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Conversion Psychology – More theories on user psychology

Last time we looked at 3 theories of user psychology and persuasion. This time we will be exploring 3 more, their links to each other, and to the impacts on user behaviour we have also explored as part of our user psychology series. Check out the blog page to find them all.

Let’s dive in…

MECLABS institute conversion formula

The MECLABS Institute conversion formula suggests that in order for conversion to occur, the following must be true:

  • The user must be motivated to act.
  • There must be a clear value proposition.
  • There must be an incentive to act.
  • Any “friction” within the process must be offset by the incentive.
  • Any anxiety about entering information (typically a requirement of conversion) must be overcome.

The word “formula” is used in this theory’s title as each element (motivation, value proposition etc.) has a value. The explanation around this is quite in-depth, so for a more detailed understanding I recommend checking out the link above. What I present to you here is a summary of this model.


Motivation includes desired outcomes and pain points. Copy should aim to match the motivation of the user for being on the website. According to the MECLABS institute, you cannot change the customer’s level of motivation, only tap into what is already there.

Negative motivators

Focusing on pain point motivation works best for products and services which aim to address a need linked to risk aversion or where awareness is low.

Emphasising pain points (such as worries or anxieties) can be a good way to get attention. You may need to focus on this more if your offering is solving a problem people have been putting up with and largely ignoring. The target audience’s initial motivation won’t be to pay for your solution because they don’t know it exists (or that they really need it).

It is important that your solution to their problem is presented shortly after the pain point so that you do not cause distress. Focusing too much on the pain point will lower self-efficacy and trigger the use of a defence mechanism such as denial.

We also talk about the impact of focusing too much on negative motivators in relation to the old brain and its preoccupation with emotion. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Positive motivators

Focusing on desired outcomes works better when the product or service addresses a need or desire the target audience has a high awareness of.

This target audience is motivated to know why a company’s offering is going to be better for them. Examples of when this tactic could be used are selling a new weight loss program or promoting a fine dining restaurant.

Value proposition

The value should be differentiated in some way from the value competitors are offering. According to the MECLABS institute, the strength of your value proposition should be considered against the following 4 factors:

  1. Appeal (desire for the offer).
  2. Exclusivity (where else can this offer be found).
  3. Credibility (is it trustworthy).
  4. Clarity (is it clear exactly what is being offered).

However, the idea of a “unique” value proposition has been criticised in recent years. Many businesses have little that makes them unique, and fewer have a unique factor that matters to their target audience. It could be enough simply to state how your offering is going to benefit the target audience.

At Credo we offer this advice for value propositions which takes into account that your offering may be similar to other alternatives. A value proposition should ideally:

  • Address who its target audience is.
  • Describe a problem its audience has and how it will reduce or eliminate the problem (or address a desire).
  • Differentiate the offering from other similar options (this includes emphasising rarer benefits or a combination of different benefits).

We believe if all these points are met, it will be clear what it is you are offering. We also stress the importance of being concise. People are unlikely to read a long value proposition.


Incentives are encouragements or prompts to act. The perceived value of the incentive must outweigh any friction. Ideally, the cost of the incentive to your company should be less than the value perceived by the user.

An example of this would be producing a short course on copywriting which may have taken a few hours to produce, but which results in numerous sign-ups. The course has high value to the user as a certification and is therefore worth supplying an email address, but the cost in its production was small.


Friction is any real or perceived effort as well as anything which causes doubt, confusion, or hesitation. Ways to reduce friction include:

  • Supplying a default choice to reduce the need to make a decision. (For example, having “Medium” or “Large” selected as the default clothing size.)
  • Asking a user to only enter their email address and password once.
  • Removing unnecessary form fields (such as a phone number field when a phone number is not actually required).
  • Using easy to pronounce words.
  • Using an easy to read font.
  • Focusing on improving usability to reduce the knowledge gap (the difference between a target user’s current knowledge from previous experience and how much that user needs to know in order to use the website).


Anxieties should be addressed simply and clearly at the point where they are likely to occur. The MECLABS institute recommends using specificity when addressing common concerns.

Fogg behaviour model

a 3 factor model of conversion

The Fogg behaviour model is very similar to the MECLABS institute conversion formula. However, this model focuses on 3 elements. According to this model, a person must be sufficiently motivated, have the ability to carry out the task, and be exposed to a trigger prompting them to carry out the task.

If we were to draw comparisons, it would look a little like this.

Fogg behaviour model

MECLABS Institute conversion formula


Motivation, Value proposition


Friction, Anxiety



Motivation, Ability and prompt interaction

If motivation is high, people will be willing to overcome a more difficult process to obtain what they want and vice versa; there is a trade-off between motivation and ability.

So, if you were offering 10 million pounds, people would do a great deal to get hold of it. But asking people to fill out many form fields can be enough to put someone off if they can get a similar item or service elsewhere, or if they can make do without it.

The prompt (or CTA) needs to be given at the right time. If you prompt a person to do something and they don’t have the ability (too high friction), it will frustrate them; if you prompt them when they have no motivation, it will just annoy them.

For example, prompting someone to sign-up to a newsletter with a pop-up before they have had chance to read the page content is an example of prompting people when motivation is not high enough. You should aim to place CTAs at points where the user is likely to be fully motivated and has the ability.

An example of a prompt offered at the right time is an encouragement to subscribe to a YouTube channel with a one click action after the viewer has sat through a long video. You know they are motivated (as they have watched the whole video), and you are making the action easy (increasing ability).

Email campaigns targeted at a specific time of year could also be effective if a user is likely to be more motivated at that time of year. An example of this is sending Christmas gift idea emails to a customer’s inbox at the end of November. If you don’t prompt them, they are less likely to take an action that involves your company. 

The idea is to reflect and amplify user’s motivations and provide as frictionless a journey as possible. Ability is more easily optimised than motivation, so focus should be given to creating a frictionless journey over amplifying motivation. A common way of increasing ability is to focus on improving usability.


According to the Fogg behaviour model, there are different types of motivator.

  1. The sensation motivator – seeking the feeling of pleasure and avoiding the feeling of pain.
  2. Anticipatory motivator – the impact of hopes and fears on our emotions.
  3. Social cohesion – seeking social acceptance and avoiding social rejection.

Sensation motivation (pleasure and pain)

An example of positive sensation motivation being put into practice is the trend for gamification. The desire to achieve something we believe will bring us pleasure makes us more likely to engage in the associated activity.

Examples of pain sensation motivators are loss aversion and the endowment effect. We are motivated to avoid the pain of losing something we already have, especially if we have formed an emotional attachment to it.

Anticipation motivation (hope and fear)

Our expectations influence our emotions, and can be more powerful than actual pleasure or pain. For example, people will accept the pain of the cost of insurance if it means they can avoid the fear of losing everything in an accident.

Loss aversion also speaks to potential loss, and could be used to understand the negative side to both sensation motivation and anticipation motivation.

Hope is desired, but not guaranteed, outcome, usually focusing on experiencing something meaningful. An example of this in action is selling the hope of finding love on a dating website by showing happy couples.

Belonging motivation (aiming for social acceptance and avoiding social rejection)

According to the Fogg behaviour model, the need for social acceptance or to feel as if we belong is why users liking your company or the type of person it represents is so important; users will seek to belong to a group they like and see themselves as being part of.

Naturally, this motivator maps on to the belonging and conformity principles, which state that we are likely to conform to the social norms (and purchasing behaviours) of the group to which we identify. It also maps on to Cialdini’s unity principle, where being part of an “in group” makes it more likely we will perform a behaviour associated with that group.

Social proof and an active social community are a demonstration of social approval and provide a way for users to seek reassurance that they are not alone when faced with an unfamiliar situation or decision.

Ability factors

Time - how long it takes to do a task or make a decision

Ways of reducing the amount of time it takes for a user to complete a conversion on your site can be done in the following ways:

  • Streamlining navigation so the user can get to where they need to be quickly.
  • Limiting choices or providing a way for users to easily narrow down their decision (for more on this, see our segment on the paradox of choice).
  • Personalising the user experience so that it is more relevant to them.
  • Reducing distractions which take the user away from the main path of conversion.
  • Grouping related information together and placing it in an intuitive location (such as placing all product specifications on a product page under a “Specifications” heading).
  • Eliminating unnecessary form fields.
  • Offering a quicker process to returning customers.

Although the model doesn’t focus on the outcome of the conversion, I would personally advise taking this into account. Does the user feel able to do something post conversion, if they have the desire?

For example, a user may be motivated to get fit and join a gym. They could have 2 choices, gym A and gym B. Gym A is cheaper, but further away than gym B. The time it would take to drive to gym A could sway them towards choosing gym B if they felt time was a more limited commodity for them than money.


If your potential customers have little money and your product/service is expensive, it can harm their ability to convert.

Physical effort

A task which requires physical effort can be perceived harder than one which does not. Having part of your process offline increases physical effort and harms ability.

Again, I would consider the after effect of the conversion here.

Say our same gym goer now has a choice of paying extra for a class. There is a HIIT class and a beginners Pilates class. Remember, they are motivated to get fit, which means they believe they are not in the best shape they could be.

Potentially, the physical effort involved in the HIIT class would mean they are more likely to convert (join a class) if the beginners Pilates class were marketed towards them rather than the HIIT class.

Brain cycles

Anything which can reduce the amount a customer has to think will help improve ability.

Explaining the unfamiliar through a metaphor or simile is an example of a way to reduce brain cycles. For example, you could say that an email is:

“Messages distributed by electronic means from one computer user to one or more recipients via a network.”

But it may be easier for people to understand if you say:

“An email is like a letter on your computer”.

You could also employ the other same techniques suggested for increasing cognitive fluency or “tangibility”, a concept associated with old brain thinking. These are:

  1. Simplifying copy to make it easier to understand; for example, “lose weight” may work better than “optimise your BMI”.
  1. Using an easy-to-read font to make what you are saying appear easier to understand.
  1. Simplifying complex processes using visual step-by step instructions. Which also increases self-efficacy, (the belief that you can achieve something).

Personally, I see an overlap between time and brain cycles, in that the longer it takes you to make a decision, the more you need to engage the new brain (responsible for more complex thought processes). Read about the old brain theory for more on this.

You should also aim to increase usability and choose a familiar layout to reduce the knowledge gap.

Social deviance

Anything which involves breaking from social norms is likely to harm ability as we have a need to be socially accepted. This is strongly related to the belonging and conformity principles discussed in a previous article.

For example, for some people it would be considered socially deviant to apply to either Oxford or Cambridge university as these have traditionally been associated with “posh” and “rich” people.

This could make it less likely that the person would apply, even if it were probable they would get in, and it was something they really wanted to do.

Similarly, it may be socially deviant for someone brought up in an environment where not wearing brand named clothes is seen negatively to wear a t-shirt from a supermarket.

You could consider showing an example of how to do a task, using social proof from authority figures, and making a process seem more everyday through messaging to help normalise a socially deviant action.


Engaging in an activity which is a change from deep rooted habits seems more complicated than carrying out the same behaviours we always have.

You need to understand that changing habits and brand loyalties can be a difficult task, you need to make the process as easy as possible through improved usability to increase ability.

Non-routine can trigger risk aversion and ambiguity aversion as new = unknown. The user may also need a boost in self-efficacy (the belief that you are capable of performing an action), in order to have the confidence to begin.

There may also be resistance as the status-quo bias suggests there is more friction (or effort) involved in keeping things the way they are than changing them.

People’s aversion to putting effort into changing anything plays a part in why people keep paying for a service they don’t use or particularly want. It also explains why people stay with utility providers which are no longer offering them the best deal.


According to the Fogg behaviour model there are 3 types of successful prompts. Let’s use the example of a software company trying to encourage conversions to identify the different types of prompt.

  1. Facilitators (high motivation, low ability).

    You could send a facilitator prompt which encourages a user to view a “getting started” video for a piece of software a user is delaying purchasing if you suspect they are put off by its complexity.
  1. Spark (high ability, low motivation).

    A spark prompt could be used for when a user who has shown interest in a piece of software but needs a limited time discount to be offered to them to better harness what motivation they have.
  1. Signal (high motivation, high ability).

    A CTA to sign up to a piece of software on a well targeted and compelling landing page is an example of a signal prompt.  

AIDA Advertising and Marketing Formula

The AIDA formula stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

Attention may come from an intriguing advertisement, interest is gained by addressing a problem the customer faces, desire is created by providing benefits of the solution, and action should follow if there is an effective CTA.


Attention can be gained with a bold headline, a hero image, or video, but it must appeal to the target audience persona in order to be effective.


You should maintain interest by making use of sub-headings and ensuring the first few hundred words are really engaging and focus on the user’s motivation (this could include the solution to their problem).

The interest section of the AIDA copywriting formula maps quite well on to the value proposition section of the MECLABS Institute conversion formula above.


Desire can be created by emphasising the achievement of a desired outcome. This can be done through many different methods such as messaging, testimonials, or before and after/with and without images.  


To get people to take action you need to make it clear to them what action they should take next with a prominent, clear CTA. Urgency and scarcity (a Cialdini principle of influence), and incentives can be placed near CTAs to encourage people to interact with them further.

Joining the dots

It is my sincerest hope that by reading through this series on user psychology you have been able to see the connections between lots of the different theories, models, formulas, biases, and practical implementations of user psychology.

By no means have we covered them all (believe it or not). But we have explored a fair few with an important impact on conversion.

I personally don’t believe that any one of the topics we have covered can fully explain why users behave the way they do, or how to apply this knowledge. But I do believe that by seeing the similarities between approaches and combining them, we can make a big difference to conversion.

Still unsure how to optimise through user psychology?

Don’t worry, help is only a click away.

We recognise that navigating the interconnected web of user psychology and applying it to your website can be difficult.

Do you prioritise usability over persuasion?

If so, which part of your website should you begin with?

Or is it more important to focus on honing your messaging and looking for opportunities to trigger cognitive biases?

If you want help answering these questions and identifying opportunities to use user psychology on your website, then a CRO Audit is a great place to start.

To find out more about out CRO Audits, follow the link below. Alternatively, if you feel ready to get in touch, then drop us a message.