Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Does Your Website Need a Magic Act?

In preparation for an initial meeting with a new client, we were asked to preview their website to see if we could come-up with some ideas for re-branding the company, and invigorating product sales.

The client was suitably impressed with our thoughts but there was one problem, the product line that we stressed was not the focus of the company. The client explained that despite the fact most of their current website was devoted to a particular product line, it was not the product that differentiated them from the competition, nor was it the product that made them the most money. Once this was explained our entire focus shifted, and we were able to develop a website concept, and webmedia presentation that focused attention where it belonged.

The experience drove home the fact that many websites confuse potential customers by inadvertently leading audiences down the wrong path, hindering profitable sales rather than promoting them.

Pick A Card, Any Card

Most companies sell a variety of products or services, but they are not all created equal, some are more important, and more profitable than others. At the heart of any website design project is the underlying goal of attracting attention, and directing that attention to the product, service, or concept that is being marketed. In that regard, an effective website sales presentation is a lot like a magic act.

The PsyBlog, Understand Your Mind, recently published an article entitled, "Psychology of Magic: 3 Critical Techniques," in which they reported that the Association for Scientific Study of Consciousness held a conference called "The Magic of Consciousness Symposium" where cognitive neuroscientists and psychologists heard an enlightening series of well-known magicians explain the psychology and techniques behind magic acts.

What cognitive scientists have come to realize is that after hundreds of years of experimentation before live audiences, magicians have mastered a series of highly effective cognitive techniques that need to be studied, a realization that should not elude any serious marketing manager, since the essence of any effective sales presentation is cognitive learning, defined by MedicineNet.com as "the process of being aware, knowing, thinking, learning and judging."

Psychological Mind-bending Techniques

In simple terms, magicians use a series of psychological mind-bending techniques, to convince audiences to believe in something that is simply not possible; so imagine how powerful and persuasive a sales presentation could be by using these same techniques to deliver a presentation where the product or service actually performs as advertised.

We are not talking about cheating people, or misrepresenting products, but rather teaching people the benefits of an offering by focusing attention, sharpening awareness, and altering perception, the three main ingredients in any convincing magic act, and any effective sales presentation.

Focusing Attention, Sharpening Awareness, Altering Perception

The problem of attention is three-fold: people are impatient due to lifestyle demands, socialization, and neural hardwiring. Business pressure and modern life-styles put a premium on the amount of time people will invest in learning what you have to say.

Web audiences have been raised on quick-cut music videos, action movies and video games, and as a result are socialized at an early age to make snap-decisions on minimum input.

At the same time our brains employ a hardwired, leap-of-logic, pattern recognition survival mechanism that induces quick decisions on what is important and what is seemingly irrelevant.

With an audience predisposed to hair-trigger decision-making, the ability to attract, hold, and direct attention is vital to effective Web presentation, a skill-set refined by magicians over years of practice.

One of the three techniques mentioned in the article "Psychology of Magic: 3 Critical Techniques" is 'psychological misdirection, a technique illustrated in an illusion called the 'vanishing ball trick,' performed by Dr. Gustav Kuhn of York University.

The 'Vanishing Ball Trick'

A ball is tossed into the air and caught with one hand while the magician follows the flight of the ball with his eyes. The movement is repeated several times establishing the trajectory of the ball, then on the final toss the magician doesn't let go of the ball but repeats the same arm motion and eye movement, following the imagined flight of the non existent ball. What the brain registers is the ball disappearing in mid flight.

Evidently there is a tenth of a second delay between what the eye physically sees and what the brain registers. This could be a fatal human flaw if what is in front of us is a hungry tiger rather than a magician. That tenth of a second lag could mean the difference between life and death.

As a consequence the brain has developed a sophisticated pattern recognition process that fills in the blanks. We recognize a series of events and leap to the conclusion that something is going to happen. In this case that something is the flight of a ball, a cognitive pattern established by the magicians repetitive arm and eye movements.

Sales Presentations Are Exercises In Teaching New Behaviors

A sales presentation is nothing more than an effort to teach an audience a new learned behavior - buying the product, service or concept being presented. This can only be achieved if a presentation focuses viewer attention on a single concept, and repeats that concept so that it becomes a recognized pattern.

A sale's audience like a magician's audience must be sold on the presentation. Each audience starts off being both cynical and resistant, but a good magician like a good salesman will repeat the presentation several times, each time varying it slightly in order to overcome each potential objection, what magicians call 'closing the doors' and what advertisers call a marketing campaign.

The ad nauseam repetition of television commercials is nothing more than an attempt to teach the viewing audience a new set of behaviors, so that they will recognize the pattern and respond in the right circumstances - we are all network television's version of Pavlov's dogs.

Entertaining Clients is Serious Business

The best commercials are the ones that are based on a thematic series (the Mac commercials are a great example), with each spot over-coming a single objection, ultimately teaching the audience a new learned purchasing behavior. Your website is your communication channel, capable of delivering programming content that alters behavior, and forms new purchasing patterns.

The trick is to keep your audience interested long enough to establish the new intended pattern of behavior. Business owners have to get past the notion that entertaining presentations are somehow non-functional. Entertaining clients is serious business.

Website presentations must attract, focus, and hold viewer attention by delivering an entertaining series of performances that establish patterns of behavior by clever repetition that overcome objections using verbal and visual repetition.


The psychological principles employed by magicians are very similar to the ones used in effective sales presentations. The Internet is capable of delivering the kind of compelling video and audio webmedia that changes audience behavior and purchasing patterns. Business must get rid of the digital flip charts and start communicating effective, meaningful presentations that deliver magical results.

About The Author

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit MRPwebmedia.com, 136Words.com and SonicPersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.

The Evolution of Online Advertising Technology - More Targeting, Less Privacy (Part 2)

Even with the cookie-type behavioral advertising technology, there was a way for users to prevent these ads from targeting them. They could set their machines not to accept any cookies at all by setting their browser security setting to high. This solved the privacy issue, although many websites would (intentionally or not) render improperly with this setting on.

In recent news on the behavioral advertising technology front, Microsoft announced that its newest Internet Explorer, version 8, would have a mode called "InPrivate Blocking" that would prevent cookies from being placed on any machine. At first glance, it would seem that either:

A. Microsoft is genuinely concerned about online privacy, to the point that the company would allow users to block ads that come from the Microsoft network as well, or

B. Microsoft realized that the paltry share of the ad serving market that it currently controls is not as important as inflicting serious damage to Google, which owns a much more significant slice of the online advertising pie (in actuality, at this point, Google's "slice" looks more like Pac-Man, but I digress).
Whatever happens with this flavor of behavioral advertising, there was recently a new type of advertising technology that raised some serious eyebrows, and this one could have been the most nefarious of all.

This latest behavioral advertising technology, brought to the surface by a company called NebuAd, is aimed at tracking user behavior at the ISP level. In other words, there ain't really a whole lot you can do about it. You need your ISP to get online, so your ISP has access to the information that you are accessing when you are online. They don't need no stinkin' cookies, so you can erase them to your heart's content and they'll happily keep tracking along.

For the unscrupulous ISP, this is a no-brainer. You allow NebuAd to install its platform at your service hub and then you split the profíts. And this is exactly what some of the smaller firms did in several "trials" of the behavioral advertising technology in the U.S.

Of course, there is a caveat - even a firm with cash flow problems and without an iota of ethics would probably want to create an opt-out system before unleashing this behavioral advertising technology platform on its users (you know, the people that already pay them and probably assume privacy). However, there's something very interesting about how these behavioral advertising trials were done - in just about every case, the ISP seemed interested in keeping the opt-out information as obscure as possible from its users. According to Anick Jesdanun from the AP (1).

1. CenturyTel Inc. rolled out the platform to 20,000 of its subscribers. To inform them of the new advertising technology, the company sent an email letting these subscribers know only that the privacy policy had been updated and had added a paragraph about NebuAd to the privacy policy. 85 out of 20,000 opted out.

2. Embarq Corp. rolled out the platform to 26,000 of its paid subscribers. Embarq didn't bother sending any emails to its subscribers; the company merely put a general notice within its privacy notice online. A whopping total of 15 out of the 26,000 people opted out.

3. WideOpenWest (or WOW) rolled out the NebuAd platform on 330,000 customers. The only notification before the fact was a posting on the company's website, along with a reminder in billing statements to review privacy policies online. They did email the 330,000 customers to tell them about the advertising technology trial - after it had concluded. 3,355 people opted out, but that figure may be inflated, because they aren't sure how many came from a single customer. WOW indeed.

4. Bresnan Communications, LLC, tried the platform on 6,000 of its customers. Unlike the other three providers above, the company did send an email directly to its users about the trial itself (although I have no idea how it was presented and whether the info was buried in a footer somewhere) and posted notices on its website. 18 people opted out.

There were two other participants in the trial - Cable One, Inc. and Knology, Inc. For the purposes of my numbers below, I've left them out - not because they don't support the general theory, but because they don't fít the parameters. Knology won't reveal how many customers were involved and how many opted out, although the company did post a notice on its website. Cable One, Inc. ran the test on 14,000 customers, but did not give them the chance to opt out.

To sum this up, the total number of "participants" of the four providers for which we have sufficient data was 382,000, and the number that opted out was 3,473 (which may be inflated due to the WOW factor, but let's leave that alone). The total percentage of opt-outs was less than one percent. I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that the number of opt-outs would have been much higher if each of these providers had sent a piece of dírect mail for the sole purpose of informing the subscribers that this type of behavioral advertising technology tracking method was going to take place and that they needed to opt out at such-and-such address. Better yet, they needed to opt-ín at such-and-such address (but I'm guessing that would doom the trial from the beginning).

All testing for behavioral advertising technology at this stage has been halted - it would appear because the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee has decided to look into the matter. Which I guess is fortunate, at least in the short term, for Google, Yahoo, and other big players in the search world. If anyone is going to be force-feeding you behavioral advertising and other targeted ads without your explicit consent, it's going to be them, not some snot-nosed little start-up.

Recently, the CEO of NebuAd announced his departure, and the company has announced plans to move forward with a more "traditional" advertising technology model (probably similar to the cookie-based platforms we're already used to worrying about). However, another company in Europe named Phorm has been having success with a similar behavioral advertising technology business model (ISP-based), but EU regulators are starting to jump into the fray.

If I had to guess, I would say that in the future any type of behavioral advertising technology on the ISP level will have to be done on a strict opt-ín basis, meaning that the person has taken an action that shows that he agrees with the process. Will there be a company that emerges that is willing to provide free or very cheap broadband to people who are willing to be targeted at the ISP level? Time will tell.

(c) Medium Blue 2008

Source: (1) Yahoo Tech News

About The Author
Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue Search Engine Marketing, which was named the number one organic search engine optimization company in the world in 2006 and 2007 by PromotionWorld. Scott has contributed content to many publications including The Complete Guide to Google Advertising (Atlantic, 2008) and Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, DS Waters, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Visit MediumBlue.com to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.