Can you imagine trying to persuade Lady Gaga of anything? She is, after all, a clearly determined and opinionated individual. You would be facing up to a fairly formidable personality – you don’t get to be an international superstar by being quiet and open to persuasion. Maybe the reason that Lady Gaga is successful is she prefers tea to coffee. Lady Gaga is one of several well-known people who prefer tea – Oprah Winfrey is another, for instance. Can you imagine trying to persuade her of anything? Surely she’d come back at you with a question or a witty retort?
But find yourself a coffee lover and your powers of persuasion will dramatically rise. A classic study from the University of Queensland compared people’s views on euthanasia when they drank caffeine or other drinks which did not. The researchers found that caffeine made participants more open to changing their views. In other words, when you consume high-caffeine drinks, like coffee, you are more open to being persuaded. Which means if people are drinking coffee and you want to persuade them to buy something, the chances of purchasing go up.
Bookstores have coffee shops because they can make money from renting their space to a franchise operator, such as Starbucks of Costa. Per square foot, they get more money. But the chances are it also increases book sales in the rest of the store as people are more open to those display tables and offers. Indeed, so persuasive is the combination of coffee and books, that Starbucks recently announced its “digital network” bringing ebooks to coffee drinkers.
Bookshops have a real problem. They face price competition from the supermarkets and they have distribution competition from the likes of Amazon. Even so, most books are still sold in bookshops. Amazon may dominate online, but still only represents a relatively small slice of the overall book sales market. What bookshops do realise – and they are woefully behind on a lot of marketing – is that the environment matters. Adding coffee into that environment makes a bookshop a place where you can relax, meet friends. Indeed, all around Waterstones bookshops you can find sofas and easy chairs where you can sit down and read. Gosh you don’t even have to buy…!
The difficulty for anyone selling online is the lack of control over environment. It would be great if everyone who visited your online store had just drunk a coffee – you could persuade them more easily they need to click that “buy now” button. It would be fantastic if you site wouldn’t operate until a visitor could prove they had drunk a coffee…! But unlike a bookshop you cannot increase the likelihood they have drunk coffee, opening them up to persuasion. Equally, unlike Waterstones you cannot make sure they are nice and relaxed, in a comfy chair, giving them a good “feel” about your website.
The biggest difficulty for anyone selling online is that the medium is almost entirely visual. That means you are allowing the other senses of your visitors to be out of your control. That’s not what a good High Street retailer does. They control lighting, heating even the smells, to make sure that your body is swamped by the right sensory inputs to increase your chances of buying.
But there are some things you can do online. You can use words and pictures to trigger the memories of your visitors. If, for instance, you want to make people buy your training course on computer programming, a picture of people chatting over coffee during the break, but with computers clearly in the background, could well trigger memories of happy times on training courses. It also shows a relaxed environment, triggering those memories of training courses where people had a good time. In other words you can use stored memories to recreate the sensory inputs of previously experienced good environments. You don’t have to “be there” to sense it; your brain can do it for you.
This is a trick that most websites ignore. Retailers – especially bookshops – have realised that creating the right environment is essential to boosting sales. Because you cannot do that online people tend to ignore it. But you can get people to use the power of their own mind to create that environment. In other words, don’t opt for “standard” illustrations and words on your website. Choose text and images that enable your visitors to recall their experiences. That will make them more persuadable – especially if they’ve just had a coffee.