Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Funnel Love

I'm not much of an email guy, but the one newsletter that I really like comes from Jetsetter. The travel site's special focus is big, beautiful images: they can make a hotel room look so delicious, you want to lick the screen. I've been a fan of Jetsetter for years now, but I've never booked a trip through their site. Their content succeeded with me—it engaged and informed, and it built my appreciation of their brand—but it also failed to convert me into a paying customer.

Why is that? The answer is in the sales funnel.

Whether you're talking about the process of buying a car or the logic behind an infomercial pitch, there is a "sales funnel" that describes the stages customers go through on the way to making a purchase. Different people assign different names to different stages in that process, but by and large it all boils down to the following:

Awareness --> Desire --> Evaluation --> Commitment

First you need to know the product exists. Then you need to want it. Then you need to ask yourself whether you're making the right decision. Finally, you're all in: you make the purchase.

Jetsetter, like many other online marketers, loses the sale because they skip steps in the process. Jetsetter wants me to jump from liking the photo (awareness and the beginning of desire) straight into booking the trip (commitment). That leaves out evaluation, though, and I'm not going to spend thousands of dollars on a trip without first evaluating my options. On some level, Jetsetter is aware of this, and they try to compensate by offering limited-time offers ("sale expires in 5 hours") to force me to commitment. I'm sure that works with some customers, but not me.

What you need to understand is your customers will go through every stage in the sales funnel, whether or not you assist them in that process. If your site doesn't help with one of the stages, they'll go somewhere else to perform that stage; when they're done, maybe they'll come back to your site, and maybe they won't.

Respect the funnel, and give your customers the time they need to make a decision. If you try to hurry the process, you might just be driving them to a competitor.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cognitive Biases and You: Confirmation Bias

This is one in a series of posts on cognitive biases and how they apply to digital content and strategy. If you'd like to learn more about the thinking and experimental work behind these theories, I highly recommend Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. 

Confirmation bias is one of the most common and pervasive cognitive biases you're likely to see. It is the human tendency to preferentially accept information that appears to confirm already-held beliefs, and question evidence that calls those beliefs into question. Confirmation bias is particularly evident in the context of controversy. If you believe that something is true, and I appear with evidence that you're wrong, you're much more likely to question my evidence (or my motives in presenting it) than you are to change your mind.

For an extended (and passionate) presentation on confirmation bias and its effect on American history and politics, see The Political Brain, by Drew Westen. As Westen documents, confirmation bias played a significant role in presidential politics over the past 30 years. Westen also draws on behavioral research to provide the solution: confirmation bias is evoked when you confront a difference of opinion with evidence. The way past it is first to establish an emotional connection with your audience.

For example: let's say that you're developing content for an environmental activist organization. You have a set of content on global warming, and you're not interested in preaching to the choir. You want to convince global warming skeptics, but how do you go about that? If you present facts and figures, Westen argues, you will get nowhere. Your skeptical readers will believe that you're cherry-picking your data, or even that you're quoting from studies that were drawn up in service of a conspiracy.

Instead, you need to begin by connecting with your readers. Think emotional themes: the welfare of our children, our shared hope for the future, the beauty of growing things. Open with this content to establish a set of values you share with your readers, the skeptics included. Then, from there, you move on to aspects of your argument. Westen argues that you can make an evidence-based argument, but not right away. Opening with inspiration and closing with evidence gives you the best chance of success.

One last thing about confirmation bias: it applies to everyone, you and me included, but it's far easier to spot in others than it is in ourselves. It might be worth asking where your own confirmation biases lie—those are the places where your own thinking breaks down.