Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Think Outside of Technology: Persuasion Techniques

In my last article on this particular subject (which you can find here ), I wrote about the overarching online behaviours that web users exhibit – whether looking to buy a pair of shoes, completing academic research or indeed, looking to find a hotel room.

These types mirror the stage of a ‘journey’ that an individual may be as they work their way through to (for example) a purchase, reservation or payment. They seek, connect, buy and talk about their experience.

But of course, these users do not always follow the ideal journey – they do not always click on the button we want, play the video we need them to or complete the form and sign up for a newsletter (how dare they not do what we want…).

They have their own lives going on – real life gets in the way of users doing what we want them to. Life seems incredibly busy for everyone – despite technology being created that should save us time it seems we all have less of it. Added to that the sheer number of distractions that the web provides (checking a Facebook update or the latest Tweet) – it is a miracle that anyone ever completes any type of task on the web…

So how can you as a hotelier with an online presence look to move users through to the ultimate completion of a booking, ideally on your own site?

Well, if we do not focus on giving rooms away at an incredibly low price or spending significant revenue on PPC (both unsustainable strategies for everyone except the very largest groups) then we need to ensure that our website (and online channel as a whole) is easy to use, but also persuades users to work through the journey – if not in one ‘sitting’, then over a number of visits.

You will notice the term ‘persuade’. Persuasion techniques are incredibly prevalent currently within the digital space – but there is an incredibly fine line between persuading an individual to complete a task and manipulating them to do so through untruths and falsehoods – I spoke about this in London a short while ago.

So, what persuasion techniques exist and how do they actually manifest themselves on websites and other digital products? There are a huge number but I would like to focus on five – the names are slightly academic in nature but the individual principles are relatively straightforward and some of them you will already be doing – without even knowing why?!

1. Endowed Progress

Proximity — make the user feel that they are further along a path to completion of a task (for example, selecting and booking a room). And consistency — do not fire things at them (like pop-ups/adverts) when they are working through a process.

PH Hotels Booking EngineHere we have a booking engine for PH Hotels — here we have a four step progress bar across the top of the screen. Implicit within the process are around sixteen steps (selecting room, price point, extras, dates, payment details, address etc.) but to the user there are four steps. That seems a lot less than sixteen.

Another example can be seen in a life insurance mobile solution presented by LV=. The nature of life insurance does require a certain amount of questioning of an individual before cover or a quote is provided — but again simplifying questions and ‘grouping’ individual steps can encourage completion (for example an increase in 50% completion in this case). Here the grouping of questions has been ‘hidden’ within an approach termed conversational commerce – of which I talk about more on my website.

LV Mobile
There are other considerations in respect of endowed progress — for example, the further you are along a process the more value you put on it — and potentially the more financial value you put on it. Think of when you have bid on an eBay listed item for a week then someone outbids you in the last five minutes — you are more likely to pay more then — than you would have before. Fact.

2. Sunk Cost

Here a user is more likely to invest if time has already been invested in an action or group/series of actions — this could be time or cost.. Think of the continued purchase of Apple products — sure they are good — but to move everything to Samsung — would cost you a fortune and would be a lot of work.

A user will come back to a product or a site once they’ve invested time and money in it and gained something from it. Your website is a core part of this — make it easy for people to understand your offering (in design, colour palette, pricing, feedback, quality of product) and people will come back and refer and recommend the online experience. You can create loyalty for your online offering which could be completely separate from your brand.

3. Appointment Dynamic

The method of completing a regular timely contact or a regular, timely action. You check your phone each morning. You check Facebook when you have a coffee etc. You have a visual notification of an email each time you look at your phone. You visit a website when you have a specific thought — make your website the one when a user thinks of a stay.

How? Regular, subtle, drip content provided to users — through any channel. Social posts, emails, newsletters — make yourself an expert in the field of relaxation, business, family stays or the leisure sector as a whole.

There are also social and peer influences on appointment dynamics — for example a friend completes a regular action — you will mirror and potentially replicate it — because you trust your friend more than you trust Facebook or an organisation.

4. Opportunity Cost

Here, we have some similarities with Sunk Cost but the focus is on ensuring that a user does not have to invest too much Time, Attention (the most valued digital commodity) or Cost into a process — which is you and your online offering. Let’s look at the PH Hotels website again, but this time from the perspective of a users time, attention and money!

  • Time – a user can see that they have four steps to complete a booking. That doesn’t seem too long and additionally, if they just want to check a price they can find this nice and early — we know our prices are cheaper.
  • Attention – everything a user may want to know about the hotel and booking is in one place. Price, availability, location, types of room, room and hotel facilities. It doesn’t take too much cognitive effort and time to understand what a user needs to know.
  • Cost – the prices are clear, up to date and a running tally of the stay cost and details is maintained.

5. Hedonic Adaptation

Start, stop, start. Give someone something — take it away — give it back.

Numerous psychological studies have identified that humans value something more when it is taken away from them — from products to lovers! This is used within the leisure industry by airlines — a user sees one price on one visit to a site, a higher price when they return and the original price when they return for the third time — they then snap up the deal.

An example of this in action within a different market is an international school finder — where a school potentially looking to register their details online is not only presented with two simple pricing options for sign-up but will see a different price dependent on if they have visited before, which reflects (subtly) on what stage of their journey they are — a seeker? Or closer to becoming a buyer?

Winters Hedonic Adaptation

Again, you may have already adopted many of these principles — potentially without knowing it — but the psychological mechanisms that underpin the examples I have shown are techniques that have been heavily studied and investigated but much brighter people than I and have been proven to work. Why not try and take a look if you can use these persuasion techniques in other aspects of your business (either online and offline) — you may be surprised by the outcomes.

Dave McRobbie
Dave McRobbie
Dave McRobbie is digital strategist, working with digital agencies and direct clients to help them better understand how they can meet ever changing customer demands and expectations. He has worked within media, fintech, digital and public sectors and has led programmes as diverse as the creation of specialised social care services for the government and the NHS, through to the design and build of hotel booking engines. Currently working on several different projects including a new digital product launch, he tries to ignore the delivery mechanism and focus on the service a human receives but he is easily distracted by new music and old wine. He speaks at a number of industry events and can be found on Linkedin, Medium and Twitter (@davemcrob).

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