise being successful completing a task also makes the user believe it will be more likely they will be successful due to the availability heuristic.

Visualising success just before we take action and seeing the success in a visual format (which is easier to process and therefore to recall) will make it more likely we will take action.

Increasing perceived self-efficacy is about giving people the confidence to take action. When self-doubt is holding them back from making a decision, increasing perceived self-efficacy can help.

Benefits

Like the familiarity effect, an increase in perceived self-efficacy following the completion of a task on a website may increase the likelihood that a user will use the website again. They will feel more reassured and confident on a familiar site than on a new one.

Increasing perceived self-efficacy can also help increase initial conversions, particularly when the process the user must go through could be thought of as difficult.

Perceived difficulty could be related to the online experience (such as completing a very long web-form), or offline as a result of a conversion (such as attending a series of HIIT classes at the local gym after signing up online).

Increasing self-efficacy regarding all parts of the user journey where anxiety may arise can help overcome hesitations and doubts that result in the user leaving your website.

Discover how impacts on decision making could be applied to your website

Psychology is baked into what we do here at Credo. So, if you have enjoyed this article or our previous one and want to know how to apply what you have learnt, then get in touch.

Alternatively, stick around and explore our site some more. You can learn all about our CRO Audits, ongoing CRO, or a bit more about what makes us tick.