Tonight’s historic “leaders debate” on ITV will probably be something of a let-down. The leaders are all over-rehearsed, knotted with nerves and fearful of making mistakes. Add to that the 76 rules of what can and cannot be done or said and you have a recipe for 90 minutes of boring TV. The audience will be glued to their seats waiting for a slip-up, the potential turning point of the election campaign. It won’t happen. Instead, they will concentrate on getting their own, rehearsed and polished messages across. And therein lies their problem.

Forget the past, think of the future could spell sales disaster

Forget the past, think of the future could spell sales disaster

Each of the political parties wants us to imagine what life will be like under their rule. They try constantly to make comparisons between how bad it was in the past under the opposition and how wonderful it will be in the future, if only we voted for them. It’s often the same with people trying to sell us stuff. Indeed, you find this all over the web; people get you to imagine what life will be like in the future, if only you bought their product or service.

Political parties and sales people have – for decades – bought into the notion that people are stimulated by big rewards. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence which suggests that if we are promised a big reward in the future we are happy to wait for it, rather than get a small reward right now. However, new brain research from Hamburg, Germany, challenges this notion. The study showed that there are neural mechanisms in place which allow us to put off instant rewards in favour of getting bigger benefits in the future.

So far, so good; the sales experts are right – humans will wait for benefits in the future, rather than get them now. But the study revealed another problem. When we are asked to imagine or picture that future our decision making process is also put off until the future. In other words, we don’t do anything now – and in the case of buying things, we do not act on impulse.

The study shows that when you ask people to imagine the future they stop making decisions about that future because they are so happy with waiting for the potentially larger reward. It suggests that if you want people to buy something now, they will not do so if you are asking them to imagine any time ahead of them. So, all those websites that ask you to imagine what life will be like in five years time when you’ve made your millions are not likely to succeed because you put off the decision to buy whatever it is that’s going to give you that fantastic lifestyle.

It appears there is a balancing trick you need to perform. You need to get people to think about the potentially larger rewards they will receive in the future as a result of buying your product or service BUT you must not get them to think about that future…! Otherwise they will not buy; the brain scan studies show  they put off making a decision.

So, if you want people to buy from your website you need to avoid any “temporal” references – those which make them think about the future. You need to suggest to your buyers that their maximum benefits will arise in the future, but all the imagery you get them to consider needs to be about the present. That will dramatically increase your sales.

And what are those politicians going to do tonight? Well, they are going to get us to imagine life in the future – just the sort of thing which this new research suggests will delay our decision making. Whilst trying to get our votes tonight they’ll actually be making it less (not more) likely we’ll make our mind up. So, not only will it be boring TV, it will also be unlikely to help us decide who to vote for.

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