Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 6: A Case Study in Neutralizing Barriers Online:

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 8, 2009

Anticipation of the Difficulty of Losing Weight Can Be Overcome

Have you heard? America’s obese. A search on for “obesity” returns over 10,000 results of articles & multimedia distributed online in the past 30 days alone. Morgan Spurlock marketed the documentary Super Size Me on the back of popular media on obesity. Basically, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion on weight gain in America — whether they’re overweight or not… or American or not.

Telling people that they’re overweight and that everyone around them is overweight is a great way to get people to believe that they’re overweight and that everyone around them is overweight. There’s a lot of persuasive power in repetition. 

So how intimidating is it for consumers who are ready to diet to actually get started, with that prevailing rhetoric of obesity creating some seriously negative anticipation? And the bigger question, for these 30 Days of Persuasion: How does anticipation of an outcome affect consumer decision-making?

Anticipation: Shaping Fantasies for Consumers
Brian Knutson out of Stanford explores the concept of “anticipatory affect”, or the emotional states people experience when expecting big outcomes, in his work in the area of neuroeconomics and antecedents of decision-making. Using fMRIs, Knutson has shown that, seconds before

Help Your Users Imagine Themselves Enjoying Your Product or Service

Help Your Users Imagine Themselves Enjoying Your Product or Service

a consumer makes a choice, they experience changes in neural activity. His work is part of a growing body that suggests that consumer decision-making is not always based on information about a product that the consumer has previously encountered or that the consumer ascertains at the moment of first impression with a product. Sometimes, anticipation of a purchase (or, better, the exchange of money to gain an item of desire) plays a significant role in consumer decision-making.

Knutson tells us what happens before a consumer even approaches a decision-making environment.

Then there’s what happens when the consumer’s in the decision-making environment and begins to anticipate future use of the product or service under consideration. That’s where these ideas come in to play:

  • Jackie Snell and Brian Gibbs have introduced the concept of intuitive hedonistics, or common-sense decision-making based on anticipation of pleasure
  • Michel Tuan Pham referred to affect recruitment heuristic, or decision-making that involves picturing oneself doing something with a purchased item, feeling a certain way (i.e., experiencing affect) about that image, and using that affect to make a purchasing decision
  • Diane Phillips, Jerry Olson, and Hans Baumgartner called the process of imaging oneself using a product a consumption vision

What can we take away from these researchers’ work? Well, that research today is clearly showing that consumers:

a) may start the decision-making process before arriving at your website 
b) do have emotional responses that affect purchasing decisions… but there’s much more to the popular notion that emotion influences decisions than meets the eye

Making the Most of Anticipation: 
Dieters hate dieting and fall off the bandwagon ALL the time. So when a dieter considers really buckling down and learning how to have a healthy diet — that is, when a dieter’s ready to go to — anticipation has not only set in but has likely taken over a good part of their experience with the site. And they haven’t even arrived on the site yet! needs to both overcome negative anticipation of the dieting experience and exaggerate the positive consumption visions for dieters moving towards their goal weights.

Negative Anticipation
The good folks over at address negative anticipation (a barrier) throughout their site. They use great messaging to break down barriers, especially in “How Weight Watchers Works”, the first tab in their global nav:

Picture 5Further in, addresses a pretty powerful excuse used not only in dieting but in almost everything potentially life-changing: “It’s too big a challenge.”

Picture 6 also makes it easy for people who are crippled by previous failures in weight-loss or those who just don’t think they quite need to start a proper dieting regime with Weight Watchers to back out without feeling guilty about it. 

Picture 7

Is it powerful to hear that you don’t have to lose all that weight quite yet? Is it reassuring to know that you might not be ready to start the diet yet… and that that’s okay? 

Consumption Visions
When consumers have decided that they’re ready to start losing weight — that is, when they’re engaging in consumption visions — it’s the job of to leverage that opportunity in order to persuade them to sign up.

What might consumption visions look like? I’m guessing here, but let’s say it begins at fitting into old favorite jeans and ends at Valerie Bertinelli in a bathing suit. A dieting consumer likely imagines herself turning a few heads. That’s the excitement. That’s the motivation to proceed.

Does play into consumption visions to persuade users to become members? The “Success Stories” section seems to try by showing video-stories of Weight Watchers members who’ve lost weight and kept it off. 

Picture 4What’s interesting is that has gone decidedly… neutral in their success stories. Sure, the stories are good… but are the people actually people that consumers envision themselves resembling after months of saying no to dessert? 

It’s clear that was going for a “real people” vibe here, likely to make their stories seem more credible. Gotcha. But, for us, fails to balance the credibility element with persuasive consumption visions that conjure up actual affect. This is a point of opportunity for a site that otherwise does a great job with anticipation. Maybe it’s time to test it,

Remember: There’s Good Anticipation… and There’s Bad Anticipation
“Anticipation” doesn’t always mean “looking forward to” or “hoping for” something. Sometimes anticipation looks like dread (“I really don’t wanna stop eating fries and gravy!”) or impatience (“I know this is gonna hurt — let’s just get it over with”). Is dread or impatience a potential barrier to sign-up for your consumers? How is your site mitigating negative consumer anticipation? 



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