Qualified Answers to Persuasive Architecture

Qualified Answers to Persuasive ArchitectureInformation Architects have weighed in on my discussions of Persuasive Architecture. This reaction is typical: “Basically, good IA [Information Architecture] and good design combined with a sensible business approach will lead you to success. No big news there.”

I have tremendous respect for Information Architecture (IA) as a discipline and as a profession. But I’m going to ask Information Architects to take the bulk of the blame for the lack of Persuasive Architecture on commercial sites. The breakdown occurs in the “sensible business approach” part of the exercise.

Businesspeople involved in creating a commercial website don’t know, don’t value, and are not trained in Persuasion Architecture. Information Architects must know the value of thoroughly understanding a prospect’s buying process. Why don’t they press for these answers? I’d like to know. Really.

This isn’t the first time I’ve ranted about mis- or lack of communication between technologists and marketers. Every time I think about this, I get ill. Millions of dollars are wasted every day in pursuing solutions that can’t or won’t work. Just a few hours of forethought, guided by Persuasion Architecture principles and techniques, would do the trick.

If we can all agree on the fundamentals of the buying process, we can make progress.

Nobody will buy anything until they are presented with something they want or need, together with the right value proposition. Alternatively put, to make the right presentation to a prospect, I need to “qualify” their level of interest, their motivation, their timeframe, their financial situation, and whether my product or service (as presented) meets their needs. If a prospect doesn’t recognize that my product or service meets her need, I’ve done a poor job of either qualifying the need or expressing how I meet it.

Let’s also agree on the fundamental that a commercial website gets only four types of traffic. First, there are perfect prospects who know exactly what they want. Think of a self-actualizing buyer seeking features, brands, and model numbers.

Second, there are prospects who sort-of-know what they want. Think of shoppers with a strongly felt need but who have not yet narrowed down their search criteria.

Third, there are prospects who aren’t sure they want anything, but they might buy if what they want were to appear. These are windowshoppers. They have no strongly felt need in mind, but one could be suggested to them.

The fourth group aren’t prospects, nor are they qualified to take advantage of the product or service. They’re there by mistake. Be happy when they exit gracefully.

Let’s agree that you and I are different. We don’t think the same, act the same, nor have the same motivations or personalities. Personas—–an important aspect of Persuasion Architect—–are theoretical users that can be made lifelike by contructing life situations, limitations, and personality styles to fit them. Personas play a critical role in helping us to think about prospects outside of self-imposed boxes.

For instance, we can distinguish between how a 42-year-old divorced mother of three; a 54-year-old flesh-pressing male CEO; and a shy, 26-year-old male programmer might buy. From page to page on a website, we can imagine each imaginary, but painstakingly constructed, persona would take different actions for different reasons and motivations. And even when each is successfully persuaded to buy, three unique buying experiences can be anticipated for them.

If we agree on fundamentals, implementation shouldn’t be difficult. It shouldn’t even be costly. This is primarily a mental, not technological, exercise. It should involve the people who know most about the product or service and actual customers.

Lost Opportunity Costs
For instance, why should it be difficult for my brother Jeffrey, who is 6 feet 2 inches and weighs over 250 pounds, to find out on a website what cars he’ll comfortably fit in and can easily parallel park? Do companies that sell cars online think these are bizarre or stupid questions? A good answer could be worth about $35,000 — for every lost customer.

Why can’t my attorney friend, Cindy, search online for the computer configuration that meets her needs? does a better-than-average job of qualifying prospects. But Cindy’s needs aren’t served when she’s initially asked what business she’s in. Her needs would be better met by asking what applications she’ll use on the computer. Even if this was on the category page, how many clicks would it take to answer the questions? Every click is an opportunity to lose prospects.

Jeffrey and Cindy aren’t unusual. Their personas are two of the most competitive in e-commerce. Jeffrey and Cindy come to websites optimistic, then leave disappointed. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on poorly marketing to the Jeffreys and Cindys of the world.

Is disappointment the brand association you seek?

How much time and effort have you invested by not thinking about how and why your prospects buy?

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