Do You Want to Inform or Persuade?
The process we use to plan persuasive elements of a Web site is called persuasive architecture. It is the organization of the buying and selling processes married to the information flow. The focus is persuading visitors to take action. It's similar to information architecture, which involves the design of organization and navigation systems to help people find and manage information more successfully. Whereas the goal of information architecture is to inform and educate, a commercial Web site should inform and persuade your customer.
Persuasion in architecture isn't a revolutionary idea. Brick-and-mortar retailers have incorporated persuasive architecture in stores for decades. Nothing is left to chance: milk in the back of the store, the aroma of bread baking, the layout of aisles, and the location of products on shelves are all planned to attract attention, gain interest, stimulate desire, and persuade you to navigate the store the way retailers want you to. (Editors note: To learn more about retail anthropology and persuasion read Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy." You can also read my take on this book from a web perspective)
When a customer makes a decision, that decision represents the culmination of a cognitive process. It may take place almost instantaneously or stretch out over a long period of time, but it's a process, not an event. Persuasive architecture weaves the buying process into the selling process. AIDAS provides the momentum to propel visitors through the site to a confirmation page.
AIDA stands for awareness, interest, desire, and action (we add satisfaction). It's "one of the oldest and most durable" cognitive models (describing buying and selling process maps) because it helps marketers appeal to consumers' emotional and social needs.
Persuasive systems are complex. Their success depends on their ability to address the varying levels of need a user brings to the online experience. To be effective, a Web site must address these user needs at every point in the process. AIDAS provides the lubrication for users to proceed along their given path through a series of microactions.
Most people measure conversion by the complete macroaction (the ultimate objective) they want users to take (e.g., how many people bought, subscribed, registered, etc.). Each of these actions comprises a series of smaller actions. Each microaction or omission of one is a step closer or further away from your ultimate objective. The devil is in the details. Microactions are the measures of "almost success." In a persuasively designed site, the reject rate of a page that qualifies interest is a clear signal of what needs to be adjusted.
It's during the wireframe and storyboard phase we ask three critical questions of every page a visitor will see:
1. What action needs to be taken?
2. Who needs to take that action?
3. How do we persuade that person to take the action we desire?
These three questions are used to create a decision tree based on personality types. If resources don't permit that, at least divide the logical arguments from the emotional ones for buying the product or service. Different branches represent different outcomes, based on how customers might move through the site (primary trajectories, secondary, etc.). With these elements, prospects can be propelled through your site via the decision-making reasoning they're most comfortable with. It's only then mockups of potential design schemes are developed to support the flow of all actions identified in the wireframe. Nothing is done by accident. Nothing is merely decorative. Everything that doesn't enhance your ability to persuade is at best distracting and at worst harming your ability to persuade.
Peter Drucker once said, "The purpose of business is to make and keep a customer." Lot of experts out there are offering all sorts of tips, tricks, tools, and gimmicks. None will work for long. Any commercial Web site must provide the prospect with an experience focused on her needs and how she wants to evaluate your product or service. Otherwise, you cannot achieve your objectives.
Are you in business to inform or persuade?