Influencing decision-making is all about persuasion and perhaps no one is better at the use of persuasive techniques than politicians. As we witness this election cycle’s presidential candidates frame their messaging on the campaign trail, perhaps we can learn something from them?
Strange as it may be to admit, running for political office and marketing a product or service are not that fundamentally different. They both require the use of persuasive techniques to convince a decision maker to choose between alternatives. In politics, the decision is between candidates based on their stance on important issues. On your website it may be a decision between competitors or simply to purchase at all. Borrowing a page from the politician’s playbook, creating effectively persuasive messaging that can also work within your website’s UX strategy all boils down to three things – context, framing and loss aversion.
Let’s break it down.
Every decision has context. Context provides the lens through which we interpret information and evaluate decision alternatives. Our values, anticipated consequences, potential benefits, preferences and personal experience influence our decisions in powerful, though sometimes unconscious ways. Political candidates must take into consideration a voter’s race, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status and other factors as they develop their campaign, often tailoring the message to the specific audience they’re speaking to. In web design, we often capture these contextual clues through the use of personas, a tool that allows us to paint vivid and insightful pictures of a website’s users. They enable us to create user journeys that cater to their shared needs and wants. While this helps us better understand them, the problem for decision makers is that there’s just waaaaaay too much context to consider when it comes time to actually make a decision!
Want to learn more about how personas and user journeys can enhance your website? We’ve got a guide for that!
That’s where framing comes in. A form of cognitive bias, framing is a way of influencing a decision by presenting alternatives often in terms of potential gains or losses.
The framing effect was first explored by the psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1981. In the experiment, participants were presented with a life-or-death scenario and given the following identical alternatives framed in either positive or negative ways.
What they discovered was that when presented with the choice between a definite gain (saving 200 lives) and a probabilistic one, participants chose the sure bet but when faced with a certain loss (400 people will die) versus a probabilistic one, the riskier choice becomes more attractive.
The framing effect experiment demonstrates what economic theorists refer to as loss aversion which states that avoiding a loss is preferable to receiving an equivalent gain. Studies show that people actually experience a loss twice as much as a gain of the exact same amount! This, my friends, is extremely significant when it comes to how you choose to frame your message. And nobody understands this better than politicians.
The framing effect in politics
No one has more at stake when it comes to influencing decision makers than a candidate running for political office. For a perfect example of framing in the political realm, we need look no further than each candidate’s campaign slogans. Each one uses the technique, but their approach couldn’t be more different. Let’s take a look.
“Make America Great Again,” Trump’s borrowed slogan implies that we as a country have lost something with even more at stake if we don’t do something about it. In effect, he has been able to convince millions that the status quo is the same as a guaranteed loss. This kind of framing makes a risky option like Trump not only more palatable to those who buy the message, but a necessity in their eyes.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s primary strategy seems to focus more on what we have to gain. Her slogan, “Stronger Together,” is forward-looking and the tone of her messaging is more optimistic. By framing her campaign in a more positive way and drawing attention to the possibility of an even greater loss at the hands of a Trump presidency, she paints herself as the politically tested safe bet in this election.
The framing effect in design
This technique is something to consider as you develop your own persuasive website UX strategy. Whether a purchaser is considering a new pair of shoes or integrating an enterprise software solution, no transaction decision is made without context. By controlling the framing of the message, UX designers can better lead site visitors towards desired actions and conversions.
Designers are able to create frames using carefully chosen images, graphics and copy that set the stage for the purchase decision. Focusing on what the customer stands to gain or lose from the decision can be a powerful persuasive tool in driving conversion.
How about an example (or two)?
Check out the homepage for Trifacta, a software company that develops productivity platforms for data analysis, management and manipulation and one of our clients here at UpTrending.
First off, doesn’t data wrangling sound like an arduous, complicated process? Don’t you just picture tired, weathered cowboys herding spreadsheets on horseback? If you ask me, it sounds like something I’d rather let a software service do. That idea is reinforced by the accompanying image and headline copy as well – Is Data Wrangling Taking Too Much Time? Excess time and resources spent on extraneous work equals a loss in the form of real money spent on labor. The loss averse user in this case should be quite compelled to avoid it if there’s a better, more cost-effective solution, right?
Or how about another client of ours, ShipHawk, whose SaaS shipping platform gives online retailers real-time quotes, tracking and logistics in one unified system. You can see below how a subtle change in the framing of a message can alter the way you think and ultimately act within the decision opportunity.
You’ve certainly spotted the subtle change in copy between the two homepages but can you see how framing is used to differentiate them? The first message treats the service as an add-on that creates a better experience – a gain; while the second version does the opposite, pointing out the loss in revenue you will experience without it. With these two alternatives employing both positive and negative framing, ShipHawk is able to test which version drives the most actions and make even better decisions in the future based on the results.
Now it’s your turn
Take a look at your website and see if you can find some examples of persuasive language. Evaluate the way you’ve framed your message and play around with different ways of wording it that focus on the potential gains and losses your users might experience. Then, test it. Analyze how people respond to the variations in message and if possible, see if you can identify any common characteristics among those that behave in similar ways. The truth is there may not be one approach that compels every user towards your desired action but with this technique in your toolbox, you can begin to better drive the conversions you are after.