There is a lot of buzz around Persuasion, Emotion and Trust (PET design) going on now. Sure, human factors / usability is still important: if the user can't find it, the product / function still isn't there. Usability is not going away.
But the field IS becoming more interesting. Methods for deriving navigation architectures and best practices for designing effective layout are established. Now the leading edge is exploring evidence-driven methods to describe information exploration and decision patterns. The question is not "Can they buy the argyle socks?" but rather, "What experience will drive consumers toward buying OUR argyle socks?"
So attention has shifted from ensuring that sites allow people to take specific sub-actions (complete a purchase), to designing sites that encourage people to take larger, business-driven actions. Actions can be anything from buying... argyle socks (!), to joining a club, to signing-up for a specific 401K plan, to advocating for one's own healthcare. The key, though, is that the site content should influence action.
Measuring persuasion is one of the field's current challenges. Marketing often uses attitude measures to evaluate how persuasive an ad or a website is. To do this, they measure how positively or negatively consumers feel about a product or toward a service. Then they expose consumers to ads or sites or even the actual product. And they measure again. The delta between the first and the second measure is used as an index of how persuasive (or not) the ad / site / product was.
This seems logical. But organizations aren't really interested in attitudes. They are interested in action. And there is often an uncomfortably loose link between the attitudes consumers report and whether they ultimately act on those attitudes. As an example: I have a strong positive attitude about Ducati motorcycles. Every ad I see, every (reasonably frequent) visit to the website, and every conversation with motorcycle enthusiasts increases that positive feeling. But I'm not likely to buy one. Not very soon, anyway.
If attitudes are not an effective measure for persuasion, what should we measure?
A recent series of studies by Rucker, Petty & Bri√Īol (2008) suggest that "attitude certainty" predicts "behavioral intention" (or likelihood to act) better than direct attitude measures. As an added benefit, along the way their work also addresses the common marketing question ‚Äď is it better to present only the benefits of the product, or to present both the benefits and potential drawbacks?
Rucker and team developed a series of experiments that manipulated / controlled the presentation of various elements of selling communications for products ranging from cell phones to bicycles to toothpaste to portable DVD players to medicine. Overall, the messages were positive. Critically, in half the tests consumers were presented with only positive information (one-sided frame). In the other half consumers were explicitly presented both pros and cons of the product (two-sided frame condition). Across their experiments they found:
Yesterday, I looked at apartments with a friend in Los Gatos. Each place had selling points. Each also had drawbacks. To sort which apartment was most desirable, we made a list. Doing that made the decision process feel more solid. Ordered. Complete. Informed. Before the list, we were doing cost / benefit analysis in our respective heads. After the list, we felt more confident about a decision. All of the critical elements of the various places were surfaced and prioritized.
Rucker, Petty & Bri√Īol (2008) suggests that presenting a two-sided frame instills the same sort of confidence. People who are exposed to a one-sided frame know consciously that they still need to think about the drawbacks of a given decision. And ‚Äď worse for persuasion design ‚Äď they are left to generate the negatives on their own. In contrast, people who are exposed to a two-sided frame are left with the impression that the communication is complete. At a meta-cognitive level, the reader seems to assume that the communicator has comprehensively considered and presented both positives and negatives. As a result, the consumer doesn't need to expend energy generating and considering the cons before they can make a good decision. Somebody has already done that for them.
In thinking about this study, it is critical to differentiate between content that creates a positive attitude and content that also leaves consumers confident that their conclusions are correct. The persuasion literature highlights why:
As Rucker and colleagues point out, politicians seeking to create loyalists or companies wanting to create advocates should create content that persuades. But critically, they also should strive to create content that instills confidence. Presenting both pros and cons seems to be one way to do that.
Petrocelli, J.V., Tormala, Z.L., and Rucker, D.D. (2007). Unpacking attitude certainty: Attitude clarity and attitude correctness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 30-41.
Rucker, D.D. and Petty, R.E. (2004), When resistance is futile: Consequences of failed counterarguing for attitude certainty, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 219‚Äď235.
Rucker, D.D., Petty, R.E., and Bri√Īol, P. (2008). What's in a frame anyway?: A meta-cognitive analysis of the impact of one- versus two-sided message framing on attitude certainty. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 18(2)
Thank you Kath and Eric for another interesting article! I have a few questions about the research that was conducted:
Thank you again and please keep these interesting articles coming!
Do you think you would have bought the motorcycle if Ducati had added a con-frame? Eric's point on depth is insightful for perspective.
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