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Where Content meets Commerce

Stewart Robinson, Full Fat Things

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What was the underlying theme of the recent eCommerce Futures conference on Content & Commerce? I'd say it was the paramount importance of knowing your customer – and therefore of mastering the many techniques that now exist for extending and deepening that knowledge.

The deeper you go, of course, the more you're likely to encounter resistance – to arouse suspicion and antipathy among your potential audience. For instance, you may bump into ethical issues concerning privacy and manipulation.

The Psychometrics Centre of Cambridge University recently attempted to analyse and classify users of Facebook to see what might be deduced from their 'Likes' and their answers to a small number of questions. The researchers found they could determine with some accuracy the sex, age and gender of the respondents, along with certain personality traits – for instance, whether they were ‘introverts’ or 'extroverts'.

How might such information inform the sales process? Well, an identification with certain language, an association with particular phrases, can encourage customers to complete calls to action or to feel an increased affinity with a brand or cause.

For example, it was found that in a charity donor appeal, certain more-empathetic prospects would react to a call to action like, ‘Help animals that suffer from cruelty', whereas more analytical and rational individuals would react better to, 'Stop animal cruelty'.

The Cambridge research was carried out among consenting participants, but it nevertheless aroused much media interest: concerns were voiced about whether such research constituted a sinister, personal intrusion. And of course, such concerns would be entirely justified if the analysis were carried out in a clandestine, non-consensual way. The industry view is that such tactics should only be employed with the explicit agreement of the participants. Be honest with them and show them why allowing this activity will build a better eCommerce experience for them. Make your messages real.

Speaker Nathalie Nahai went on to discuss the psychology of online persuasion from a targeting perspective. There are universal traits we share such as the need for a sense of belonging, for 'social validation'. This can be provided by something as seemingly-insignificant as a Facebook 'Like'.

Again, audiences may react against the use of such indicators as a sales-aid. And so the seller will need to reassure the customer that getting to know 'who they are' will be to their own advantage. And since no such appeal will convince everyone, it will need to be sensitively tailored to a particular audience(s).

In this context, visual techniques exist that encourage people to feel more comfortable about persuasive and personalised sales techniques. For instance – and this is right at the leading edge of sales psychology - the primal part of the brain looks for symmetry in a mate and so websites can use symmetry to convince that part of the brain, and thus to foster trust. Similarly, high contrast seems to support and reinforce key messages. Motion, especially in 'before and after' demonstrations can appeal strongly to the subconscious.

The 'peak end rule' states that people tend to judge an experience by its most intense point and its end. This can help to close a sale and should certainly be considered when designing your eCommerce environment.

People hate committing to purchases, especially when a credit card is involved. So you should ensure that the checkout process is painless, collecting the minimum of information as possible to help customers check out quickly. And try to surprise and delight the customer during the process!

Scarcity and product popularity will provide customers with some validation, confirming that they are buying a product that is well thought of, has sold well and should be purchased right now, while stocks last.

Purchase and consumption on the Internet are slowly edging closer together. For example, music was historically purchased on the high street, then consumed later at home. Now the purchase and the consumption are almost simultaneous.

Marc Andreessen famously said, 'Software is eating the world'. It will eat your industry also – although you may not know exactly how, yet. So now is the time to consider exactly how you can get the consumption of your product as close as possible to its purchase - before somebody else does!

Want to participate next time? Keep an eye out for the next Commerce Futures event.