Persuasion: Beyond Trust and Credibility

What elements are essential to making a Web site persuasive? Trust and credibility are vital. If you can’t establish trust and credibility, your site won’t persuade. But there’s an even more important element in the persuasion mix.

Persuasion is impossible without appealing to a person’s emotions. No decision, no matter how logically justified, is made without emotions. Even the most logical decision is a source of pride, satisfaction, happiness, and/or beauty to the decision maker. At a 2001 scientific conference, Dr. Dean Shibata presented a study based on brain activity imaging that reveals emotions are inextricably a part of the decision process. According to Shibata, “If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible [for people] to make decisions in daily life.” People with damaged prefrontal lobes — where emotions are processed — are completely stymied when making decisions such as determining what to buy.

So what’s more important than trust and credibility? Confidence. Without confidence nobody is willing to buy anything.

According to “The American Heritage Dictionary,” confidence is “a feeling of assurance, especially of self-assurance.”

How many times have you gone shopping but come home empty handed? You weren’t sure you found the right thing, but later you bought the item. Did the item improve? No, you became confident enough the item would meet your need or solve your problem. The best forms of persuasion are never based on pressure, deception, trickery, or gimmicks. True persuasion is nothing less than a transfer of confidence.

The trust and credibility your Web site communicates is critical in helping visitors feel confident in purchasing from you. For example, I trust Citibank and its credibility beyond reproach. But I wouldn’t look to Citibank for advice on my dog’s nutritional needs. No matter how easy Citibank’s dog food was to find, how quickly the information downloaded, how beautifully presented the merchandise was, or how inexpensive it was, I still wouldn’t purchase. Why? It has to do with my dog-food buying process.

I buy the same brand of dog food out of habit. There was a time when I was in the market for dog food and was persuaded to buy a certain brand. Would I change brands? Perhaps, but the competition would need to introduce a threat or an opportunity that would make me lose confidence in the brand I currently buy. I love my dog (for those who may be wondering, he’s a deviously cute mutt, a four-paws-and-a-tail type dog), and I feel confident about what I serve him.

How do you communicate something as abstract as confidence? Building your visitor’s self-assurance is based on answering the questions visitors are asking. The more relevant the information you present, the closer to the way visitors want it presented, the more confidence you help build.

This is why we insist on wireframing, a skeletal rendering of every click-through possibility on your site. Only by applying persuasion architecture can you plan with empathy exactly what it will take for visitors to feel confident about choosing your product or service.

Put yourself in your potential customers’ shoes. If they’re too tight or too loose, brush up on your empathic skills and approach your Web site just as they would — without your level of knowledge. Be honest with yourself. Are you giving visitors that extra edge? Are you telling them that piece of information they haven’t found in your other literature? Are you talking to them in the manner they appreciate? Are you presenting to them differently based on what their needs are? Are you really inspiring their confidence?

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