Cognitive fluency, your brain, and direct marketing

“Cognitive fluency” means brains like things easy.  Easy things make brains happy.  Happy brains make people do things we want them to do (proof is here). 

Options of three things are easy.  Brains Goldlocks it and pick the one in the middle – not too much, not too little.  There’s a study that shows this

Repeating things makes them easier.  Seeing something once makes you more likely to like it a second time.  Thrice is even better.  Even if it is nonsense, you like it because you’ve seen it.  

The easier something is, the more it convinces.  That’s also been shown.

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Image credit: The Boston Globe.

For example, reading Arial makes us think doing something will be easy.  Reading a script font makes us think it will be hard.  The study is here.  

Simply named stocks do better than tough ones.  Simply named people become president.  More info here.

Also, repeating things makes them easier.

So make it easy for your donors.

Have people looking at your donate button.

Repeat things.  Because repeating things makes them easier.

Build up to your ask.  Small steps like email petitions increase donations.  

Tell people what other people are doing.  That’s social proof.  Brains like social proof because it makes things easy.

Just like repetition does.

Make your text a very different color from the background.  Because this stinks.  If it’s too close, it blends in.  Blending is bad.  Reading easily is good.  

Bigger fonts are also better.

Write at the lowest grade level you can without sounding Dick and Jane.  Jeff Brooks, in his very good book, recommends 4th to 6th grade level.

Some may call this stupid.  But it’s not dumbing down.  It speeds your donor up.  It makes it easy for their brain.  And that makes you more persuasive.

So, small words.  Short sentences.  Fragments of sentences, even.

Your high school English teacher might disagree.  If s/he wants a say, s/he needs to donate.

Please make your donors’ brains happy.  Make it easy for them.  Then they will make it easy for you.

Cognitive fluency, your brain, and direct marketing

How the brain decides whether to donate

The classic of this decision-making writing is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.  In it, he talks about two thinking systems, cleverly named one and two.  System one is our fast thinking, emotional, instinctual system; system two is our contemplative, logical, slower system.  Many of the cognitive biases and heuristics that we talk about in this blog stem from system one having clever (and not-so-clever) shortcuts so that we don’t have to spend the energy to think.

There’s a subtle shift on this that more neurological minded decision theorists propose (not that Kahneman’s system is bad — there’s a reason it’s a classic).  They say there are three decision-making pathways: 

  1. Pavlovian: This is the system that makes you want a meringue cake dessert.

    300px-pavlova_dessert

    Nope, sorry.  Knew I shouldn’t be writing while watching Food Network.  A Pavlovian pathway is instinct: it’s an unconscious or nearly unconscious, reflexible behavior.  It gets its name from the ring-a-bell, get-a-treat, now-the-dog-salivates-when-the-bell-rings conditioned response guy.  This may be System 0 in the Kahneman taxonomy.

  2. Habitual: When you repeat actions over and over, they become subconscious behaviors.  There’s a neurological saying “fire together, wire together,” meaning that if you do something repeatedly, the stimuli involved in that something will tend to become associated and more efficient working together.  Think of walking the same path through grass day after day.  Pretty soon, that path becomes almost as good as a sidewalk, controlled by your basal ganglia.

  3. Goal-oriented: When you make conscious, reasoned decision based on trying to get to a positive outcome.  You likely have heard about how people like President Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same thing every day so they don’t have to make that decision every morning.  There is a germ of truth in this: we can only handle so much in a day and every goal-oriented decision takes its toll.

If you would like to read about these three mechanisms and how they function in prosocial (not selfish) behavior, there’s a nauseatingly detailed study here

So what are the implications for direct marketing?  I’d love to hear yours; here are a few of mine:

  • For a certain type of supporter, is reduced cognitive load part of the pitch for a monthly donation EFT?  That is, can you take something that you have to think about in the goal-oriented pathways and put it into automatic?
  • Conversely, do you want to?  Do you want to encourage goal-oriented thinking or aim for a more conditioned response?
  • Donors will likely expect that you behave like Pavlov’s dog.  That is, you need to do what you say you are going to do, especially as it relates to acknowledgments.  If someone is going to expect that hit of dopamine upon receiving their thank you, you need to follow through on that.
  • This likely explains the reason that gifts under $100 are given with the heart and over $100 are given with the head.  At that point, a gift goes from a habitual response to a goal-oriented action full of actual thoughts.
  • What type of conditioning are you doing with your direct marketing program?  There is a chance that premiums are conditioning some of your donors, whether habitually or Pavlovianly, to donate only when they get something for that donation.
  • Are there some means of communication that are truly Pavlovian?  I’m thinking here of mobile messaging.  When someone automatically checks their phone when they get a ding sounds, it’s not too many steps removed from a salivating dog listening to the bell.
  • See if you can discern habitual behaviors in your donors.  Do you have a set of donors who gives every year in November or December, but never in the other ten months out of the year (answer: yes, you do)?  Do you still mail them or call them with all of the other donors in June?

Any other thoughts?  I’d love to hear how you are building positive habits with your donors at nick@directtodonor.com or in the comments section.

How the brain decides whether to donate

Doping in your direct marketing

lance_armstrong_tour_de_france_2009_-_stage_17

Not this kind of doping.

Our brains are miracles of electricity and chemistry.  Each electrical and chemical reaction is a way of communicating from one part to the other.  And there’s hardly a more fun chemical in the brain that dopamine.

Dopamine is what’s called a neurotransmitter.  It is released by nerve cells (neurons) to send messages to other nerve cells.  And it moves through special dopamine pathways.  One of these is called the mesolimbic pathway, aka the reward pathway.  There will not be a test on this.

Think of the classic rat-pushes-a-level-and-gets-a-reward-experiment.  That’s what dopamine does.  Do good.  Get a dopamine reward.  Most addictive drugs work through dopamine and most anti-addictive medicinal treatments repress dopamine.  In fact, there are case studies, including this very readable one from The Atlantic, of people who are addicted to giving because of their neural pathways.

Dopamine dulls pain, arouses, causes pleasure, and dilates the eyes.  I mention this last one so I can give you a good tip for reading people by way of Sherlock.

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Sherlock: because I took your pulse: elevated; your pupils: dilated. I imagine John Watson thinks love’s a mystery to me, but the chemistry is incredibly simple and very destructive.

As a result, it’s a pretty nice thing to have on your side in nonprofit direct marketing.  The “warm glow” of giving is largely a dopamine reward (mediated by oxytocin, which we’ll talk about tomorrow).  When researchers look at fMRI data, they found that when someone gives to charity, the nucleus accumbens (which is usually associated with unexpected rewards) lights up and produces dopamine.

So how do you build dopamine and how do you use it?

The first is obvious and we’ve talked about it ad nauseum: thank your donors well.  Part of why dopamine is addictive is that the brain tends to anticipate it.  And you don’t want to deny someone that hit of dopamine for their good deeds.  Conversely, an unexpected reward can have the same impact that unexpected flowers or a gift can have for a spouse or loved one.  No, not the wondering what you did wrong one — the good one.

Beyond that, it’s something you can stimulate in your copy and storytelling.

Seeing other people happy releases dopamine and makes the person who observes them happy.  While I’m on the record not to sugarcoat our issues, when you can show the after and the impact you are having, you can do so in a way that makes your donor happy as a result.

Affirmations.  On online buttons, you’ll notice a lot of conversion buttons are now starting with “Yes,” or its excitable cousin “Yes!”.  This is because a positive affirmation can release dopamine and excite the person seeing it.  We become the rat pushing the lever.

Exclusivity can also give a dopamine hit.  We’ve talked about its power in persuasion; dopamine is part of why.  Here there’s a double shot; once when you know things that no one else knows and once when you share it with them.

And finally, use lists.  Our brains love to complete things, thanks to the reward it gives itself every time.  Bullet points tend to work better than comma’ed lists with each one making a nice mental check every time it’s read.

So that’s dopamine in a nutshell (or a skull).  Please check back tomorrow to learn about oxytocin, or sign up for our newsletter and never miss a post!

Doping in your direct marketing

An quick update on the science of slacktivism

Back in January, I posted about three studies on slacktivism.  And back in March, we looked at whether people who think of themselves as good do good things.  Generally, these studies found:

  • People tend to keep their commitments and do the good things they say they are going to.
  • They do this unless they did a public pledge first.  The public pledge seemed to allow them to manage their reputation as they wished, with not as much need to follow through.
  • Social media fundraising campaigns don’t really do much unless involving buckets, ice, and/or challenges.

There’s a new study out in the March edition of Sociological Science (yes, I know, March isn’t entirely new; my copy must have been held up in the mail by the fact that I am not a subscriber) that bolsters these claims.

They went through a sample of 3500 pledges for donations made through an online social media/donation facilitation platform.  Of those pledges, 64 percent were fulfilled, 13 percent were partially fulfilled, and 16 percent were deleted. However, people who broadcast their pledges on social were more likely to delete and not fulfill their pledge donations.  This fits the thesis of people who pledge do so largely to look good and are less likely to follow through.

They also found from using Facebook ads and other social media techniques, and I’m going to just let them tell this part from their abstract:

The experiment also shows that, although the campaigns reached approximately 6.4 million users and generated considerable attention in the form of clicks and “likes,” only 30 donations were made.

Please print out this quote and point to it every time someone says mail is dead because of low response rates.

So, to replay the recommendations from advocacy campaigns:

  • Do them.  A properly run advocacy campaign can increase the likelihood that someone will donate and take other actions for your organization.
  • Make them private.  Public petitions appear to satisfy a person’s desire to manage their reputation, so they were less willing to take other actions.
  • By extension, don’t do them on social networks.  Not only are they not public, but you do not have the easy wherewithal to communicate with them to get the first gift or convert to other activities.
  • Make the ask.  It can be as easy as having an ask for the donation on the confirmation page or receipt for a petition.  Folks who take private actions want to help and are in a mindset of helping.  I personally have seen advocacy campaigns with a soft ask after taking the petition raise more money than a hard ask to a full list.  Crazy, but true.

Thanks.  This is my first shorter weekend content.  Let me know if you liked or didn’t like at nick@directtodonor.com.  I saw the story and wanted to get the word out, but want to know from you, the reader, if this is valuable.

An quick update on the science of slacktivism

Learning from political fundraising: chip in change for change

You’ve seen the headlines: “Americans more divided than ever”, “Gridlock reaching threat level crimson, which is worse than red somehow”, and “Pelosi-McConnell dancing knife fight leaves two dead.”*

Seemingly, parties can’t agree on anything.

But here’s a ray of hope.  They can agree on donors chipping in:

Martin O’Malley:

chipinomalley

Rand Paul:

chipinrandpaul

Bobby Jindal:

chipinjindal

DCCC:

chipindccc

RNC:

chipinnrcc

Jeb Bush:

chipinbush

Bernie Sanders and MoveOn:

chipinsanders

John Kasich:

chipinkasich

Marco Rubio:

chipinrubio

Hillary Clinton:

chipinclinton

I’ll be honest: usually my research for this blog is harder than this.  The hardest parts of finding these were:

  1. Remembering who had been running for president.  For example, it turns out Lincoln Chafee is not a model of car.
  2. Finding photographic from former campaign sites.  There’s evidence that Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and others used chip-in language, but couldn’t find them online.  So passes away the glory of a presidential campaign.

But nonprofits don’t seem to be using “chip in” much.  Yet.  I think BirdConservancy.org was the largest organization I could find in my Googling.

So why do political organizations almost unanimously use “chip in”?  Here are my theories:

  • “Chip in” sounds very small. Giving permission for small donations increases the likelihood of giving. This is probably part of the appeal.  This extends to the standard ask strings.  Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, Sanders, and the current Republican frontrunner (since I pledged I wouldn’t use his name as a cheap SEO play) all start their asks at $3-25.  In fact, if you take out Kasich, the highest initial ask is $15 (ironically, for Bernie Sanders).
  • Making a cost sound small also decreases the amount of pain that someone feels from making a purchase/donation. 
  • The value of a name in political spheres far exceeds just their donation value.  A $3 donor is also a voter at worst and perhaps a volunteer or district captain.  And of course, they may be able to give more in the future.  A $2,700 donor is these things, plus someone who may be able to attract like-minded funders at a max level.

    I say this is in political spheres.  But isn’t this true for your nonprofit as well?  You want that $3 donor as a volunteer, walker, bequest donor, monthly donor, etc.  And yet we generally have higher online ask thresholds. 
  • “Chip in” implies that others are doing the same.  In fact, Oxford Dictionaries defines “chip in” as “contribute something as one’s share of a joint activity, cost, etc.”  Social proof is a powerful persuasive force and knowing that others are doing it and are counting on you too can greatly influence decisions. 
  • People like to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  This is especially true for causes, political or non-profit.  The ability to make something part of your identity that ties you into a larger in-group can be very powerful.

So I’d encourage you to try chipping in as part of your emailing strategy (and, if it works, test elsewhere) as a way of pulling these cognitive levers.

A post-script: after I drafted this piece, this came in from the Clinton campaign:

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* I will offer a free signed book (in that I will print out any one of my ebooks , sign it, and mail it to you) for the first person who can do a Photoshop of this based on West Side Story.

 

Learning from political fundraising: chip in change for change

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

This week, we’ll look at some of the lessons we in the nonprofit world can learn from those in the political world.

Wait!  Don’t leave!

I know I said that I would be counterprogramming to the blogs that turn out 7 Vital Marketing Lessons from This Year’s Oscar Winners topical content.  But:

  1. There are actually lessons that we can take from the political realm.  If you haven’t read The Victory Lab or Rick Perry and His Eggheads, I strongly recommend them as valuable insights into another industry that relies on donations for its livelihood.
  2. Political fundraising has to be crazy fast and efficient.  Imagine if in November, your nonprofit was going to either win or lose: accomplish all of your goals or cease to exist.  When the stakes are that high, there are distilled lessons that we can benefit from.
  3. It’s only going to get worse and I can’t stomach putting this topic off until December.

So how about this: I will not mention the current (as of this writing) Republican frontrunner despite the potential clickbait. Instead, I’ll try for a nonpartisan look at some items that may be helpful for we nonprofits.

The first one is relatively brief.  In looking at campaign Web sites, take a look at what the candidates’ eyes are doing.  Here’s Hillary Clinton’s Web site — an older version:

hillary-clinton-2016-campaign-website-600

 

And here’s Bernie Sanders.

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What do you notice in common?

The eyes of the candidate are looking at what they want you look at.  This isn’t true in all or even most candidates’ cases: many of them are looking right at the camera or staring off into the future.

But those are missed opportunities.  Studies show that humans automatically look a few discrete places: where arrows or people point* and where other people’s eyes are looking (one such study is here )

Kissmetrics shows a great heat map of where people look when a photo is looking at the camera. 

7-baby-face

Because the baby is looking at the user, users get locked up in the baby’s eyes with no indication of where they should next look.

Now, take a look where people look when the baby is looking at the text:

8-baby-face-eye-tracking

Here’s another good example from QuickSprout.  Looking at the camera:

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And looking toward the product:

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So, when Hillary or Bernie are looking at where you put in your email address, guess what the next action is they want you do to.

Now, take a look at your home page.  Where are your pictures looking?  And where do you want people to look?

 

* Where arrows point: what, you thought this from Clinton’s site is a coincidence?

arrows

Learning from political fundraising: the eyes have it

It’s time to stop… sugarcoating our issues

The other day, I was looking for studies that had been done on what type of images are effective in use in nonprofit direct marketing.  So I headed over to Google Scholar and searched for “use pictures fundraising appeals.”

You would have thought I was searching for snuff films.  Here are some of the titles of journal articles that faced me:

  • The pornography of poverty: A cautionary fundraising tale
  • Pictures of me: user views on their representation in homelessness fundraising appeals
  • Imaging Humanitarianism: NGO Identity and the Iconography of Childhood
  • Fundraising portrayals of people with disabilities: Donations and attitudes.

That’s just on the first page.  Apparently, some academics do not like us using pictures of the suffering we are looking to alleviate in fundraising materials.

This was a strange place for me.  I’m rarely in conversations where I’m not the pointy-headed intellectual.  One of my tenets of this blog is to use the scientific method to improve our fundraising.

And yet as I delved deeper, the articles seemed hand-wringy and nihilistic, in that they didn’t care whether or not money was raised to solve a problem as long as these pictures weren’t used.

I’m all for getting permission from people before their stories and pictures are used.  Ideally, the subject of a piece will welcome it as a way of their story being told.

But I also hear stories of brand guidelines or boards getting involved to say that only smiling happy children should be used in fundraising pieces.  This is dissonant to a donor.  They are being told about a problem and they want to help, but the children are already happy and getting well water.

So sugarcoating our issues is going to be our final (for now) Thing to Stop Doing.

It isn’t just pictures either.  How many appeals do you see or hear with underserved people?  One gets the idea that the person is a thermometer and with just a little bit more of the nonprofit’s program, they can be filled all the way up to whatever the correct level of service is.  Or, worse, one sees underserved and reads undeserved.  That one makes a big difference, but can be easily missed when reading quickly.

Most times, underserved people are poor.  People with food security issues are hungry.  People who have been impacted by violent crime are victims (if they choose to so classify).  We can tell the story plainly and evocatively.

Likewise, things aren’t challenging.  They aren’t suboptimal.  They are bad.  They are hard.  If you are talking to the right audience, they might even suck.

We’ve talked about how readability impacts our fundraising.  The easier something is to scan and get the emotional essence of, the more likely someone is to donate to it.

And that’s the goal.  We need to touch hearts and mind.  We can’t do this with phrases written by a committee.  We should be bold.  We need to preach reality.

It’s time to stop… sugarcoating our issues