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Persuasive Web Design, Part 3: Look and Act Like Your Target Group


"You look like someone I can trust…"

We are more likely to respond positively to — and be persuaded by — people we like. And guess who we tend to like best: People who are similar to us!

There are a number of ways in which people can be similar to us, including:

  • Age group
  • Gender
  • Intelligence
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Personality type
  • Manner of dress
  • Things owned, products used
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Race/ethnicity/religion
  • Political beliefs
  • Social class
  • Behavior
  • Use of language
  • Personal style
  • Music listened to
  • Region lived in

Here are a few ways in which you can use this principle to make your web efforts more persuasive:

  • For images of people, it's best to use attractive people, as they are seen as more trustworthy. But avoid using models. Use "real people" that closely match your target group. (Age, sex, ethnicity, manner of dress, etc.)
  • Tailor your copy to match your target group. Don't use formal language when writing for teenagers, or slang when writing for business executives.
  • If you have several distinct target groups, develop customized landing pages for each.

To implement this technique effectively takes some homework. You have to develop a deep understanding of just who your customers really are and tailor your web pages to match them. But it's worth the effort, as it helps you connect with visitors on an emotional level... and makes them much more receptive to your offers.


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There was a somewhat similar experiment by Dan Ariely which involved taking groups of students and tempting them to cheat. They would then have a planted "student" (an actor) stand up mid way and declare that they were done (very obviously cheating).

They found that if that actor wore a sweater of the school they were in then then cheating across the board went up. If they wore the sweater of a competing school then cheating went down.

He concludes that if some one in our "group" cheats, then we feel that cheating is more appropriate. But if the "other" group cheats--some one who our group competes with--then cheating goes down because "we're better than them".

I can't imagine a situation where you would want to encourage your customers to cheat, but could you apply this to stuff other than cheating? Convincing people to take action that they might feel uncomfortable about?

Maybe plant a user who would take action, or more deviously plant an opponent who would not.

That said, this kind of trickery would be pretty awful. In fact, one might even consider it "cheating".
# Posted By KentC | 12/3/09 3:35 PM
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