Utilizing Visitor “Goal-Seeking” in eCommerce

Note: the post originally appeared as a NextStage Marketing paper…from Jul of 2001. Long-lived, we

Quick question: How much time do you spend thinking things over before you make a decision? Days? Weeks? Months? Microseconds? All of the above?

The correct answer is “All of the above” and you probably knew that or could guess it fairly easily. After all, you probably take more time to decide which car to buy than you take to decide which show to watch on television, right?

Try this one: Is the decision making process different based on what you’re deciding? In other words, is it easier to decide which entree you want at a restaurant than it is to decide which color you want to paint your house?

Had to think a little on that one, maybe?

How about this one, then: Is the decision making process any different, regardless of the time involved in making the decision?

Ahh. Hmm. I really don’t kn… Mayb… Could b… Can I get back to you on that?

For most people the first question is easy to answer but not so the second and definitely not the third.

I’ve got a Secret

The three questions I invited you to answer are handled by different parts of the brain. Answering the first question requires higher brain function. The second question causes the senses to increase activity. The third question causes the two hemispheres of the brain to work in conjunction. The reason the questions take longer to answer is because of the increased work the brain is performing in order to give you an answer with which you’re comfortable.

Now here’s something that I find very interesting; the actual mental process involved in making these decisions is identical regardless of which part of the brain is doing it. The actual mental process involves the setting and attaining of goals, many of which you may not even be aware.

In other words, which car to purchase or which tv show to watch, which entree to order or which color to paint the house has very little to do with car, show, taste or color. It has a great deal to do with satisfying some internal scorekeeper and everybody has one. The job of these internal scorekeepers is to set up goals (at a very subconscious level) and see that they’re satisfied.

According to socio-psychologists, neuro- and psycho- linguists, retail- and urban-anthropologists, you can do incredible things if you learn what someone’s internal, unspoken and usually unknown goals are and can help them achieve those goals.

You want to help people achieve these unrecognized goals because you’ve already got an ally — that internal scorekeeper! The trick is to make these goals align more closely with your goals. The first thing you have to do is recognize these goals. That’s actually quite easy to do. All you need to do is recognize the behaviors created by the scorekeeper to make people achieve those goals. Once you recognize those behaviors you can capitalize on them to make the scorekeeper’s goals more closely match your own.

A little bit about Goal-Seeking Behaviors

What we’re discussing is called goal-seeking behavior. Note that I didn’t write “goal setting” behavior. We’re talking about goals that are very low on Maslow’s1 Hierarchy of Needs, right at the physiological, or primal, animal level; food, water, sleep, sex, shelter. Food, water, sleep, etc., aren’t goals you set. Most people don’t say “By golly, today I’m going to sleep 19 hours!” When you are tired, your body seeks rest, usually in the form of sleep. When you are hungry, your body seeks food. Because we are homo sapiens we don’t kill the first thing that passes by and eat it, nor do we go to the nearest field and graze. When we are tired, for example, we seek rest and the behavior that surrounds that sought goal is finding a place to rest. When we’re hungry, we seek food and the behavior that surrounds that sought goal is going to where we hope to find food in order to get something to eat.

But these low-level goals and the behaviors around them are hard-wired into us and all of us have them. They don’t involve just getting up to find a place to rest or food to eat. They involve eye-movement, language usage, hand-to-eye co-ordination, posture, … Goal-seeking behaviors are subtle and complex. Fortunately, you don’t need to know all the behaviors around any goal. Remember that scorekeeper? That scorekeeper isn’t a very subtle person. As food becomes more necessary, that scorekeeper starts shouting and waving its arms at anybody it thinks can help. Likewise for rest, for shelter, …

Recognizing Goal-Seeking Behavior

Goal-seeking behavior is pretty easy to recognize when someone is sitting in front of you. You probably don’t even realize you’re recognizing it. You recognize some large-scale behaviors, for sure. You say something and the person nods in agreement. You point at something and they follow to where you’re pointing. These are large-scale, or “gross” (as opposed to “minute” or small-scale) behaviors.

You probably don’t realize that you’re also responding to your audience’s eye-movement and pupil dilation as you speak or present to them. You’re also responding to their breathing patterns, their facial tonus, their posture, what their hands are doing, how much they fidget, … These behaviors are very subtle and only people trained in some very esoteric disciplines2 consciously make use of this knowledge.

But homo sapiens are very social animals. Our desire is to live in groups (which is why cities are so popular). Even when we chose to live solitary lives we usually do so within the social construction of a town, commune or perhaps a hermitage.

Being social animals, we need to know and acknowledge — at some level — these minute behaviors. The only way the majority of us survive from day to day is by recognizing, responding to and in return communicating these minute behaviors to others around us. Sometimes we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations without knowing why. Usually it’s because these minute behaviors aren’t being communicated or responded to and our non-conscious mind is screaming at us, “Warning, Will Robinson. Danger, Danger.”

Surprisingly, that robot warning Will Robinson looks an awful lot like Mr. Scorekeeper.

Those goal-seeking behaviors are out there just waiting to be recognized. You’re performing them right now.

Utilizing Goal-Seeking Behavior

If you followed the link above and navigated that GSB page to it’s “click here” link, you’ll notice that the left column is the paper you were originally reading. The right column is how Evolution Technology — in real-time — would modify the text (and it could modify the graphics, the colors, the menus, anything!) to tune the message to your particular goal-seeking behaviors. Now remember that Evolution Technology is not changing the message. If you carefully read both columns you’ll see that the same message is being presented in two slightly different and subtle ways. Only Evolution Technology and Mr. Scorekeeper know what’s going on.

Why modify a webpage or presentation based on a visitor’s or reader’s non-conscious activity? Because if you really, really, really want to capture and keep someone’s attention, you have to satisfy Mr. Scorekeeper. He’ll tell the visitor if they’re being satisfied, but only if you satisfy him first. Mr. Scorekeeper knows exactly how to convince the individual to do something and knows exactly how to convince them not to do something. You don’t satisfy Mr. Scorekeeper, ain’t nothing getting done.

What Mr. Scorekeeper knows about the individual is also something you can easily find out. It’s called their Convincer Strategy. An individual’s convincer strategy is the little angel and little devil on their shoulders whispering into their ears; “Do this because people will think you’re a nice person” or “Do this because you’ll have more fun” and “Don’t do that because you’ll hurt those people” or “Don’t do that because people will think you’re not nice”. That little angel and devil are puppets and Mr. Scorekeeper’s pulling the strings.

Now here’s the kicker. You don’t have to give Mr. Scorekeeper food when he’s hungry in order to satisfy him. You don’t have to give him water when he’s thirsty. What you need to do is convince him you know where it is and can lead him there or get it for him. This is why so much marketing doesn’t work. Either the promise is never made or never delivered. You promise something to Mr. Scorekeeper, you better deliver. You don’t deliver and your punishment will be more than you can bear; the visitor will never do business with you again.

However, if you do deliver, visitors will keep their eyes on your site from page to page to page and never go anywhere else.

Marketing, CRM, and Keeping Mr. Scorekeeper Happy

Companies spend more money than Croesus to find out who their visitors are and how to market their message out to them. Once you have a visitor, CRM wakes up and fires salvos in the hopes of keeping the visitor satisfied.

But on a day-by-day, even a minute-by-minute basis, the fellow you really have to get your message to and keep satisfied is changing, evolving, and seeking goals. The goal sought yesterday may not be the overriding goal of today. In fact, if you were to go back and click on the link that showed you the Evolution Technology statistics for your reading of this paper, you’d probably see that they’d changed. That’s how quickly Mr. Scorekeeper can change his mind. If you can’t keep up, and if your CRM software can’t keep up, he’ll look elsewhere.3

Ah, but what if your presentation of your message, the wrapper in which you managed that visitor relationship, was able to recognize Mr. Scorekeeper’s many moods and adjust to them automatically? Mr. Scorekeeper stays happy and so do you.


1: MASLOW, Abraham Harold (1908-70), American psychologist and leading exponent of humanistic psychology. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and educated at the City College of New York and the University of Wisconsin, Maslow spent most of his teaching career at Brandeis University. Judging orthodox behaviorism and psychoanalysis to be too rigidly theoretical and concerned with illness, he developed a theory of motivation describing the process by which an individual progresses from basic needs such as food and sex to the highest needs of what he called self-actualization-the fulfillment of one’s greatest human potential. Humanistic psychotherapy, usually in the form of group therapy, seeks to help the individual progress through these stages. Maslow’s writings include Toward a Psychology of Being (1962) and Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971).

2: There are academics who study these behaviors for their cultural and socio-behavioral meanings; anthropologists and ethologists. Others study them for individual and psychological meanings; linguists, psycho- and neuro-linguists. Some for sociological significance; socio-linguists, forensics and criminal justice. This doesn’t begin to cover cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, the therapeutic models (psychotherapy, sociotherapy, …), and many others.

3: website satisfaction in ’00 was rated at 11-12%. Return visits to ecommerce sites in the same year was 1-2%. Mr. Scorekeeper ain’t too happy. Are you?


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