On Episode 21 of the Edge of Innovation, we discuss persuasion with researcher and author Victor Yocco. Learn more about Victor and his new book Design for the Mind, here:

Show Notes

Learn More about Victor Yocco
Download Victor’s new book: “Design for the Mind”
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Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.

Paul: Okay. So, let me recap here. Number one was planned behavior. Number two was risky decisions. Number three is Fogg’s Behavior Model and understanding that, which is motivation, ability, and a trigger.

Victor: Yes. Those three components.

Paul: And then the fourth one we just covered is influence of social settings.

Yeah. And I think that from the… I actually separated out the social piece in the book. So I did influence, which is one set of principles like reciprocity and getting people to think about, like, using spokespeople, like Oprah and Lebron, people who we’re familiar with to say your product is good.

And then the social… There’s a chapter on social influence and social identity, which is what I was talking to you about when I gave an example of, like, why do people like to see what others are doing. And that’s something that I’ve got a presentation that I’ve given at a number of conferences, and I really enjoy giving it on social identity. It’s something that, really, you can see how it comes into play across social media. But also across, like, almost all sites now or digital products that are designed with any type of sharing function, that it’s really trying to account for that.

And social identity just says, people have evolved over time to form groups. It’s not this thing where people are just mindless sheep and they follow what others are doing. It’s actually people have evolved; out of necessity we form groups. When we were cavemen and women, that we needed somebody to stay up all night to watch the fire while we slept, and then we could wake up and go hunting while they slept.

And so, we sort of want to form these groups as a way of survival instinctually. But then, now we’re much further along, and it plays itself out a little differently. But basically, people go through their day-to-day life, and they’re looking at themselves and judging their interests and what it is, how they categorize themselves. So, you might be somebody who uses a Mac and listens to heavy metal. And you are aware of that. And that’s called self-categorization. And you also, then, know other people around you, and you look at them, and you engage in a sort of a comparison. And it’s called social comparison. But it’s okay.

So, you use a PC and you like country music. Oh, I can tell that we’re not going to have a lot in common.

But maybe you use a PC, but you also like heavy metal, and so we do have something in common. And from there, social identity theory would suggest we would start looking at what other things we have in common and that would influence our behavior, either positively or negatively, depending on whether I viewed you as what’s called “in” group, somebody who I feel a part of, or “out” group, somebody I feel is not a part of my group.

And so, when you think about a product like…or a platform like Facebook, where you can see what people you are “friends” with are doing, what they’re liking, what their interests are, what their comments are, that capturing social identity theory would suggest you would create this who web, which is what people do.

If I was your friend on Facebook, and you liked something, I would want to see what it was and then give thought to, “Do I like that?” And then maybe I do. And so I explore more, and then maybe I make a purchase based on the fact I saw you liked something.

Or when you make a purchase on Amazon, it gives you the option of shouting out over your social media about it. And that’s so that I can be like, “Oh, Paul just bought that deodorant on Amazon.”

Paul: Or your book.

Victor: Yeah, my… Victor’s book on Amazon. And so, maybe I should check that out. And so, it’s definitely something that is powerful. And it’s a part of our daily life. And depending on what you’re context is depends on which group is sort of at the top of your mind.

So I have a fun presentation where I show a lot of different social, or websites and web properties and how they have captured social identity theory in a way that isn’t necessarily just social media. It isn’t just how Facebook does it, although they are the kings of it, because they are the platform that has so many people on it sharing their likes and informing other people’s decisions. So, it’s a…definitely one of my favorites.

And then, moving on from there, there is a chapter about framing communication. And that comes directly…the whole framing of communication is directly in terms of how I did my research for my university studies. That’s what I was really looking into. And it was how can we say something… So, when it was me and the university, it was, how can we talk about what could be considered controversial topics like climate change or topics like air pollution and water pollution, and make them meaningful to people who might be completely different from each other when they are visiting a zoo or a science center. So that comes in to play. What comes into play is how you frame it.

So, you can take the same piece of information and not be lying, but you can frame it in a way that makes it relevant to somebody. So, it’s about understanding what value sets your users come in with.

And so, let’s say you run a discount travel site. And you have a few different ways you could frame your information. Maybe some of your customers are using your site because they truly want to save a bunch of money. So to those users, you would want to make it explicit. “Using our site will save you 30% off of what most people would say on another — using another site, or buying direct.”

But then maybe you have a certain percent of users who really don’t care as much, or might not be as interested in the cost savings, but the fact that your site assimilates or shows results from 500 other sites that they don’t have to go to is very attractive because it’s going to save them time. So you might want to lead with that message for those users. “Our users save an average of the time it would take you to surf 20 other sites to compare prices right here. Compare dates that properties are available.”

Or it might even be something that is can you frame it in a way, like, if you look at what Amazon is doing now. They are allowing people to have a charitable donation made when they use the site, that that’s a way of framing the usage of the site, which is almost saying, “Using Amazon is a charitable activity.”

And people who have a value of, “I want to be charitable,” or, “I want to contribute to something that does good,” will receive that information and say, “Wow. I’m actually engaging in a charitable behavior by using Amazon.” And that’s not untrue. But they are certainly still doing their shopping on Amazon. They’re not necessarily going and throwing money directly into the coffers of a charity. And so—

Paul: Well, let me ask about that. So I’ve noticed recently in the past couple of months that Amazon is pushing that more, the idea of Smile, Amazon Smile. I had signed up a couple years ago for Amazon Smile and had forgotten about it, for one charity that I like. But now, all of a sudden, they’re reminding me, “Hey, you should use Amazon Smile. You should use Amazon Smile.” What do you think their motivation is to do that?

I don’t think it’s all altruistic of saying, “Hey, they just want to help this charity.” And why do you think the timing is now, or is it a unique timing for me as a customer, or are they doing that across Amazon?

Victor: Well, I think that I’ve noticed it being pushed a lot heavier lately as well, and so I think they are moving in a direction where they feel like this is something that is going to set them apart from some of their competition if they were feeling like somebody is starting to infringe upon their space.

But there’s also research that is out there that has been published that says people want to… People are more likely to donate to a charitable cause when they are spending money on themselves. And so when you look at something like when you’re at the grocery store and they ask you if you also want to add a dollar for a certain charity, that’s based in research where people who are spending money on themselves can start to feel a level of guilt around that, and you can offset it by contributing to charity.

So, like you said, it might not be completely altruistic, but if Amazon might be thinking in a way of, we can create an experience where people… The most money they spend, the better they’re going to feel about themselves, because at the same time, they’re going to be thinking, “Oh, well, a percent of my purchase, or my purchases are going to contribute to this better cause.”

So I don’t think, in a lot of ways, it’s at all altruistic. It’s very much, “We can create a stickier customer. We might actually be able to increase the number of purchases somebody is likely to make, all things equal, because they will also have this offsetting feeling of ‘I’m contributing to something great when I buy my fur coat on Amazon.'”

Paul: To save the seals. That’s your charity. So, it sounds like it’s a good idea. It’s obvious once you say it. It’s sort of like, well, this is building a better relationship with the customer.

Victor: That’s what the intention is, I’m sure, because it’s not something that is cheap for Amazon to implement. But at the same time, if you’re looking at laundry soap, and you could buy it on Wal-Mart’s website, and you could buy it on Amazon, and the price difference is negligible, but all of a sudden, you think, “Well, when I buy this on Amazon, some money is going to go to this charity that I feel like I am doing a good job for the world by buying things on Amazon.”

Paul: Yeah, it’s interesting. This whole Amazon Smile. What was interesting to me is that they chose to implement it in a way that forced a change in user behavior. You had to go to smile.amazon.com, not amazon.com. And that was always a conundrum to me. It was like, wait a minute, if I choose Save the Whales, I don’t want to have to think about that. I’d rather I just go to Amazon, buy something, and it says, “Oh, you just saved the whales.” That would be very positive framing for me, because, “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Boy, I feel good about spending money about myself,” or whatever I spent the money for.

But they don’t. They make you go and change your browser, type in “smile.” Now maybe that’s changed.

Victor: Yeah. That’s not something that I’m familiar with because I haven’t signed up. I guess that tells you I’m a bad person. I get the pop-ups quite frequently. And I haven’t followed up with it. Now, if what you’re saying, though, that is a bad experience. I wouldn’t recommend that at all. And I wonder if that’s a limitation of their technology or something, or if they’re tracking that.

Paul: I find it hard to believe that it’s reasonable that there is any limitation in their technology, but, you know, they can do anything they what. But anyway, we digress.
Victor: No. But I think your point is valid, which is, if you have something that is meant to enhance an experience and then you completely offset it by creating a worse experience or negating anything that the positive experience could have done, you’re just spinning your wheels at that point. And so that… You need to think about the follow through with something like that. People aren’t going to inherently think of smile.amazon.com or want to go to this different, completely different platform to engage in their shopping.
Paul: Along this line, you know, Amazon is a great company to pick on. I know they do opportunistic pricing with different people at different times. What are your thoughts of that? Because, obviously, they’re trying to optimize, you know, that… Well, which would it be? Is it… It’s a mixture, maybe, of planned behavior and I’m going to come in and… I’ve seen this, you know, where…

Victor: Yeah. I could tell you that it would also fall under the…some of the concepts that are in the risky decisions. Some of the research that has come out of behavior economics is that people enter situations with a baseline. And they anchor their decision-making to that baseline. So sometimes, it’s not realistic. Like, if you’ve never experienced something before and I ask you, “How much do you think this would cost for,” something you’ve never seen before in your life. “How much would it cost to buy a whale?”

You might say, “$100.” Well, that then would become your baseline for what’s either expensive or cheap for purchasing a whale and that would help influence your decision.

But then, let’s say, in the case of Amazon, they expose a price to you. Let’s say it’s somebody’s book for $40, and then the next time you visit the site, it’s 35, your anchor of $40… You’re now looking at that book as being cheap and a good opportunity to purchase it. Now, whether Amazon is making money on that purchase or making less money on purchase, that’s a business decision they need to make. But from a customer’s standpoint, they have set this anchor and then through their algorithm or whatever, they’ve sort of manipulated you, because they know, oh, you think this product should be $40. And they even show you. Like, if you add something to your cart to save for later, and then you come back, and they say, “This has dropped $4.30 in price.”

Like, some people, myself included, feel better when I make a purchase, and I think, “I just saved 4% by waiting a week.” And in Amazon’s mind, they are scaled to the size where they don’t mind if you wait a week or two weeks. But if you’re, if people are constantly coming back on this cycle to check, and they see that little red designation that their products has gone down, and they’re going to save money, then that’s taking advantage of learned behavior over time.

Paul: Fascinating. So, you know, I know we’ve got to get to your seventh principle here, but before that, are we… You know, you had mentioned the word sheep. We’re not sheep, you know. There’s this whole idea where we do choose our social… We make choices. But how much do you think is…? Is there a quantifiable difference between now and 50 years ago in the way — and I’ll use the bad word for it — the way we are manipulated?

Victor: I think that we encounter a lot of information and we probably quantifiably do encounter more information now than ever before. And for us to truly pay deep attention to things, it has to be relevant, and it has to be relevant in an immediate way. And so a lot of the things we do — mental shortcuts or social influence — is going to play a heavy role because we truly don’t have time and mental energy to spend making each decision in a well thought out listing out the pros and cons each time.

And so certain things that existed…50 years ago, you still had to wake up and decide what to eat for breakfast. You still had to figure out how you were going to get to work. Those things all stay the same. And, you know, things like getting communication — whether or not it was electronic communication at the time — still happen. But I do think the quantity of information people encounter, what is surface, continually through email, through websites, through smartphone alerts, are things that people have to filter through really quick and decide is this relevant or not, and if its relevant, what is the decision that I make.

And so, things that help to make the decision and reduce the work, the cognitive load — that would be a very psychological term to use — but to reduce the cognitive load on people, looking around and saying, “Well, Paul loves his new iPhone, and it’s time for me to get a new phone. Why should I sort through this 40 pages of potential phones that I can upgrade to? I’m just going to get an iPhone. That’s what I had before, and it worked.” So that… Those are things where it makes sense why people do it. But it’s also based on psychological principles as far as why people do it.

I don’t know if I answered your question, but I do think that we are exposed to more information. That at some point, the decision is to either pay attention to it or not, and that is quantifiably more information that we’re exposed to now than people were in the past.

Paul: Alright. Well, let’s move on to principle number seven.

Victor: Alright. So that is what I call persuasion itself. And it’s based on what I told you I wrote my very first article for A List Apart was the elaboration likelihood model. And that was something else that played a huge role in my dissertation research, which is it’s a specific model that tries to identify how people are persuaded. And what the researchers who created this model thought, based on what they were finding with their studies, was that there’s two paths — and these are imaginary paths — but two imaginary paths that information can be processed through someone’s brain.

And one of them is called the primary. And then the other is secondary. And for something to be processed through the primary path, people need to understand immediately why it’s relevant and why it’s meaningful to them, and it needs to be information that they actually can process.

So, for example, if you gave a book to someone but they didn’t know how to read, that information in that book might be super important to them, but they don’t have the ability to process it. And the importance with the primary path, then, based on what the researchers found, is that attitudes and behaviors that are formed and influenced through the primary path tend to be more stable over time. So if I fall in love with your product because I see that it’s relevant to me, and then I read up all about it, or I use it, and I process all that information through the primary path, and I develop a very stable, positive attitude toward your product, then that’s sort of contrary to the secondary path, which is I don’t see why your product maybe is necessarily relevant to me, but I have to use it, or I decided to use it. And it’s because of persuasion or persuasive techniques.

So maybe it’s something like, to be very stereotypical, it’s something like alcohol consumption and beer where the commercials always have very attractive people in them. Maybe I don’t care. It’s not worth my time to think about which beer tastes the best, but because of the attractiveness of the model or the spokesperson, I will be brand X when I’m at the store picking up a case for my party on Sunday.

Or people have… So, one of the studies was on how people perceive information based on what they know about somebody. And people received an essay. One group was told that the people who wrote the essay were students, and another group, same essay, was told that the person writing the essay was a Princeton professor. And they screened the subjects so that they knew the topic of the essay wasn’t going to be super relevant to them. It was they screened them based on geography, and the essay was about people in a specific area that was not the local area that they were pulling these people from. And so they extrapolated from that that it would be less relevant.

And so, people consistently scored the essay that was allegedly written by the Princeton professor as much higher than the one that was written by the high school or the students. And so, you know, they said from that, look, this is a secondary route of persuasion, saying, okay, same exact same essay. But the people who thought it was a Princeton professor thought it was done much better than people who thought it was a student.

And so, what it really is saying is that the secondary path is much more superficial. And then also, prone to change. So, if I use your product, but it’s because I think the name is really catchy or your spokesperson is really cool, or because you offered me a free pack of gum to try it, I might have a positive attitude, but if your competitor comes along and actually is better than you or offers me something comparable, I will probably consider shifting my attitude to being more favorable towards them, because I haven’t processed it will this deep, meaningful processing that happens through the primary route.

Now, when I wrote my article for A List Apart, and then also, when I thought about the concept — and I didn’t just recreate the article for a chapter in my book. I used completely different examples and talked about the concepts in a different way than I did for that article. But something consistent for both is that it’s not one versus the other. It truly can be that they complement each other. Can you show somebody immediately why your product is relevant and have it have all of the really useful stuff?

So, we were picking on Amazon, but we can also use them as a good example. Amazon might show you immediately that your product is re—, their product is relevant because you can buy all the things that you need to in one spot. And then they also surface very deep product descriptions that allow you to understand what it is you’re buying. So those are things that people need when they are really scrutinizing through the primary route.

But then, through the secondary route, they have these things like price drop, one-click shopping, and different things that they do that are very much more superficial but also tap into that secondary route of persuasion.

Another thing that’s secondary would be how they have the start rating review system versus going out and having to invest a lot of time and effort into figuring out whether this product is good, you can default to well, “Well, what is the rating?” Or, “What is the number of people who have purchased it? Is this a number one seller?” These are all things that are much more superficial when it comes to deciding whether or not to purchase the product. But Amazon offers those things up so that if you were going to buy the same computer you were shopping for on Amazon at the local store, you may or may not be able to figure out which one was the best seller, or which one had positive reviews.

Now, we all know we could pull out our smartphone and do it. But from a perspective of this model, it’s saying whoever makes that information most accessible easiest is going to be tapping into the secondary route as well.

Paul: I see. Okay.

Victor: But—

Paul: Go ahead.

Victor: Well, I was going to say that for primary route, which is the route that you really would hope people eventually take for your product, you have to then make sure you have a good product, and you have the information available. So if people immediately see why something is relevant to their life and why they should be doing it, if their next step is to look for information so that they can make a really good decision, you need to make sure that you have that information there and easily able to be found easily, or else they’re processing isn’t going to be able to be complete.

Paul: Right. So, a lot of the things… I just want to take a step back. One of the things that’s important to note is that all of these concepts, we’re talking about them in somewhat of an abstract way. I mean, we’re using examples and discussing it. And it can get a little bit confusing. But what’s really nice is that in the book, you go through step-by-step examples and, really, webpage deconstruction and construction of how to do these, how to effectively leverage these principles.

Victor: That was my goal. I mean, I definitely went into the writing of the book with the thought that the number one task that I had for myself that I would hold myself to was that a designer or somebody who’s working on a design team would say, “I understand what’s going on here, and I have a visual of where this comes from, what is some web property or digital software application that does use this principle or that Victor can at least tie alleged use of this principle to.” Because, of course, I can’t tell you I’ve ever sat in a meeting for Amazon where they’ve said, “Yes, the elaboration likelihood model is exactly what we’re going to be designing around.”

But I can tell you that this principle can be seen in how their site presents itself and the different features and functionality that they have included.

Paul: So, now, you know, as… I think, for our audience, I think it’s important to realize that if you’re designing or building a website, if you’re creating content, you are using these well or poorly, but you’re using these, all of these principles. And I think what Victor’s book does is it really gets us able to sharpen our pencils and say, “Oh, this is why I would do this call to action as opposed to this,” or use clip art, or use a different picture or…I mean, I hate clip art. Or, you know…

So, those points are, is that this is critically important for how you, our listeners, are presenting information. The better you understand this, the more effective your website is going to be to your customer or to your users.