March 19th, 2013.
Over the past few decades, businesses which engage in advertising, PR and marketing have increasingly turned to research in the cognitive sciences to inform their decision making. The hope is that greater insight into the psyche of the consumer will ultimately lead to more profit. In recent years, the rapidly developing field of neuroscience has come to the fore with organisations as diverse as PepsiCo, Intel, CBS, eBay and ESPN utilising ‘neuromarketing’ company NeuroFocus to test for various physiological and cognitive responses to commercials, branding and products.
There is a straightforward reason for making use of such complex science:
We need some understanding of who and what we are communicating with, if we want to have any hope of them understanding us. This is why it is worthwhile incorporating an understanding of cognitive science, whether psychological, philosophical or neuroscientific, into an outreach strategy. Even a cursory glance over the cognitive science page of Wikipedia will reveal that our gut instinct about both ourselves and others is more often than not, flat out wrong. A good outreacher needs to dig a little deeper.
Classic Study: Behaviourism – Skinner and the Rat
Psychologist B.F. Skinner devoted the bulk of his career to the understanding of human behaviour. Perhaps his greatest contribution to cognitive science was his theory of operant conditioning, which holds that behaviours can be learnt on the basis of positive or negative reinforcement.
Skinner demonstrated his theory with a device known as the ‘Skinner Box’, which featured little more than a small container, a hungry rat and a selection of levers. When pressed, one of the levers would release a small pellet of food. Quickly the rat learnt to only press this lever if it wanted to get what it desired. Reinforced by the reward of food, the rat would readily repeat this action over and over again.
But what does this tell us about outreach?
It tells us that well-rewarded behaviour will be repeated. For example, if a journalist has posted an infographic before, had good results, then they are likely to do it again. They know the operation and realise the benefits. This factor of repeatability means that outreach is more scalable.
However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t outreach to those who have never posted infographics before. It took Skinner’s rat some time to understand the process, but once the behaviour is learnt, it is likely to be repeated. This is where persuasion and information kicks in. We wouldn’t dream of entrapping potential clients in a cage to reap some reward: in the rat’s case this was a bag of food, in our case it will be the prospect of driving traffic and awareness towards their website, or just spreading the joy of infographics. Our positive reinforcement will be much harder to enforce. So we have to provide examples of previous successes, as well as building trust to get clients pressing the lever for content again and again.
Wisdom of the Ancients: Emotion and Reason
In the great philosopher Plato’s famous analogy of the soul, emotion was two horses pulling a charioteer, reason, in opposing directions. The harmonious soul would be able to keep both emotion and reason in balance. A strong outreach strategy should have a similar aim.
- Marketers must be able to reassure the logical characteristics in consumers. A tug-at-the-heartstrings ploy may go over some peoples’ heads, or worse still, invite cynicism.
How does this relate to outreach?
- While using emotional hooks is important for content you can’t rely on it for all methods of outreach.
- Know your market. Some markets will not mind their emotions being pandered to whereas others will see this as little more than fluff, prizing ‘the facts’ much more highly.
A more integrated approach between the emotional and the rational will maximise the effectiveness of the outreach.
Recent Study: Optimism Bias and the Effort of Rejection
Optimism Bias:- Research into human decision-making suggests that humans are naturally hard-wired to believe.
It requires greater cognitive resources to question an assumption. It is more effective to believe something than to reject it. By nature, we are trusting. This is why big institutions, popular brands and institutions are built on popular belief and trust. To constantly test and question stimuli would be too draining on our cognitive resources.
How is this applicable to outreach?
- Spend time outreaching to larger influencers. Your content/image/post/media will have greater longevity and far reaching effects- people trust household names.
- Engage in an initial conversation to build the relationship, assuring and informing your outreach target. Eventually, once the aims have been met, it will be far less likely that your request will be denied due to the cognitive efforts of rejection on the receiver’s part.
- Have a full proof strategy, that way you are prepared to respond to any queries.
- This can also be applied to persuasion, turning a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. It’s like a mental tug of war, making the effort of rejection even more exhausting.
- Well-rewarded behaviour will be repeated.
- Emotion and reason come hand-in-hand. A conclusion (logic) usually results in an action (emotional impulse).
- Determine the market before taking the plunge, whether a more emotive or logical method should be applied.
- Have a full proof outreach POA so that any queries can be met with total reassurance, making rejection less probable.
- Use other brands and institutions where possible to enhance your own content.
December 7th, 2012.
There are a million and a half blog posts about how Online Retailers keep their drop-off levels down; but what methods do they have in place to make you loosen up with your spending.
Charities have been doing it for years. Getting you to put your hand in your wallet is their speciality. Just when you thought you would ignore their pleadings something tugs at your heart strings. A little niggle that says “do it now, you know you want to”. Anyone who’s watched Jeremy Kyle knows what I’m talking about. Right after the Foxy Bingo guy announces the break, you’re confronted with 4 minutes of hunger-ravaged children reaching out from the Plasma Screen. It’s emotional Blackmail.
But it’s effective…
Online retailers are getting in on the action too. They haven’t quite gone down the guilt road yet (though I’m sure they would if they could) but they are playing with your mind to get you to ACT NOW and not go elsewhere.
…Pulling on the purse strings if not pulling on the heart strings.
It’s even more difficult to create that sense of urgency online, especially when it’s so easy to check prices and offers on other retail websites. Even a website has the right product at the price you’re willing to pay; you would more than likely check elsewhere. So the only weapon left in the web retailers’ arsenal is the notion that if you don’t buy something there and then, you’ll lose it forever.
So let’s see what online retailers do to keep us from doing a wider search, making a coffee, talking to the wife, walking the dog, looking up trivia from The Godfather, looking up how tall Andre the Giant was, looking up the longest recorded flight of a chicken, sitting on Reddit for 2 hours and then going to bed having forgotten we wanted to buy anything in the first place!
1) Act Now to Avoid Dismemberment. I mean Disappointment
You’ve probably seen this on concert ticket sites especially. “only 2 tickets available at this price – book now to avoid disappointment.” Is this really true? Can it really be the case that every time I search for an airline ticket, only 2 seats are available on the flight that I wanted to take? It’s the travel-ticket equivalent of a Saw trap.
‘All your life you’ve enjoyed a leisure of choice when buying things online, but now you have 30 seconds to decide, or lose… everything!’
It’s incredibly persuasive and a panacea for retailers who are faced with an audience of fence-sitters and flip-floppers.
2) Safety in numbers
‘17 others are looking at this item now’.
’29 people are watching this item’
‘143,343,123 people are scrambling for their card details so they can buy this item and you can’t!’
Talk about putting the frighteners up! Nothing invokes a reaction like a bit of competition. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, these stats make you feel two things:
a) This product is in high demand and might run out.
b) This product is popular, so it must be good.
Suddenly certain things like price comparisons seem less urgent. I was going to go and see if I could get it cheaper elsewhere but I can’t risk losing out to other shoppers. I might never see a Self-Stirring Mug at this price again!
The painful things about these methods is that you actually have no idea if it’s true of not. It could just be automated. But does the risk outweigh the reward? Probably not.
3) What’s in a Name?
‘Wayne in Manchester also bought this item’.
Although this isn’t one of the sweat-inducing panic-purchase inducers we’ve come across so far, it could be the push needed to get you to click ‘buy’. Chances are, ‘Wayne in Manchester’ isn’t your friend or financial advisor, so why does his opinion matter? It’s possible he’s not even real! But the fact that someone bought the item is enough of an endorsement to tip even the most frugal shopper over the edge.
If you don’t believe me; think of all those times you’ve been looking at an item on Amazon and thought ‘Nobody’s interested. There must be some hidden catch I’m not seeing.’ Or you’ve been browsing Ebay and seen an item with no bids: rather than thinking ‘wow. I must have stumbled on a bargain’, you think ‘I must be missing something here!’.
Maybe this says something about mob mentality, maybe we just like to follow the herd. It works well all the same, and ‘Wayne in Manchester’ is presented as the spokesman of wise purchasers and his presence on the page alone is enough to egg you on to buy something.
4) Is that a ‘Buy’ Button on Your Page, or Are You Happy to See Me?
Basic as the big [BUY NOW] button seems, it’s the dominant feature of the page.
For those of us who have gotten to grips with Traffic Signals, Green means GO! GO, GO, GO! So it’s no mistake that the only colour on the page is green, and subsequently the whole page screams ‘BUY BUY BUY’. Psychologically, we’re hopefully still capable of exercising some decorum; we are free-thinking people after all. But with structured, thought-out tricks like this, turning away has never been harder.
Even as I write this I want to click on the screenshot image, just to do as I’m told. It really sucks you in like a blackhole (or maybe a greenhole?). You have no chance.
5) And That’s Not All!
As well as all the mind games and emotional turmoil these companies make us go through to convince us to buy things; occasionally they’ll throw you a treat to sweeten the deal. Like when I recently bought 77 Antique Globes. The Price-Tag of £60,830.00 seemed a little steep and I must confess I was in two minds about whether to click ‘Buy’. But when I realised that the company offered Free Delivery, I couldn’t help but go ahead with the purchase.
Now I’ll never be lost again. But I will spend the rest of my life cursing myself for falling for the ‘free delivery’ option. Other sales incentives (also known as ‘close incentives’ or ‘things that are so cheap we can give them away for free without affecting our profits’) include ‘10% off your next order when you buy now’ and ‘Free warranty up to 30 days!’.
So now we’ve identified the ways in which online retailers fishhook us into a sale, we can go back to shopping online with a renewed sense of freedom. There’s no way any of us will ever fall for those tricks again.
November 1st, 2012.
What is Movember?
- Movember (a combination of the terms Moustache and November), is an annual national incentive welcomed far and wide by mo bro‘s (Movember brothers, I think) who help to raise awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other male cancer initiatives, by the growing of their moustaches.
- The idea was launched circa 1999 by a group of 80 guys in a pub in Adelaide – and since then has gotten great publicity for it’s cause, with ambassadors including many well known celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg and UFC Lightweight Champ Frankie Edgar.
- The campaign has even gone on to partner with Google Chrome to create a video:
Great! – What can businesses learn from Movember?
Aside from the success that comes with the genuine promotion of a charitable cause, there are many things all business owners and it’s employee’s can learn here, including:
1) Teamwork increases the odds of success!
It was a team of 80 guys that first started the initiative, not just one. Now, while it is entirely possible to begin something on your own and grow it from there, it is so much easier having people agree on the same thing from the start.
Aside from the team of people being on the same wavelength, being part of something gives it more power, which gets things going faster than if you have to wear all the hats yourself!
2) The best gains can be gotten through giving something away!
There’s a reason why on your lunch-break, if you’re lucky you’ll see a coca-cola van parked up, attached to a trolley full of free drinks it’s giving away – branding.
Being known to seduce potential customers with your product is an age-old tactic and is regularly used, use it!
The original mo bro’s gave away their freshly shaven upper lips and gained tonnes of cool-points in return.
Whatever your business niche, offer up some freebies! It might lose you money in the short run, but could very well gain you leads and will strengthen your brand awareness in the long run.
3) People outside of your niche, will help you – if what you are doing helps them!
With the recent banking scandals and shortfalls related to the Olympics, it might be hard to believe it, but people like to be nice! – Even more so when other people appreciate their niceness.
One example of this is Qantas – the flag carrier of Australia, who painted a moustache on one of its airplanes in aid of the charity in 2011.The famous ‘tache can also be spotted at the Qantas terminal where it is displayed proudly on the entrance building:
The business of aviation isn’t particularly well known for charity among the masses, however Qantas getting involved in this shows that it doesn’t matter what you do, it will be recognized if there is genuine goodwill behind it!
4) Forget paid promotion in hopes of going viral, if your idea/cause is a good one, that is PR enough!
It’s true you can buy your way to a million views on YouTube and etc. but I’m guessing the satisfaction isn’t nearly as close to when something genuinely takes off!
Of course working with internet giants Google can bring any cause to the attention of the masses, mostly because Google pretty much run the inter-web. However, it wasn’t Google that shed light on Movember alone.
The charity worked its own way to the forefront for many reasons the biggest being that it relates to men, who make up a huge scale of the population!
Allowing/encouraging others to get involved in your cause, means they’ll feel closely related to it, and if it appeals to them personally they’ll be even more likely to continue or at least acknowledge it among peers.
After that, going “viral” is almost the next step, simply because people will want to be a part of something so good!
Ask Men‘s Movember movie comedy short:
MovemberTV: Movember’s Impact on Awareness
October 17th, 2012.
Topic in question:
Google Adwords’ image search ads
Are these new?
Well yes and no. No technically, since they were originally launched at a Google Search event back in 2010, but to you – yes if you have never used them before, obviously.
What are they?
In short, they are ads that include images similar to the ones you see on the search network as part of a PPC campaign.
Where do you use them?
These can be used as part of your online advertising campaign in Google’s display network. Specifically, they will appear at the top of Google’s image search above the lines of images returned. Here is an example:
Why would you use them?
For many reasons. There is a huge untapped opportunity to be found via the images you have on your website than just through regular SEO. For instance, through the ALT-tags used in your images. These can lead people to the content on your website.
Also, often people are genuinely just looking for an image rather than actual text content – for instance when looking for new shoes, or any product they are interested in. This is a great chance to draw in prospective customers.
Hold on, don’t we already have image ads on the display network?
We sure do!
So, how are these different?
They’re completely different. Image ads are ads featured in Google’s display network. This network is different from Google’s search network. Instead, it is a large collection of websites that are in a partnership with Google that work to display graphical ads that have been built with the display ad builder.
Those ads look like this:
Will these cost me more than usual search ads?
No, you can bid on relevant keywords as you usually would. So this will only cost you as much as you choose to bid.
Any tips for effectiveness?
Google advises you create a separate campaign for these kinds of ads. This way you can gauge quality scores much more accurately and hone the campaign in a way that works best.
Things to keep in mind?
Although a useful way to advertise, it is worth noting that there are no guarantees this will be a huge success in terms of conversions, and as with text ads, it is a process of constant tweaking until you find what works.
Some users have suggested that this is something that best works with tangible products (on e-commerce sites) where someone will search to get an idea of a product they will eventually wear, use or feel (i.e furniture, clothing or decoration).
If your product doesn’t fall into this band, then the outlook for image ads search might be branding; a way to advertising the visual aspects of your services. Low Cost Holidays [link redacted] does a good job of this. Here, I searched the term winter holidays:
Okay where do I start?
You can explore this feature in Adwords by selecting a campaign on the left and then selecting ads from the top panel. From there, select new ad and then Specialised – Search from the drop down menu:
Follow the instructions from there. – Good luck!
July 10th, 2012.
I recently found this leaflet in the bottom of my draw. It shows how all the different search engines used to relate to one another and how they got their results.
It bought back memories of how it used to be in the search engine game. It also shows how long we’ve been in the SEO game compared with some of the other jonny come latelys!