Personalize How Rather Than What You Offer

Behavioral Science

I normally caution companies to mindlessly buy into the perceived power of recommender technology. To accurately personalize what you offer to people is next to impossible; at best you will end up with a suboptimal black box.

Instead I ask organizations to think about the power of how you offer something, I want them to understand the surprising power of psychology. But this time will be a bit different...

I want to ask you to consider buying into technology, not to personalize what you offer, but how you offer something. You can get more impact from your content by personalizing the how.

E-commerce looks broken when you compare it to offline sales. A normal bookstore has a 25% conversion rate, the best online bookstore is delighted with a mere 5%. Like any good salesman knows you should treat people differently. And behavioral science sheds light on which types of different.

Already in the 1950s people like Solomon Ash ran experiments trying to figure out how to persuade people. Robert Cialdini's six keys to persuasion are well known in marketing and also often discussed on marketing blogs.

For example, we know that people tend to follow the herd, obey authority or are influenced by the perception of scarcity. But research done by Kaptein et al has shown that people react consistently different to different persuasive messages.

With this scientific discovery Maurits Kaptein also revisited many conclusions done years ago. In these experiments, results show that 30% more people react to a persuasive message than to a neutral message; this is a staggering yet common result.

But it leaves out the 70% of people that didn’t react. It’s the maximum result if you take a one-size-fits-all approach, but great salesmen know better. Some people don’t obey authority, and not everyone wants to follow the herd.

Knowing that someone doesn't react is only the start. This gives hooks to work the 70% that weren't persuaded by your first try. Great salesmen adapt how they offer their product to the persuasive DNA of the individual they have in front of them.

Running a/b tests on different kind of persuasive cues is a smart thing. Personalizing persuasive cues to the specific tastes of an individual customer is even better. When we want to do this, technology is our friend.

Salesmen can adapt their strategies because they learn from what they already did, what worked and what didn’t work. And they exploit that knowledge very efficiently. In technology there is a field called machine learning that is best equipped for this task. It’s a first step to make technology act more human.

So I am telling machines are on the rise. But not just some ordinary machines, smart machines that feed on behavioral sciences. It’s technology for all the right reasons. It is - in fact - the best way to go from A to B. To persuade the individual right in front of you, and to have the best effect on your bottom line. Combining behavioral science and technology might just bridge the gap between offline and online sales.

Online Behavior © 2012