We make decisions every single day. We decide what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We decide what to wear. Where to go. Who to go with. In fact, it is reported that the average adult makes around 35,000 decisions on a daily basis. That’s about a million choices every month. Just those decisions we make based upon food preferences total approximately 225 every 24 hours.
Designing around decision-making processes
Online marketers know all about the importance of customer decision-making processes; however, not every online marketer understands how to incorporate this into a campaign. This, the first of a two-part article that discusses customer decision making and – later on – how to integrate these processes into marketing – looks at the psychology behind the process. Better identification and understanding of the decisions users make when visiting your website is a powerful tool when it comes to optimizing website objectives. When you recognise the cognitive processes that determine decision making, you will find more efficient and useful answers to the following questions:
1. What decisions do you want your users to make?
2. How can you make these decisions easier?
3. When do you ask users to decide?
4. Do you need to minimize the number of choices offered on your site?
5. Where on your website can ‘bottleneck’ decisions be found?
6. How do the decision-making moments of your website relate to those of your competitors?
7. Can we use this knowledge to build loyalty?
8. Does your website include useless or even counter-productive decisions?
Which factors influence decision making?
How much of the decision-making process is rational and how much depends on emotion? Most of us would not be surprised to learn that emotions play a significant role. Most of us eat foods we like, wear clothes we feel happy and confident in, spend time with people who interest us and fill up our free time with activities that are fun, exciting or have a positive effect upon our lives.
The field of psychology distinguishes four important mental processes which influence a single decision. These are cognitive prejudices, memories, reasoning and – as already mentioned – emotions.
Cognitive prejudices are the equivalent of systematic errors within a thought process. These are prejudices based upon data that has already been stored in our memory and has a major impact on decision making and evaluation.
Prejudices can be closely related to personal beliefs and in this case can be described as the over-reliance on ‘inside’ information in order to make decisions. Others prejudices are formed through omission – people tend to omit information that is perceived as risky or negative. Others on bias confirmation where people see what they see or see what they expect to see.
Experiences from the past can influence future decision making. A part of cognitive prejudice, memories are also a separate entity in the selection of choices. Studies have shown that when a decision results in something positive, people are more likely to act in the same way in a similar situation. Of course, the reverse also applies; people are less inclined to repeat mistakes from the past.
Reasoning is based upon creating and testing hypotheses using the best available information and not on memory or personal experience. Reasoning provides day-to-day decision making that works best with the available information. When this information is incomplete, the wrong decision can be made. When this information proves to be untrue at a later stage, the experience turns into a negative memory.
The majority of the decisions we make are at least partially emotional. When the emotion-processing areas of the brain are damaged, people tend to experience difficulties in decision-making. You can therefore be sure that the decisions your website visitors make on your site will be affected by emotion in some way.
How to integrate decision-making psychology into marketing
When these four foundation stones are recognised and applied to website design, it is possible to influence visitor, user or customer decision-making. How this can be done will be discussed in the next blog. In the meantime, have another read through the list of questions above and visit your company website in the guise of a client or potential client. Which decisions do you make based upon cognitive prejudices, memories, reasoning and emotions? Chances are your visitors experience similar influences.