When logging into webinars, I always keep my expectations in check. Often, webinars only offer a somewhat new take on familiar material. Or they’re 90% sales pitch. But on May 30, Tim Ash and Maurits Kaptein hosted a standout webinar on “Persuasion Profiling.”

In the webinar, Maurits Kaptein (co-founder of Science Rockstars and PersuasionAPI ) explained the thinking behind this fresh and promising concept. In a nutshell, it works like this: You present customized content to website visitors, depending on which persuasive strategies have historically proven to work best on that particular visitor.

Sounds interesting, but how do we get there?

We have a pretty good understanding of the various ways in which people can be persuaded. Robert Cialdini (author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) is the acknowledged master in the field. He breaks persuasion down into six principles:

  • Social Proof (When deciding on a course of action, we tend to observe what others are doing, then follow the pack.)
  • Liking (We are more easily persuaded by people we like – and the people we like most of all are those who are similar to us.)
  • Authority (We tend to obey the advice/orders of authority figures.)
  • Commitment and Consistency (When we specifically commit to something – especially in writing – we tend to follow through, and to become more committed to that stance.)
  • Scarcity (If something is scarce, we perceive it as more valuable.)
  • Reciprocity (We have an instinctive urge to repay favors.)

Through traditional testing on our webpages, we can determine which method works best overall. But really, that just gives us an average. The fact is, different people are susceptible to different methods. For example:

  • Some people are highly influenced by the opinions and actions of their peers. For this group, the technique of Social Proof can be highly effective.
  • Another subset of the population isn’t so interested in what “the masses” think or do. They want to hear what the experts have to say. For this group, the technique of Obedience to Authority may work better than Social Proof.

But how do we appeal to both groups?

The most common solution is simply to use multiple techniques. For example, provide customer reviews, and expert opinions. Oh, and don’t forget to add some urgency using the Scarcity principle. And let’s not forget to include Reciprocity…

You can see where this is going. If you suspect that simply “piling on” multiple persuasion techniques might be counterproductive, you’re right. Numerous studies have shown that combining multiple techniques actually can actually result in less persuasion. Sigh.

Persuasion profiling to the rescue

What if, instead of trying to devise a one-size-fits-all approach, you could actually present tailored content to each visitor, depending on which technique has proven to work best on them in the past? This is what Persuasion Profiling is all about.

First, we build a persuasion profile for each visitor. We must:

  • Follow the person around for a while
  • Expose them to different persuasion tactics
  • Track what drives their purchase decisions, and
  • Gradually build a profile

Then, once we know which technique is most likely to be effective on a given visitor, we can present customized content that increases the probability of conversion. For example, if a visitor has historically been persuaded by limited-time offers (a form of Scarcity), we can present that visitor with precisely that.

PersuasionAPI incorporates adaptive algorithms that optimize content so with every click, the profile gets more accurate. Maurits claims that 25-30 interactions are enough to be fairly certain, but even the second interaction is better than the first. Although perfection may never be attained, the aim is to keep improving the profile over time.

Persuasion Profiling

Does it work?

Though still in its infancy, Persuasion Profile shows great promise. Mauritz reports that when used on e-commerce websites, they are already seeing conversion improvements of over 25%. And when used in email marketing, they are achieving lifts in excess of 100% after just 5 or 6 emails.

In theory, the technique could also work cross-domain. That is, once we’ve learned which persuasion technique works best on an individual user on one website, we can customize our communications for that person on other websites.

The ramifications are exciting, if somewhat frightening. And certainly, it’s a tactic that raises legal and ethical issues, especially if applied cross-domain. But I’ll leave those issues for another post.

I see tremendous potential for Persuasion Profiling. It’s a great example of how analytics and the social sciences can work together. I think the Science Rockstars are on to something.

For more on persuasion profiling – including links to academic research – see Persuasion-profiling.com

And if you missed the webinar, fear not. It’s available here: