Websites and the Subconscious Mind

Thomas Young, CEO Intuitive Websites, LLC
July 2009

In his book, Buyology: the Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, Martin Lindstrom merges the science of how the brain works (neuroscience) with marketing and branding to uncover the real motivations behind buying decisions. This fascinating book is a great read as it touches on subconscious motivators behind branding and what moves people to action. There are also many lessons that Web marketers can take away from Lindstrom.

The Subconscious Drives User Behavior

Website user behavior is often directed by the subconscious mind. This is evident in user testing when people are not able to communicate the reasons behind their actions. The conscious mind is not aware of what the subconscious is doing. Website users act on subconscious thoughts that drive the user’s intent as they interact with the site. Therefore, it is important to keep users engaged on your site at a subconscious level.

Value and Benefits Integrated into User Experiences

A Website’s value and benefits must be incorporated into the total user experience on the site. Value and benefits must be more than content or navigation. This is explained in the book as product placement that works best when integrated into the story. An example is the Reese’s Pieces scene in the movie E.T. Websites can do this too.

Many Websites attempt to build the user experience through stock photos, marketing-speak content, graphics and other items that have less value for the user. This leads to high bounce rates. Build the user experience into the site by using real photography with captions, benefit-focused content, blogs, case studies and interactive features that help users get their needs met.

The Power of the Mind

The subconscious mind puts itself in the situation it sees on a Website. It does not know the difference between the real experience and the imagined experience. Because of this, users may not be remembering what you want them to remember. A great examples of this comes from Lindstrom’s research that cigarette smokers crave a cigarette when they read warning labels! This is certainly not what the government intended with these warnings. The images, graphics and photos on a Website cause reactions in the user’s mind on a subconscious level. These parts of the Website must connect with user’s perceived idea of value. Many Websites add content and materials to a site with little thought of how it will impact the user.

Consistency is Important in Website Design

People are motivated by ritual and superstition. Things that are not very logical, but they do impact people’s behavior. How does this apply to Website design? Websites should be consistent and play on rituals that are comfortable and familiar. It is the reason why Websites should have clear, brief content and consistent navigation. Sites that are best in line with user habits will get the best results. These sites lead to increased trust because they are intuitive and easy to use. We are creatures of habit and Websites should become a part of our daily habits. Difficult Websites force people to change habits and lead to high bounce rates. Review what highly successful Websites do to build consistency.

Sex Motivates, but Does not Always Sell

Sex in advertising has been around a long time and is discussed in the book. These types of ads certainly draw attention, but not to the product being advertised. This is also true of Websites that rely on Flash, heavy graphics, animation or other gimmicks to sell and drive conversions. Flash and heavy graphics may get attention, but they won’t drive conversions. Usability and the Subconscious Mind Usability is a key indicator of your site’s success. Users will be comparing your site to other easy to use Websites and this makes an impression on the subconscious level. Conduct user testing, review your stats and make your site intuitive! Finally, low bounce rates are the key indicator that your site is connecting with users and usability is sound. The subconscious mind of the Website user must be considered if a Website is to perform at high levels, get great ROI and drive conversions.