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Testimonials: The Right Way and the Wrong Way

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Nothing supercharges lead generation and sales quite like social proof. One study published in the Wall Street Journal noted that social proof was more influential in changing behavior than the prospect of saving money.

Content Marketing Leaders Spill on Using Testimonials Effectively

Tim Paige of LeadPages.net produces a fascinating podcast about digital marketing effectiveness called Conversion Cast. Earlier this month, he interviewed the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, Andy Crestodina. The subject of the episode was testimonials. Andy talked about a small business case study where the proper implementation of testimonials resulted in a 97% boost in leads.

Tim Paige, Producer of Conversion Cast

First, the wrong way (and what everybody tends to screw up). Whatever you do, do not put your testimonials on a dedicated testimonials page. It’s tantamount to hiding your best credibility indicators in a section of the site where no one ever visits. Think about it: when was the last time you ever clicked on a testimonials page?

Testimonials belong on the main pages of your site (products, about us, etc.). They should be woven into the content. As Crestodina puts it, they should be “pixels away from the claims” they justify.

Think about testimonials as the sources that you’re citing to back up your claims, like footnotes. Except that you don’t want to put them at the bottom. Better to place them along the side of the page, as well as in-line (block quotes), and also at the bottom. Just so long as they are visually tied the the claims that they back up.

Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media

Crestodina also makes a point that you want to use a variety of formats. He refers to video testimonials in particular as the “atomic bomb of marketing.” They convey passion and sincerity through body language and inflection. So don’t simply settle for a bland quotation or a logo array.

KissMetrics Schools Us On the Psychology of Social Proof

In a blog article on social proof, KissMetrics offers some fascinating wisdom on implementing testimonials and social proof.

First, and maybe most interesting, testimonials can backfire if they’re phrased in a way that suggests that many people are doing something incorrectly. We refer to this as negative social proof. They site the example of the signage used in the Arizona Petrified Forest to reduce theft. Here’s what happened, in their own words:

Their findings were shocking. The sign with the negative social proof was not only unable to reduce theft, it actually increased the likelihood that people would steal the petrified wood from the forest! In this case, the sign read:

“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

The researchers found that this sort of sign encouraged more stealing (it tripled the amount of theft) because it was evidence that many other people were already stealing from the forest. Instead of discouraging people, it made them more confident that stealing was “okay.”

In our case, an example of a testimonial that would case the same problem would read like this:

“Like so many others, I have been writing testimonials incorrectly for years until I read this article.” –John Q. Wrongness

Here are some KissMetrics pointers for getting the most out of your social proof (testimonials in our case):

1. Include pictures next to your quotations.

This is based on a recent study published in the Psychonometric Bulletin and Review stating that pictures next to examples of social proof tend to inflate the subjective measure of truth.

2. Include testimonials from people who demographically match your buyer personas.

More research, this time from Current Directions is Psychological Science, that shows people tend to gravitate to, and be influenced by, people similar to themselves (duh).

3. Go for status.

All things being equal, we will tend to value the opinions of the more notable and influential people. Titles matter. The words of recognized industry leaders matter. So concentrate your efforts on gathering some marquee testimonials.

The Psychology of Enron

June 29, 2014 2 comments

Cover of

“Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio. (Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness.)” –Petrarch

One of the most striking scenes in Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s Enron expose The Smartest Guys in the Room details the courtroom testimony of Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling during their criminal trial. You would expect that the people responsible for scandal that defrauded thousands of stockholders and pension plan investors to do their fair share of finger pointing and legalistic arguing, but Lay and Skilling went further than that.

They seemed in a different reality altogether. It was though they actually still believed, even after the bankruptcy, that Enron was a fundamentally healthy company that was the victim of bad luck, a fickle press and the vindictiveness of Wall Street analysts. Far from trying to obfuscate and spin their criminal behavior, they seemed to believe — actually believe in their hearts — that they had done nothing wrong.

Now, Skilling and Lay never raised an insanity defense; they never contested the notion that they knew exactly what they were doing. They simply never saw any wrongfulness in their actions. Those actions involved hiding billions of dollars of debt from their balance sheet (The Enron SPE’s), personally profiting ownership stakes in Enron business partner companies (Again, the SPE’s), and lying  to stockholders about the very nature of their business (maintaining a facade as a “logistics” company while making most of its profits from energy future speculation).

Much of this denial of the belief of wrongdoing is reminiscent of the banking crash of 2008. Defendants seemed to believe in their hearts not only that they were following the law, but that they were in fact innovating new financial markets. The blindness to the big picture corruption of the sub-prime mortgage market and the disguising of bad debt is eerily reminiscent. In fact, some of the very vehicles that Enron used to hide its debt from shareholders (off-balance sheet SPE’s) factored heavily into the 2008 banking crisis.

I’m not interested in the moral question of what makes us elect unethical behavior. From this writer’s perspective, men are apes with iPhones. But I am interested in what goes on in our brain to make us believe we are acting ethically when in fact we are grossly transgressing boundaries that would be clear to any reasonable man. Read more…

Does Advertising Content Work? Let’s Find Out…

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment
English: Portrait of Milton Friedman

English: Portrait of Milton Friedman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the great advances in economics to emerge in recent decades is the field of behavioral economics. The preceding generation of economists, including Milton Friedman and others, believed that humans were entirely rational consumers. When they made a purchase decision, it was as a result of a neat mental weighing of opportunities costs verses actual costs and other factors.

Now we are starting to understand the enormous hubris of our own assumed rationality. First Kahneman and Tversky came along and pointed out that human cognition is effected by its own limitations, and that we are susceptible to errors in judgement based on these limitations. Dan Airely noted that human irrationality follows predictable patterns. Then Richard Thaler famously pronounced that you could effect (“nudge”) social and economic outcomes by changing decision contexts. This acceptance and exploration of human irrationality and cognitive bias is giving us a richer understanding of the way we work.

So, let’s see this effect in a true marketing context. Professors Marianne Bertrand (Chicago Booth) and Dean Karlan (Yale), together with their team, designed a field experiment in South Africa. They partnered with a cash loan lender to send direct mail advertisements to potential loan customers. The customers were offered rates selected at random, but that were more favorable than the current market. Some of the mailings only represented the interest rate. Other mailings (randomly) included any of a number of psychological manipulations (in other words, “marketing”). These manipulations included elements like competitive comparisons, promotional giveaways, suggested loan uses, pictures of demographically similar people on the mailer, deadlines and other suggestive priming.

No surprise: these psychological factors, when considered as a whole, had a significant effect on loan take-up. The demand increased by as much as a 25% reduction in the interest rate. This effect should not be possible under traditional economic thought.

There were a few interesting subtleties to the results. First, the psychologically-loaded marketing was generally more effective when the interest rate is high (i.e. the loan is more expensive). In other words, as consumers were influenced more by price, they were influenced less by psychological factors.

Also, there were no subgroups of customers who were more or less susceptible to psychological factors than any other. Many have hypothesized that psychological marketing has a greater effect on the less educated and less wealthy. This does not seem to be the case.

Much of new classical research was conducted a...

The University of Chicago, home to Professors Richard Thaler and Marianne Bertrand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, the psychologically-loaded marketing did not seem to attract a poorer class of borrowers. Normally to increase demand for loans one lowers the interest rate, but in so doing one risks attracting borrowers who are less likely to repay. Therefore there is a certain market equilibrium that exists regardless of the present interest rate. Psychologically-loaded marketing increased demand for loans without changing the risk profile of the borrowing pool. That is, it changed the equilibrium of the market on its own. This means that psychological marketing could be seen as its own competitive dimension, particularly in areas of low price sensitivity.

Too Much Choice: The Jam Experiment

August 31, 2013 7 comments

Sheena Iyengar

A grocery store in Melno Park, California sets up a special display to sell jam. At certain times, the display had six flavors to choose from. At other times, the display had 24 choices. Each person who came by the sample booth was given a $1 coupon to purchase. The displays were up for a total of 10 hours. Here are the results:

The display with 24 choices

Number of people who stopped by: 145

Number of people who bought from the display (based on coupon redemption): 4

Percentage redemption: 4%

The display with six choices

Number of people who stopped by: 104

Number of people who bought from the display (based on coupon redemption): 31

Percentage redemption: 31%

What appeared to customer as a typical promotion was actually a sociological experiment. The attendants handing out samples were research assistants of one Dr. Sheena Iyengar, the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. She was studying the effect that the number of purchase choices has on the propensity to actually make a purchase.

This experiment seemingly proves that customers presented with fewer choices are 10 times more likely to purchase compared with those who are shown many choices. It has been help up as a crucial example of choice overload, the idea that presenting customers with too many choices actually inhibits customer purchases. The idea of choice overload is counterintuitive; classical economic thought maintains that more choices are always better for the customer.

Cover of

Cover of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Many economic polemicists have latched on to these results. Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, uses this as an example of the harm caused by the abundance of choice in a free market.

Interestingly, despite a seemingly tenfold improvement in purchasing propensity, you don’t see a lot of maodern stores limiting their selections. The trouble with all this is that the results from Iyengar’s experiment have never been satisfactorily replicated. At the same time, others have pointed out legitimate flaws in her methodology. While guest posting on the blog Retailing with Confidence, Guru Raj points out:

“The crucial issue for this experiment is that, in combination with this background variation, the two groups of jam buyers were not assigned randomly. Because the experiment was done for a total of ten hours in only one store, and shoppers were grouped in hourly chunks, there could be all kinds of reasons that those people who happened to show up during the five hours of limited assortment could have different propensity to respond to $1 off a specific line of jams than those who arrived in the other five hour period.”

It could be that the variety or complexity of choices does effect people’s willingness to buy. However, we do not currently have conclusive proof of what causes are significant, and why they work. More research is needed in this area before anyone can say with precision what is the best product choice array to show to customers.

The Cutting Edge: 5 New Psychological Discoveries

Hot off the presses this week:

Monastery on the campus of Villanova University.

Monastery on the campus of Villanova University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1) Jealousy Makes Us View Ourselves as More Like Our Rivals

Three new studies by Erica Slotter of Villanova University (and her colleagues) came out today in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. We already know that the way we view ourselves often changes depending on circumstance. We know that people will change how they view themselves in order to rationalize incongruent behaviors. Sometimes we use distorted self-beliefs as defense mechanisms, etc. So it should come as no surprise that, when we feel jealous about a personal rival, we alter how we view ourselves. But what is fascinating is that we alter ourselves to seem more like our rival, rather than setting ourselves apart from them.

2) Sad Music Could Actually Evoke Positive Emotions

If sad music evokes sadness, then why do we listen to it? Sadness is, after all, unpleasant. A Japanese study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that sad music actually evokes a complex set of emotions – not just sadness but romanticism and blitheness of spirit – and this complex ambivalence makes the experience pleasant. The study also suggests that experiencing sadness through art may feel pleasant because there is no real life threat to our health and safety.

3) The Top Predictor of Divorce: Early Arguments About Money

In a new study from Sonya Britt of Kansas State University, money arguments are found to be top predictor of divorce: “It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money — for both men and women.” The study, published today in Family Relations, controls for factors like income, debt and net worth – and concludes that money arguments are the best divorce predictors for people from all financial circumstances.

4) Scientists Create a Daydreaming Computer

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in orange, including the primary visual cortex (V1, BA17). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1990’s just as fMRI-based neurology studies were becoming popular, scientists noticed that certain brain centers remain very active even if the mind is idle. Now, an international team of neuroscientists have created a computer model of the brain based on the dynamics and interconnections of brain cells that actually simulates the brain at rest. It can actually “daydream” like a human. This technology can help us understand the brain’s resting-state networks, which are actually very busy and complex.

5) Mass-shooter Psychology and Law Enforcement Strategy

Researcher Adam Lankford’s new study on mass shooters, published today in Justice Quarterly, is “…the first largescale academic analysis of “active shooters,” defined by the US Department of Homeland Security as: ‘an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area'” (Sciencedaily.com). The study shows that there are numerous psychological differences between shooters who commit suicide or suicide-by-cop, and those who survive the crime. The study suggests that training officers to distinguish those perpetrators who are likely suicidal from those who are not may influence the outcome of the shooting.

Quora Questions: Overcoming Procrastination

July 9, 2013 1 comment
English: Basal Ganglia and Related Structures ...

English: Basal Ganglia and Related Structures of the Brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While trolling through Quora, I came across a question that I have asked myself over and over: “How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?”

The first answer to this question caught my eye. It was written by Oliver Emberton, who keeps a blog called Leading a Better Life. He gives us a readable and entertaining explanation of how different parts of the brain interact to either create or overcome procrastination.

Emberton creates two characters: Albert, a rational character representing the activity of the pre-frontal cortex, and Rex, a baby reptile who represents the musing of the more reptilian parts of our brain (the basal ganglia, located at the stem). While Albert is the only one capable of complex, rational thought, it is Rex who is, interestingly enough, in charge of the final decisions on everything we do. So while our decisions may be influenced by rational thought, we are not rational creatures; ultimately we make decisions based on associations and habits etched within the lower levels of our brain.

The story of these two characters draws from the intellectual playground of authors like Charles Duhigg (“The Power of Habit”), and academics such as Daniel Kahneman (“Thinking, Fast and Slow“), and Roy Baumeister who study willpower, decision mechanisms, and the evolution of the human brain.

I encourage you to read his answer for yourself, but I will say that Emberton keys in on an insightful metaphor: the basal ganglia (the baby reptile Rex) acts much like a small child would. I’m about to welcome my first child into the world, so his take seems interesting to me.

The Basal Ganglia, he argues, does not speak the language of rationality, it speaks the language of primal emotion: “Hunger. Fear. Love. Lust. Rex’s thoughts are primitive and without language.” So, this part of the brain – the part that ultimately drives action – cannot be reasoned with. It must be spoken to on an emotional rather than a logical level. Like a child, it must be bribed and cajoled. Habits must be set up with reward and punishment mechanisms.Discipline must be cultivated.

With all the advanced psychological and neuroscience research available today, it’s funny to me that the most intuitive way of dealing with the decision-oriented aspects of the brain is to regard them as you would a child. But the comparison seems to hold up.

Me For a Member: Cognitive Dissonance and Rationalization

February 28, 2013 5 comments

“I would never belong to any club that would have me for a member.”Groucho Marx

Grouchoicon

Grouchoicon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A group of mediocre, boring people get together and decide that they want to form a club that features strong barriers to entry; very few other people can get in without a rigorous acceptance process. We outsiders see only the near impossibility of joining this group and start thinking: “Hey, the members of this group must be cooler than they seem.”

I want to point you in the direction of the excellent PsyBlog, the blog to which this one aspires. I search through PsyBlog from time to time when I’m coming up on deadline and desperate for inspiration. I found this gem detailing a 1959 Stanford sociology study that went down in history. I’ll summarize it, but I strongly suggest reading their excellent briefing to get the full flavor.

A student is asked to take part in an experiment having to do with comparing expectations to reality. He is told that he will be assigned a task, and will set about performing the task with no preset expectations. Another similar group of participants, he is told, will have to complete the same task, but will be told about the nature of the task beforehand.

The task is assigned, and the student goes at it. The task is mind-numbingly boring. Something like moving pegs around a board for a half hour.

As the participant finished and is about to leave, the experimenter throws in a curveball: there’s another student coming in who will participate next, and she is part of the group that’s supposed to be told about the experiment beforehand. The person who is supposed to brief this new participant has not turned up. The experimenter asked if our student, before he leaves, will brief the next student and tell her that the experiment task was really interesting. There’s a dollar in it for him if he does (this is 1959). Our student goes and tells the next student that the task was, indeed, very interesting (even though it was not). The experimenter returns, gives the promised dollar, and states incidentally that other participants have, in fact, found the task to be interesting.

One last step: our student is ushered into another room and interviewed about the experiment. Inexplicably, he tells his interviewer that parts of the task really were kind of interesting. It couldn’t have been all that boring after all, could it?

After the experiment is over, the student confers with a friend and finds out that she went through almost the exact same process. One difference: she was given $20 to tell the other student how interesting the experiment was.

Our guy says, “It really was kind of interesting, don’t you think? I rated it high.”

His friend says, “What are you kidding? It was so boring! I rated it the lowest I could. How could you have thought that was interesting?”

So why would the person paid only $1.00 to lie about a boring task actually start to believe it was interesting, whereas the person paid $20 to do the same thing accurately remembered how boring the task really was? Read more…