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Imagine That, Inc

What is Persuasion Architecture?

The world of marketing has changed. Gone are the days of mass marketing to an audience utilizing the few media outlets available and getting a conditioned response from said audience. Gone are the days of the power residing in the hands of the marketer. It’s just not that simple anymore. With the arrival of the Internet, cable television and an increasingly segmented audience where consumers are able to consume exactly what they want and when they want, businesses now have to adapt to customers rather than the other way around.

Do you remember Pavlov and his salivating dogs experiment where the psychologist trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell – something not typically used to induce salivation? This was the old marketing model where a company could put out a message or advertisement and get a conditioned response from its consumer base. Simple, right? Well, this is not the case anymore in today’s savvy marketplace. Marketers are now being forced to redefine their practices and approaches to a more fragmented marketplace occupied by consumers who can now customize their own individual media experiences. In short, it is now near impossible to create one overall marketing experience anymore.

Nobody illustrates this phenomenon better than authors Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg in their book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark? The authors talk about the paradigm shift that is undermining the mass marketing model and delve into what happens when contemporary marketers realize that they are not ringing bells for dogs anymore, but have to please a whole new group of shrewd, self-governing cats. They state that modern day marketers now have to come to grips with the fact that they can no longer condition a response in consumers (like Pavlov’s dogs), but need to refocus those efforts on creating consumer confidence in your product or service. Moreover, they state, consumers are now searching for the most pleasing experience and not just a specific product. Your marketing must convince them of how your product or service will benefit their lives. And if you don’t make this a satisfying experience for the customer, they will go back to the drawing board and find someone else who will. Again, the power now lies within the hands of the consumer whether you like it or not. So, ultimately, it comes down to how you go about satisfying cats, rather than dogs in today’s individualistic marketplace. Putting out the wrong messages and sitting there waiting for the cat to bark is simply not going to happen. Let’s talk for a bit about this and how your web design can ultimately connect you with your customers and their personas.

This brings us to the concept of persuasion architecture with its ultimate goal being that of identifying your website visitors’ motivations, needs, and goals, and taking these into account when defining your businesses objectives. This can include a purchase, lead generation, a download or reading of an article – it just depends on what your ultimate conversion goal is. You want your customers to convert, but how do you do that with your web design? And how do you take into account that prospective customers are at different stages of the buying process? Some are ready to make a decision, some are still in the research phase and some are at in-between stages.

While psychological techniques are often incorporated into good website design with the hopes of pushing people towards a conversion, the persuasion architecture process is much more intentional. Once you have combed through all of the analytics and come up with your ideal buyer persona, you have an idea of how to market to your customers effectively. You will have identified the ways users enter and exit the buying process, the actions that lead up to and follow each step of the process and then use this information to design a website that caters to your model customer. Principles such as reciprocation, commitment, social proof, authority, scarcity, framing and salience are all techniques used in persuasion architecture, so let’s delve into each one of these briefly.


If someone does you a favor, human principles dictate that we feel obliged to return the favor at some point. Giving users small gifts (the first chapter of a book, a newsletter etc.) on your website might encourage your customers to feel an obligation to do something in return (a conversion).


We like to believe that our behavior is in line with our beliefs. If you take a stand on something in the public eye, you feel the responsibility to maintain that point of view in hopes of remaining reliable and consistent. This principle is applied by asking for a minor, but visible, commitment from you, knowing that they can get you to act in a certain way and you will believe it. A good example is asking for a “Like” on a Facebook product to get access to certain content. This will now appear in your NewsFeed and you have made a visible commitment to this product and will feel more inclined to support it in the future.

Social Proof

We observe other people’s behavior to find the norm, and then we copy it. You can apply this to web design by showing what others are doing on their websites. There will ultimately be a “social influence” group that others will tend to follow. Some good examples are “People who shopped for this product also looked at…” and Amazon’s “What do customers buy after viewing this item?”


Influence behavior through credibility. Users are more likely to act on information if they feel it has been communicated by an expert. Name dropping and retweets on Twitter are great examples of this, but websites exploit this value by incorporating testimonials into their design or adding icons showing that an e-commerce site is secure and can be trusted.


“If it’s running out, I want it.” People are more likely to want something if it is only available for a limited time or if its in short supply. This scarcity principle makes products or services appear more valuable as this perceived scarcity will generate demand.


Consumers are not very good at estimating the absolute value of what they are looking to buy. Instead, they make comparisons against the displayed alternatives or an external benchmark. The Goldilocks effect is a great example of framing where you give users three alternative choices. The kicker here is that two of the choices are decoys: one overpriced and another just a functional base version. The third choice is the one you want people to choose and it just so happens to sit midway between the other two choices so it inevitably feels “just right.”


This principle also applies to the psychological effect that framing causes by assuming that users are more likely to pay attention to elements (colored “submit” button) in your interface that are unique and relevant to where they are in the conversion process. For example, salience applies to the particular times during a purchase when buyers are more likely to look into a promotion or special offer such as after placing an order, they might want to add other relevant items to their shopping basket.


So, as you can see, consumers have now become incredibly media savvy and are no longer susceptible to the old tricks of the marketing trade. The Hypodermic Needle Theory – the theory that suggests mass media could influence the general public by “injecting” them with marketing messages to trigger a desired response – is no longer in play here. So what to do? Utilizing this Persuasion Architecture model, and implementing into your web design practices, you will have successfully catered to your audience and their purchasing needs. And sometimes you may have done this without them even knowing the “persuading” was done. Isn’t marketing beautiful?!

Put what we know about persuasion marketing to work for your business. With big changes coming to online marketing in 2016, now’s the time for the website redesign you’ve been putting off for the last few years.