Optimizing for influence | Digital Marketing Skills Review

For four days this week, we were out of power. Winds and foul weather whipped up from tropical storm Cristobal to the south of us took down trees, which damaged a lot of power lines around our state, blacking out several communities.

The power company told us on the first day that we would have power by that afternoon. It didn’t come on. Then they told us it would happen the next day. Nothing. On the third day, they had again readjusted several times, first telling us that we would have power in the morning and then in the afternoon.

By the time the afternoon came, I was convinced that they weren’t coming that day as well and so I was motivated to buy a generator, because we were running out of clean dishes and despite our best efforts to keep the food in the fridge and freezer cool with ice, meats and frozen veggies were starting to thaw.

So I went to our local hardware store and bought the biggest generator I could find, intending to make it so that not only my current problem was solved but any problem in the future as well.

How Does One Motivate Motivation?

When thinking about conversion, motivation is everything. As a consumer of goods, I’d much rather have the easier option of having somebody hook me up to the grid and passively suck down power without having to buy some other product to fix that pain. But when the power company failed me for four days and I didn’t have any other option, I spent my money on the easiest thing I could find to fix that pain — a generator.

My motivation was high and that was what committed me to the sale.

When someone lands on our landing page or website, one of the most important thing we can do on the site is design for their motivation. Sometimes, we’re designing for split intent here, because you need to address the needs of any individual that lands on the site.

For example, as Momoko Price explains on a website, we might design in features that help people that are just exploring a product, by giving tons of social proof, a unique value proposition, and long form copy intended to break down benefits and quell any objections the user might have. Their motivation is low, because they’re just learning about the features of the product and what kind of problems the product solves.

But we’ll also want to design the site for those who know that this is the product they need and just want to find what they’re looking for and checkout. Like my purchase of the generator, these people have found their solution and their motivation to buy the product immediately.

In another example, we might know the motivation of the user ahead of time as we’ve worked them through the funnel up to this point and so when they land on a landing page, we expect their motivation to be high and so what we must do is eliminate any friction that might stop them from moving to the steps to conversion.

Both of these point to one underlying principle: That we’re not really optimizing for conversion. We’re optimizing for motivation. When we’re able to do that well, then a motivated buyer will more readily convert.

Optimize for Motivation, not conversion rate

Yes, we want to increase conversion, but we can’t optimize for that directly, because we don’t know exactly what is going to convert. We can design with best practices, and besides that, makes some guesses as to what might convert gawkers into new customers. But this very well might not work. We need a better plan than that.

The highest factor in whether or not a person converts is motivation. One of the greatest psychological works on the science of persuasion comes from Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. To research the book, Cialdini spent years undercover trying to figure out what influenced people to buy.

He came up with six principles of persuasion that we can bring into to affect the buyer and thenlater added a seventh: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Liking, Consensus and Unity.

  • Reciprocity means when we do something beneficial for the buyer then the buyer is more willing to convert
  • Scarcity meaning that the buyer will more readily convert when there are only so many left of the product, for example, or there is a limited time discount
  • Authority means there is a perceived trust in competence and experience in the seller/site owner
  • Consistency meaning values, message, and even design is similar from one point to the next
  • Liking meaning the customer values the relationship with the one selling the product and feels a connection with the site/site owner/ product
  • Consensus meaning the more people that buy the product, the more evidence the buyer will have to persuade them to buy
  • lastly, the principle of unity, meaning the buyer relates to the site/ site owner in perspective and identity

Conversion Heuristic Formula

To understand in what context a buyer converts, Cialdini gives this conversion heuristic formula:

C=4M +3V+2(I-F)-2A

Let’s break this down. First, note that the numbers before the letters are the amount of importance given to each factor in the heuristic formula. The letters represent the following:

  • “C” is the probability of conversion. So “C” equals …
  • “M” stands for motivation. As you can see, given the number “4” before it. The M in the equation is the most important factor affecting the probability of conversion.
  • “V” stands for the clarity of the value proposition. The buyer need to have a clear idea of what the offer is and what the payoff is for them.
  • The next two elements are “I”, incentive, and “F” friction. The goal needs to be to reduce the amount of friction, or difficulty for the user to get to the intended goal of conversion and to increase incentive, the desirability of the product.
  • Finally the “A” in the conversion heuristic formula is for anxiety. This has to do with reducing the buyer’s objections or concerns in buying the product.

To influence motivation, we use skills and techniques of persuasion science to help move a somewhat motivated buyer into someone that is highly motivated.

The art and Science of Persuasion

So not every buyer has the will to buy something immediately. The pain is not relevant enough. The problem can be put off and we can deliberate to death over working solutions. As I said before, my purchase of the generator came about because I was pressed against the wall. I needed a generator right away to solve this problem of not having electricity right now and the anxiety of not having in the future. When a buyer comes to a site they are not always going to be that motivated.

So how do we help move motivation that is not so high to a point where there is a need to buy?

First get the fundamentals out of the way. According to Peep Laja at CXL, There is a hierarchy to optimization, a pyramid. Working from the base upward, we find that there are five different elements to any conversion optimization strategy. They are as follows:

  • First, functional. Make sure that the website functions correctly and is able to be navigated without throwing coding issues or bugs.
  • Second, accessible. Can people of all skills and handicaps use the site? Is the language clear and readable to most?
  • Third, usable. This involves making sure that the site is user friendly.
  • Fourth, intuitive. Does the site match the thought process of the user. Again the idea here is to reduce friction and limit distraction giving the user the streamlined ability to convert without the interpretation of mixed or inappropriately placed messages.
  • Finally to cap off the pyramid, we persuade.

The best way to persuade is to not just imagine what you would say if this were an actual face to face sales call or mirror the post-purchase customer’s language. All of that should happen, but there is also the necessary work of using psychological principles to sculpt the language in such a way that it helps the buyer to convert.

Persuasion Psychology

Fogg’s Behavioral Model

Besides the seven principles already given Robert Cialdini gives, many more exciting techniques exist to persuade and help motivate buyers to convert. Peep Laja mentioned several.

One is the Fogg behavioral model. BJ Fogg is a behavioral psychologist at Stanford University that has studied what drives behavioral changes. According to Dr. Fogg, three factors need to exist simultaneously to bring about these changes.

  • Motivation. The higher the motivation, the better
  • Ability. The easier to do the better
  • And trigger, something to set the buyer off to convert

Intrestingly enough, what I find is the higher the motivation there is, the more a person is willing to do the things needed to get done to achieve that motivation. Take my trip to the store that afternoon to pick up a generator. I had been in power outages before, but it always just a took a day before they restored power. But now, due to the long wait, my motivation became high and as it did, despite not wanting to go to the store to buy a generator, I drove anyway and purchased one.

But on a site, the easier (the more frictionless) you can make it for a motivated person to convert the better.

According to Fogg, there are three main motivators:

  • Pleasure and pain
  • Hope and Fear
  • Social acceptance and rejection


Our brains decide by emotion and then justify those decision with logic and reason. It’s important to note that reason usually only comes after there is a decision made via the emotional regions of our brains.

We can connect with this emotional center in the following ways:

  • Voicing to customers what’s in it for them. As this section of the brain is concerned with survival and concerned with self-preservation, it is important to relay to the customer the whole heroes journey, taking them through the sequences of the pain that is now occurring and how by taking action, they can become the hero of their story in choosing to take this new action.
  • Contrast — similar to above, we want users on the site to have a clear distinction of before and after. Because it is concerned with survival, this part of the brain makes it decisions when some threat or inspiration (pain or pleasure) confronts it.
  • The more we can make the risks and benefits the better. This means using concrete language that allows the user to immediately grasp what is at stake in the decision.
  • Playing on the above mentioned idea of contrast, users are usually going to remember the start and ending of the story, the before and after. Novelty can also help to engage the user, as the brain is hardwired to react to any kind of change.
  • Another important factor to consider is to make pages more visual, as visual cues can impact the brain much faster and relay a lot of information on the clarity of value proposition before its even mentioned in text.
  • Using all of these in a way that impacts the emotions should be a goal to persuading potential customers. As said above, emotion drives decisions much more than logic.

Cognitive Biases

Everyone is biased in one way or another. They tend to think in ways that are culturally, socially, politically, and morally relevant to them and we can use these biases that people have to help shape and persuade their motivations. Some of them even go deeper than that. They’re almost like pre-conditions for how we view the world and so they are embedded so deep in our consciousness that it is very hard to let them go.

You can find a full list of these biases here on Wikipedia. Understanding and using these can be very effective in sales. In this video, Andre Morys from konversionskraft mentions a case studies between two travel companies in Germany. One of them has been around for a long time and the other is a startup. The startup is growing past the seasoned company by using cognitive biases like the bandwagon effect very effectively.

Effective Persuasion Increases Motivation

By using cognitive biases, neuromarketing, and Fogg’s behavioral model among other psychological persuasion techniques, and coupling these tools with beneficial design, copy that is clear, engaging, meaningful, and storied, etc. we can pull from a variety of techniques and tools that will help to increase the “M” factor in Cialdini’s formula, which could help motivate our potential customer to take the action that we want them to take.

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