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Can Do, Will Do, Still Do - Seven Principles of Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust

Persuasion, Emotion and Trust take designing beyond usability to building deeper relationships with customers. They enable brands to understand what triggers customers to respond and make purchase decisions.

India is witnessing an e-commerce boom. Undoubtedly, adapting to several platforms, whether it is the web, Android, iOS or other mobile platforms, has resulted in increased sales. But the question remains whether the usability of web and mobile channels are going to be enough to win the battle for elevated customer attention, acquisition, interaction, and loyalty? The answer is definitely in the negative unless it is realized that design in the information and digital age is all about designing for persuasion, emotion, and trust (PET Design).  Once it has been made usable, a web or mobile channel needs to persuade clients to transact or convert. It is this step of persuasion that PET design is primarily concerned with.

There is an exhaustive list of persuasive techniques to choose from when designing for PET, but here are seven principles that can make web and mobile channels more engaging and influential. These principles can not only answer what solutions can be implemented immediately, but also lay foundation for future strategies that will work in the long run.


Principle 1: Rule of reciprocity

In the 1970s, the Disabled American Veterans, while soliciting donations, decided to send potential donors personalized labels in the mail. They told people to keep the labels even if they did not make a donation. The result of this strategy indicated an increase in the number of people who made contributions, which nearly doubled—jumping from 18% to 35%. Made popular by Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the rule of reciprocity is about the deeply ingrained human instinct to repay a debt. 

Principle 2: We love to get more of anything

In a coffee shop there were two deals for a cup of coffee. The first deal offered thirty-three percent extra in the regular cup of coffee. The second took thirty-three percent off the regular price. If we were to analyze which deal was better, both would seemingly be equal. However, it is not so. In this case getting something extra “for free” feels better than getting the same for less. 

Principle 3: Scarcity

As a corollary to the previous principle of “wanting more,” if something is unavailable or is scarce, it is perceived as more valuable. Therefore, on a website when notifications are provided such as “only four more days to order your plane tickets”, or “only three items left”, they act as triggers and signals to the brain to fasten the process of buying and induces a fear of losing out on something.

Principle 4: It is not always best to be first

Research shows that people are less likely to choose the highest rated option in a quality ranking when it appears first on the list. People tend to gravitate toward choices in the middle. When given an array of five options, they tend to choose the fourth one, especially when the choices are presented side by side. As social creatures, the middle seems a good and safe place to be in comparison to being at the edge, towards the end or at the very beginning.

Principle 5: Use the power of small wins

According to the book The Progress Principle, of all things that can boost emotions, motivations, and perceptions, the single most important thing is the perception of making progress. The more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be motivated in the long run.  Designers can use this to principle to leverage progress and motivate people to perform more actions. Popular networking site, LinkedIn efficiently uses the concept of progress to motivate people towards profile completeness. 

Principle 6: Social Validation

When people are uncertain of what to buy they look to others to decide what to do. This is why ratings, reviews and testimonials are powerful.  Research shows that peer reviews are more influential than reviews or testimonials from experts or recommendations from the website itself.

Principle 7: Conscious minds are very sensitive to food, sex, danger and protection of offspring

To get and hold the attention of humans and get them to act, you need to engage with their old brains. A threatening situation, even if unreal and happening to someone else, can cause the brain to set off an alarm, putting our information and emotional processing systems on high alert. This implies that anything that happens while we are on high alert will be processed through emotions and thereby will be deeply ingrained in the memory. Marketers thus use images, references and related content of food, sex or danger in order to stimulate actions.

These principles work on the assumption that high level of engagement is necessary for people to associate with a brand.  It must be taken into consideration that although people can do something does not mean they are bound to do those actions. The future of design is about creating engagement and commitment to meet measurable business goals. It is therefore a necessity to understand in depth the subtle and emotional triggers through different sets of practices.

Free UX white papers on PET (Persuasion, Emotion and Trust):

PET White Paper and VideoThe Process of Persuasive Design

HFI PET Offerings Overview: See all of HFI's PET Offerings

PET Research: Looking deeper to understand motivations

PET UIS: Much more than just another pretty interface



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