Marketing news: Snap Judgements, Structured Markup and More

It’s startling how often, in one way or another, the news relates to digital marketing and communications. It’s also surprising how much of the scientific research I read explores the way humans communicate. On the other hand perhaps it isn’t all that unexpected, since communication is one of the human race’s most important survival skills.

Communications and digital marketing news

Here are my favourite marketing-related, communications-focused stories and revelations for March 2015.

Worrying 0.2 second snap judgements

Oof, scary. Recent research by Xiaoming Jiang and Marc Pell of McGill University in Montreal reveals people make snap judgements about what you say in just 0.2 seconds.
It looks like first impressions are established faster than anyone suspected… and the way you say things also has a profound effect on what others think about you. Apparently our brains prefer confident statements, lighting up like Christmas trees when we hear a confident voice. Conversely, when we hear a less confident-sounding voice our brains produce less activity. The conclusion? We assign confident speakers more attention and process what they say faster.
Can you mimic confidence? It’s a tough one. Confident voices are acoustically very similar to almost- confident voices, and also sound very much like neutral voices. Less confident voices tend to have a higher pitch, which sometimes rises a little at the end of a statement as though you’re questioning yourself, and they’re also slower on the whole than confident voices.
Thankfully the written word is different. You might have the least confident-sounding voice in the known universe but it’s always possible to fill a written message with assurance, verve and conviction.

How Facebook ‘Likes’ reveal your personality type

Can a simple Facebook ‘Like’ reveal your inner self? Yes, it can.
In 2013 a team of scientists revealed how Facebook Likes can predict private and highly personal information like your sexuality. Now it looks like a machine learning algorithm can predict human personality types, also using nothing more than Facebook Likes.
So far so interesting… but it’s sinister, too. The algorithm determines personality, as defined by five popular broad-stroke classifications, a lot more accurately than friends, family and even partners can.
On the bright side, the predictions represent a very broad way of classifying human personality types, and the resulting data is neither particularly intimate nor suitable for improving our understanding of an individual. On the dark side, they do it using just one piece of data. Imagine what data analysts can find out using multiple data points? Is anything sacred? Probably not, or at least not for long.

David Ogilvy nails copywriting

There’s always been a lot of rubbish talked about marketing. But David Ogilvy didn’t talk any of it. Here’s what he said about copywriting. It’s all very well me banging on about writing the way people speak. But when someone like Ogilvy hands out advice, it’s much harder to ignore.

“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”

It works. Which is exactly why I write in the vernacular.

Google structured markup – WTF?

I love Google. Having tried numerous alternatives, the Big G really does seem to deliver the best search experience. But now and again they drive me nuts. Take structured markup, a brilliant way to ‘tell’ the search engine giant more about what your content means.
You can mark up all sorts of things including book reviews, addresses, events, products, local businesses and TV series episodes, which Google uses to display your search results “more attractively and in new ways”. Here’s an example of rich snippets in action, taken from Google’s Webmaster Answers, where they’ve highlighted a bunch of dated, properly marked-up events in the search results. Cool huh?
example of structured markup
There’s even a Google Structured Data Markup Helper, a handy tool to create the right structured markup for your web pages. It’s altogether a fantastic idea. But the code the ‘Helper’ generates is endless and the instructions about which bits of it to copy and paste into your web page are utterly baffling.
Now I’m no slouch. While I’m not a coder I know my way around basic html. If I had to, I could cobble together a decent html page from scratch. But I’m lost in space with the structured markup tool.
How come it’s so challenging? I reckon it’s because the tool was created and the instructions written by a person who has a really good understanding of how the world of Google works. But in the real world, outside Googleplex, few of us have the knowledge and experience needed to deal with structured markup.
It strikes me that if the Big G wants website owners to include structured markup in web pages, they need to either make the code simpler or make their instructions a lot clearer. Until then it’s one for the tech-heads amongst us.
The marketing lesson is this: Never assume your target audience has the same basic knowledge as you. It’s more than likely they don’t. You need to communicate at lowest common denominator level if you want to make an impact.

More about Google’s algorithmic view of trustworthiness

It sounds like a good idea: forget relying on backlinks, which can be manipulated. Why not rank and rate a website based on the amount of ‘truth’ it contains, which can’t be manipulated?
Google’s new Knowledge Based Trust Score taps into their vast and growing Knowledge Vault to identify reasonable proxies for the truth. It means a website containing contradictory information will lose natural search visibility. Hm, perhaps it’s time to double check your facts?

Avoiding negativity bias – Copywriting with a positive slant

Marketing wisdom 101: Almost every message, no matter how negative on the face of it, can be turned into a positive.
Why is it a good idea to stay positive? Because of Negativity Bias, a well-studied psychological phenomenon where humans tend to focus harder on stimuli we don’t like. Why do we do it? Probably because nasty negative things come with a higher risk of being important or threatening. Its why I avoid asterisks and caveats, turning them into positive statements wherever possible.

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