Advertising Voodoo #1

Incongruous Information = Stopping Power

Incongruous information is a powerful tool for successfully achieving the first element in ad effectiveness – stopping power.

Time is a scarce resource and advertising media are inherently noisy environments. You have only a second or two – at best – to grab a the attention of your audience long enough to deliver your message and achieve understanding. It is the same for print, broadcast and online media, but I’m going to primarily focus on print advertising as the example in this post.

Incongruous information involves hitting your audience with information or imagery that doesn’t quite jive with their expectations. This causes readers to stop turning the page and spend time on the ad to try to understand and classify it. We are all familiar with the concept of “standing out”, but this post takes a shallow dive into the psychology and neuroscience behind ads that stand out effectively.

Classic use of incongruous information in TV ads is the Energizer Bunny campaign. You think you seeing just another boring ad when suddenly, a pink rabbit banging on a drum enters the room.

The Technical Explanation (or pay-dirt for consultants)

The definition of incongruous information gets a little technical. I’m sorry, but at least you’ll have some complicated-sounding bonus terms in your pocket you can use to dazzle your client or boss and sell them on your shiny new ad concept.  If you’re a consultant, you’ve just hit pay dirt.

Incongruous information (bonus term) is information characterized by inconsistency. A more common explanation is information that is unexpected or doesn’t fit with a person’s preconceptions. Those preconceptions can relate to any current knowledge, attitude, emotion, and most importantly for advertising, expectations.

Information incongruency causes cognitive dissonance (another bonus term). Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term that describes the uncomfortable, but unconscious, tension that comes from holding two conflicting cognitions (bonus term meaning thoughts) at the same time. This theory holds that these conflicts compel the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, in order to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.

Now here’s the non-technical explanation:

  1. The brain doesn’t like when it encounters things that don’t fit into one of it’s buckets.
  2. When something doesn’t fit, your brain is compelled to spend time on it either to figure out why it doesn’t fit or to convince itself that it does fit.
  3. Either way, whatever that “it” is, your brain has to focus attention on it to comprehend it and make it fit.

To make “it” fit, your brain has to modify it’s preconceptions to accept the new information.  You can see the value here – after all, the goal of advertising is to modify preconceptions and get our audience to accept our new products. In advertising we call this “gaining mind share.” (duh)

Go to part two: Advertising Voodoo #2: Information Incongruency Applied

Advertising VooDoo Series

Advertising VooDoo is a series of articles that explore neuroscience and psychology of what makes advertising work.

Further Technical Reading:

Neural correlates of incongruous visual information. An event-related fMRI study.

Role of Incongruity and ‘Aha’ Effect in Positive Affect Experienced from Visual Metaphors


The Quality of Your Site = The Quality of Your Company

 We’ve heard it all before.  Your website is often the first contact a potential customer has with your company.  Here are five studies that confirm the importance of that first encounter and the effect your site’s quality has on your brand.

Perception is Everything

“Testing of our model shows that the most important constructs for increasing initial trust in our experimental context are branding and website quality.”
Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 199-224

“Retail brand trust, off-line patronage, clothing involvement and two factors of website quality (usability and information quality, visual appeal and image) were found to significantly influence online apparel shopping intention. ”
Influences of retail brand trust, off-line patronage, clothing involvement and website quality on online apparel shopping intention

“The hypotheses predicted that IT-mediated signals of quality, coupled with expectations and attitude, would affect a consumer’s perception of organizational quality and influence their behavioral intention (i.e., whether or not they would do business with the organization). Results from this study indicate that students expected more from the websites  of IT proficient organizations and were more accepting of websites from organizations with a low IT proficiency. These results further develop signaling theory and have significant implications for IT-proficient organizations that must meet a higher standard when creating a website. Such an organization may unknowingly send a signal of low quality if consumers believe its website does not meet expectations.”
Investigating IT Proficiency and Website Characteristics as Signals of Quality: Guilt by Association?

“A survey of 701 eBay users is conducted which compares the price premiums of two nearly identical online auction businesses, one that has online auction listings with a perceived high quality and the other that has substantially lower perceived quality. Results of this study indicate that website quality can explain 49% of the variation in the trust for eBay sellers. In fact, it shows that sellers with good website quality are all perceived to be equally trustworthy regardless of their eBay reputation; whereas sellers with poor website quality are not perceived to be trustworthy even if they have a high eBay reputation score. The results also show that the trust resulting from increased website quality increases intention to transact and results in price premiums of 12% (on average) for sellers with higher quality listings.”
Journal Electronic Commerce Research Published online: 24 February 2010

“This study concludes that website information quality is the most important factor in enhancing relationship length, while website system quality and service quality contribute a lot to relationship depth and breadth.”
Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, Volume 20, Issue 9 2009 , pages 971 – 988

“Website quality has a direct positive impact on the satisfaction dimension of relationship quality; (2) satisfaction dimension has a direct positive impact on both trust and commitment dimensions”
The Impact of Website and Offline Quality on Relationship Quality

SEO is Evolving Fast: Basics Are No Longer Enough

One thing is clear, the pace of innovation is increasing and basic SEO building blocks are no longer enough to drive traffic and leads to your website.

Jen Doyle of MarketingSherpa and Nick Stamoulis, President of Brick Marketing and a blogger with the SEO Journal, shared their thoughts on the five key SEO questions we’ve asked several other thought leaders.

Here are a few specific tactics every SMB should employ to get found online.


Trending the “Marketing Trends” Lists

Top Marketing Trends 2010I’ve combed the internet (well about five pages of Google SERPs, anyway) for “Top 10 Marketing Trends for 2010” lists to get an idea of what kinds of marketing trends exist among the “Trends” lists. It’s pretty clear that not only have the methods we use to reach our audience changed, but also that at those methods continue to evolve in the face of ever-changing consumer preferences and technologies.

What kinds of preferences? Things like the new ability to propagate the Facebook “Like” button and other tools like it across the internet. This little button reinforces a clear fact. Your customers are also your critics, and can exert influence over every aspect of your brand.

Here’s the list. Items are in no particular order.

Marketing trends for 2010:

Expect the customer voice to get louder and louder in 2010. Google Sidewiki is just one example of this, where Google enables the website visitor to leave comments on ANY website for others to view. A

Successful companies will strategize to monitor the digital landscape, listen to the customer voice and actively engage with customers.

The euphoria of social media marketing will turn into a hangover, followed by the epiphany that social media is just one tool, and the path to success is paved with a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy, not using individual tools. (@MVolpe)

Fortune 500 CEOs are warning vendors that Outbound Marketing is annoying.

Consumers will get even better at blocking out advertisements, email blasts, and cold calls.

Consumers will get even better at finding what they want in Google, blogs, and social media sites.

Google’s growth will stall as Adwords becomes an “efficient” market.

Traditional advertising (tv, newspaper, radio) will shrink faster than in 2009.

Companies will start turn their marketing departments into production studios for creating content.

Companies will be even more transparent and even more authentic.

The position of Content Director will be critical to any marketing department as they try to leverage existing resources (ie human, digital, content assistants) to communicate with prospects and customers.

Content marketing will become the first priority of top B2B marketers because of its powerful role in positioning, lead generation & nurturing, social media, and organic search.

The focus and investment on SEO will increase sharply as B2B marketers seek to leverage content marketing across multiple search channels.

B2B marketers will struggle to source people who can write well and effectively package content marketing.

The pursuit of thought leadership positioning and long-tail search will drive a sharp increase in multi-author corporate blogging.

While advertising has often sought to distinguish itself and stop the consumer in their tracks with a disruptive “big idea,” the emphasis is now shifting toward persuasion through fitting organically into the consumer’s social sphere. It will always be the objective of marketing to provide creativity and novelty, but the way in will increasingly be one of persistence and continuity.

With pragmatic, convenience-loving consumers enjoying instant access to an ever-growing number of supporting services and tools (both offline and online), brands urgently need to hone their ‘butlering skills‘*, focusing on assisting consumers to make the most of their daily lives, versus the old model of selling them a lifestyle if not identity.

The most successful businesses in 2010 are going to be those that integrate their marketing efforts. Consumers and business buyers simply want to buy something, or solve a problem, or achieve a goal. They do not differentiate between online and offline like marketers tend to do. So in 2010 it will be important for businesses to understand this critical point about their customers and start aligning with the actual purchase process, which is much more of a holistic, messy, zig-zag process rather than a sterile straight line with one message, one call-to-action and one “buy now” click.

Check me out – I’m officially a Certified Inbound Marketing Professional

Randy Burch Certified Inbound Marketing Professional
What’s Inbound Marketing? It’s a cost effective, customer friendly style of online marketing that focuses on using content to get found by the right customers at the very moment they are actively looking for your product or service.

It differs from traditional outbound marketing (like typical print and online display ads) that focuses on broadcasting a message of the company’s choosing – at the time they choose to send it – far and wide in the hopes that it will get noticed and resonate with a portion of the target audience at the time it is delivered. Simply put, Inbound Marketing is getting found by customers, and Outbound Marketing is us trying to find them.

The Inbound Marketing Certification acknowledges detailed understanding of inbound marketing principles and best practices including:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and web site analytics
  • Lead conversion, lead nurturing, and closed-loop analysis
  • Online and email marketing campaign building, optimization, and analysis
  • Business uses for blogging and social media
  • Before I could take the certification exam, I first had to complete 16 courses that cover the following topics:

  • How to Blog Effectively for Business
  • SEO Crash Course to Get Found
  • Social Media and Building Community
  • Successful Business Uses for Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Viral Marketing and World Wide Raves
  • Advanced SEO Tactics: On Beyond Keyword Research
  • Calls to Action and Landing Page Best Practices
  • Inbound Lead Nurturing
  • Successful Email Marketing
  • Midway Inbound Marketing Review
  • PR for Inbound Marketing
  • Twitter for Business
  • Advanced Marketing Analytics
  • Passion-Inspired Video & Other Creative Content
  • Social Media for Big Business
  • Internet Marketing Comprehensive Review
  • The courses are taught by several industry experts including Avinash Kaushik from Google, Chris Brogan from the New York Times, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz, and and Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation. Although a good bit of it was recap of things I already knew and have been actively practicing, the prespective offered by the instructore was often times invaluable. It was a great program and I gained a lot from it.
    Did I mention that it’s free? Check out the Certified Inbound Marketing Professional Certification

    Best FREE Online Marketing Resource On the Web

    HubSpot’s free online marketing resources are invaluable for anyone in the business. The resources that HubSpot offers for free are better than many that I’ve paid for in the past and I would recommend anyone with an interest in online/inbound marketing to check them out. They offer a great blog, whitepapers, classes, website tools, presentations, webcasts, videos – a huge amount of online marketing material and tools. All are high quality, informative and free.

    Check them out:

    My Three “R”s of SEO

    “The Three ‘R’s” is my basic philosophy on SEO strategy. It’s where I begin when starting any new content or search optimization project.

    Optimize your site for specific key words and phrases that address your specific target demographic. Your key words and phrases should be common and standard terminology in the industry for your product type. They should be words that someone would actually use to search for your product. If you have more than one target demo – like wholesale contractors and homeowners – with two very different information needs, you will have to optimize your site along two distinct paths to reach these two demos effectively. The bottom line here is that your optimization efforts have to focus on reaching the right people.

    Based on your key words/terms, create content that is relevant and valuable to your target demos. It must address their specific information needs, be differentiated from that of your competition, be considered valuable by your potential customers, and be accessible as they need it. Things like “How Tos” for your home owners and project calculators for your contractors might be examples. Here, the focus is on providing the right people with the right content at the time they need it.

    You have to build a relationship with your customer. Weather you go the “trusted advisor” approach by consistently adding new and valuable content and making your customers aware of it, or the “community host” approach by actively cultivating a rich online community, the relationship aspect will be integral in establishing your brand over the long term.

    What do you think? What’s your philosophy?