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Should You Change User Behavior on Your Landing Pages?

by Jeremy Smith

Many marketers believe that they are supposed to change a user’s behavior.

According to the theory, an effective landing page will challenge a user’s existing behavior and attempt to get them to adopt a new behavior that involves a conversion action.

Most landing pages are attempting to coerce a potential customer to get, do, buy, change! This, I would argue, is a shortsighted strategy. In order to better appeal to the customer, a landing page should not challenge a user’s behavior, but rather should appeal to the user’s existing behavior.

My goal in this article is to expose a landing page fallacy (coercion), and attempt to show you an alternate and more successful way of persuading users.

The big question: Why do people click?

In the world of landing pages, what makes a customer click? Why do they convert? What cognitive processes drive them, motivate them, and coerce them to click and buy?

Obviously, it’s complex. However, that is the question that I’m constantly asking as I analyze landing pages and consult with clients. It is, literally, the million dollar question.

There is, of course, no single right answer. We would do well to dispense with all the conventional “best practices” and focus on the cognitive causes and behavioral cues for each website’s unique audience.

Even though there’s no right answer, there are several things that make people not want to click. One of those is coerced behavior.

If a user senses that he or she is subject to a form of coercion, then he or she will not convert.

Let me step back for a moment and just make a statement regarding this principle. This is one of the underlying psychological factors that is at play in conversion optimization. This has very little to do directly with design, layout, copy, etc.

Of course, there are practical applications to those issues, but coercion goes far deeper. We’re dealing with a subject that is at the very core of a user’s mental processes on a landing page.

What is Coercion?

Coercion, also referred to as “psychological coercion” is “psychological force in a coercive way to cause the learning and adoption of an ideology or designated set of beliefs, ideas, attitudes, or behaviors.” (Definition from The Neurotypical Site.)

Coercion is accomplished through a variety of methods, broadly including all forms of media and communication. In the online setting, the coercive cues are subtle. However, some of the issues can be identified in the following ways:

This coercion is psychological.

Coercion uses psychological force to accomplish its means. Often, because it is so subtle users can’t tell if they are being coerced. The traditional cognitive defenses are sidestepped in such a way that coercion takes effect.

This coercion disrupts normal patterns of the user’s behavior.

In order to be coercion, the user must be predisposed against the behavior that that they are being compelled to undertake. Most humans have customary ways of doing, behaving, thinking, and acting. A coercive force attempts to derail those actions and behaviors in order to instill a habit or prompt an action that the user would not normally desire.

This coercion is authoritarian and unpleasant.

When it is identified, coercion is perceived as authoritarian. Self-aware users know when they are being coerced.

Psychologist Jack W. Brehm made this remark in his monograph on “A Theory of Psychological Reactance:”

A Theory of Psychological Reactance

“Freedom of behavior is a pervasive and important aspect of human life People are continually surveying their internal and external states of affairs and making decisions about what they will do, how they will do it, and when they will do it. They consider their wants and needs, the dangers and benefits available in their surroundings, and the ways in which they can accomplish various ends.”

Coercion attempts to reverse this innate freedom. The user is forced to act in a way that opposes their natural liberties. For example, psychological coercion is responsible for making suspects admit to committing crimes that they have not actually committed.

It all sounds so sinister and warlike. Is this nefarious technique truly at use in marketing today?

Yes. Douglas Rushkoff makes a strong case for the preponderance of coercive techniques in our culture in his book Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say.

“These [psychologically coercive] techniques are rapidly spreading from the sales floor and the television screen to almost every other aspect of our daily experience. Whether we are strolling through Times Square [or] exploring the Internet…” (Coercion, page 2)

Features of Coercive Marketing

Let me list some of the features of how psychological coercion makes its way into marketing today. This list is by no means exhaustive. I’ve assembled merely a few suggestions of the things that may characterize a coercive approach.

Each of these are from the perspective of the victim of the coercion.

Suspending judgment to higher authorities.

This happens when a landing page refers to some authoritative people, studies, research, or evidence that demands that you do such and such. Just because “scientists say” or “most consumers prefer” doesn’t mean that you should not make your own judgment call.

Rushkoff’s book points to this phenomenon — the omnipresent “they” who control our lives. In a description of the book, the editor writes this:

Douglas Rushkoff argues that we each have our own “theys” — bosses, pundits, authorities, both real and imaginary—whom we allow to shape our lives and manage our futures. Like parents, they can make us feel safe. They do our thinking for us. We don’t have to worry about our next move — it has already been decided on our behalf, and in our best interests. Or so we hope.

Following a seller’s pretense of knowing what is good for you.

Does the marketer really know what’s good for the consumer? They want you to think that they do. The only one who truly has your best interests at heart is yourself. Not the marketer. Coercive marketing techniques, however, make a pretense of knowing, wanting, and desiring what’s best for you.

Responding an emotional frenzy.

Every one of us makes emotional decisions. It’s the way we’re wired. Sometimes, however, a marketer can whip up such an emotional frenzy that the buyer is carried along, not aware of why or how she is doing something. This too is psychological coercion.

Admitting “truths” about one’s self that are not actually true.

One of the most powerful forms of psychological coercion is when you start to tell yourself the lies that the marketer wants you to believe.

  • “Yeah, I guess I am a failure and need this product.”
  • “I am sad! I need this drink.”
  • “I am doing it wrong. I need to take this course.”
  • “Other people do think I’m ugly. I need to buy this cream.”

The Counter to Coercion

Since the coercive approach to marketing is altogether negative, we need to determine what method is actually more motivating and helpful. We’re circling back again to the “why people click” question.

Clearly, if someone senses that they are being coerced in some form or another, they will not click or convert. What, then, will cause them to convert?

Let the user know they are free.

First, there needs to be in place cues that let the customer know that they are free to make whatever decision they prefer.

A user who senses freedom has the cognitive space to be able to make a decision. Whenever someone feels threatened in some way, they are likely to shut down their decision-making mode, and crouch in a defensive posture.

Freedom encourages choice.

Identify the user’s existing behavior.

The key to finding what is going to make the user click is this: Know what behaviors they already participate in.

For example, someone who owns a TV is probably going to watch it. A cat owner gives food to her cats. A gourmet cook uses a gas stove and high-quality pots and pans.

This seems extremely obvious, but the ramifications are profound. Let me explain why.

Make this behavior easier, more efficient, or rewarding.

When a user already does something, then they are many times more likely to do something else that accompanies that action.

The behavior is already in place. Your product or service or marketing effort reaches into that behavioral practice, and encourages, rewards, or otherwise enhances it.

Here’s an example of how this works. The gourmet cook loves his gas stove, but it’s a pain to clean it. He needs to clean it. He just doesn’t like doing it. So, you introduce your product that helps the cook clean his gas range easily. It’s fun, efficient, and it helps him do something that he’s already doing, only do it better.

Let’s take the cat owner. She already feeds her cat. You’re not going to try to persuade her to do anything different. Instead, you’re going to encourage her in her cat-feeding habit, but provide a way for her to make that cat-feeding activity easier, more fun, and even rewarding. Your product introduces the solution.

You don’t have to motivate them to buy your product. They are self motivated by virtue of the fact that they are already participating in the very behavior that you want for them. That behavior will help them buy.

Behavioral Marketing

This introduces marketers to an entirely different realm of marketing. Although “behavioral marketing” has been around for a while, I’m suggesting a variation on the theme.

I’m suggesting that you look at the macro behaviors of users, not just the micro actions that they perform on their web browser or within an ad. Examine instead groups of people who do certain behaviors on a regular basis.

  • Remote workers who collaborate with other remote workers. Behavior: online, real time work collaboration.
  • Working moms who want home-cooked meals for their family. Behavior: quick and easy meal prep.
  • Athletes who engage in performance training. Behavior: Focused intensive sports workout.

As you analyze and understand user’s behavior, you can develop an entire marketing approach that targets their behavior. Instead of trying to change the behavior of a group, you feed the behavior that they are already engaged in.

  • Your headline would grab their attention by commenting and affirming on that behavior.
  • Your subheadline would pique their curiosity by providing a way to do that behavior better, easier, more efficiently, or with reward.
  • Your value proposition would explain exactly why and how their behavior can be enhanced in some way.
  • Your bullet point benefits would solve some of the challenges that they typically face in their behavior.

Examples of Landing Pages that Don’t Coerce, but Instead Encourage Existing Behavior

Let’s take a look at some positive examples of this technique in action.

Direct TV

As sad as it may be, the average American watches five hours of TV per day. Direct TV knows that customers have cable, and that they use it. The behavior? TV watching.

So, here’s what their landing page looks like.

Direct Tv landing page

They are encouraging the behavior of TV watching. The angle, however, is that you can switch your current cable provider to DirectTV. The benefit? Saving money. Plus, there’s all that free stuff, too — a genie, some extra channels, and NFL Sunday Ticket.

By identifying their target audience’s existing behavior, they have settled in on a method that doesn’t employ psychological coercion, but instead encourages the existing behavior, with some modification.

DietToGo

The lifestyle and diet industry has a unique challenge in this regard. Thankfully, however, the people who are interested in engaging in a diet or life-changing behavior have some internal motivation or preliminary behavior that can be encouraged.

DietToGo has a masterful landing page that praises the potential customer’s motivation, while also encouraging them to take it a step further — with DietToGo, of course. Check out these excerpts from the landing page.

Diet to to landing page

Notice how this page encourages the user with “You can do this!” and then affirms “weight loss goals.” It then promises an “easy and delicious way” to achieve those goals.

The “easy” promise is a great hook for encouraging any behavior. Anyone knows that a diet is not easy. If DietToGo makes it easy, then by all means, this is appealing indeed.

landing page for diet to go

Conclusion

Trying to change the user’s behavior is risky and dangerous. Coercion in any form will be met with resistance.

The alternative is far superior: Understand the user’s current behavior. Encourage it, and help them sustain it with your product or service.

The psychological power at play here virtually guarantees that you’ll be successful. It requires that you understand your user, and then deliver a product in such a way that is appropriate, appealing, and…makes them click.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Jeremy Smith.

4 Comments

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Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is a serial entrepreneur, trainer and conversion consultant for Fortune 1000 companies. He has a powerful understanding of human behavior and profit-boosting techniques. You can learn them by downloading his latest ebook: Landing Page Optimization for In-House Marketers.

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  1. Anonymous says:
    November 27, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Web traffic is very important for the popularity of your website. If you have a great product that somehow never seems to get the attention that it deserves, it may be that by creating a landing page and a campaign to drive traffic to that page is all you require, rather than a full website build and optimisation of every page on the website. Even so, I believe Kris Roadruck made a lot of good sense in his comment when he explained that, “Doing [the redirect] can certainly help would-be linkers know which is the appropriate address to make use of when linking.

  2. David says:
    March 31, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Hi,

    A very interesting article. Reminds me of the old adage: you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

    I think the make-up a landing pages can also be designed based on how someone gets to a webpage. For instance, getting there in respone to a direct mail campaign may imply a different mind-set than somone who comes to a website via a social media link.

    Regards,
    David.

  3. bam bam says:
    February 26, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    This is the good idea. Landing pages must avoid coercion to users to do anything. I can use this idea when I create a new page or site for my business.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      February 27, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Agreed. The secret is to be persuasive without being manipulative.

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