Posted 4th April 2016 | By Nick Evans, Chairman

We love presenting ourselves online - presenting a persona. The ubiquitous selfie is an indication of our self-absorption and also a flag to marketers that the medium of the Internet is a powerful one for communicating and sharing messages.

There’s a pressure to perform. A pressure to conform. A pressure to be attractive, quirky, lovable, fun. Technology has allowed us to focus more on the self while being able to perform to the mass. The metaphor of real life is being stretched by social media.

We love presenting ourselves online - presenting a persona. The ubiquitous selfie is an indication of our self-absorption and also a flag to marketers that the medium of the Internet is a powerful one for communicating and sharing messages. There’s a pressure to perform. A pressure to conform. A pressure to be attractive, quirky, lovable, fun. Technology has allowed us to focus more on the self while being able to perform to the mass. The metaphor of real life is being stretched by social media.

As we post our videos, images and comments to an audience that is willing to watch, we strive to attain a status in the eyes of the viewers, to stake our claim for a position in the world. Look what I have done, where I’ve been, who I’m with, what I have.

Giving companies a personality

Businesses now no longer sell, sell sell! They seek to engage, to appear with caring personalities, to be anthropomorphised into an entity that wants to help, has feelings for you or gives you advice. Businesses also push desirable characteristics or memorable humour through their branding - think bulldog and which brand comes to mind? (Churchill Insurance) Meerkat? (Compare the Market)

Whether it’s as an individual or as a company, we try to differentiate ourselves from other people or companies, seeking that foothold that gives us star status. And the Internet is the place to do it.

So businesses create these personae, either imaginary or in the case of Ronald McDonald, very real. (I can’t help but see Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King’s “It”! However, that’s just me.)

Virality

Corporates use viral marketing to reach out to inaccessible customers - to lure them in. So, how can we get to audiences that we otherwise could not reach? Using viral techniques. The viral meme or video races like wildfire through the online space. Who can forget the Cadbury’s drumming gorilla or the Evian roller-skating babies (over 82m views!)? We see them and we share - just what the advertiser wants. And it’s not just high-value corporate content that has this quality.

Getting people to Like and Share has become an objective, leveraging the things people already love to do. ExtraMile works for a local estate agency - James Du Pavey. We produced infographics that have had significant traction in the area: What’s it like to live in Stone, Audlem, Crewe and so on?  Readers Like these, share them and comment. Why? Because they’re fascinated by something that relates to their experience from the world of business. Somebody “gets” them. Someone is talking their language and they like that - it’s almost as good as being referred to by name in an advertisement. More of that soon …

So, when people take your carefully crafted content and then share it with their network, all at once you are reaching people you do not know through people you do know.

Metaphor

The online space is a metaphor for life and that affects how we perceive our digital sales and marketing activity. The metaphor started with “World wide web”, has continued with “Information superhighway” and “surfing the web” and is developing with the concept of “the cloud”, “virtual communities”, “portals”, “gateways”, “online store”

And the very way we interact with our computers and our mobile devices - point and click, turn the page, zoom, copy, paste - all are simply metaphors for actions and concepts that are otherwise hard to describe.

As sales people and marketers we need to subscribe to this illusion and carry it along. Our online activity encourages people to “sign up”, to “buy now”, to “download”, yet what we are really saying is for them to interact with an online electronic system through the medium of a graphical user interface.

And our activity is supported by visuals where we as good as bring the product into their home to show them - video, images, zoom facilities and 360 degree rotations - all replicating the presence of the person looking at goods in a shop, visiting the property or in the context.

Emotion

We used to rely on the fact that people needed things in order to sell our products. Back in that simpler world you didn’t need to appeal to a person’s pride in their family, their status, their sense of history or their self-interest in order to sell them a loaf of bread.

Now though, as part of this “humanising” of companies, we have to feel that the seller cares about us, is looking after our well-being and has the best product for our benefit. The fact that this is largely marketing bull is beside the point.

So now, we appeal to people’s feelings and emotions - it’s not that it’s fizzy wine, it’s the lifestyle that it conjures up. Not just cat food, but a happy warm family brought together by their love for a healthy cat. Web marketing helps us do this more effectively because of its immediacy, its dynamism and its engagement - the two way traffic that helps engender an apparent conversation between supplier and customer.

Personalisation

And it’s more than just the emotions. People need to think that the company cares about them. This is why personalisation is such a powerful force. Not just personalisation by saying “Dear Bill …”, but recalling what Bill likes, what Bill has bought and when Bill shops. This type of artificial intelligence that is a rules-based system can successfully persuade the reader that there is a person on the other end of the email - anthropomorphism lives and breathes in marketing! 

But personalisation is not just about “Dear Bill …” and then the rest of the email is generic without any personalised content. Nor is it about “Dear Firstname …” - even worse! It’s getting the whole “We understand you” idea across.

Remarketing

It’s about the entire gamut of communication online, from the email to the website and the products that are displayed there. Unfortunately, that process is yet to be made sophisticated so, having bought a camera on Amazon, what do you see, but cameras?

Similarly, the rather blunt instrument that says that once you have searched for a holiday in Paphos on Google and found a suitable travel company, every page containing adverts on every site thereafter will feature ads for Paphos from that travel company. Remarketing - once someone has shown interest in a site, the ads remind them of it.

This will get better and more intuitive in time, convincing us more and more that a human being is pushing our buttons.

Social proof

Giving your credentials is an important component of people’s perception of value. If they choose you it’s because you are “the best” in their eyes. They want to tell others that you are the best thing since the proverbial sliced bread, you sell the best products, you give the best service.

It’s a status thing and as marketers we can use techniques with which we enhance our credentials online - a vitally important process for consolidating our relationship with clients and engaging fruitfully with potential customers. Blog posts with social media and email backup are a powerful way of doing this.

We are confirming the rightness of purchasing decision for customers when we demonstrate explicitly that we know what we are talking about, we are authorities, we are respected, have received awards and commendations, great testimonials and more. We are creating the crowd. They are all looking up and pointing - others will follow.

Content and call to action

Finally, when we look at content in our online media we need to think of how people respond to it. Keep content brief - no one reads it in any case. The weight is in the headline and first paragraph - for Google too - so making the most impact in short pieces of pithy text is much more powerful.

People don’t read any more - they scan. So serving up information in bite-sized chunks will maximise the likelihood that it will be read and, better still, acted upon.

The key in all of this is the call to action, on every page, in every medium. Buy now, Click here, Read more, Register now, Sign up today, Download now, Try it here, Share this, Contact us, Subscribe here, Join today, Get started, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Discover how, Take the next step. Take the first step!

And essentially, that’s what all marketers in companies large and small need to do - take the next step to consider how their visitors’ brains work and how they should approach them with the most effective techniques to maximise the psychological opportunities and imperatives that are available.

This article was first delivered at a seminar at Keele University on 5th April 2016.

Nick Evans from ExtraMile 

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