Shaping Web Audience Preference

link buildingWouldn’t it be wonderful if you had the power to convince people that your product or service was exactly what they needed, and as a consequence your in-box was filled with inquiries and your e-commerce site was stuffed with orders. Wouldn’t that be great? And isn’t that exactly what you want to achieve with your website?

The problem is you are part of a giant online bazaar called The Web; and just like your local weekend flea market The Web is filled with crap, conmen, and contraband. Without understanding some of the underlying psychological principles involved in shaping audience preference you are in danger of being regarded as just another mangy flea market hustler, even if what you offer is the greatest thing since sliced bread. .

The subject of shaping public perception, or in our case Web audience preference, is complex and convoluted but there are basic principles that if followed will help you achieve your business objectives, no matter how you define them.

The Four E-Essentials of Website Presentation

All the Google ads, search engine optimization, linking strategies, social networking, and Twitter twirping will be for naught if you don’t implement four essential marketing communication techniques: engage, enlighten, embed, and re-enforce.

These four website presentation elements are easy to grasp but not always easy to implement. If you’ve read any of our other articles you will know that we think Web-video is the most effective way to implement these elements on your website and in your Web marketing. But just because you use video on your website, doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective unless you understand the psychology behind the e-essentials.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how these elements work is to rent or find on YouTube a clip from the 1947 movie “The Hucksters” starring Clark Gable and Sydney Greenstreet. Now I haven’t seen this movie in twenty years and I remember almost nothing about it except for one scene, a scene that illustrates better than anything, the four e-essentials of marketing and branding communication.

Engage, Enlighten, Embed, and Re-Enforce

Picture an old style boardroom, you know the ones with wood paneling, high-backed deeply padded chairs all filled with a bunch of executive flunkies and sycophants. At one end is Clark Gable, and his dapper boss Adolphe Menjou, and at the other end is an empty, ornate leather chair, almost like a throne.

An older heavy-set gentlemen, played by Sydney Greenstreet, walks in wearing a dark suit, light colored vest, and a matching pork-pie hat. He is the client, the owner of a large soap manufacturing company, ‘Beauty Soap,’ that has hired Gable’s agency to help sell his product.

He proceeds to sit down at the head of the table, throws back his head, and expectorates (spits) onto the middle of the table. He then dramatically takes out a handkerchief from his breast pocket, wipes up the mess, and carelessly tosses the hankie on the floor, after which he tells the assembled ad men…

“You’ve just seen me do a disgusting thing, but you’ll always remember what I just did. You see if nobody remembers your brand, you aren’t going to sell any soap. …I’ll tell you a secret about the soap business. There’s absolutely no difference between soaps, absolutely none, except for perfume and color… soap is soap… oh… maybe we have a few manufacturing tricks, but the public don’t give a hoot about that…”

Embed The Brand

You may not like to hear it, but the truth is, most products and services are pretty much the same as their competitors. Sure some have a little more this, and others have a little more that, but for all intensive purposes, they’re the same, the same except for one major thing, The Brand!

This sixty second clip from “The Hucksters” illustrates the need to engage your audience with a dramatic gesture, enlighten them with what they need to know, and do it all in a entertaining manner that embeds the brand, and what it stands for, in the audience’s mind.

The Repetition Caveat

The last twenty seconds of the scene are a bit more controversial in my mind and if taken at face value can lead to a misunderstanding of the re-enforcing principle.

Greenstreet continues his rant by banging his fist on the table over-and-over again while saying,

“Beauty Soap, Beauty Soap, Beauty Soap, repeat it until it comes out of their ears, repeat it until they say it in their sleep, irritate them Mr. Norman [a reference to Gable], irritate, irritate, irritate them, never forget, knock them dead, until they never forget.”

All the while Greenstreet emphatically bangs his fist on the table to emphasize his point. When he finally finishes his rant, he sweeps his hand dramatically across the table knocking a glass of water halfway across the room. He finishes by saying calmly, “See what I mean?”

Web Videos Shouldn’t Be TV Commercials

Television advertisers seem to have taken the “irritation” part to heart, but I think the basic principle is dramatic repetition not irritation. Irritation may generate name recognition but with the wrong mental and emotional associations, while dramatic repetition shapes audience opinion and establishes brand preference. Not understanding the psychology behind the four e-essentials can lead to unsatisfactory results.

This scene from “The Hucksters” was satire and commentary on the nature of advertising, and its point-of-view was decidedly cynical, and with good cause. Television commercials drive the public up a wall with irritating repeated interruptions of the same hackneyed commercials over and over again, until the viewing audience goes numb.

As well, pointless user-generated videos may bemuse but without any targeted psychological influence or directed commercial purpose beyond attracting a lot of viewers.

Even expensive commercially produced viral videos that are clever, entertaining, and technically superb often forget to enlighten the audience and embed the brand. The recent viral Evian baby video maybe a brilliant technical achievement and superb filmmaking but does it sell more bottled water, or even distinguish Evian from its competitors. The problem is the brand gets lost in the technique, and the baby images over-power the product.

Gaining Competitive Advantage

It is human nature to want easy answers to complex questions, but people are frustratingly complex, and cannot be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered” like Patrick McGoohan’s ‘The Prisoner’.

Search engine optimization, social networking, user-generated videos, and viral-for-viral’s sake are nothing more then marketing ‘Pablum’ that takes advantage of naïve marketing newbies; they are trendy technical answers with the appearance of sophistication but with only the slightest understanding of subconscious human desire.

Technical answers to human questions ultimately won’t work, or will only work with limited success because they ignore the need to understand the human condition, what makes you and everybody
else want, what they want.

Gerald Zaltman, Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School calls it understanding the “mind of the market.” To quote Professor Zaltman from his book ‘How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market,’

“…the ability to grasp or understand the mind of the market and creatively leverage this understanding represents the next source of competitive advantage for marketers.”

The Choice Is Yours

The average website business will continue to follow whatever trendy technical solution shows up on the blogs. But your competitor’s willingness to follow the herd leaves the way wide open for you to take advantage of their failure; their misreading of what works.

Recognize the best way to communicate your offering to your Web audience is with a presentation delivered by a real human being, a presentation that engages, enlightens, and embeds in that audience’s collective memory.

And when you’re done, do it all over again in an even more memorable, dramatically entertaining manner.

Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Ask about our Summer Video Campaign Special. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.

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Jerry Bader


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  • Good article. Not sure what “intensive purposes” are though, perhaps it was meant to be “intents and purposes”?

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