Fight-or-Flight And Your Website

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Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing. Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

When you meet someone new, within the first few seconds, your brain absorbs and analyzes tons of information to deliver an instant read of what you think of that person. You react to a new website much the same way.

We may like to think that we’re not judgmental when it comes to people, but it’s been hard-wired into us by evolution. It’s an outgrowth of that fight-or-flight response that kept our ancestors alive when they confronted something new. Was that new person a threat or an ally?

You can convince yourself that you’re a rational person all you like, but the reality is that you react to new people on a subconscious level. The way they’re dressed, their hair, their posture, the expression in their eyes, the shape of their mouth -- your brain instantly assesses all those feelings and tells you whether you should like and/or trust this person. Have you heard people say “I don’t know what it is, but my gut doesn’t trust him”? That’s exactly what I’m describing, but it’s the brain and not the gut that’s making the call.

So what does that have to do with websites (and other marketing materials)? Again, we can pretend to be intelligent, rational animals all we want, but when we’re confronted with a website for the first time, our brains perform a similar scan. We immediately take in everything we can see and draw conclusions about the site. Is it safe? Does it seem to present a threat? Is it appealing? Does it draw us in a friendly way? Does it comfort or relax us?

In the milliseconds it takes for our brains to make all those decisions, hormones began to flow through our bodies. Depending on the reaction, they may be the stress hormones that cause our pulse and blood pressure to perk up. Or they may be the same calming hormones that a quiet song or a pleasant smell triggers. How we respond to and interact with that site begins there.

If the site has made our brain nervous, we’re going to approach the content with a degree of wariness. We’ll be less open to the messages that are being presented and less willing to believe what we’re being told.

Effective marketing professionals and highly effective salespeople recognize that consumer behavior comes down to basic psychology. That includes a solid awareness of how people function at a subconscious level. Most sales training programs focus on the small steps that resonate well within an individual’s psyche. Whether it’s using their first name in conversation (amazingly powerful when done subtly, downright creepy when it’s blatant), looking them directly in the eye, smiling, listening intently to questions, restating objections -- all of those tactics are designed to either overcome or trigger subconscious reactions.

So the effectiveness of your organization’s website comes down to hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of seemingly small, seemingly unimportant factors. A prospect’s conscious mind might only be able to identify a handful of them, but her subconscious catches and processes all of them. Even more important, those subconscious factors determine her impression of the organization and have an impact on her willingness to do business with them.

So what’s my point? In simple terms, developing websites (and other marketing communications materials) isn’t for amateurs. Yes, there are plenty of online services that make it “easy” and “affordable” for you to develop your own website and offer pretty templates that make you feel good about your own abilities. But if you’re not aware of all the tiny subconscious impacts and just how much little things matter, you may be undermining your efforts.

Those typos, poorly worded sentences, or even copy that you believe says one thing but actually says another, the out-of-focus or poorly composed photos you took yourself, using seven different fonts and font sizes on a single page, navigation that returns a 404 code … all those little things hurt your image and your message more than you realize.

Professional web developers, graphic designers, photographers, and writers have the knowledge and experience to spot all those little things. They know how a small change will dramatically affect how a viewer thinks about your company. Just as important, they view your site and your image from outside, free of the internal prejudices that color what you think of your own organization.

If making the right first impression is critical to your organization, make sure the right person is doing it for you.

Scott Flood is the owner of Scott Flood Writing.

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