neuromarketingYou’d think that after attending a digital public relations summit, I’d have lots of new goodies to share about PR, social media or content. Surprisingly, what really blew me away at the conference wasn’t related to any of that. Instead, it was a keynote by Amy Africa about neuromarketing (which studies the brain’s response to marketing stimuli), website design and how to move your online visitors to action. I doubt there were any hardcore designers in the room, but it made sense to explore this topic at a marketing conference. After all, at the end of the day, all roads lead to conversions and actions that drive the bottom line, right? Africa posited that the vast majority of our decisions are made instinctively by our primitive brain, aka the “reptilian brain.” Our reptilian brain only cares about keeping us alive, asking questions like:

  • “Is this familiar?”
  • “Am I safe?”
  • “Can I see it?”
  • “Do I need to act now?”
  • (Also: “Can I eat it?” … But that’s for another blog)

According to Africa, only when our reptilian brain is assured that we’ll survive will the emotional and rationale thinking then kick in. The way the brain behaves can have a fascinating impact on how we design websites and online experiences in order to get people to act a certain way. How does your website answer the following instinctual questions from your visitors and potential customers?

“Is this familiar?” The reptilian brain is designed for efficiency and likes things that are familiar and easily recognizable. Encounter something new, and it’s hard-wired to assess for danger, potentially resulting in a less-than-seamless experience. (Although, see how this can work to your benefit in the next point.) Do your visitors see themselves or people like them in the first six seconds after they land on your website? Do you “talk” in their language? Or do you change your home page all the time so that when repeat visitors come back, you’re not delivering what they expect and might potentially confuse them?

“Am I safe?” According to Africa, our brain is programmed to notice differences and changes in our environment; it’s a survival technique. Things that interrupt an expected pattern are like huge flashing red alerts to our reptilian brain. Does your page layout and website navigation follow an expected pattern? Navigation accounts for 60 percent of online success, and for mobile sites it accounts for 80 percent, says Africa. There’s a reason why most company logos appear on the upper left hand side. Do you have call-to-action buttons? How many? Where? How about a perpetual cart/lead form? Do these take your visitors where they want and expect to go? That said, sometimes switching on that red alert can work to your advantage. For example, most people hate pop-ups; they totally interrupt an expected experience. But our eyes are instinctively drawn to them (even if we don’t want to) to make sure they’re not dangerous. If that pop-up offers a truly compelling offer or enriches the online experience, the brain will remember that in its decision-making process. Something to think about!

“Can I see it?” neuromarketing 2About 50 percent of the brain is dedicated to processing visuals. You only think that you think; you really just see, says Africa. And once you see something, you can’t “unsee” it. Here’s a question: How many windows do you have in your house? Think about it for a sec. I bet you started to picture your house in your mind, and went through it – room by room – to count the number of windows. People understand things much faster when they visualize them. Do you use plenty of visuals on your website? If you sell products, do you have lots of product photos in environments that your visitors can relate or aspire to? If you sell a service, do you show photos of your employees providing the service? If you have a retail location, do you feature photos of your store so that when people visit, they recognize their surroundings (see point No. 1)?

“Do I need to act now?” If you haven’t figured it out by now, the brain can be pretty lazy, so a sense of urgency moves us to action. People also like what’s first and what they can get now; the fear of loss overrides the possibility of later gain. Are you asking your website visitors to act now? Are you asking enough? Do you have an email opt-in form on every page? Your website should present the most important, most popular and most actionable things first, because by the time readers scroll all the way to the bottom, or click through to the third or fourth page, they’ve lost interest. Is 90 percent of your effort focused on selling through the top 10 percent best-performing products or services? Sometimes, we get so caught up in how our website “looks” that we forget about why we have one in the first place – to get people to do something.

Hopefully these “brainy” neuromarketing questions got you thinking about how you can improve your website (don’t forget to test any big changes before implementing them) and capture more customers! Want to learn more? Check out Amy Africa’s full presentation for free, courtesy of PR News.