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Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales

Since we have been discussing human behavior and digital media, I think we definitely need to look at the study conducted at MIT Sloan School of Management.

Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales
By Glen L. Urban, John R. Hauser, Guilherme Liberali, Michael Braun and Fareena Sultan
July 1, 2009

We’ve long been able to personalize what information the Internet tells us — but now comes “Web site morphing,” and an Internet that personalizes how we like to be told. For companies, it means that communicating — and selling — will never be the same.

When we talk to someone, we often feel that communication is more effective if we are “on the same wavelength” with them. If they “get it,” we feel empathy and trust. We’re more likely to believe their statements or even buy what they’re selling. While this trust and empathy come from good communication, good communication is more than just content. It depends not only on what is in the message, but also on how the message’s content is delivered — in particular, how well the message’s delivery style matches the way the listener (or Web site visitor, or customer) thinks. We call these thinking styles “cognitive styles.” They define how people process information.

Some people are analytical and want to take messages apart and study each component in depth, while others look holistically at the message and react to it. Presenting an analytical case to someone who processes ideas holistically is not likely to be effective, and vice versa. Some people are deliberative and want to carefully consider ideas, while others are impulsive and “go with their gut.” Some people think with pictures, while others process information in words. Matching your presentation to the cognitive style of the Web site visitor or customer is critical for success, especially if you are trying to persuade that person to buy your product.

Good salespeople have known this for years, of course. The best ones carefully diagnose how the client thinks and then modify their pitch to match the customer. This sales approach, often instinctive, enables the salesperson to vary the presentation of information depending on the cognitive style of the customer.

Now, through Web site morphing, the Internet is beginning to do the same.

The main question that they ask is “What are the consequences if the Web can connect with users in the cognitive style they prefer?”

The answer is so clear:

* As salespeople and anyone trying to communicate already knows, individuals process information in different ways. Messages delivered in the matched “cognitive style” will be more effective.
* Advances in technology and behavioral science are beginning to enable an “empathetic Web” to emerge — a Web that can figure out for itself how a user wants to be talked to.

The Six Steps to Implementing Web Morphing on Your Site
Select the cognitive styles likely to describe your customers.

1. Design Web site journeys that are likely to appeal to each segment of customers as described by their cognitive styles.
2. Design initial Web pages (e.g., the home page) so that early clicks help identify customers’ cognitive styles.
3. Undertake a priming study to measure click preferences for various cognitive-style segments.
4. Program both the Bayesian Inference Engine and the Gittins updating strategy so that the Web site can (1) identify cognitive styles and (2) learn the best morph for a cognitive style.
5. Launch the new Web site and reap the rewards as it automatically identifies the best morph to provide to each cognitive style.
6. Periodically update Web pages to reflect changes in product offerings and changes in consumer tastes.


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