Influence can be defined as the power exerted over the minds and behavior of others. A power that can affect, persuade and cause changes to someone or something. In order to influence people, you first need to discover what is already influencing them. What makes them tick? What do they care about? We need some leverage to work with when we’re trying to change how people think and behave.
But there’s a problem. You won’t be able to meet and get to know everyone. You won’t have the luxury of learning their life history and what they hate or love. In the online world, people are ghosts. They drift into your website, showing up only as a number in your traffic statistics. Who are these people that come in to your website? Who is viewing your content and checking out your products?
If you don’t know the answer to all these questions, how are you going to influence them? The solution is to find and analyze general patterns of human behavior or thought. These patterns are indicators of how most people operate: by learning them you would have acquired the tools to exert influence over them. You don’t need to know everyone personally to understand what drives them and what they love or hate.
I recently read Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click by Susan Weinschenk, a book about how our online behavior is influenced by both conscious and unconscious thought patterns. I found it fairly interesting because it provided some scientific explanations to tactics that many marketers have been using for the longest time.
At only 130 pages long, the book is a very easy read because its tailored for the average person and not specialists. The downside of this is that it only offers a very general overview of brain science and how it relates to websites.
Contrary to its name, it also talks more about psychology than general web design/usability. If you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s work or other books on persuasion tactics you would easily recognize many of the concepts mentioned in the book.
While I would preferred a lot more depth on some topics covered, it did offer a handful of helpful tips you can implement immediately to improve your website. I thought I’ll do a quick summary of these tips while adding in my own unique analysis and comments.
But before we begin looking at what you should do on your website, you must first understand how your brain works.
Trium Brain Model – We Have Three Brains, Not One
The trium brain model is a theory developed by Paul MacLean in the 1960s to explain how the human brain has evolved. This simplified understanding of the brain became an influential paradigm amongst psychologists and some neuroscientists. As the name suggests, we don’t have one brain but three. These are all layered on top of each other and were developed during different stages of evolution. They are as follows:
- The old brain. Also known as ‘R-complex’ or reptilian brain. The old brain is primarily concerned with your survival. It scans the environments for threats and benefits. It controls instinctual survival behavior and is also in charge of autonomic functions such as heart beats, digestion, movement and breathing.
- The mid brain. Also known as the Limbic System or mammalian brain. The primary seat of emotions, memories and attention. This is where your emotions are produced and where positive or negative feelings arise. The mid brain includes the amygdala, which is involved in connecting events with emotion and the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory recall and converting information into memories.
- The new brain. Also known as the neocortex. This is the logical part of the brain that involves rational thoughts, thinking skills as well as language and speech processing.
According to this theory, we are only fully conscious of our new brain, the neocortex. But our mid brain (limbic system) and old brain (reptilian brain) are largely unconscious. Our unconscious is incredibly efficient, smart and useful. Neuro-scientists have estimated that our five senses receive 11 million pieces of information every second with our conscious brain only processing around 40 pieces. The rest is being assessed by the unconscious automatically.
The unconscious brain helps you to determine what you should pay attention to with your conscious brain. Your decision-making behavior is greatly influenced by the unconscious brain. According to Weinschenk, the best website is designed to talk to all three brains, both the conscious and unconscious.