Using Persuasion Architecture to Drive Sales

When is the last time you bought a lottery ticket?

The majority of people I know purchase them extremely rarely, usually never. They look at a lottery ticket and see a bad ROI. (My high school math teacher called the lottery a tax on people who are bad at math).

Yet with the right information, I could convince you to buy a lottery ticket right now. Imagine I told you that I knew for a fact that the winning ticket was in the next five tickets that would be sold at your corner convenience store. You’d be pulling on your shoes right now to go buy a fistful of tickets, wouldn’t you?

Yes, of course I can’t possibly know where the next winning ticket is being sold. But if you suspend your disbelief for just a second, you can see that something very interesting just happened: by presenting you with the right information, I turned what you thought was a completely garbage purchase into one you couldn’t wait to make. Successful sales depends on making this move over and over again.

In the early aughts, as ecommerce was just starting to really take off, Bryan and Jesse Eisenberg pioneered a tool based around this idea of “the right information.” The tool is called Persuasion Architecture, and how it works in practice isn’t so simple that it can be summed up in a singular diagram. However, the gist of it is that every customer-facing component of your business should be designed around presenting your customers with the right information that will persuade them to take action.

There are three questions that form the basis of Persuasion Architecture:

(1) Who do you want to take the action?

Persuasion Architecture is big on the idea of the “buyer persona.” People who aren’t in marketing see the buyer persona as some kind of frou-frou exercise in making up imaginary customers. What a buyer persona gives you is eminently valuable insight into your customers’ motivations.

Making a purchase is always an emotional decision. No matter how big or how small, any given purchase is made on the strength of the buyer’s emotions. If they need to, they’ll justify with logic later, but in the moment, it is emotional. Answering the question of who you want to take action is really a way of answering the question of what sets of motivations you need to play to.

(2) What action do you want them to take?

If you’re running a business, duh you want them to buy something. But sometimes it’s more specific than that. Do you want your customer to be upsold? Do you want them to add one more thing, no matter how cheap, to their cart before they check out? Do you want them to tell all their friends on Instagram about their purchase? Do you want them to write a product review?

Persuasion Architecture asks you to consider exactly what behavior you want to see so that the information you decide to share runs in accordance with that. Look again at the lottery tickets example: I didn’t tell you the winning ticket was the next one—I said it was somewhere in the next five tickets. I didn’t tell you which one because I didn’t want you to stand at the counter and wait to buy until you knew the winning ticket would be up. I got clear on what I wanted you to do, and I presented you with information that would motivate you to do specifically that and not something else.

(3) What information do you need them to know to take that action?

This is the question that’s the real key to Persuasion Architecture. The first two questions are just about gathering the data that will help you answer this one. You can already see where I jumped ahead in the last example: the action I wanted was for you to buy five tickets, so I decided that telling you a winning ticket was in the next set of five would be the information that would compel you to take that action.

Again, the lottery ticket scenario is a bit far-fetched since it’s dependent on knowledge that no one would have. The point, however, is that too many business owners misjudge what it is that potential customers want or need to know in order to take action. Either the owner is too close to their product and thinks its value is self-evident, or the owner fails to remember that buying is driven by emotional motivators. You need to present the right information to make a meaningful value proposition to your customers that’s based on their emotional drivers.

The actual implementation of Persuasion Architecture—what goes into designing a site that keeps the answers to these questions front and center—involves enough detail to fill an entire book (which other people have already written). Starting with answering these questions will still win you major improvements to your sales pitch.