Tag Archives: persuasion

It’s really easy to make stuff persuasive: A story of linguistics, prototypes and Dare.

Picture from Fine Country Lifestyle – Devon Farm Shop

I’ve done the same presentation about psychology, seduction and persuasion several times. It changes a bit here and there depending on the audience. I include a few more contemporary examples, add a few gags and throw in the odd bit of data to back things up.

At one part of the presentation I talk about how adding largely meaningless adjectives to products makes them more appealing – so pepper becomes hand-cracked pepper or we add a provenance like Suffolk honey. I’d always think of these off the top of my head during the presentation and, for the sake of a little humour, would try and invent outlandish examples to make the point (an in so-doing probably dilute it). Then last year I was watching the inestimable Stewart Lee when he amusingly parodied the craft-beer industry with some ludicrous names: Gandalf’s Memory Stick, Hogwarts Bukkake and it inspired me to keep doing the same gag.

I must have been holding on to this idea for a while and I got chatting to Dare’s technical director, Charlie, in a cab. Charlie’s got an academic background in English and a similar sense of humour so we naturally came round to the idea that this generation of novel food labels could be done in a random fashion. It seemed so simple to concoct the recipe: take a foodstuff, add a method and a provenance and the result takes an ordinary staple and turns it into a farm shop or artisan product that can be sold with a healthy mark-up.

Persuasive marketing nomenclature, automated with a tinge of comedy.

So we (well he) started building it. A simple JavaScript took items from three arrays (lists of data) and combined them at random in the order: Provenance, Method, Foodstuff. It worked quite well. But, thinking about the old adage of garbage-in, garbage-out, we noticed that some of the combinations didn’t work.

Does it feel right?
At this point we should stop and consider what we mean by work. It’s quite subjective, but you have to think about it a bit. The comedy is about the combinations appearing almost right but a bit outlandish. If you go too far toward the outlandish then it just feels wrong. In some cases this is obvious – the pairing of methods with foods that don’t make sense hand-reared houmous, pulled briochegrass-fed asparagus. So we started to think about what it was about these pairings that made them wrong and how we could eliminate them. Do you, for example, identify a matrix where methods applicable to foods are deemed ok/wrong? So hand-reared is relevant to all animal products? line-caught is relevant to seafood only? Or do you simply manually edit the list to exclude methods that are too niche? The trouble with doing that is that you reduce the serendipitous moments that make this work. Trying to avoid creating a behemoth that relies on learning or crowd-sourcing inappropriate pairings I set about building an Excel sheet with a series of lookup tables that allowed me to fettle with the source lists and try out combinations without relying on a very busy Charlie to repopulate his script.

Syntax is important
Creating the spreadsheet opened up even more questions. Taking a leap from an unconnected musing I had on Twitter last week, it occurred to me that order – syntax – is an important part of the output. Food will always come at the end but does changing the position of provenance affect the humour or the apparent luxury of the item? To use an example, is Newlyn fried corn a different product to fried Newlyn corn? So the method seems more artisan and niche if it’s Newlyn fried (presumably only a handful of people know how to fry the Newlyn way) as opposed to the corn being from Newlyn and then simply fried? It’s almost the difference between an item being at the bottom of the prestige retail hierarchy and the top.

Aside: Could you put the following retailers in hierarchy of perceived prestige? Tesco Finest, Waitrose Seriously, Marks & Spencer, Whole Foods, Borough Market, Artisan Farm Shop, Selfridges …

Provenance and terroir
Looking at the list we’d made for provenance it was clear there were two things going on. Once was about the association a place had with the growing or raising of food and the other was about what this meant by association. So the concept of terroir is that the geography, geology and climate of a place affects a foodstuff. It’s hugely important in wine and coffee to know the place it’s come from, but also in items like meats or vegetables (Hereford beef, Norfolk turkey). It gets more complicated when you add in the method of preparation or the regional significance of a recipe (A Bakewell tart, a Cornish pasty) or get super-niche and choose a specific producer Blacker Hall quiche. Consequently, the list we compiled is composed of places that have strong associations with food – largely agricultural counties, coastal locations and regional recipes. I then scoured a list of Britain’s top 50 farm shops and delicatessens for examples of artisan-sounding producers

What’s a method, what’s a foodstuff?
Related to our thinking about ordering and the awkwardness of pairings it became apparent that the foodstuff could be the array that includes a variety of methods specific to that food. So, instead of simply putting pork we could add pulled pork to the list. We could have scallops and hand-dived scallops. This would mean that we wouldn’t need to worry about hand-dived pork coming up but we could keep the fancy-pants descriptor of hand-dived to make the scallops seem more interesting. It’s fair to say it had stepped away a little from the original plan to have a simple 1+1+1 = 3 pattern (but that was about to have another twist anyway). We started to think a bit more about what constitutes a food and that complicated dishes don’t work so well as items that are atomic or simple but this wasn’t clear cut. Bakewell vanilla-infused cupcakes works but Jersey broiled yoghurt doesn’t. For every decent example involving brioche, sourdough, quiche, pasties there were far more decent examples involving single ingredients – asparagus, quinoa, lentils, beans, chicken. Once again, order plays a part here and having categories might help solve this. Hold that thought.

Something extra
Finally, after about two days fiddling about in Excel and chatting to Charlie we decided to throw in another part to the concatenated string, a garnish perhaps. We had a randomly-appearing descriptor that affected the overall product. It could be vegan or gluten-free or giant. So, not so-much a method or a provenance but in the spirit of the type of thing that gets added to nomenclature to change the perception Clearly the taxonomic importance of vegan/gluten-free over micro/giant is worth bearing in mind. It many cases it works wonderfully: Giant sugared Herefordshire pudding in others not so well Salt-Baked Pommery Vegan Steak Pies, so it’s fair to say that becomes a matter of user preference. Which leads us neatly on…

Getting it out there
After a while you realise there’s loads more you can do and several of these things made great sense. I always loved the Urban Spoon app that helped you find a restaurant matching a series of criteria at random, the trick was that you could lock down the most important part of your criteria – for example price, and then leave the random bit to choose the genre, location or both. It strikes me that this might be a nice add-on to our generator. You might lock-down the foodstuff and just play around with random combinations of qualifiers – the most fancy chicken product you can find for example. Then there was the consideration that this could have a crowd-sourced element; users could work in volume to rate the best combinations or highlight ones that don’t work. Clearly this would mean a lot more coding effort than we could afford to spend. What about supporting unique URLs for each combination so they could be shared or copied straight into a tweet link. And finally, what about categorisation? would this be better if you could focus-in on drinks, ingredients or prepared products like quiche, cakes, pastas.

Everything’s a remix
Back to reality and I realised fairly early on that this wasn’t that new. There are about ten thousand ‘generator’ sites that compose sitcom and film character names, craft beers and, perhaps channelling a little of the Bill Bryson observation on British place names, a village name generator. What I rather like about all this is that it seems to be most effective with our wonderful language here in Britain. I hastily trimmed out provenances that weren’t British and have tried to keep the foodstuffs a little native, scattering a bit of brioche or salami here and there does work but one must be parsimonious. when the strings get a bit long and they pick up quite specific methods like -infused or cold-pressed it can definitely feel a bit Heston Bloodyhell (sic)

To what end?
So, where does this leave us? Perhaps one day Charlie and I will get a public facing version up, designed hopefully around a style that befits the point-of-sale references we see in hipster marketplaces. A tool that uses some of the functionality we’ve mused about and ultimately becomes a playful little twitter stream. I like the idea that you could run this for 6 months with a voting mechanic, gather the data and establish a shop somewhere in a quaint Cotswold market town (Greater Drowsisle?) that sells products derived entirely from this output.

In the meantime it has given me a great chance to revisit ontological thinking, nomenclature and linguistics and logic. Any opportunity to play around in those fields can’t help but contribute to my understanding and enjoyment of the job I do on a daily basis.

A selection of how it works (or doesn’t).

  • Irish air-dried kale
  • Ballymaloe thin-sliced mackrel
  • Hand cut Suffolk micro couscous
  • Fermented Worcestershire buffalo
  • Pressed Derbyshire giant pheasant
  • Castleford dried rye bread

UPDATE: Now showing on Twitter@shinyplums
A Daily Mail headline generator and a direction to consider the writings of Brian Wansink concerning food psychology , thanks to Juliet Hodges.

UPDATE: Try it out for yourself with our artisinal food generator

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Seduction & Persuasion

A seductive look from French actress Audrey Tautou

This week I had the pleasure of presenting to our Planning department at Dare and, whilst it’s not a new topic to many readers of this blog, it’s certainly rather popular – in fact, one could say this tool is sine qua non to the kit-bag of any Experience or Strategic planner in the advertising industry. And so it came to pass that I spent 45 minutes talking about seduction.

Firstly I’d like to express my thanks to Stephen P. Anderson without whom much of this presentation would not have existed. It was inspired and informed by his excellent book Seductive Interaction Design which is currently trading at an excellent price on Amazon in paperback & Kindle editions.

I presented not in terms of rules or mere anecdotes but tried to provide practical examples of where we have been and could be seduced into acting on – and this is important – hitherto-unexplored motivations. I chunked the slides into a series of moments in our encounters:

From the utilitarian beauty of Google and Craigslist, to the the viscocity of the Apple iOS and taking in examples such as the role of female faces in encouraging ‘LiveChat’ encounters, I hope my audience could see the value in paying attention to what our experiences look like and what this says about our brands and the memories users take with them.

The ‘Stop Looking at my bottom‘ line on Innocent smoothies was a good example of being playful in seducing people, I’m sure there are plenty of quirky examples of this sort of stuff digitally. Sadly many of these are Error 404 pages that – if we’re good our jobs – our users shouldn’t see very often. After writing the presentation I came across this great example of copy on an Ocado email which represents a playful tease. Then there’s more obvious playful activities like the randomising functions you find on Wikipedia, Google’s Lucky button and so-on. Though few will ever beat Ben Fold’s Ode to Merton chat roulette.

I always like the anecdote that Apple had to make their random function on the iPod less random in order for it to feel more random.

“As humans, when we come across random clusters we naturally superimpose a pattern. We instinctively project an order on the chaos. It’s part of our psychological make-up. For example, when the iPod first came out and people started to use the shuffle feature, which plays songs in a random order, many people complained that it didn’t work. They said that too often songs from the same album, or the same artist, came up one after another. Yet that’s what randomness does – it creates counter-intuitively dense clusters.

‘We’re making it (the shuffle) less random to make it feel more random’: Apple CEO Steve Jobs changed the feature on the iPod after complaints from users In response to complaints from users, Jobs changed the programming behind the feature: ‘We’re making it (the shuffle) less random to make it feel more random.’  In other words, each new song now has to be significantly different from what came before, so as to conform to our expectation of randomness. Which isn’t really random at all.” – Alex Bellos

Then it was nice chance to show how figuring out and being stimulated by patterns can create compelling interfaces – which clearly meant reminding people of my award-winning work with Stefanie Posavec on myFry. I talk a lot about intentional friction when reminding people that user-centred design isn’t always about simplicity. After all, we all love a good poka-yoke, and so a bit of mystery like the Hot Wheels mystery car or the don’t open reward envelope is another example of intentionally making life (achievably) difficult in order to deepen the sense of engagement.

I closed this section by talking about how Cityville and Good Reads are great examples of interactions that allow users to play and be themselves, expressing themselves and their creativity. Cityville is a much bigger topic in terms of (eugh I hate this term) gamification which I didn’t have time to go into.

As Stephen points out, it’s all well and good talking about CityVille  and Innocent and seeing how fun brands can apply such approaches but what about when you’re dealing with a major financial services provider? It’s important to demonstrate that you don’t need to change the copy throughout your site or develop a game but rather just look at the little moments that make a difference in terms of perception and play to our existing biases. The classic Leventhal, Singer & Jones (1965) study at Yale led me in to showing two coffee loyalty cards for Cafe Gibbo. Both needed 10 stamps to achieve a free cup but one had the first two (of 12) stamped whilst the other was simply 10 blank circles. I asked the group to think about the behaviour that might result if the former card was stamped in front of you by a staff member who looked like they were doing you a favour whether that sense of reciprocity would be a sufficient nudge to you continuing to use that card. Perhaps it would. Pointing out that our decisions are not always economically perfect (both cards had the same economic effort to complete them) was important in establishing our irrationality.

Two coffee loyalty cards showing one with two circles of 12 complete, the other with all ten blank

Which would you be more likely to complete?

Of course this kind of stuff is nothing new to people in the hospitality industry; salting (or seeding) the tip jar, applying choice architecture to restaurant menus, this kind of thing shows the history of the real world application of persuasive techniques. techniques we consumers readily accept as fair game. In restaurants it might even be as minor as putting a glass seeded with an empty monkey nut shell next to the dish of unopened kernels to suggest where to put one’s wasteOn the web we see the value of order bias in the fact that Google and SEO companies makes a living from people clicking the first thing they see on the search results page and that having something visually promoted has a powerful effect.

Here I showed our own bit of choice architecture where we reduced the overwhelming choice offered by Standard Life’s Investment ISA to present 5 ‘bundled’ simple choice offers on the application form. Option one is to take one of these pre-packaged solutions, Option two [the ‘experts’ choice] was to select from a supermarket of funds. Not only did we hierarchically structure the page to promote the path of least resistance, but we used strong visuals and human-centred introspective copy: “Comfortable choosing from a wider range?”.

A screen grab of the application form for a Standard Life Stocks & Shares ISA

Making choices easier

Even something as simple as Facebook showing you the friends you will lose touch with when you deactivate your account is a clear example of using loss aversion (our tendency to disproportionally value things we have above those we do not)  reciprocity (your friends have shared their information with you..) and social proofs (everyone else is here) to – in their case – significantly reduce the number of deactivations per year. A few words about the power of emotionally intelligent signage and hopefully the point was made, this doesn’t need to be massive.

I couldn’t resist pointing out the classic HCI logic in the goal-architecture that means you get your card back at the ATM before your cash so that you don’t walk off with money and forget your card if the sequence was the other way around. A simple sequence decision.

Making a commitment
To close my 45 minutes I wanted  to touch on how making people do something different for a second, a few minutes even, can be incredibly powerful but that long-lasting behavioural change is incredibly difficult and complex. Perspective and influence over time from the herd and an array of variables means that designing such solutions is fraught with challenges. Though I didn’t mention it at the time I have talked before about my relationship with my energy supplier. Having used an energy monitor and post-usage data I was able to reduce the amount of gas and electricity I used at home, but after a while I realised I wasn’t getting any better. I’d reached a  plateau in savings, all my devices were low energy or used at their most efficient settings and so-on. I lost interest and stopped looking at the monitor or my reports. My usage crept back up. The classic YoYo seen in dieters and addictive behaviour like smoking.

It’s not enough to take these examples above and apply them to solutions as varied as increasing up-sell on insurance products, shifting metallic paint on new car configurations, moving people to a different mobile tariff, quitting smoking or eating more fruit and veg. Each instance requires a deep understanding of the specific problem, it’s motivators and triggers.

Which seemed a perfect time to call on Fogg. Running out of time now so if you want to know more about the application of behaviour change then do seek out these useful kits:

In the coming months I hope to be able to share with you some of the excellent work my team (Aarti Dhodia and Tom Harle) have been  producing to bring behavioural influence to an exciting service to be launched by one of Dare’s clients. Until then, I hope you find inspiration and enjoyment in the examples here.

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Experience Planning

I decided to have a bit of a break from Twitter (and Facebook) and to revert to the long-copy pleasures of full-fat blogs. To this end I have downloaded Reeder for my iPhone, fired-up my Instapaper archives and am eschewing the free papers on the commute home with the intention to read more about the things I used to read about.

A corollary to this will hopefully be a refreshed attention to my own blog and to the joy of writing again. Though I’ve read too many blogs in the past that have a post that reads: “Am blogging again, hope to blog more, watch this space!” … and that’s the last or penultimate dusty entry. So, no promises, none at all.

Before I dismiss the microblog for the aforementioned hiatus I did just want to highlight a link I found via Anne Czerniak’s stream: David Friedman’s Twitter Thesaurus. The function of David’s thesaurus is to provide alternative, succinct variants of the words you would write if you didn’t have a 140 character limit. It seems like just the sort of thing that verbose writers like myself would like to see added as a contextual add-in to desktop and mobile twitter clients, a bit like bit.ly does for url shortening.

Experience Planning (aka. Experience Design)
My ‘new’ job title is Experience Lead. This is in part due to Dare‘s merger with MCBD and the fact that not only do I now have sight of digital work, I have an occasional role to play in designing and consulting in offline experiences and service design. Whilst we have an adorable presentation deck that covers-off what Experience Planning is (in the context of Dare), much like my This is IA tumblr, I find it helpful to describe what we do with examples of what it is to design experiences (and not just websites).

Virgin Atlantic
Ever noticed that the lighting spectrum on airplanes leaves you looking rather palid, almost green and nauseous? The chaps at Virgin America have and consequentially installed a scheme with a varying light spectrum that reflects the prevailing destination timezone and external light conditions – even the mood of the passengers at key ‘touchpoints’ in the journey, viz :  “[the lighting is] in a ‘theatrical mood’ prior to departure. When you walk down the jet bridge, you see the purple glow of the mood lighting, and it hopefully excites you…” “…people have an emotional and physiological response to lighting. So we decided to shift the colour of our cabin lights during the course of flight. They’re associated with time of day outside or ambient light outside. If you’re flying by day and heading in to dusk, it will reflect the light level outside. It’s less jarring” – Adam Wells, Virgin America [Source: Budget TravelTravel Innovators“]

As experiences go, Disney have mastered many at their attractions around the world but queueing provides a constant target for designers with a remit to increase enjoyment at any cost. Innovations here are increasingly rare but often involve psychology (see David Maister’s article from many years ago). In this article from the New York Times late last year, Brooks Barnes details some of the cute operational armoury the experts at Disney can deploy:

  • A nerve centre with wait-time monitoring in real-time.
  • The ability to ramp up ride throughput by, for example, deploying more boats on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
  • The authority to re-deploy their character talent to the queues so that Goofy can take kids’ minds off the interminable wait.
  • Induce significant crowd shifts by initiating a pop-up parade: “Move it! Shake It! Shift It!” which nudges people to the less populated area.
  • Attention to operational detail to open more kiosks or cash registers, hand out menus and so-on.

Such interventions pervade in a culture of exceptional customer experience. Leaving room for staff to innovate and react in this way ensures that, collectively, the impression and memories users are left with are both positive and lasting. And memories are what all decent experience designers are after.

I got asked recently to write a piece on what might be considered a good opportunity for marketeers tired of the existing promotion calendar. I took an opportunity to assert that I think the marketing communications industry has for too long focussed on the acquisition part of the courtship of consumers. I think we have a great opportunity to work harder to continue to persuade throughout the life cycle – to promote retention with some ‘wow experiences. Working with tools like memory, serendipity, ephemera, transience and humanised language and interaction. All of which are just fancy words which are my attempts to intellectualise the stuff that Disney (v. supra) do so intuitively.

Perhaps I haven’t wrapped this post up quite the way I would normally like to, but these, dear reader, are my thoughts in flux about how I currently think about Experience Planning and the directions which interest me.

Footnote: This post was composed a few weeks ago during a spell when I wasn’t on Facebook or posting regularly on Twitter. I have returned to both sites since then but am significantly less active. I hope.



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A very special persuasion brief

Screengrab of the OpenIDEO brief

As an advocate of the trendy field of behavioural economics & persuasive psychology, it’s rather humbling to read a brief that plays in this space but is a little more worthy than trying to get people to spend a little more. Open IDEO have posted their latest brief:

How might we increase the number of registered bone marrow donors to help save more lives?”

For all the right reasons anyone with a creative interest in the field of persuasion should take a look and start sketching. The basics are explained eloquently in this YouTube clip. For my part, this is the reason I haven’t joined the the register is pathetically:

1. I once heard/read that the donation process is incredibly painful
2. I one heard/read that the donation process leaves you immuno-supressed for some time.
3. The small number of registered donors means it’s much more likely your marrow will be called upon

But I know, without out ever having been in the position, that if I or close family needed marrow I would be out campaigning hard to get people to sign up and I would of course submit my own marrow.  It’s a big challenge, a worthy one and one where the answers elude me right now. I shall follow this with keen interest.

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