Uncovering Solid Foundations for Persuasive Architecture

  |  October 25, 2002   |  Comments

Uncovery: the steps to knowing whatyou don't know (but need to) about your business.

In my recent columns discussing the value and perspective of persuasive architecture, I've mentioned a specific process central to constructing the proper foundation. As a process, uncovery is the means by which we gather information that helps map online objectives, define strategies, understand the pertinent specific buying and selling processes, research keywords and key phrases, and determine key business metrics. Remember, only people with responsibility for defining objectives are involved in this stage to ensure business objectives won't succumb to the needs of designers or developers.

Skillful uncovery is the first necessary step toward designing and developing effective persuasive architecture.

It isn't a new concept by any stretch. How we think about it shapes the way we ask the questions and understand the answers.

"Discovery" is a word many development teams apply to the process of learning about the client. It's not a term I believe accurately characterizes this process. When we discover, we bring to light something previously unknown. In certain contexts, the word can be emotionally and intellectually offensive. It makes me think of indigenous people Europeans "discovered." However unknown they may have been to the Europeans, those people were hardly unknown to themselves.

How much totally unknown information exists about any business you can think of?

"Uncovery" is a better word to explain what we do. It eliminates the emotional and intellectual baggage of discovery. Uncovery implies the information we seek already exists. A critical part of our job, then, is to identify and reveal that information.

One of the best models to understand what the uncovery process accomplishes is the Johari Window, a communication model I worked with in a previous incarnation as a social worker:

Known to Self Unknown to Self
Known to Others OPEN BLIND
to Others

Named after its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, the Johari Window describes the relationships of known and unknown information in human interaction. A four-paned "window" divides personal awareness into four types: open, unknown, blind, and hidden. The lines dividing the four panes move as an interaction progresses to reflect the changes in the relationship.

When we apply the Johari Window to uncovery, think of the business as "self" and the customers as "others." Let's describe the relationships:


The open quadrant represents information mutually known between two people. For example, you know one another's names. And if you explored some of the other person's Web site, you know some of what she expresses about herself. The knowledge this window represents can include not only factual information but also feelings, motives, behaviors, wants, needs, and desires... any information describing who the person is.

When you first meet a new person, the size of this quadrant is not large, as there's been little time to exchange information. As the process of getting to know one another continues, the dividing line moves down or to the right, placing more information into the open window.

This is the first and simplest phase of uncovery, in which you learn what the business knows and makes known: Read its materials, review its current Web site, chat about its needs and wants, and so on.


The unknown quadrant represents information that's mutually unknown. The other person may disclose a dream he had. As you both attempt to understand its significance, a new awareness, unknown to both of you before the conversation took place, might emerge.

In this realm, true discovery is possible. I won't say it's impossible to discover something neither the business nor its customers know about the exchange, but I do suggest it's unlikely. Pursuing this area is not the most effective use of anyone's time.


The blind quadrant represents information you do not know about yourself, but the other person does know. Suppose the two of you are eating at a restaurant and you unknowingly have a crumb on your face. This is in your blind quadrant. The other person can see it, but you can't. If she tells you that you have something on your face, the dividing line moves to the right, enlarging the open quadrant and decreasing the blind quadrant.

This is the phase in uncovery in which you take advantage of not being "inside the bottle" (where it's hard to read the label). You identify what is known to the customer that must be revealed to the business. When it comes to issues in which people have a huge personal investment (e.g., their children, homes, businesses), they risk losing their objectivity. It's then they risk pushing their own interests at the expense of their customers' interests.

It helps to bring in an objective outsider to give the business some perspective. Remain impartial about internal politics or who suggested past ideas. The business needs an unbiased verdict, without the emotional attachment it has invested in its own efforts.


The hidden quadrant represents information you know about yourself but the other person does not know. Let's say the other person doesn't know your favorite movie is "A Bronx Tale." You've never told him, not is it mentioned in any information about you. This hidden information might be the key to a great uncovery.

When we express and elaborate on the findings from the blind quadrant, it should trigger some flow of information that initially was in the hidden quadrant.

The goal of uncovery is to identify the value of the business and articulate it in a way that matters to the customer. Uncovering the hidden information -- what a business knows but does not articulate -- is the heart of the uncovery process.

Think of it this way: You're a brilliant, highly ethical tax accountant who has an exceptional way of looking at taxes that regularly saves your clients lots of money. You know a lot about yourself and a ton about your business. If I knew what you knew about you and your business, why wouldn't I hire you?

Active listening skills, thorough note-taking, and objectivity are critical in this endeavor. If we can uncover the key factors that influence a persuasive architecture, we can then bring this information into a wireframe. Do you allow the information your customers need to remain hidden, or will you uncover it so that it persuades them to buy?

Bryan will speak at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.


Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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