Neuromarketing is regarded as the holy grail of online marketing. The idea we might be able to influence customer behavior through science is one that makes our marketing hearts skip a beat. Did you know for example that round numbers are processed differently from unround ones? And have you ever wondered why booking sites flag up the message “7 other people are looking at this resort” when you are checking out your dream destination?
In a nutshell, neuromarketing is the science used to determine customer behavior. It analyses how consumers process the avalanche of information that comes at them from the internet. It studies what processes come into play as a customer makes a purchasing decision. It turns out that it is the little things – such as the introduction of an orange buy button, photographs of “real” co-workers and the simple words “take me back to the homepage” – that make consumers just that little bit happier. But as I discovered, there are many more things that influence our behavior subconsciously. Read on!
The brain digests round prices (€300 for example) differently from prices that are not round (€299,93). This even impacts buyer behavior. Round number are processed easily, fluently, emotionally; the processing of unround numbers on the other hand is difficult, halting and rational. If a purchase is emotionally charged (think of a laptop), a round price will enforce the intention to buy. But if the laptop is a business purchase, an unround price would get a better result.
It was established last year that the way you present “social proof” in your webshop makes a huge difference. Twinkle defines social proof as “the phenomenon by which consumers believe that the decisions and actions of other consumers are the correct behavior in a certain situation”. Recommendations or product reviews are obvious examples. Research from Tu and Fishback shows that the power of social proof is derived in a large part from the way it is framed – how it is put into words. It appears that if you present social proof in terms of preference (“Others also enjoyed this product”), your message is significantly stronger than if it’s framed in terms of actions (“Others also bought this”).
We read from left to right. This makes it easier to process an advert in which a car drives from left to right than vice versa. Unconsciously, we experience the former advert more positively. This has to do with processing speed. An advert with a product or face pointing to the center of the advert is processed more easily – a phenomenon known as ‘processing fluency’. The easier it is to process the information, the more you like the product.
The technique known as asymmetric dominance or ‘decoy effect’ is commonly applied in online marketing to steer consumers towards making a choice. To two equally viable options, a third, less attractive option is added to direct consumer preference.
A well-known example of the decoy effect is the sale of newspaper subscriptions.
Situation 1 offers two options:
In this experiment, 68% of participants choose the digital subscription. The cheapest option was also the preferred one.
In situation 2, the participants had to choose from three options:
In this situation, 84% went for Option 3, the print and digital subscription, and just 16% opted for the digital subscription, the previous preferred choice. Nobody picked Option 2. The preferred choice changed from the cheapest to the most expensive option. The decoy effect is responsible for this shift. The new Option 2 served as a distraction.
Everyone loves to get stuff for free. The word ‘free’ has a powerful pull. A consumer is more likely to go for ‘Buy one t-shirt and get one free’ than ‘Buy two t-shirts for €20’ – even if the total price is €20 in both cases.
When we combine the necessity to buy with a time limit, we can unconsciously enforce a consumer’s intention to buy. The higher our brain activity, the stronger the feeling that we have to purchase the product. That is why Booking.com adds the message ‘7 others are looking at this resort’ to the resort you are considering booking – to ratchet up the (time)pressure.
Booking.com uses time pressure a lot
Quid pro quo – the principle of reciprocity. Or, in marketing terms, offering free information to the visitor without expecting anything in return. Good examples are free ebooks, a free product demo or a free trial. If a visitor receives something for free, he or she is more inclined to do something in return through the social ‘obligation’ to pay back a gift with a gift of his or her own. But beware: the free offer has to be meaningful, unexpected and personal. If not, it can work against you.
Emotion plays a central role in online purchasing, although often unconsciously so. Feelings of happiness or joy created by your webshop positively reinforce online sales. Happy faces make people more giving. Laughing models in combination with upbeat colors create happy, positive emotions. This is because we are unconsciously inclined to mirror behavior (through our mirror neurons).
If you succeed in surprising your visitors, your webshop becomes top-of- mind and you’ve stolen a march on your rivals. You can surprise your visitor by sending him or her a nice birthday message. For instance: ‘Especially for you on your birthday: 50% off all our products!’ Chances are that this will be judged positively.
Scientists have discovered that ‘looking up’ is associated with abstract thinking: complex and long-term. ‘Looking down’ is correlated with concrete thoughts: simple and short-term. If consumers look up, they attach more value to deeply held desires. So if you want your product to radiate an air of luxury (an expensive car), you might want to have a banner or promotion come in from above on your webshop. If it’s more about a complementary service (something concrete and practical), you need your visitors to cast their eyes downwards.
All the “rules” I have described above are based on scientific research. But that doesn’t mean that they apply to every webshop at all times. Start applying these neuromarketing techniques and you’ll soon discover their power and work out which work best on your webshop, for your product.