Partner, Mistletoe USA
What makes some products attractive and others ‘meh’?
If you are trying to invent or create, you will be faced with the inevitable need to approach the market with your product or idea. I am going to give you some novel insights into the so-called “short attention span problem” (herein after referred to as SASP) all of us face when trying to introduce a new product, onboard users or simply get attention in a complicated marketplace.
Now, while it is true that the world is full of shiny objects, it is not true that overcoming the SASP requires increased volume (shouting) or increased shininess (more features or gimmicks). The secret to overcoming the SASP is in understanding people in a deeper, human way.
The insights into humans will hopefully lead you to a better understanding of your business and value. We will uncover a strange world where attention and focus is calculated in the mind of your potential customer or guest. With this insight, you will never again fall into the trap of believing that users cannot be swayed or understood because of their inherent SASP.
We will learn that:
Anyone who has ever studied human decision-making is already aware that humans are interesting beasts with peculiar but predictive wiring that makes it possible for us to predict or anticipate behaviors with astonishing accuracy.
For example, the human brain is obsessed with answering questions. Ask someone a question, I mean any type of question, and they will immediately try to answer the question, at least in their mind. By the way, a question answered in the mind is perceived as true and correct. This is why you see speakers deploying the “ask a question” tactic: ‘do you follow me?’, ‘know what I mean?’ and the ever so annoying ‘right?’. This creates engagement and actually causes the listener to answer yes or no, in their mind. The real whacky part is that the answer then becomes truth.
As a basis, this tells us some very interesting stuff. First, the human brain is constantly trying to figure things out. It hates, and I mean hates, things that are confusing or unsolved. The brain will obsess over a problem until it gets solved. Once solved, the brain sets that problem aside, assumes a ‘job well done’ and then goes on. Where it goes is quite interesting too. It actually wants to solve more problems or rest. These are the only two states. The goal is to evaluate and solve or rest. It must be some type of ancestral mechanism where solving problems was a life skill. Those who did lived; those who did not died. Right? (<= got ya)
This ability seems to be derived from a deep-seated desire to calculate cost/benefit. You can imagine how helpful this ability becomes for humans who are out-sized by the other beasts or live in harsh environments. If I can begin to establish cost/benefit for almost everything, in the process I learn what works for me and what does not work for me.
Enter the second insight: humans are pattern animals. We spend our lives recognizing patterns. Some patterns we see, others we do not, yet they still impact us. For unconscious pattern recognition and the impact upon user behavior, I highly recommend “Hooked” by Nir Eyal. He does an excellent job of uncovering patterns that serve as behavioral triggers. Pattern recognition is both a positive and a negative skill. It is a very efficient mechanism to try and understand the nature of something. The problem lies in the forced pattern match. By that I mean, humans are often wrong or very wrong when it comes to pattern matching. But because the human also wants to solve the problem, any perceived match will be treated as “right” and hence difficult to overwrite because, oh yeah, we also like to be right about everything.
While there is plenty more to be said about these points, I want to jump back to the insight proposed from the beginning.
We now have two human traits to expose for the purpose of understanding the SASP:
I want to tackle the second one first. Pattern matching is about comparison. When I see something, my brain is (1) immediately looking to see if I have already seen this thing. If yes, then I begin accessing my memory to assess what I saw previously vs. what a see at the moment. If no, (2) the human will try and relate the experience to another experience in a ‘this is like that’ calculation. Step 2 is looser, more vague, and therefore less comfortable for the human to embrace. In the case of ‘yes’, I immediately begin a comparison of the new thing with known things in my mind. The calculation is simple: what are the differences, if any, and what do they mean for me.
Because humans pattern match we know they are in a constant state of comparative analysis. So think of this as “different/same” analysis. Is the thing I am observing different from what I already know or the same as what I already know?
Often marketers try and short circuit the pattern match process with a false match mechanism that hopes to force a favorable match. Logical fallacies like “tinder for tennis players”, or “Uber for Lawyers”, or “gilt for accountants”. These are phony as they try to forcibly create a positive pattern match which attempts to establish favorability in the mind of the observer. As false as these constructs may be, humans are total suckers for logical fallacies and fall for them en masse.
Let us look at item 1: Answer questions. Because my human brain is obsessed with solving problems, it must, by definition, answer questions required to solve the problem. Another interesting insight is that humans do not like to answer “a lot” of questions. They want to answer as few questions as possible in order to solve the problem. Too many questions will cause the brain to literally give up. Why? (got ya again). Too many possibilities introduce doubt and doubt is uncertainty and uncertainty means I did not answer the question so I cannot move on. If the uncertainty is too high, there is a chance I will punt on the question and give up. In Sheena Lyengar’s “Art of Choosing”, she explores the strange and intriguing world of human decision-making. She describes experiments that demonstrate the human decision making mechanics in detail. What we learn is that humans like to choose, but we like choosing from small lots more than large and that a choice will produce a strong bias toward approval of the object of choice. In other words, we really value our choices and we see them as the right ones. This notion of feeling correct grows over time creating big problems for pattern matching. Now we will pattern match, believing such behavior is positive, yet we are matching on things that were not optimal, although we have told ourselves the opposite. Clear as mud, right?
With this convoluted bit of insight let us now look at how we can engage with the user or guest to carefully exploit our human tendencies.
Two phrases to remember when creating approaches to enhance your engagement with your target:
Different is better than better means people are better at judging differences between things than measuring the comparative value of two similar things. Remember pattern matching? When a human sees something different, it is usually obvious. I mean different, not slightly different. Remember, the brain is going into overdrive thinking “where have I seen this before?” (<= obsessed with answering).
Different here must mean different. The difference must be obvious. It cannot be subtle because the pattern match will over take the difference analysis. When it comes to products, the modern consumer believes they have seen everything, until they see something new or different. One of the best, recent examples of something very different is the iPhone. The iPhone was so completely different that the user became obsessed with these differences, trying to figure it out while an entire industry was turned on its head. Billion dollar companies imploded because they were the same old thing, not different. Do you remember people saying things like, “its just a phone with a screen”? The iPhone definitely had some of the same things (features), but the interaction was different. The experience of the iPhone vs. a feature phone was as different as the typewriter and the PC. It was so different, even the folks that new it was different probably did not realize how different until much later.
The difference was the experience. (More on this in another article.)
Remember all of those Blackberry users who refused to release their devices in favor of the clearly different iPhone? They held on like the Crackberry-heads they were because they were so invested in another, powerfully different feature of the Blackberry: BBM. Apple iPhone did not have a better or different messaging application that could overcome the experience difference Blackberry users had in their old devices. This, coupled with our knowledge that people do not like to be proven wrong in their choices, demonstrates it was very hard to get BBM users to make the change.
It was not until WhatsApp, a messaging application purpose built as a BBM clone for iPhone, that Blackberry truly died. I would argue that it was WhatsApp that killed Blackberry, not the iPhone. If you look at the data, yes, RIM was suffering from a slowdown in new users, but they were not actually losing large numbers of users until Whatsapp hit a level of user adoption that became a trigger for the move. The difference that kept users engaged, BBM, was now portable in the form of an app, to the iPhone and users could now take their different thing to the new different thing.
Differences are highly valued and will be remembered. Difference is easy to understand and it is easy to justify a decision on difference. Differences are pursued. The different item will also be valued higher than a pattern-matched item as it will be the first item in my mental storehouse. Different often represents first.
Now lets turn our attention to bit-4-bit trade and user onboarding. The bottom line is that users are now fully aware of the value of their time and attention. They are also keenly aware of the value of their information. In particular, they are fully aware of the value of their personal identity information.
To be brief, if you want to engage your user and bring them along a path to becoming aware of your differences and embracing your superiority, you must offer value immediately. And by immediately I mean within one or two clicks. Gone are the days when you can ask your user for reams of information after you have enticed them with the promise of value. No, you must actually give them value with each click, especially if their click has within it, some type of information provided by the user. Remember, the user is fully aware that they have given you something valuable. If you do not reciprocate within seconds, as in 2 seconds, they are gone.
On the surface, it appears that they user is simply distracted and we are dealing with SASP. Let me suggest that the user has performed a trade calculation. It goes something like this:
User clicks on site or search link. (visit = value)
User clicks sign up button. (selection = value with expressed interest)
Site asks user for more personal info. (user leaves)
What? Is this a classic short attention span whiner? Nope, not in the least. In fact, this user has already given several pieces of value while receiving nothing in return. Two clicks. Yes, two clicks are enormously valuable and the user knows it. Think about all of the things that a user does in two clicks. How about no clicks? My car door will open and I do not even have to click or tap anything. This makes two clicks VERY valuable and yet the only thing that happened is that the application wanted more, more, more.
Users view this as greedy. To overcome this perspective, you must, must, must, give your visitors something of value with each and every bit of data you trade or action taken by your guest. You must reduce the transaction size. Smaller transactions are essential in the beginning. Remember you are trying to get to a point where your guest will see your difference. Do not make it hard for them. Make it so easy and pleasant and valuable that they cannot possibly refuse your request to continue. Getting them to the difference is the goal. Do not ask them to invest in you, offer them something of value in exchange for the privilege of showing why you are different.
Then and only then will your difference take hold. Oh yeah, once you win them with your difference, it better be better. ;)
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