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On one end, we have the reasons for purchasing, correlating to the three parts of the brain.
On the other, we have the obstacles to purchasing: friction and cost.
Then, we have persuasion boosters that affect how persuasive the reasoning is.
By understanding these factors and how they work together, we can tip the balance in our favor.
The old brain is responsible for our instinctive decision-making. It’s number one job is to keep you alive—that’s all it cares about. It’s the biggest circle in our decision scale, as it’s the most important one when it comes to user psychology.
If you want to reach it, there are six triggers the old brain looks out for that we can use, particularly in our product marketing:
Self-centered. As far as the old brain’s concerned, it’s looking out for number one; it's all about you. Your old brain will ignore any messages that it sees as irrelevant. If, however, that message is relevant to you, it’ll make sure you know about it. It’s why your head turns when you hear your name mentioned, even if rationally you know it’s not directed at you. It’s also why smart marketers and advertisers will use the word ‘you’ more in their campaigns, and Coca-Cola put people’s names on their cans. If it’s something that directly affects us, we want to know.
Contrast. Have you ever wondered why so many weight loss adverts use before and after photos? Trying to evaluate results on their own can be tricky, but when the brain has something to compare, it’s great at playing spot the difference. Rather than simply demonstrating how amazing your product is, showing how it differs from the alternatives makes its value much easier to see.
Tangible. The brain is much happier when it has concrete examples it can grasp, rather than abstract ideas. For example, the next time you watch a charity appeal, notice how they focus on one specific person. They tell you their name, the exact struggles they face, and how they would personally benefit from the charity’s work. It’s difficult to grasp how thousands of nameless people may be in trouble, but having a specific person as an example is much more tangible. When it comes to products, rather than saying your broadband service offers download speeds of 132mbps, it’s more effective to show a family using multiple devices to stream 4k videos and play games, demonstrating a much more tangible benefit.
First and last. George Lucas once said the secret to a good movie is a “hot opening, a hot close and… just don’t screw up the middle.” Psychology confirms that’s true for everything, not just Star Wars. When given a long list of items to remember, people are more likely to remember the first item (the primacy effect) and the last item (the recency effect). As a result, when thinking about your marketing, make sure your most important messages are first and last.
Visual. Closely linked to our brain’s preference for the tangible, it also likes what it can see. Apple adverts are a great example of this. As a high-tech product, it would seem sensible to focus on the technical details. What speed is the processor? How much memory does it have? Rather than getting caught up in all the specs though, Apple pours everything into creating a visually stunning video, usually showcasing one simple feature. Show, don’t tell.
Emotions. While we’ll focus more on how the middle brain handles emotions shortly, you should keep in mind that the old instinctual brain is also triggered by emotions. When you look at the most popular shows on TV, the most popular posts on social media, or the most memorable advertising, they always have an emotional angle.
As we’ll go on to see, our emotions motivate us far more than we realize.
When we look at the middle brain, we see it’s driven by emotions and feelings. We’re drawn to anything that causes positive emotions and avoid anything that makes us feel negative. Importantly, this part of the brain is more powerful at eliciting a response than the new, logical part. As such, people will often make decisions—such as whether to purchase a product or not—based on emotion. By showcasing the positive emotions associated with your product, it will be more appealing.
Trying to work out what emotions your product will trigger might seem overwhelming at first. Fortunately, there are only a limited set of emotions we need to consider as product managers. In fact, we can summarize them under just seven key desires:
To Feel. We want to feel something. Anything. Maybe your product makes users feel happy, excited, or proud. Interestingly, we may even hunt out ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness or fear, hence the popularity of ‘tear-jerker’ and horror movies. You can use this by showing the negative feeling associated with alternatives, such as when a data backup company highlights the fear of a corrupted hard drive or the sadness of lost memories.
To Defend or Protect. People develop their own values and beliefs, which become incredibly important to them. When our product reflects those values, this causes a strong emotional response in the user. For example, Patagonia sells outdoor clothing and gear. However, they’ve become synonymous with environmental activism, as highlighted throughout their website and marketing, which makes them especially appealing to those with similar values.
To Bond, Feel Loved. People are pack animals, and all of us want to feel like we belong. Whether it’s within a family, a book club, or a group of football supporters, we seek out the tribes of people we share something in common with. Those tribes may be based on our strongly held values (see above), or the products we choose; people will happily queue for hours to get their hands on the latest iPhone, or fiercely argue the merits of Canon vs. Nikon cameras. Why? Because of how it contributes to their perceived identity and the community that shares that identity.
To Avoid Pain. Our brain acts quickly to avoid pain, making us take our hand off a hot stove before we’re aware of it. Even when it comes to choosing a product, we’re still looking for ways to reduce pain. That might be how the product solves a pain-point, such as accountancy software that takes away the ‘pain’ of paperwork by doing the work for us. Where the product itself doesn’t help prevent pain, risk-free guarantees and positive reviews help reassure potential customers that they won’t have a painful reason to regret the purchase.
To Acquire, Collect. One of the main drivers in human behavior is to collect and acquire. Obvious examples include seeking items of value, such as acquiring money, a flashy car, a nice house and so on. However, we will also collect items for their own sake; people spend vast amounts of time and money building collections of stamps, coins, trading cards and more.
To Seek Status. Why do people dream of driving Lamborghinis, when they can pick up a Ford for a fraction of the price? It’s certainly not about getting from A to B as efficiently as possible. Instead, it’s about what the car represents: status. From the latest tech to luxury items, when a product acts as a status signal,its value soars.
To Learn, Curiosity. From wondering about life’s big mysteries to catching up on the latest celebrity gossip, people are inherently curious. Storytellers use this in your favorite TV shows, finishing on a cliffhanger so you absolutely have to see the next episode to find out what happens next. Products that either evoke curiosity or answer prospective customers’ biggest questions will always be popular.
It’s likely your product already aligns with several of these emotional desires. By making it clear how your product helps satisfy the emotional needs of the middle brain, you give your prospective customers a strong reason to purchase.
Finally, we get to the new brain and its desire for logic. Despite our strong belief that we’re all logical, rational people who make decisions based on facts, we’ve now seen how we’re largely driven by our instincts and emotions.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for logic, even if emotion has greater weight. In product management, logic serves the important purpose of justifying our emotional-based decisions.
Think back to your last significant purchase. It’s likely that you first looked up some reviews, to see what other people thought.If it was a tech item, you probably checked out the specs.
In reality, you’d already made your decision before you’d read a single review or spec list. You just needed to justify that decision to yourself (and possibly your significant other). You fall in love with the product, then you find the evidence to support that. Thanks to our inherent confirmation bias, we focus on the information that backs up our decisions, while ignoring anything that doesn’t.
When it comes to rational appeal, there are three pillars you need in place:
Specifications. What features does the product have? Whether it’s the top speed of a car or there solution of your phone camera, these are the indisputable details of your product. This also includes what your product actually does and what makes it unique. For a software product, this would include its main features and uses. PayPal allows you to send/receive money over the internet, Photoshop allows you to edit photos, and so on.
Facts and Figures. What numbers can you use to back up your claims? Amazon includes stars rating prominently next to every product, so you can see at a glance the average rating as well as how many people have rated it. They know that if we can see lots of other people have enjoyed a product, we’ll be more likely to purchase it too.
Cost. Sooner or later, we need to know the cost. However, for more expensive items, the price should be introduced after there’s been enough opportunity to appeal to the emotional triggers. For example, Apple’s website is currently promoting its new SE model. As it’s being promoted as an option for lower budgets, the price is in the headline. However,when they promote Airpods or the iPad Pro, you have to click through to see the cost.
Rational justification is a key part of the purchasing process, but you need to exercise caution. It takes significantly more brainpower to read and assess a list of specs than it does to process emotions, so don’t overdo it. Keep it to three or four facts at the most, otherwise, you risk the brain skipping the logical side completely.