Maybe you have read Wired’s article Welcome to the Brave New World of Persuasion Profiling. Or you have heard of PersuasionAPI, the startup company that was born at right here at Design for Conversion.
If you will attend DfC in Cologne the 1st of July, the crew of PersuasionAPI will be doing a special session on Persuasion Profiling FOR THE FIRST TIME IN PUBLIC.
But if you won’t be there, here is a first example of how Persuasion Profiling works, as taken from the scientific paper (PDF) by Maurits Kaptein and Dean Eckles Selecting Effective Means to Any End: Futures and Ethics of Persuasion Profiling.
Persuasion Profiling Example
You are just finishing up your Christmas shopping. You surf to an online bookstore and look around for books your family members might like. While you are not so much attracted by the content, as you don’t share your sister’s chicklit affection, you do intend to buy a great present.
Luckily, the bookstore provides you with lots of options to base your choices on. Some books are accompanied by ratings from users, and some are sold at a special discount rate just for Christmas.
There is also a section of books which is recommended by famous authors, and there are several bestsellers – that is – books that many people apparently chose.
You unknowingly spend more time looking at the books that are recommended by famous authors than the books presented with the other messages. In fact, the present you buy was identified as a famous authors’ selection.
The online store takes you through the checkout process. Since you frequent the store there is no need to specify your details. Your account is recognized, and in just two clicks a great gift is purchased.
As it turns out, this is not the first time you have been a sucker for authority: while being presented with persuasive attempts – yes, all of the messages on the bookstore are presented to sell more books – you hardly ever buy the special discount books (you would be a sucker for scarcity) or the bestsellers (consensus) and frequently end up with a book that in one way or another is endorsed by a relevant authority.
In the context of book sales alone, authority as a persuasive strategy can be implemented in a host of ways (e.g., selections by authors, critics’ book reviews). You are more likely to buy books supported by this strategy, and its many implementations – than those supported by implementations of other strategies.
Based on your online behavior since you first signed in to the online bookstore, the company is able to estimate the effects of different influence strategies. The bookstore knows you listen to relevant authorities and experts more than friends or just the anonymous majority.
And, in comparison to the average effects of these strategies, the positive effect of authoritative sources is larger for you. This latter point holds true irrespective of the context: though for some attitudes and behavior, authorities are more or less persuasive on average, across these contexts they are more persuasive for you than they for others.
Perhaps you know this too, or perhaps you don’t. But others can now know this also: the online bookstore sells this information – your persuasion profile – for additional income.
In this case, your persuasion profile has been sold to a political party. In the run-up to the next election you receive mailings to vote for a particular candidate.
A number of arguments by influential political commentators and esteemed, retired politicians in the door-to-door mailing changes your attitude about the local party from indifference to approval. That is, the authority figures in the mailing have done a good job of changing your attitudes in favor of their political party.
Your neighbor received a similar leaflet, although hers seems to stress the fact that everyone else in the neighborhood votes for this specific party.
None of the authority arguments that persuaded you appear on her personalized copy of the mailing…
Welcome to the brave new world of Persuasion Profiling.
Kaptein, M., Eckles, D. : Selecting effective means to any end: futures and ethics of persuasion proﬁling. In: Ploug, T., Hasle, P., Oinas-Kukkonen, H. (eds.) Persuasive Technology, pp. 82–93. Springer, Berlin (2010)