Engineering Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust for Higher Conversions #ConvCon

You’re tuned in to the morning keynote of the 2016 Conversion Conference. Dr. Eric Schaffer, from HFI Laboratories, is a psychologist and human experience engineer who will talk to us about the complex science behind UX.

Dr. Eric Schaffer speaking at Conversion Conference 2016

How can we tell a computer program is going to convert? A user experience engineer thinks about conversion in the model of a mouse and a piece of cheese. Between the two is an electrical grid. The levers you pull are: you can increase the size of the cheese and decrease the shock of the electricity. If you’re giving away free Jaguars, your emails can suck.

We have tools to let us see where the eye moves on a page to maximize the visual links, or visual access. People scan complex areas, saturated colors, and dark areas. Having a person in an ad looking at the product or text makes the viewer look at that text or product.

Removing the complexity from forms is one way to reduce shock. But what else can we do?

Engineering Performance and Persuasion

Think about PET. PET = persuasion, emotion, and trust. In other words, PET is persuasion engineering.

When do we have hope?


The power of relatively is something a PET engineer uses to reduce shock and increase usability.

Compare these two slides. It might look like shipping costs a lot so the user abandons. Add another big number (money saved) and that shipping cost isn’t a detractor. We’re suckers for the scarcity principle.


Look at the most persuasive sites. Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube. They aren’t “pretty,” but they have value and persuade in other ways.

PET Flow Strategy

user experience

We want to get direction through evidence-based design. We need user data. We do surveys using scales to get feedback. Unfortunately, this is unreliable.

Scarcity and divestiture influence people. Divestiture version is the difference between what we say we’d pay for something we didn’t get versus what we’d sell a ticket for that we believe is rare. In a research study, our typical response to “did you like it” isn’t useful.

Galvanic skin response can test and find when a person is tense, but you can’t tell why they’re tense. In eye-tracking studies, you can tell where people are looking and when pupils dilate, but you can’t tell why their pupils dilate. You can study facial expression and even when parts of the brain light up – but you can’t tell why. This is not useful for design.

A/B testing and big data will tell us which version is working. There is some information you can never get to. So there’s a psychology methodology of doing deep interviews to understand the emotional motivations behind decision making.

Fear, sex, survival, and progeny — these are our basic, underlying motivators. We can research users and decompose these drives, blocks, and feelings. Schaffer mentions there was a study on youth that found young customers like having money. Why run that study?! Anyone could have told you that! But take a look at the findings:

eric schaffer

You can test ads against the prediction model. You can see before you go to market how the ad will be received. This is the core of omnichannel strategy — the biggest design challenge UX companies have today. The challenge we have to overcome is getting everyone and everything to fit together — because when you silo departments, they come out with strange ideas.

Unintended Consequences of Giving Away Things for Free

Giving away stuff isn’t a great strategy. It has unintended consequences. Here’s a story. There’s an old man who lives in a neighborhood that’s getting run down and kids are making noise by his home. He goes to the kids and asks them to make noise by his house and he’ll give them a dollar. They do and he does. The next day is the same. Then the next day the kids come to his house and say we’re ready to make noise! And he says he can only afford to give them $.10 and they say they’re never going to make noise by his house again.

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Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

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One Reply to “Engineering Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust for Higher Conversions #ConvCon”

Great article..Keep it up :)


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