Psychology online- let’s target that subconscious!

With 95% of the brain working subconsciously its about time we focus out efforts on this side of marketing.

neuromarketing online


Did you think you made a conscious decision every time you made a choice? That time you decided to rationalise why eating that chocolate bar was okay- “I did a good work out”, “I’m having a bad day”, “it’s a bargain price”. The bottom line is you subconsciously made a choice and your conscious is justifying the decision.

This extends to online purchases. There will be people who can relate to the idea of buying an item online and then later wondering what your justifications were for buying it (and then often feeling guilty). Well it may the various methods that online tools have been using to build your emotional experience subconsciously whilst your conscious rationalises those emotions with thoughts of price, value and added benefit. Truth is, even these rationalisations are stemmed from the subconscious so what on earth is going on?

How our Brain works to entice us:

  1. The primal brain tells you whether to fight or flight (it also tells you whether to freeze or for the nicer term… make love). The amygdala and hypothalamus register relevant stimuli- danger in our surroundings. We do our best to avoid these sensations (focus on the first three terms here) and on that basis we much prefer familiarity. New things being sold are best when they seem familiar whilst familiar things can be made to seem new.
  2. The emotional brain uses the limbic system to measure whether we can trust the person we are faces with. This part of our brain deciphers facial expressions.

Include the ventral tegmental area which releases dopamine (pleasure, reward, risk-taking, motivation) and you have a more impulsive buying behaviour.

  1. The rational brain uses higher cognitive functions. Our neocortex helps us to plan using almost all the other regions from the brain. It takes into account our long and short term goals. The neocortex is responsible for human language, abstract thought, imagination and consciousness. It is best noted here that this part of the brain is very rational*

*Study conducted by Lawrence Williams of the University of Colorado determined that our rational side is largely determined by our subconscious. Two equal groups were walked to a room to give their opinion on a photo of a random person. Whilst walked individually to the test they would be handed either a warm cup of coffee to hold (by the actor who would need a helping hand) or a cold cup of coffee. When then asked to give their opinion of the person in the photo they noticed that those holding the cold cup gave less positive answers than those with the the warm cup.

The limbic brain understands warm as good leaving the neocortex to rationalise a judgement on a stranger, which has already been made about the stranger unconsciously.

Now persuasiveness is a combination of 1+2+3 brain works. Putting this into context- we are wired to like hints at opportunities of sex as part of our primal side. So combine a pretty face (1) which is trusting in appearance (2) with an intellectual justification, let’s say put her in a doctor’s jacket so she has official meaning (3) and you have a persuasive argument.

So what online methods can we use to stimulate 1, 2 and 3?

  1. Imitate the main target audience. Place photos of characters that are relatable to ensue trustworthiness and familiarity.
  2. Motion brings out the cavemen in all of us. Since we were having to hunt for our food, it’s been instilled in us to look for movement, signs of danger. We still carry this hunter gatherer skill and we love the idea of movement. Online it make sites more engaging, stimulating, fun.
  3. Personalise and show off some of your company branding- emotions are connected to the like for brands, not rationality. If you can give a good feel and make the site user friendly you will improve the positive emotions associated to your site.
  4. Signpost the most important information to reduce cognitive load. There are pretty standard layouts to sites and the best ones use the typical journey whilst making the site feel new. If a user has to figure out where to go this often leads to bounce rates increasing.
  5. Perceptual problem solving- our limbic system loves a good puzzle. With our diminishing attention span a picture puzzle will keep the audience engaged for longer. Imagery could be as simple as a black and white image where you are trying to distinguish what is in the foreground.
  6. Videos engage with the audience and create emotional ties with the viewer. Did you know that people have been proven to watch their favourite TV shows to ward off feelings of low-self esteem and rejection? Well videos create a parasocial relationship and stimulate the attention, emotion and memory part of the brain making it a very valuable asset on a website. Speaking of emotion, empathy is where neurons in your somatosensory cortex activate and you actually experience the other person’s emotions as though it is happening to you. Women feel stronger empathy than men (who prefer visuals over a deep plot) but you can see successful examples of tugging on heart strings with charity appeals.
  7. Colours come with different meanings for different cultures but it’s worth researching to find out how to best colour your site. Colours evoke a psychological and physical reaction and inherently trigger our amygdala and hypothalamus. The colour red for example is associated with danger and sex.

  8. Social Media is a great method now used to measure how influential a user is. Humans have a deep-seated desire for communication and to feel valued. By utilising social media you can see the big influencers of groups, and boost their self esteem through targeting them.

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