Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

Connecting Emotionally With Users Online Is NOT Just About the Emotional Benefits of Using Your Product

Posted in emotion by persuasiveweb on August 22, 2009


A classic marketing strategy is to engage your customer emotionally to get them to buy. In the offline world, achieving emotional engagement is done best by face-to-face interactions, such as talking to the car salesman in the lot, and tactile interactions, such as picking up the book and turning it over in your hands. When you make people feel something, you help them open up to hearing your messages with less suspicion. 

When we talk about connecting emotionally online, though, there’s a sense that you have to get your product alone to trigger an emotional reaction. That, or you need a big ol’ photo of two happy people. But is that really the case? Does a stock photo of a woman hugging her computer make me feel connected to the software you’re trying to sell me… and open me up to receiving the marketing messages?

I’d argue that we’re missing the point. 

In E-Commerce, The Computer Is Your Salesperson
Yes, it’s true. The computer is your salesperson. The website is not your saleperson —– it’s just the storefront. The messages on the screen are the words your salesperson says. The images on the site are the framed photos on the wall of the store. 

That means that this hard, cold little box with wires sticking out of it is the most frequently approached member of your sales force. 

That reality raises a few points of concern, as anyone in computer-mediated communications might tell you:


  • The computer doesn’t have a warm handshake or smile
  • The computer doesn’t know when a prospect is backing away from a purchase or having trouble making a decision
  • The computer doesn’t create a sense of comfort or open itself up for questions
  • The computer has no name, no identifiable hairstyle, no jovial laugh across the room


Uh oh. A cold, hard box is supposed to replace the salesperson – and the emotion-filled opportunities they bring to a sales chat. Is there any hope?!

Your Computer Isn’t Just a Cold, Hard Box
Okay, well, it is. But as more people use computers more frequently, the truth is that people are beginning to assign personalities to their computers. I recently wrote a paper on this subject, with the following explaining this phenomenon briefly:

As Nass, Steuer and Tauber showed, even though interactors know that a computer is not a person, they will often assign personalities to computers (as referenced in Zdenek, 2007) and, as Cassell showed, “attribute to them human-like properties such as friendliness, or cooperativeness” (as referenced in Zdenek, 2007, p.404). To overcome the mediation of computer hardware, interactors effectively transform the computer into something that more closely ‘resembles’ a person.             

We’ve already noticed this behavior at our desks, when the computer freezes and we shout at it. Or when we’re trying to retrieve a file we think we’ve lost, and we beg the computer to find it.

This means that users can be open to connecting emotionally with this little plastic salesperson. You just have to pull their heads away from the idea that they’re dealing with a little plastic salesperson instead of a warm-blooded salesperson who can blink, laugh, get distracted, pay attention… and basically be as imperfect as a human. You have to make all cues that say “computer” virtually disappear. 

Faking Human-ness Online to Persuade
People connect emotionally with people… so you need the computer to disappear from the line of sight of your users. When the computer goes away, it makes room for a personality-filled, emotional interaction between your website and the person sitting at their desk.

(It’s like watching a movie – when the screen starts to disappear, and your emotions engage magically enough to make you believe you’re in the activity. Or reading a book, and feeling so engrossed that the scratchy paper pages disappear.)

How? Well, there are lots of ways! Like, for example, ever noticed how, when you write something by hand, the letters are imperfect? That’s because we don’t put pen to paper and churn out letters in Calibri 11-point font. 🙂

That means that a perfect font is a cue that you’re dealing with a computer – not a human.

No, you shouldn’t eliminate all fonts on your site and hire some poor chap to come in and handwrite all your copy. That may not result in the most usable site. 🙂 But you can follow the lead of some websites that are managing to find a balance between precise, readable fonts and short, quick, personal-feeling notes. 

The nice, personal-feeling "Thanks for choosing Basecamp!" is more effectively rendered in a handwritten style.

The nice, personal-feeling "Thanks for choosing Basecamp!" is more effectively rendered in a handwritten style.


seomoz jots down a quick, personal note inviting site visitors to their conference.

seomoz jots down a quick, personal note inviting site visitors to their conference.

If you’re not keen on using handwriting on your site (‘cos, say, your brand managers have a stranglehold on the fonts you can use), using a variety of fonts can also replicate the sense of ‘scattered’ personal writing. 


BatchBook CRM solutions for small businesses mix things up a bit with a variety of fonts, font sizes and font colours, replicating what you might see in an average joe's notebook.

BatchBook CRM solutions for small businesses mix things up a bit with a variety of fonts, font sizes and font colours, replicating what you might see in an average joe's notebook.

The goal is to keep people from believing they’re interacting with a machine. Remove cues that suggest coldness and perfection, and opt for a little bit of fun and personality to encourage users to open themselves up to the suggestions (i.e., marketing messages) of your website. 



Interactivity – The Cure for the Common Cold and World Hunger?

Posted in Studies on Persuasion by persuasiveweb on August 6, 2009

interactive07What is interactivity, and how can it help you persuade users on your website? Well, scholars define it thus:


  • Coyle & Thorson, 2001: A structural element of the medium
  • McMillan, Hwang & Lee, 2003: A perception variable in the mind of the user
  • Ha & James, 1998: A multidimensional construct


Um… wha-?

Let’s try a definition that’s a bit more… tangible. 🙂 Interactivity is the action that takes place between users, as [ostensibly] humans, and the computer. At its most exaggerated, interactivity on the Web is, like, World of Warcraft, where you’re playing a game “with” the computer… not to mention the millions of other players super-glued to WoW worldwide. 🙂 Interactivity’s most common form is a link on a page… or even the opening of your web browser. 

The more you get people to interact with your site, the more interactive it is. And interactivity is very, very good for persuasion.

Not only does interactivity engage the senses and stimulate the mind, but it’s also been proven to solve world hunger! …No. Okay. Not quite.

It has, however – in all honesty – been proven to improve impressions of politicians on their websites. That is, a 2003 study by Sundar et al., referenced in a 2006 paper by Wise, Hamman and Thorson, found that “increased interactivity on a political website led to more positive impressions of a political candidate and higher levels of agreement with the candidate’s policy positions” (p.28). So it doesn’t directly solve world hunger… but if that now-elected politician ends hunger, then interactivity kinda helped, no? 🙂 

Why is interactivity persuasive?
Hard to say… but we can guess! We know that, to persuade someone, it’s good to get them nodding with you. Hence the success of great DM pieces by brilliant copywriters like Schwartz, where the writing asks the readers questions that they can’t help but nod along with… and, soon enough, all that nodding tricks your mind into believing that you actually do want a lifetime supply of super-absorbent shammies. In clicking on a link, expanding a div-tag, hitting ‘play’ on a video demo, users are actually nodding along with you. You’ve offered them the chance to do something, and they’re doing it. 

We also know that people like playing. Playing can be very persuasive. So, if you put a cool quiz, a poll or a fun YouTube video of a cute little cat on your site, you’re inspiring interactivity & play… which equals persuasion. 

So give it a shot! Run an A/B test today. 


PS: Apologies for the lengthy absence. The 30 Days of Persuasion absolutely exhausted us. We’ve since been asleep for five weeks straight.