Oct 7, 2019

Could This Science-Backed Model Change the Way You Sell?


I'm a brand strategist that loves helping people clarify their message so they can stand out in their space. I'm on a mission to help business owners simplify what they do and build connection with their clients.


Kane is our Co-Founder and Art Director who loves the psychology of branding. He's passionate about creating timeless visual systems that anyone can use.

You would think that as experienced as we all are at buying things, our customers' buying behaviour would easy to predict.

But instead, so many of their purchases can seem completely irrational and unpredictable. 

Think back to your last 3 purchases. Were they all rational and logical buying decisions?

What about the latte you sipped on, the handbag you bought online, the icecream you devoured, or the new sneakers you wore to the gym? They weren’t necessarily the most rational ways to spend your money, and yet, we buy things like this all the time.

So, how does the human brain make choices? And how you can use this information to inform how you sell online? Today, we’re looking at one model that can help us to optimise our websites to help our customers make better purchasing decisions.

Your brain’s 2 systems

Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman’s theory of decision making processes describes our brain as having 2 systems. The first, which he calls ‘System 1’, is fast, unconscious, automatic and effortless. The second ‘System 2’ is slow, deliberate, rational and logical.

While system one is influenced by experiences, emotions and memories, system two is influenced by facts, logic and evidence.

Because System 2 requires full focus and a large amount of effort, it's easily 'worn out'. So, with the number of decisions we need to make daily, Kahneman suggests that most of our decisions are made by the faster, less easily depleted system 1. That means that for many of our daily decisions, system 2 simply stands by and accepts system 1’s suggestions and then rationalises them.

For example, imagine if after watching an emotionally persuasive ad, you go out and buy the latest iphone. That is system 1 at work. And, system 2 will rationalise that decision by telling you that 'you need it for work', or that 'your old phone wasn’t working properly anyway' (or endless other rationalisations!). But, because you’re not conscious of system 1, all you’re aware of is the logical rationalisations of system 2.

Using Kahneman's model to optimise your website design

While system 1 might be making the decisions most of the time, both systems work together to help your customers make purchasing choices. That means it's best to cater for both systems on your website. Here are some ways you can optimise your website using Kahneman's model.

Help them to avoid pain

The more primitive System 1 is all about avoiding pain, so for customers using system 1 thinking, you can grab their attention by reminding them of a challenge they're facing, and showing them that you can help them avoid or overcome that pain point. For example, Flat Fair does this with their headline explaining that they’re going to help their customers to ‘avoid unfair charges’.

Make it about them, not you

The survival focused System 1 is also largely self-centric, so speaking directly to your customer and showing them that you understand their needs will be more effective than bragging about why you’re the best in the business. Hims does a great job of speaking directly to their customer's ego and using first person language.

If you're interested in reading more, I wrote about how to make the switch to customer-focused messaging here.

Show proof

System 1 thinks in the present moment, so showing customer success and transformation stories on your website can help the fast thinking part of your customer's brain to accept that your product or service works. And, where system 1 can’t make a quick decision, for instance when products or services are complex or high-priced, system 2 will be brought into play. System 2 is logical and rational, which is why proof points like statistics, facts and figures like Oscar uses are important to include on your website too.

Make an emotional connection

When we’re using system 1 thinking, we’re making decisions based on past experiences, instinct, emotions and what feels good. We can help our customers to connect our brand or offer with certain emotions using descriptive, emotive language and strategically using colour, imagery, testimonials and fonts on our websites. System 1 is highly visual, so large emotive images are going to work well here. For example, HBF uses emotive imagery on their website to trigger feelings of love and protectiveness.

Keep it simple and remove distractions

System 2 requires full focus and is easily depleted, limiting unnecessary decisions is the key to engaging this system. Keeping your website clean, uncluttered and distraction-free can help your customers to focus on the content that matters most. Bellhops does a great job at helping users to focus by only presenting limited choices. Switching large blocks of hard-to-read text for clear, easy to skim and scan copy can also help to keep system 1 thinkers engaged too. 

Compare and contrast

Make it easy for for your customer to understand the difference between products or services. Don’t make them work for it. Clear price savings, before and after photos and features tables can help system 1 to make quick decisions about which offer is the best choice, especially if these comparisons are highly visual. Webflow know that their visitors are trying to weigh up which website platform to choose, so they include use a lot of useful comparison tools on their website to help their decision.

Use scarcity

Heavily focused on survival, System 1 is fearful of missing an opportunity that may be beneficial to success. So, if you tell your customers that they need to act now, or miss out forever, System 1 is kicks into action to make a choice. If you have a product or service with limited places, time, stock or availability, you can use scarcity cues to trigger System 1 to take action, just like Airbnb does.

Using this model

It’s worth pointing out that Kahneman’s model is a generalised way of thinking about how we make decisions, and our brains are a lot more complex than a dichotomous system. But, that doesn’t takeaway from the fact that it’s still a useful model for us to begin to understand how our mind makes choices. If you want to learn more about this subject, check out Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow.

How will you implement Kahneman’s model?

Now I want to know— do you find Kahenman’s model useful for understanding how you (and your customers) make decisions? What one thing stuck out for you from this article? Let me know in the comments! And if you found this article interesting, I’d love it if you shared it too!

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