4 Neuroscience Insights That Can Increase Conversions

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In marketing, we often get so caught up with technology that we fail to focus on the insights we can get from learning more about decision-making and psychology. We forget that the human brain hasn't really evolved in the last 50,000 years. So while technology changes, what we're mapping it on does not.

Here are four things about the brain and how it works that retailers can apply to increase marketing effectiveness:

1. Making choices tires the brain and can make subsequent decision making difficult.

When presenting choices, differences should be obvious. People can easily make decisions if they can identify how one option differs from another. Most e-commerce companies are proud that they carry everything, but that can be a problem. A huge number of similar choices will overwhelm consumers, leading them to not making a decision at all.

What you should do: Guide customers through the use of wizards. Embody your knowledge of what's important about the choices visitors have to make in a set of simple questions. Then, in every step of the guided experience, give them a limited amount of clear choices. Don't make visitors infinitely drill down or scroll to look at thumbnails, grids, or a list of products.

4 neuroscience insights

2. We anchor on the first thing we see.

Context matters. How brands present information and what precedes them or how they prime someone to make a decision matters.

Consumers anchor on the price, and the order that they see the price makes a big difference. You're bound to sell more if your price scale goes down. For example, if you were shown a $10 tie first, then a $50 tie, you'd be unwilling to pay five times as much. However, if you see a $1,000 suit first, you may consider paying one-twentieth of that to get a tie.

What you should do: Have an anchor that primes and predisposes consumers to an experience. Show products in decreasing price order. Add a new, high-end item (which won't sell well) so that the sale of the reasonable compromise increases.

You can also put irrational anchors in the "lobby" of the experience or before visitors get to the main decision. For example, if people are asked to recall the last two digits of their social security number, then asked what they would be willing to pay for a raffle ticket, those whose last two digits are 90s (vs. the 0s) are willing to pay 60 percent more for the raffle ticket. This is irrational as social security numbers are unrelated to the price of the raffle tickets.

3. People are tribal.

Human beings are an overlay of our tribal identities. These different tribes we belong to may be voluntary (e.g., the music genre you relate with) or involuntary (e.g., your nationality). People are influenced more by those in their tribe. For example, teenagers often don't care about what their parents think, but care about their peers’ opinion.

What you should do: Identify who your target audience is and communicate your values to them via your editorial tone. In this age of infinite information, you have to be very specific and be a specialist to be remembered. 

Don't try to sell to everyone. It's OK to alienate people who aren't part of your target audience. It's a mistake to do "the death by ‘and’ product line extension" and sell 95 percent of one product and 5 percent of another, and talk about that 5 percent a lot.

Focus and really know who you're talking to and what you're talking about. Consumers crave for companies who are spot on and talk as if they understand them. This is critical from a writing aspect (e.g., headlines and copywriting), but applies to conversion in general.

4. Visual processing is very powerful and quick.

Half of the brain is devoted to processing visual information, and it's wired to pay attention to motion first, graphics second, and text last. We can't read text if there are strong images, and we can't view images in the presence of motion. Therefore, if you have a web page with a banner at the top that changes rapidly, the other items will be ignored.

What you should do: Avoid using stock photography, and don't use motion unless it directly supports your call to action.

How you represent video on the page is also important — whether it auto-plays, is embedded on the page, is made clickable, and whether that clickable icon is a thumbnail or a button matters. Experiment with those different options to find out what works best for your brand. However, it's generally better to put a thumbnail video viewer that opens in a lightbox pop-over for the full experience. This way, it's not hard for you to design around the video.

For an e-commerce product catalog, have collages of category-level static images that show the diversity in the category rather than using rotating banners or animated sliders that take up valuable real estate.

How we make choices, who we listen to and what we pay attention to are deeply rooted in our physicality and evolution. Present a great experience to your customers by giving clear choices, talking to them directly and controlling where attention goes to on your web pages by using graphics deliberately.

This article originally appeared in Tim's Retail Online Integration column July 2, 2014

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