How the powers of persuasion have changed in the digital age

Persuasion in marketing was once simply about attracting the customer to make a purchase. But in the digital age, says Code Computerlove design director Tom Bradley, persuasion is a far more subtle and important art…

Illustration: iStock

The power to persuade has always been a critical element of any successful marketing campaign, writes Tom Bradley. Yet the digital world has significantly changed how we deliver persuasive experiences through design.

This shift has come with the rise of digital product design and the reduced effectiveness of one-off digital campaigns; our role as designers has progressed from delivering a single ‘big idea’ towards a more iterative approach that delivers a sequence of nudges that move users towards a business goal, one step at a time.

To do this well, we all have to understand human psychology and ethics at a high level of sophistication.

Throughout any customer experience, there are two tracks that we need to consider: one that reduces frustration by making things easier to do, but another, equally important one, that adds delight by making the experience inherently and ultimately rewarding. The best products and services are able to blend these two tracks in a complementary way.

At each stage in a given journey, the customer faces a dilemma as they search to answer three questions:

1. Do I want this? (motivation)
2. Can I do this? (usability)
3. Should I do this? (trust)

Like X-Factor, if you want a winner, they need three yeses. At any point, if the customer answers no to one of those questions, they’ll struggle to continue and ultimately give up unless they really want it, or it’s really easy to do (see ethics above).

Simply put, it’s our job as designers to identify when someone says ‘no’ and turn it into a ‘yes’.

But it’s not easy, especially when you consider that most of the time people aren’t consciously aware of why they do the things they do: in fact, they’ll often post-rationalise a reason for doing something.

What’s more, as creators, we often can’t help falling in love with our own work – so we root for our own ideas by looking for evidence that validates what we’ve done. The only answer is to seek alternate points of view.

Persuade and be persuaded

User experience design (UX) is often misconstrued as small groups of specialists producing and testing wireframes and prototypes, but creating effective user experiences is actually part of everyone’s job. It’s about structure, copy, visuals, data, performance…. The whole team should be focused on persuasion, understanding customer needs and demonstrating how the product helps them to ‘scratch that itch’.

So, in successful digital businesses, the days of design teams operating in isolation are gone. We can’t afford to work behind our hands.

Instead, those responsible for creating effective digital experiences must seek feedback early and often. In practice this involves designers working with their peers regularly in a safe space (i.e. the weekly design critique) in order to get alternative perspectives from people that think in the same way. Here, the skill is to listen, not justify, then work out later what this means for the work. Explain the background, but let the design do the talking.

But it doesn’t stop there, we need to actively pursue early feedback from people that don’t think like us but share the same goal of wanting an effective design (product managers, developers, marketing people, and crucially customers and your client). While it’s not comfortable, as these people may not so easily understand the design intent, there’s always a compromise to be made regarding what’s ideal and what can actually be achieved within the various constraints. It’s a complex negotiation.

Lastly, and most importantly, we need to get feedback from people that don’t think like you and might not yet agree with the goals of the design. This means looking outside your day-to-day team.

This is where a proposed direction encounters the competing business interests that might not align with the goals of your project. By sharing realistic prototypes openly thought, we invite these challenges early, reducing the risk of the last minute ‘WTF moment’ when you find out about that killer last-minute change.

Are you persuaded?

We all know of someone who’s had a great idea but never got to make it happen because the right people just couldn’t be persuaded.

In one way or another, the impact of all creative works hinges on how effectively you influence people to invest in you, your team and your product.

From the moment an idea presents itself to the moment a customer takes action, successful teams continually draw on their powers of persuasion to anticipate and influence human behaviour. Compared to their peers, simply, they just get more yeses than noes.

Tom Bradley is design director at Code Computerlove. codecomputerlove.com

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