If a neuroscientist built a website, this is what….?

Imagine you could make your website contagious…

Like a flu virus or zombie infection, it would spread from person to person… each one unable to resist… until huge swathes of people were visiting your website, buying your products and spreading the word.

Even better, imagine that your contagion was only spread among the niche group that your online business was targeting.

You’d want to invent something like that in a lab, bottle it up, and release it as soon as your website was online, right?

Today I want to show you how the latest neuroscience and psychological results can help give your website and products that contagious effect.

At the root of it is what the French philosopher Rene Girard calls ‘mimetic desire’. He said that most human desire was driven primarily by the desires of others. This was further supported by a study  published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

In a nutshell, we desire what other people want

Marketers tap into this principle using something known as social proof. You’re more likely to buy something or join up to something if you are assured that other people are doing it.

Neuroscience researchers proved that showing that an object is being used by another person will inspire feelings of desire for that object.

They describes it as ‘motivational contagion’.

The more people doing something, the more other people want to do it, and so it starts to spread like a virus.

It works in really weird ways. For instance, there’s a story of a sign that was put up in Arizona’s Petrified Forest to stop people taking away the wood. It read:

“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

This sign was a disaster.

Rather than stop people stealing it massively increased the rate of theft.


Because people thought that if others were stealing wood then it must be a desirable activity that was “ok” with most people.

That’s how powerful mimetic desire is… it can even encourage people to break rules or discard moral principles.

I am not encouraging that in any way, of course. Instead here’s how you can use this neurological principle to spread the message of your products and services online in and positive way…

  1. Good reviews on your website – this is obvious, but if people see that others are using and enjoying your product, they are more likely to buy.

    According to eConsultancy, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews.

    This is all down to mimetic desire. And it’s also why consumer reviews are seen as almost 12 times more trustworthy than company descriptions.

    But this might surprise you….

  2. BAD reviews are also important. As long as they are vastly outnumbered by good reviews, they can actually help prove that your reviews are genuine, and therefore increase the power of the positive comments.

    Research by etailer Reevoo say that bad reviews can boost sales conversions by 67%… while 68% trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad comments.

  3. Reviews on trusted sites and forums – if you can get people to leave reviews on sites like Amazon, TripAdvisor and the forums of other websites in your niche, you’ll increase the power of those recommendations. They gain instant credibility.

  4. Testimonials – go out to as many of your subscribers or customers and ask what they think.

    Consider emailing customers just after they purchase (while they’ve still got that buzz) and asking for a review. If you haven’t got customers yet, offer a trial or sample in in return for feedback.

    People are busy and sometimes dislike having to write down their opinions. So offer a short cut and say they can simply score your product or service out of 10.

  5. Photos of users, subscribers or customers. If it’s possible to add photos of real people who have used your product, then that has incredible psychological power.

    A 2012 study from the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review shows that photos increase the likelihood that people will judge a claim to be true.

    For instance people are likely to believe the claim “Macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches” when there’s a photo of a bowl of macadamia nuts next to it. This creates an effect called “truthiness”.

  6. Photos of ‘ideal’ people – when you’re designing your website, packaging or sales pages, find a photo of someone who matches up with how your target ideally see themselves.

    Have that ideal person smiling or benefiting from the product in some way.

    Research published in Current Directions in Psychological Science has found that people gravitate towards people that resemble the best qualities of their own self. This is known as “implicit egotism”.

  7. Results – most products have a desired outcome. For instance, it saves time or money, makes a profit, reduces pain, boosts energy, increases performance.

    As much as possible find a way of measuring that and showing that real people have experienced it.

    Get it beta-tested by a group of ordinary people and share their results.

  8. Before and after photos – there’s a common line used on social media sites if someone makes a big claim about something they’ve just seen.

    It goes like this: “Photos, or it didn’t happen!” In the new era of camera phones and social media, people are much less sceptical when they see photo evidence.

    And it’s harder to get away with claims without showing proof. So find ways to show that your product has an effect – ideas include ‘before and after’ shots or pictures of people using, reading, eating or benefiting from your product.

    Or show the product being made or put together.

  9. Number of customers or subscribers – if people know a product has been used by a number of others, it encourages them to take it up themselves.

  10. Comments – allowing comments on your website is proof that genuine people are reading your blog posts, which in turn encourages others to leave comments.

    If you then interact with those comments it shows that you are genuine and looking out for their best interests.

  11. Social media – join social media networks like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, then build a following. There’s no easier way to show your prospects that other people like what you have to say.

    In a book called Social Media Marketing: Theories And Applications, Stephen Dahl describes ‘social contagion’, where certain websites become important and ‘spread like an infection among certain niche groups’. Social media is a breeding ground for infection.

  12. True Stories are easier to understand than statistics and results, because they allow people to imagine an ideal outcome of using your product.

    Try and tell a true story about yourself, or a customer, or even someone famous. Show how your lives were improved or changed by what you’re selling.

    It doesn’t have to be your product specifically, but maybe the principle behind your product, or something your product was based on.

Use all the above on your website, then get onto social media and start finding the sort of people who are likely to buy in to your messages and products.

With your social proof gone properly, they will instantly see your business as something desirable by others, and this should infect them with the same desire.

I’ll be back with more soon.

This article first appeared on Digital Upstart. Read more and comment here