Understand How People Think and Make Decisions

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we look at the psychology of decision making, and how that influences whether people take action on your website.

This week’s show is sponsored by Balsamiq and Fullstory.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at psychology of decision making and how that influences whether people take action on your website. This week's show is sponsored by Balsamiq and Fullstory.

Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development of strategy. My name's Paul Boag. Joining me is way speaker Marcus Lillington, and this week, an audience of people. We've got-

Marcus Lillington: Some people.

Paul Boag: Yeah, it's only five, because I only decided five minutes ago that I was gonna try streaming this live. So, it's hardly a massive audience. But it's … What? Now what? Immediately, immediately, things go wrong. What was that Marcus?

Marcus Lillington: It's just my printer talking. They just start talking lately.

Paul Boag: I know, right.

Marcus Lillington: Making funny, weary noises.

Paul Boag: Yeah, why do they do that? It's weird. Perhaps they're becoming sentient. That's what I think. Anyway, but … So, we're here, and it feels weird doing it live. Look, there's people waving at us in the chat room.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, it's live and I can see you.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Things are just generally weird.

Paul Boag: In my ghostly visage, with my really shit webcam.

Marcus Lillington: You look like you've got some sort of godly light shining on you, Paul.

Paul Boag: Well, I've got a skylight above me. It might be something to do with that. I like seeing you. We should definitely do the seeing thing. It's good.

Marcus Lillington: Although, I'm just a bit lost for words. That doesn't work in a podcast does it?

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Paul. Anyway I'm really tired because I played a gig yesterday. I haven't done one of those in a long time, seeing my guitars in the background there.

Paul Boag: I went to the [Larmer Tree 00:02:01] Festival that happens in Hampshire. Or Wiltshire. Or I don't know. Somewhere.

Marcus Lillington: Chris used to go to that religiously.

Paul Boag: Yes. Yeah. And I was thinking, Marcus should be playing here. It was your type of place. Lots of kind of folky, middle aged, pretentious, middle class people.

Marcus Lillington: [crosstalk 00:02:21] types.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yes, I fit the bill very well. Yeah, we're now just a kind of three piece acoustic thing with very sort of a, you know a focus on the harmony. So yeah, we're getting even folkier as we get older. There was fingers in our ears.

Paul Boag: There was one band in the beer tent that literally was just, they didn't use any proper words. It was all (singing). That was their entire thing. It was actually quite-

Marcus Lillington: Almost all of it.

Paul Boag: Yeah. It was really quite good, I quite enjoyed it. But I've never felt more middle class in my entire life. It was just-

Marcus Lillington: Probably full of lots of kind of children called Sun and Moon and stuff like that.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington: All draped in flowers and hippie stuff.

Paul Boag: So did your gig go well? That's the question.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, really good. Yeah, really good. This is what's happening in my life. On Friday night I went to a party for one of my friends who is 70. And then on Sunday, it was for a friend of ours party who is 65. So basically, all the bastards are retiring around me. It's not funny. Because I just joined a band, back in the '90s and they were all in their 40s then, when I was just turned 30 or something. And now they're all retiring and going, "Oh, this is great, ha ha ha." So I hate them all.

Paul Boag: But on the upside, you get to be the youngest, which doesn't happen very often any more.

Marcus Lillington: No, no, and I am definitely the baby of the band, by a long way.

Paul Boag: Although I'd quite be up for retiring right about now. That'd be good.

Marcus Lillington: Well, I'd just like to play more music, 'cause I've got the bug for it again.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: We did that thing a couple weeks ago. It was our first outing. We went along to a jam night and just did a three song session. I was like, this is great. And then we did a whole set yesterday, and I've just got the bug for it again. And that's all I want to do. I don't want to do this web stuff.

Paul Boag: No, no.

Marcus Lillington: So, with that-

Paul Boag: Goodbye, then. You still can't do … Stop doing visual jokes, Marcus, because it's still an audio podcast. Don't, don't … yeah. Exactly. Right.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, it's Andy Clark. Hello, Andy Clark.

Paul Boag: Yeah, don't get distracted by the rabble. We don't talk to the rabble in the … And Andy Clark, you can't get more rabble-ish than Andy Clark, so, yes. We don't acknowledge- [crosstalk 00:04:55]

Marcus Lillington: Good day, geezer.

Paul Boag: He's back in the U.K. now.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, right. Hello.

Paul Boag: Hello. That's much better. Lovely.

All right. So, what are we talking about today? We're continuing with our season on conversion rate optimization which will really confuse all the people in the chat room, because this is the second episode of the season, and they haven't yet seen the first episode. Or seen. Heard the first episode.

So we're doing a season on conversion rate optimization which, basically, is a giant big advert for my Master Class, which you can find out more about at Boagworld.com/MasterClass. Since last week's show, well, when we recorded last week's show, I have actually decided I probably ought to actually design my landing page for the Master Class properly. Because it's a bit embarrassing when you have a landing page about conversion rate optimization which is crap. It kind of doesn't work, does it?

Marcus Lillington: That's quite funny, Paul.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: So what made you think that was … Just like sort of a paragraph of text with no kind of key words in there, and no call to action, probably, either.

Paul Boag: Well, it was just using … I'm using a platform called Teachable to publish it which, by the way, I really like and highly recommend, even though I'm not yet on their affiliate scheme. So I don't recommend them yet, because I don't want anybody to sign up before I get money out of it, because you know how money grabbing I am.

So Teachable, yes, is really good. But their landing page is good, but it's not as … You haven't got as much control as if you did it yourself. So that's what I did, basically. So, anyway, I've done that.

But I tell you what really struck me from doing that, 'cause basically it meant I have been doing design and code for the last week or few days, which is terrifying. It's like every designer and developer across the world felt a tremor in the Force. That, "Oh, shit. Paul's been allowed to design and develop something."

Marcus Lillington: You're better at it than I am.

Paul Boag: Right. Yeah. But then, you know. Actually, I don't know. I often think a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. You know that they say that. And so I think I can still design and I think I can still code, but I can't, really. So it's probably not that wise an idea. But anyway.

I'll tell you what I did realize from doing that is quite how amazing the design Ed and Dan did for that site is. I feel, you know, what's that? Four years old, I think that design is? I feel no desire whatsoever to change the design of that website. And it's so flexible, and it's just a really great experience. So I've been seriously impressed by it. It's been really good.

And I'll tell you what, and it made me realize how much I hate redesigns. I don't like this idea of redesigning websites. It just … I like-

Marcus Lillington: You [crosstalk 00:08:13] redesigning the Headscape site as we speak.

Paul Boag: Yeah. But, now … And my problem with that, the difference between, 'cause we basically had an identical site, didn't we- [crosstalk 00:08:23]

Marcus Lillington: We did, yeah.

Paul Boag: … and this one just drives the point home. So we both had an identical site. I have tweaked and changed my site on an ongoing basis, you know, continually evolving it. And Headscape got neglected, which is understandable. That's not a criticism. And that's the result, that you have to do a redesign while I don't feel the need to, because I've changed my site so much since it was launched, but I've done it in incremental little steps, which I think is much better, in my-

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. The new site's not a massive change. I don't think you'll go, "Wow! It's the most different thing I've ever seen." It is a kind of step forward rather than a complete throw it all away and start again. But I'm doing all the content at the moment, which is so hard.

Paul Boag: Yeah, it is.

Marcus Lillington: I hate it. Yeah.

Paul Boag: It really sucks.

Marcus Lillington: Finding images. Ah!

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Images are just pointless placeholders. You know? Yeah. That have actually got value. Of course, the main reason you're redesigning is just so you can kick me off of the same server as you, so you're not tangled up with my mess.

Marcus Lillington: No, that's not true. Not true at all.

Paul Boag: He says, nodding. It's video today, Marcus. You're giving it away. But what I would like to do-

Marcus Lillington: That was quite hard to do, by the way. I had to really think hard about what I was meant to say, and do the opposite with my head.

Paul Boag: Yeah. It is hard.

Marcus Lillington: Can I have a little sleep? Maybe when you're doing the sponsor sections?

Paul Boag: Yeah. That's fair enough. That's no problem. Get a pillow out.

I'll tell you what it has made me think of, mine, the thing that I do want to do with my site is I do want to rebuild it with CSS Grids. But I'm never going to have time to do it. And that means nothing to you. But the people in the chat room-

Marcus Lillington: That does mean stuff to me.

Paul Boag: Does it? Why did you look so uninterested? CSS Grids are the most exciting thing, ever.

Marcus Lillington: No, they're not.

Paul Boag: Oh, okay. Fair enough. All right.

Marcus Lillington: They're a good thing. Anything that enables design to be done in a way that is flexible and gives you more options, which seems to be the case with CSS Grid, then that's got to be a good thing. But it is not the most exciting thing in the world, Paul.

Paul Boag: Hey, I've just had a good offer. Have you seen what's just been? Andy Clark has just talked about doing a swap of time. So I think he's offering to rebuild Boagworld. That would be a shitload of time I'd be swapping for him, mind, because it's a bitch. He doesn't know what he just offered there. He thinks, "Oh, it's just a WordPress installation. Can't take that long to rebuild it with CSS Grids." You are so going to regret that, Andy.

Anyway. So, talking of most exciting things in the world, like CSS Grid, let's do your thought for the day, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, yes. Right. Let me find my notes. Here we go.

Paul Boag: So professional.

Marcus Lillington: I even have notes and everything. Right.

Well, we have been looking at the Gutenberg plugin for WordPress, and we've also been looking at the Craft CMS lately, and it's made me start thinking about CMSes.

Paul Boag: Yes. Sorry. I'm just laughing at Andy. I'm trying to concentrate, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Oh. "Off to learn CSS Grid." Nice one, Andy.

Anyway. So I've been thinking about CMSes, and why we've done what we've done over the years. So a little bit of history. Soon after Headscape started, well, the very start of Headscape, Paul did CMSes on his own. He did. SP Classic, and stuff like that.

Paul Boag: I did, yeah. Wow.

Marcus Lillington: But anyway, we decided that we should develop our own CMS, because at the time, there … I'm trying to … CMS is like [BroadVision 00:12:17] and stuff like that, and they'd cost you a quarter of a million quid just to get the thing installed, and then they were rubbish. So we thought, let's design a nice, little, easy-to-use CMS.

So we did, and everybody loved it. I'm not going to go on and on about that. But there were two kind of flaws with it. One was that it was proprietary, which meant even though I can remember saying to clients that we weren't really doing it, we were kind of locking them into us. If we'd all been run over by a bus, then they would've been stuck with something that they couldn't have taken anywhere else, and that's a bit of a theme from the kind of thing I'm going to talk about. And also, we worked for NATS, and we still do on occasion, which is the National Air Traffic Services, and their main corporate site was on our old CMS, way back in the days. Ten years plus ago, now.

And anyway, the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano blew its top, if you remember, and the entire Northern Hemisphere came to a halt. And everybody went to the NATS website. Millions of people went to the NATS website, from nobody going to the NATS website. Anyway, it fell over. It didn't get back up. We had to kind of publish some static ACML pages in the meantime, and we realized that our CMS would actually have to be rebuilt from scratch if we wanted it to do the things we needed it to do. And we thought, well, that's a bit of a mad idea. So what else can we do?

At the time, lots of people in request proposals had been saying, "We want a Drupal website. We want a Drupal website. Can you do a Drupal website?" And at the time, we're like, "Well, no." We didn't do that. We've got our own CMS, and it's great. But anyway, we had so many of these kind of custom requests for Drupal that we thought, well, let's look into this. Long story short, we decided to start working with it. We also worked with WordPress, as well. I can't remember why. The current Headscape site's on WordPress, and the new one is going to be. But anyway-

Paul Boag: That's because of me. Because Boagworld was on WordPress, and has been for donkeys' years that you were kind of lumbered with it because of me.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: It's all my fault.

Marcus Lillington: Nah, it's fine. It's great to have a choice. We do probably two-thirds Drupal sites, one-third WordPress sites. For example, we work for Colt, not the guns, the network people, and their site's a WordPress site. So it just depends. We're able to offer people different choices. And both of these CMSes are free, open source, and hugely supported software.

But, we've been assessing Craft lately. I don't know if you remember when we spoke to Ryan Taylor a couple of years ago. He uses Craft, and was saying how wonderful it was. And, again, we had a customer request. Somebody we'd done some research for saying, "Well, we're thinking about re-doing our site, and we've looked at Craft, and we think it's lovely." So we thought, well, we'd better have a look at it. And it is. It's got probably the nicest backend interface I've ever seen on a CMS. But we have found it's not as powerful, it doesn't offer as many sort of general functionality out of the box as Drupal does. I mean, that's not to say you can't customize it, but there would be a lot more customization. So we're kind of like still along the lines of, yeah, it's got this nice interface, but there are too many downsides to it. We think, anyway.

And there's the other side of it completely. So what about licensed CMSes? We haven't dealt with anything like that, but there are loads of them. Sitecore is one, for example. And I've always thought that people want to have a licensed CMS basically so they can have somebody to blame if something goes wrong. It's kind of like, you are the provider, more so than … If an organization came to Headscape and we did a Drupal site for them, if the Drupal community doesn't make something happen, a piece of functionality or something like that, then they can't complain to us about it. It's just that's one of the downsides.

Going on to say, what are your general choices with CMSes? There are your proprietary licensed CMS, like I've just mentioned. They're likely to be really well designed, and normally you'll find them focused on particular sectors, and so therefore they are particularly good at dealing with a particular sector. But usually they're expensive. You'll be paying ongoing license fees. And going back to my earlier story about the Headscape CMS, you're going to be locked in unless it's something that is hugely supported around the world, and just by their very nature, that's less likely to be the case.

So your second choice is to go for an open source, license-free Content Management System. Of course, you're at the mercy of the community for updates, security, new functionality, that kind of thing. And that's the start of all of this looking at Craft, was because Drupal's a little bit behind on its backend interface. It's getting better. Eight is much better than seven. But it's not quite … It's just you can do all of the nice design your own page type stuff, but it's not as draggy and droppy as some of the other ones are. But hopefully they'll get there. Of course, you can customize anything, but that means time and effort and cost.

Just a quick note here … I'm nearly done … this thing with open source. I've written about this in the past. Just because … If you develop your own CMS … We could have developed the original Headscape CMS and said, "It's open source," but that wouldn't have mattered. If nobody else is working with your open source CMS, then you're just as locked in as if it's a proprietary system. So just a note on that one.

And, really, I guess, you just need to kind of weigh up the benefits and the negatives with a particular CMS and go with which one makes the most sense for you. In our case, we went for the two biggest CMSes in the world with the two biggest communities, because we think that makes the most sense for us and for our clients.

And that's my thought for the day.

Paul Boag: Actually, I saw that you were going to do something on CMSes, and I came across an old post I wrote in 2009. Right? It was an extract from the Website Owner's Manual, that first book I ever wrote. And you know what? It still is relevant today. It's 10 criteria to selecting a Content Management System, and it reflects a lot of the stuff that you've just said, in terms of the back end side of things, managing your assets, and customization. All of that kind of … So I was quite proud of myself that it still applied.

Marcus Lillington: You're a visionary, Paul. You are.

Paul Boag: A visionary. That's what it is.

If you do want to read the article, you can do so by going to Boag.world/CMS, so just create a link for it.

So, yes. No, that was good. CMSes are something that people are always very opinionated about, and no doubt you will receive lots of hate mail for saying whatever you said today.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: Marcus@Boagworld.com.

Marcus Lillington: I mean, it's my own personal opinion.

Paul Boag: (singing)

Right. So, let's quickly talk about our first sponsor, which is still Balsamiq. They still haven't learned, which kind of made sense, because they did create half of the content for this season. I've been working very closely with them on the content for this season. And, actually, they've been putting out more and more content which is really useful, especially for known designers, helping them to learn the kind of basics of UI design essentials, so that they can do wire framing and that kind of thing.

They've created this resource that they're adding to all the time at Balsamiq.com/learn. So if you want to improve your wire framing skills, or just want to understand what the hell designers do, then go and check that out. It's not going to turn you into a designer. Their aim is to do just enough to teach you to do a decent job, not to … It's not a full program to turn you into a designer, but it's a great place that you can learn some of those basics. And they're adding so much more content to that. So they wanted to let you know about that.

They don't want to sell you anything. They just want you to go and check out their resource, 'cause they think it might be useful to you.

Right. So what we're talking about today … Basically, the whole of today's program is about how the brain works, how we think. And, by extension, how that then affects our decision making and that affects our calls to action, and our conversion rate and all that kind of stuff. So we're going to talk a little bit about that.

The first thing I want to talk about, really, is how our brain actually works at a very, very superficial level. This is not a psychology course, by any means. But there are a couple of aspects of how we think that I think have a big impact on how we make decisions on websites. So I wanted to talk about those two aspects.

The first one is our primal brain, right? So basically our brain is made up of different parts. We've almost got three brains. Four, if you include our stomach, which has actually got neurons in, which is so … you know, thinking with your stomach is a real thing. So excited when I found that out.

Marcus Lillington: Something I've been doing for years, Paul.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

So anyway, so inside that stupid thing. So the oldest part of our brain, the most animalistic part, is the primal brain, sometimes known as the lizard brain. It has certain characteristics. And it's a lot more influential in our decision making than we would care to admit. It's got certain characteristics that I think are very relevant when it comes to how we make decisions online, and how we decide what calls to action we're going to respond to, and what we're not.

The first one is that it fears the unfamiliar. Right? So what I mean by that, if you think about it, if you're a cave man living on the savanna, the things that you see every day have to, by default, be safe. Right? Because otherwise, you'd be dead. While the unfamiliar things, things that turn up suddenly and unexpectedly and you haven't seen before, they are potentially dangerous. Okay? So that's where a saber tooth tiger turns up and you've never seen one before and you go, "Oh, it's something new!" Pat. Pat. Pat. It must be nice. Well, not necessarily.

So we're kind of pre-programmed to be suspicious of things that are unfamiliar. That goes back to the conversation we had right at the beginning of the show about redesigns. If you suddenly change a website that people have been using regularly, you will get a negative reaction from it. Right? And so if you're very reliant on repeat traffic, and repeat users, and repeat purchases, then be very hesitant about redesigns. There's good reasons why, for example, Amazon in all of their time, have never done a big redesign, at least, not as far as I'm aware. I'm sure somebody will tell me I'm wrong. But if you look at it from its outset and all the way through to now, it is radically different. It has changed a lot, but it's done it incrementally, so it still feels familiar.

Another classic example of that was Ebay that slowly phased out their yellow. Remember that really acidic yellow which wasn't the best color choice? They phased it out over a long period of time, to allow people to adjust and it didn't feel like a big change.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. I remember Jared Spool talking about the design process that Amazon goes through to make a change. I'll probably get the details wrong, but it was just ridiculous. I think they were … They could target half a percent of their users in a particular country or something like that, and they would run it for six months, doing an AB on the old one or the new one. And if it managed to sort of like be massively popular, then they might do like two percent, and take it on like that. I'm making the figures up, but it was … I was blown away. I just thought you just chuck it out there and see what happens.

Paul Boag: But then … of course, it all depends on how much money that's worth. You know? A two percent of their audience is worth a freaking fortune, so you're very cautious as a result. But I know what you mean.

We're not all Amazon, right? And we do have to sometimes do redesigns. Redesigns are sometimes necessary. So I'm not saying never do them. But what I am saying is, it's really important … Well, two things.

One is to prepare your repeat users and to give them the option to do things like switch back and stuff like that, or at least on board them properly. But just as important as that is to prepare your stakeholders. If you work for a web design agency, for example, warn your clients what will happen when they do a redesign. Because clients have this habit of looking at the stats, and suddenly the number of repeat users has dived through the floor and they go into shock and start panicking. Right? And that applies just as much if you work in house with management, as well. So this thing of doing things that are familiar.

Now, there's another kind of knock-on affect to that, which is another thing that I hear a lot, is all websites are beginning to look the same. Right? Andy Clark has said this.

Marcus Lillington: So have I.

Paul Boag: And you've said it. Lots of people have said it, right? Now, on one hand, I completely get that, and how that can be perceived as a bad thing. Right? Because it reduces innovation. It means that you don't stand out from the crowd. It means that design stagnates. It is bad. Right?

But if we're talking purely about conversion, there is something to be said for having an interface that feels familiar and feels consistent with what else is out there. Right? So I'm not talking about things like aesthetic styling or tone of voice. Those are the kinds of areas where you could definitely distinguish. But in terms of things like sticking with conventions and positioning of elements and that kind of thing, there is a value of doing that for that sense of familiarity. There are other reasons to do it, as well, but we won't get into that- [crosstalk 00:27:42]

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Don't just change stuff just for the sake of it.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: That's madness.

Paul Boag: Or, well, again … You can change things for the sake of it if it's an experimental website, and you don't care about conversion. Go for your life, you know? I think there should be sites out there that do amazing and exciting and innovative things. It's just that you've got to pick the place to do it. You know? Do that on a personal project, not on something where conversion is optimal.

The second characteristic of the primal brain is that we horde. All right? So, you know, you gather your nuts to make it through the winter, right? And so the result of that, of our brains being formed in a world of scarcity is that we are still very vulnerable to that feeling of scarcity. Now, if this was an unethical course, this is where I would start talking about things like only three rooms left at this hotel! And that kind of thing. When Joe Leech was on the show, he talked about that with Booking.com, how they've got in the habit of doing that, and how they create an artificial source of scarcity in order to encourage you to buy.

But I'm not talking about it from that angle. I'm talking-

Marcus Lillington: Everyone's doing that now, though. Sorry to interrupt, Paul. It's really, really getting on my nerves. And also, it's the point of … I think it's been proven that a lot of people are saying that somebody's looking at this hotel or something, and it's like their not looking at the date you're looking at and all this kind of stuff. Very, very irritating. I just ignore it now.

Paul Boag: Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: So does it even work anymore?

Paul Boag: Well, it does. Because you say you ignore it, but you're not at a subconscious level. It will create a bump in conversion.

Marcus Lillington: I am the commander of my lizard brain.

Paul Boag: You're not. But it's nice to think you are. It's cute that you believe you're in control of your own actions, Marcus.

But it comes with a massive cost, and it's the cost that I'll talk about in a future episode, where we talk about the dangers of persuasion, because … anyway. The long and the short of it.

So I'm not talking about that kind of scarcity. What I'm talking about is the fact that we don't like letting go of what we have, whether it be money, personal data, whatever. Right?

Marcus Lillington: Yep.

Paul Boag: So as a result of that, we are what's called … We are loss averse. Loss aversion is a thing, and basically what it boils down to is we feel the sense of loss twice as much as we feel the sense of gain. So it's twice as painful to lose something as it is to gain something, apparently. Right? And that kind of feels about right. It feels the same-

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, I'm always saying we need to note when things are good, 'cause we're all complainers, aren't we? Oh, it's raining today, and it's been sunny for five months. Oh, it's raining today. It's awful. It's like take note of when things are good, because people generally don't.

Paul Boag: So we have that tendency to horde. The result of that is our websites have to work very hard. They have to work hard to minimize that sense of loss, and maybe to soften that sense of loss. So, for example, well, there's a return policy if something doesn't feel of value. Or we're going to give you this extra thing to go above and beyond, because we've got to work twice as hard to minimize that sense of loss in order to make a sense of gain worthwhile. And also we have to work twice as hard to show the benefits of what we're offering, as well.

Then the third aspect to the primal brain is it fails to consider the future. It lives in the moment, right? Anything, where there are future consequences, it won't be overly worried about. So great example of that, in America they wanted to encourage people to put more money away for their pension, right? So they started something called a Save More Tomorrow campaign. So instead of asking people … If I turned 'round to you, Marcus, and asked you to put more money into your pension today, your lizard brain would wake up, it would go, "Oh, I don't like loss. I don't like losing stuff. You can't have that money. That money is mine." And it doesn't care about the future, right? And I know, Marcus, that you're very much like this.

But, if I turned around, which this campaign did … If I turned around to you and said, "Look. Next time you get a pay raise, agree now that 10% of that is going to be put away towards your pension." That's a lot easier to swallow, right?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. 'Cause lizard brain doesn't care.

Paul Boag: 'Cause it doesn't care about the future. So again, there are all kinds of opportunities around that. So the obvious answer is if you had a charity website, give more tomorrow. Right? Get people to commit to donate in the future. 96% of people say they want to give more to charity, but they don't, because the lizard brain wakes up. Right? So put it off to the future, or offer payment plans on whatever it is you're selling.

So understanding a little bit about how we think makes an enormous difference on how we can position things. That was one thing, the primal brain.

The other thing I wanted to talk about is something called System One and System Two. Right? So this comes from a book called Think Slow, Think Fast, I think it is. Let me just check. Slow, Think Fast. Yeah. Think Slow, Think Fast, which is a superb book. It's a bit heavy going in places, but it is worth reading if you're into this kind of stuff. One of the things that it includes in it is this concept of System One and System Two. Right?

System Two is our conscious mind. It's the bit of us that makes conscious, informed, thought-through decisions. Right? And it's also the part of our brain that does that conscious thinking. While System One is things that we do automatically, and we don't think about. All right? So I picked up my glass a minute ago and took a drink. Yes, I did pause long enough to actually swallow liquid. I know I don't take pauses between sentences. Picking that drink up, that was a System One action. Okay? Because it was autonomous; I didn't consider it. Well, as people are listening to this now, they're engaging System Two. They're having to think about it, unless you're Marcus who I can see is zoned out and is currently relying on System One.

A great example of this would be driving a car. When you first learn to drive a car, there's so much to think about, isn't there? You have to change gear. You have to signal-

Marcus Lillington: I can't remember, Paul, but yeah.

Paul Boag: You have to maneuver. Well, I've just been sent on a driver's awareness course, so I know all of this stuff-

Marcus Lillington: Naughty Boys' School, Paul.

Paul Boag: Yeah, Naughty Boys' School. But over time, that becomes System One driven. So over time, it moves across into System One, and it becomes automatic. So an example of System Two thinking would be if I said to you, "What's 12 times 24?" You'd have to work it out, wouldn't you? You'd have to think about it.

But if I said, "What's two plus two?" Automatic. Right? Or, alternatively, "What's the capital of France?" Automatic. Okay? So that's the difference between system-

Marcus Lillington: 288, I think? Is that right?

Paul Boag: I don't know. You weren't supposed to actually work it out.

But the face that you pulled showed that you were using System Two. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Yes.

Paul Boag: Now, why this is really relevant to us is for a number of reasons. One, we don't want people to have to use System Two if we can get away with it, right? Because Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think, right? People don't like using System Two, so if they're made to use System Two, they're going to give up quicker. Also, interestingly, people who are engaging System Two tend to be more critical, so they're more likely to pick holes in what it is you're offering if they start engaging System Two.

So they don't like it. They become unhappy when they have to use System Two. A great example of this is when we break people's mental models.

Marcus Lillington: So, basically … Sorry. I've got to interrupt at this point-

Paul Boag: Yeah. No, that's fine.

Marcus Lillington: … and say something completely crass. So, if I want to sell stuff online, like products, from my warehouse, my website should look like Amazon.

Paul Boag: No. And the reason will be … I know what you're saying. You're saying because people know Amazon. Is that what you were getting at?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. So they don't have to think about the process. They don't have to go, "Where do I add more of this item?" Or da da da da da.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I know what you're getting at, and you're right to a degree. The difference is you're not like Amazon. Right? There are lots of reasons why you are not Amazon. You know this, Marcus. I know you were just being devil's advocate.

So, for example, you're not going to get the level of comments. Amazon's sales process relies heavily on the fact that it's got comments on everything. There's reviews of everything. You're not going to get that. Even if you do the interface design like Amazon, you're not going to sell as many products as Amazon, so it wouldn't make sense. And so it goes on.

But the idea that, yes, the shopping basket and checkout process you could probably learn from some of the consistency of the way Amazon approaches it, and stuff like that. So there are lessons to be learned, but you can't just copy it.

Going back to the System One, System Two thing. A great example of where this can create problems, where people have to think too much, is Wikipedia. Right? Wikipedia used to have a search box on Wikipedia. Great. That's very predictable. We all know how a search box works. You type in what you want. But next to it, it had two buttons. One that said, "Go," and one that said, "Search." Right? Exactly. Yeah. Immediately, you've broken people's mental model, and how people think. Right?

So those are the kinds of problems that you have. I'll leave you to guess which one had which, or did what. So System One and System Two, grasping that concept, is really, really useful as you design to think, "Am I forcing people to engage System Two? Am I making them think?" Because if they think, they're going to be slower in making a decision. They're going to doubt their decision more. They're going to be cynical about what you've got to offer. And they just don't like doing it, so they're more likely to give up. All right?

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: So there you go. There's a couple of little basic things about it. I get so much more in the Master Class, but at least that gives you a taster.

Marcus Lillington: This is actually quite interesting, Paul.

Paul Boag: I am in shock.

Marcus Lillington: No, it is. We all love this kind of-

Paul Boag: You can't do things like that. You can't do things like that, Marcus. You just … What you've done is you've just broken my mental model of how you should behave.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. "Oh, I'm so bored."

Paul Boag: Yeah. Exactly.

Marcus Lillington: No. Everybody loves all this stuff about how our brains work. It's fantastic. And if you can apply it to whatever it is you're doing, then that's gold, isn't it?

Paul Boag: Yeah. Absolutely. I'll come onto that in a minute.


Now let me do the sponsor, and then we'll circle back 'round to how then all of this applies to decisions, 'cause I get so excited about this stuff. I just love it.

Anyway. I want to talk quickly about Fullstory. I feel so sorry for Fullstory. They've just been like, now crowbarred into the middle of a full-blown rant. It's not a nice place to be put. Do you know what I mean? I was all on a roll, and now I've stopped, and it's like, oh, go do the sponsor.

But I'm really pleased. They've just supported us for so long. I just love Fullstory so much. So Fullstory's essentially a session recorder, so you can watch sessions back and watch what they're doing. And I'm actually running it right now on this new, spangly Master Class page that I've created. I'll be honest with you, it drives me freaking nuts. I hate Fullstory. Right?

Seriously. 'Cause you see people do dumb ass things. And you're like screaming at them, going, "Why aren't you buying? Why did you do that?" But obviously-

Marcus Lillington: It's May pole, just annoying you.

Paul Boag: Is it? Just you going endlessly around. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: I have an hourly reminder to go onto your site and do weird things.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I wouldn't put it past you.

But obviously, it is very frustrating. It really has driven me nuts. There have been some things … This is why I could never run a usability test session, 'cause I just want to slap people around the head, which is not good, apparently. You're not supposed to do that if you facilitate usability testing.

But it is fascinating, too. Obviously, I've used it to get real insights that enabled me to work out what people are doing on my page. And that's enabled me to maybe kind of tweak and change how I'm working on it. Like, for example, to begin with I didn't have a video on the home page, and I noticed everybody was going and watching a preview of the first lesson, so they obviously wanted to see the quality of it, and what it covered. So I created a trailer that went into it.

So I've been able to watch what people are doing just on the fly, which is obviously the way that you want to work, especially when you're running a site about conversion rate. You want to be incrementally improving it. And also, I could filter all of my sessions down to see, for example, those people that watched a preview, what did they then do after they'd watched a preview? What was their next step? So you can get things like that, and that's enabled me to tweak the landing page based on what I've observed.

So if you fancy having a go with it, you can have a go absolutely free. You can sign up and get a month free of their pro account, which basically means it will record as many sessions as you want. You don't need to enter a credit card of anything like that. And then, after that, you can continue to use it, which is what I'm doing now, up to a thousand sessions per month. Right? Which for a single page, like a landing page, is enough, isn't it? You know? So you can get away with not paying money for it.

Well, I'm only small. I'm not their audience that they're aiming at is my excuse.

Marcus Lillington: Keep telling yourself that.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So you can try them out by going to Fullstory.com/Boag. Right. That's Fullstory. Please do check them out, 'cause they've been supporting the season forever.

Right. Let's talk about how we make decisions. That was it.

Marcus Lillington: Yep.

Paul Boag: Right. So we talked about how the brain works. Right. How does all of that apply? Well, we are inherently lazy. Right? Those two things that we talked about together makes us really lazy. Our primal brain makes us lazy, because it thinks we're going to starve if we use too much energy. You know, we don't want to waste energy, because we're living a subsistence lifestyle on the savanna. It hasn't caught up with modern life. So it doesn't want to use energy.

Equally, System Two is hard work. It's hard work working out what 12 times 24 is, you know? So we tend to avoid it. So we're lazy. And that means that most of our decision making is made by System One, rather than System Two. Okay? System Two will over-analyze. Okay? So we don't want to wake up System Two, because if System Two wakes up, we're doomed. It'll over-analyze it, and it won't make a decision.

And, actually, there are examples of that where … There was a businessman who had the emotional center of his brain, where a lot of System One activity got damaged. It's a very famous story. I think he got a tumor that destroyed that part of his brain. And your reaction is, "Wow! He's going to turn into Mr. Spock. He's going to be really analytical." And actually he lost the ability to make decisions, right? Because System Two was over-analyzing it all the time, and not coming to a conclusion.

So we need System One. We want people to make decisions with System One. They're happier if they've made a decision with System One.

So what do we do when we're faced with a decision that's a complicated decision? Let's pick an example. Let's pick donating to a charity. Right? Let's say … I recently spoke at UNICEF. UNICEF is an amazing charity. So they do a call to action on their website. And their website is Make a Donation is their call to action. Now, what happens in people's brains when they're faced with a question like make a donation? Should I make a donation? All right?

Actually, that's a really hard question to answer, because you have to answer a whole load of criteria. Have I got enough money at the moment? Which immediately wakes up the lizard brain. Is this the best charity to give to? Right? Is this the best cause to give to? Will my money be well used? All of those kinds of questions. It's a complicated issue. And so, what happens? System Two wakes up and over-analyzes it, and you give up. And you don't do it.

Here's a shocking statistic. Only 15% of people who go to a donation page … so they've chosen to go to the donation page … then go on to place a donation. 15%. Right? Unbelievable.

Okay. So because that is such a difficult question, what our brains do is they substitute it, right? They substitute that difficult question of, is UNICEF the right charity to donate to, to a simpler question. Okay? To one that's easier to understand. And basically, that's normally the question, do I have enough money? Right? And that's where things break down. Because it's being substituted for a question A) that's not really very useful to decide, and B) that's waking up the lizard brain anyway.

So what you can do is you can do the substitution for them. Right? So you can simplify that question on their behalf. So instead of the question, make a donation, you can replace that with make a donation to end the suffering of children. Right? Because by doing that, what you've then changed the question in people's minds to be is not, do I have enough money? But do I want to end the suffering of children? To which the answer is obviously, yes.

Marcus Lillington: Of course it is.

Paul Boag: So it makes it much, much easier.

Another example would be newsletter sign-ups. Right? Do I want to sign up for this newsletter? Okay? We substitute that, 'cause that's a difficult question, you know? Am I going to get value out of it? Da da da da da. We substitute it. Do we want more spam? No. Right? So, again, you can substitute it to say, not do you want to sign up to our newsletter, but sign up to our newsletter to become a better web designer or whatever else. Okay?

Marcus Lillington: Yep.

Paul Boag: So we can kind of help people simplify the question. And alongside that, we could also make it much, much easier to deal with objections that are thrown up by the lizard brain. Okay? So if you take something like newsletter sign up, there are all these objections that arise due to our simplifying it. Do I want to get spam? Well, you can make it clear, we'll only contact you every other week. This is the kind of stuff it's going to include, so you know that it's not spam. You can unsubscribe in one click.

So what you're doing at the same time is undermining that question that they've raised that is inaccurate, [crosstalk 00:49:17], the simplified question.

Make sense?

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Effectively, I guess it's almost worth … We probably do this anyway, but I had never thought about, well, that's the lizard brain, or that's System One and all that kind of thing. But thinking about what are the objections going to be? How can I handle them? And that's kind of, they are the things that would come out from that lizard brain if you're suddenly put into a position where you're dealing with something that you've never seen before.

Paul Boag: Exactly. Everything I've said, probably people are kind of, "Oh, you've got to deal with the objections. Oh, you've got to make a compelling call to action." Those kinds of things. We all know them, but understanding the psychology behind them A) helps you remember them, B) helps you justify them when talking to stakeholders, which is a big thing.

Marcus Lillington: Exactly. There's good stuff. As I said, it is quite interesting, Paul.

Paul Boag: Good. I'm doing it right.

Okay. Another thing I want to look at is a little bit about how our perception, how we perceive things, impacts our decision making. Right? So I want to give you two examples. Number one is something called priming. Okay? Now, priming is this idea that, it's the power of suggestion, basically. Derren Brown uses it all the time, the illusionist guy, mind guy. Right? So he can get you to pick a certain thing, because he's primed you subconsciously to look for that thing.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. He's said it 30 times beforehand. Yeah. All that kind of stuff. Yeah. It just-

Paul Boag: I know. It doesn't have to-

Marcus Lillington: It drives me mad.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So the best, most commercially relevant example of this was supermarkets. If supermarkets play French music, they double their sale of French wine. Right?

Marcus Lillington: Really?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Compared to, say, German wine.

Marcus Lillington: I didn't know that.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That's great.

Paul Boag: Yeah. This is priming. So you can use it in manipulative ways. Right? So like Derren Brown does, or like that supermarket example. But remember we're not going to get into that kind of realm. We're going to look at how to use it for good.

The truth is that we're priming people on our websites whether we realize it or not. Everything about our website will prime them to think a certain thing. So at least let's set it up for them to be thinking about the right kind of things and giving the right impression of our products and services rather than the wrong one.

A classic example of this was I did some usability testing with international students on a university website that will remain nameless. I did one of these snap judgment tests where you show them the home page and you say, "What's your initial impressions?" Very, very simple. And without fail, every one of these international students said, "Oh, that place isn't for me." And I knew damn well why. It's because they had this big ass image on the home page of all of their major professors getting some award, all dressed up in their regalia. And every single one of them was white, in their 50s, and male. Right? So people weren't seeing people like them on the site. So their conclusion, after being primed that this university is for white old people, was that this website was not for them, and the university wasn't for them. That's the power of priming.

Another related area to priming is something called the halo effect. The halo effect is why politicians that are better looking tend to get elected. Right?

Marcus Lillington: You're more likely to believe them.

Paul Boag: Yeah. You're more likely to believe them. Your initial impression of something or someone will affect completely unrelated judgments about that thing. Right? This is why aesthetics and design really matter on websites. Art direction, those kinds of things. Because if you make a website like Craigslist, for example. If you make your website look like Craigslist, because, well, Craigslist is successful, so we should look like Craigslist. Or, indeed, Amazon, 'cause Amazon's website is not very pretty, right? Then that could well backfire on you.

The reason that it works for them is because the impression they want to give is of cheap, and cheerful, and good value for money. Right? If the website looks like it saved money, then they will, as well. But equally … So you need to make sure your design reflects the values that you want to project. Even though it's completely unrelated to the product or service you want.

So, for example, if your website has got typos and spelling mistakes in it, right? He says, somewhat embarrassed at this point, that will undermine on a subconscious level people's perception of you. Oh, if they missed that kind of stuff, what else did they miss in the services that they provide?

Marcus Lillington: That's true.

Paul Boag: So that's the halo effect. And then, of course, the obvious … Another big thing that affects our decision making is the influence of other people on decision making. Right? So this is things like social proof. But we're going to get into that. We're going to do a whole separate episode on that, because we're at 57 minutes, and I'm still ranting.

And then the final thing to say over this, which is real easy to overlook, goes back to what I was saying about System Two. System Two over-analyzes things. It thinks a lot about things. And here is a really interesting fact. The longer we think about something, the longer we have to consider a decision, the less confident we are in the decision that we have made.

Marcus Lillington: I suppose you start finding new issues sort of thing.

Paul Boag: You find all the pros and cons and there's not a clear answer. You're over-analyzing it, basically. So oftentimes, it's beneficial to not give somebody too long to think through an issue before they're making a decision. Now, you don't want to rush them, because you don't want them to go away feeling like they've been rushed. Because if they fell like they've been rushed, then they feel like they've been bounced into a decision. But actually, you're trying to help them feel better about their decision once they've made it, right? So there's a fine line here, but it is something worth considering.

Marcus Lillington: I do think some people are better at making decisions than others. I've had friends in the past that have driven me mad, because they can never make a decision because they over-analyze. I wonder why that is? I have no answer why some people can just go, "Nope. That's what I'm doing. We're doing that."

Paul Boag: Well, a lot of it comes down to the fact they're more heavily reliant on System One. So I know, for example-

Marcus Lillington: I wonder why.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Well, it's the way you're wired and your upbringing. It's nature/nurture and all of that, isn't it?

But I'm certainly a System One thinker, which means I make a lot of intuitive decisions. Now that means, the result of that of course, is you make more mistakes, right? Because your System Two is a much more considered … And actually, there are weird situations where you really do want to wake up System Two.

So let's say you wanted to design a form. Sorry, I really need to stop talking. But this is so interesting. I love this stuff. Let's say you were designing a form. Right? Like the … I've got to fill in the ESTA form so I can fly to America soon, okay? Now it's really important that you don't get stuff wrong in that form-

Marcus Lillington: Oh, yes.

Paul Boag: … and that you think about it really carefully. So as you want to wait-

Marcus Lillington: Yes, I am a terrorist. Oh, no, I'm not!

Paul Boag: In that one, you do realize that the FBI do monitor all podcasts, and now you're going to labeled a terrorist from now on.

Marcus Lillington: Right. Okay. Well, but it's you're name on the podcast, Paul.

Paul Boag: Oh, yeah. That's true. What was I going to say?

Yeah. So in a situation like that, you actually want to wake up System Two. The way you can do that is actually making the form harder to fill in. Right? So you can reduce the font size, make it harder to read, make people lean forward and squint at it, and they will pay more attention to it.

You can use that with public speaking as well, actually. If you speak very quietly, and you never use your voice … you can use it in meetings, as well … you force people to lean forward. You force them to engage and listen more with you, and it engages System Two and they will pay more attention and they will make less mistakes. So there you go.

Anyway. Enough of such intelligence. Let's do a joke.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Now we're getting back to our normal level. I've got two chemistry jokes. One from Prescott Paris Fox, and another from Chris Florence, and they're both awful, but I'm going to do them anyway.

I tried to write a good chemistry joke, but it was too formulaic.

Paul Boag: Oh, dear.

Marcus Lillington: I tried to tell a good chemistry joke, but it got no reaction.

Paul Boag: Those are terrible! You did so well. Last week's joke was amazing.

Marcus Lillington: Come on. I can't keep that kind of level up all the time. One a series, maybe two. Two a series.

Paul Boag: All right. That's fair enough. All right. So that wraps it up for this week, so I hope you guys found it useful. If you want to know more about this subject, then obviously you can check out my Master Class at Boagworld/MasterClass.

We've looked this week at kind of people generally, and how they think. Next week, we're going to look specifically at your audience. How to get to know your audience and how to understand them better.

Okay. I think that's it for now. Thank you very much for listening, and goodbye.


Thanks to Kirasolly from Shutterstock for allowing me to use this image.