Analysis by Synthesis - Showtime Digital

Analysis by Synthesis

24 May 2016 Read 1457 times

Let’s get inside the head of your consumer

The human brain is hugely complex, it’s pivotal to everything we do and yet we know very little about how and why it works. We still view it much the same as looking through a telescope into outer space.

In 2016 neuroscientists and computer scientists are analysing a small piece of brain which is one five-hundredth the volume of a poppy seed (a cubic millimetre of cortex). It is the most extensive analysis of the brain to date and will take approximately five years. That tiny portion of brain matter houses about 100,000 neurons, 3 to 15 million synapses and enough neural wiring to span 3.7km if it were untangled and laid end-to-end.

If you’re a Melbournian that’s the distance from Flinders St Station to the Alfred Hospital and if you’re a Sydney sider it’s the walk from the University of Sydney to the beginning of the Harbour Bridge.

While we don’t know much about the brain, empirical studies allow us to understand en masse how people respond to certain stimuli. We gravitate to the familiar; we seek security in the patterns of our life expressing scepticism in the unfamiliar. These foundations of human psychology allow us to create online environments which cater for the expectations of consumers.


Eye tracking technology

As the doorway to the brain a lot of research has been conducted around the eye and how it perceives information. Understanding how the eye interprets objects, colours and other stimuli has allowed us to address consumer needs on the surface but this doesn’t allow us to motivate at an emotional level. There are a growing number of intellectuals developing artificial intelligence (AI) to help us further create more precise online experiences.

To give you a better understanding of how this informs webpage design you can download an eye tracking report of your webpage here. This will show you what a consumer acknowledges within the first 3 seconds of viewing your webpage.

Groups of scientists across the world are creating algorithms to discover the hidden meanings of human psychology and social science and when these enterprises show results they’re gobbled up by the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon. As a way to understand and interpret how the mind thinks the importance of this field cannot be understated.

Tapping into the inner workings of the consumer’s brain is the Holy Grail. This will take many decades but over the next 20-40-60 years we will continue to understand the consumer intimately.



For now the tenet of much of the theoretical research conducted in neuroscience is based on what’s termed as analysis-by-synthesis. According to this idea, the brain makes predictions about what will happen in the immediate future and reconciles those predictions with what it sees.

For example, if you were told you were going to be introduced to a colleague’s friend who runs a multimillion dollar business, he’s been happily married for 10 years and has two beautiful girls aged 8 and 6 you would build an image of this person in your mind based on past experiences. But if you met him and saw his facial tattoos and Mohawk your expectation would most probably differ from your perceived image and you’d experience surprise or confusion.

When we apply this theory to online environments we can say -

The closer the on-page experience mirrors the pre-page expectation the greater the chance of agreement.

Similarly a webpage which doesn’t meet your expectation also gets the same reception as our new friend with the Mohawk. With a webpage consideration needs to be placed on what people see and more importantly what they comprehend based on their knowledge and previous experiences.

That’s why the best and most professional landing page optimisation companies focus on the core message rather than page aesthetics. A page’s ability to meet the consumer where they’re at and target the core emotions of the consumer is where the top echelon of online marketing and the optimisation industry places their focus.

At this point we could share with you a wonderfully detailed graph showing you the 5 steps consumers take during the decision making process. In reality it’s all a load of BS because consumers couldn't care less about a 5 point plan or what you or I think.

Consumers make decisions entirely for their own reasons.

Everyone does that which rewards them. Whether the decision seems at odds with our own understanding of the world, a person’s value system shapes the decisions they make and the outcomes they achieve.

Let’s say a person wants to buy a new car, at some point the person places themselves in a moment of desire experiencing the car. They may see themselves driving down the coast road with the top down. The feeling may only last for a split second but this thought starts the investigation and at that specific moment in time it becomes personal for them, they’ve owned the moment.

It’s rarely about the object of desire; the underlying emotion is the motivation to buy. The car is the link to achieving that emotional reward. Where a car salesperson comes unstuck is in believing they’re selling the consumer the car.

During the moment of desire the neurons in the brain are releasing dopamine, a feel-good hormone and neurotransmitter associated with euphoria. The brain sends a signal to the adrenal gland to pump out Norepinephrine. Like dopamine, it makes us feel good. Other parts of the limbic reward system are lighting up and the amygdala shuts down taking with it our good judgment.

While they’re looking at your webpage if we can take the consumer back to that moment we create a powerful emotional connection and a greater chance of moving them forward to purchasing. If the timing isn’t right all is not lost, they will seek you out at a later date because you connected them to their dream.

People gravitate to the outcome which rewards them.

This emotional trigger doesn’t have to be about something as glaringly obvious as buying a sexy convertible. It can relate to your product/service as well; the need for security and validation, overcoming anxiety, the desire for love or the power of community respect are all emotions you can connect them with. When people have a choice they always gravitate to the outcome which rewards them. Your goal is to find out why that was the only choice they could have made because if there was another choice they would have made it.


We do what rewards us.

Here’s a tale of two little girls. Michelle is 15 months old and tries to take her first step, she falls over and cries. Mum and dad rush to console her. She associates reward with failure. In the neighbouring house Sarah also takes her first step and mum and dad clap gleefully at their child’s new found skill. Sarah associates reward with success.

Later in life, to fill a void, Michelle buys material things she doesn’t need and maxes out several credit cards. Sarah, on the other hand, has a strong inner belief. She creates a successful business and people are drawn to her vision. Both girls achieved their reward.

The core needs of Michelle and Sarah and the journey they have pursued are supported by their contrasting value systems. When they visit websites they can experience very different emotions based on those beliefs.

When Michelle, who’s consumed with fear because of her mounting debt, searches for companies to help her she may need to acknowledge your empathy toward her situation. Similarly when Sarah investigates wealth management websites you’ll need to cater to her feelings of accomplishment. Each girl needs validation so don’t let the technology you employ be the excuse to distance yourself from achieving that connection.


Where’s the technology going?

Unlike the technology we use on a daily basis the brain hasn’t changed for thousands of years and although hugely complex it’s still very primitive at its very deepest level and this affects our daily lives. To protect itself the brain gravitates to the familiar; it seeks security in its daily patterns and expresses scepticism in the unfamiliar. Being a very new way of communicating our online environments need to work with how the brain is motivated, much the same as the most popular and habit forming social platforms.

If you don’t get the consumer you won’t win the consumer.

Smartphones have been enormously successful at allowing consumers to express their buyer intent with immediacy. But other devices such as Google Glass and Apple Watch (called wearables) have totally missed the mark. Although unlikely to succeed expect more of these types of devices to hit the market over the coming decades.

The issue we have as humans is we find it difficult to take a leap across three/four generations of products. To feel comfortable we need to understand the association of each step. Apple Pay and Android Pay may be a safer bet for that progression because it’s an existing device (Smartphone) coupled with an integrated credit card facility. It’s also more in line with their end game because Google or Apple wants to own the consumer, and not just for the transaction history.

Human emotions don’t translate into keyword searches very well.

Ultimately what the AI inventors want is a link directly to the consumer’s thoughts. If they can achieve this lofty goal then advertising and product purchase will be triggered by emotional need and not keyboards. The consumer will ultimately control content and not the advertiser.

On the other side of the coin those who control the interface between brain and content will fundamentally own the consumer, much like, Kmart does or TV has for decades or Google has done so successfully online. Rather than selling commodities to consumers the consumer will be the commodity. It will take many decades to achieve this outcome but it’s inevitable.

The human will be a commodity.

Right now in 2016 the final frontier is so close yet so far away. Once we do understand how the brain works we still need to then transfer its electrochemical world to our primitive binary world.

Today a successful algorithm will reveal important truths about how the brain makes sense of the world. In particular, it will help confirm that the brain does indeed operate via analysis-by-synthesis—that it compares its own predictions about the world with the incoming data washing through our senses. It will reveal that a key ingredient in the recipe for consciousness is an ever-shifting mixture of imagination plus perception. “It is imagination that allows us to predict future events and use that to guide our actions,” Tai Sing Lee said. By building machines that think, these researchers hope to reveal the secrets of thought itself.

So we encourage you to join the growing wave of companies who dig deeper into understanding why their consumers convert. Ask yourself is your website meeting your audience’s expectation and what is the underlying emotion of why consumers choose you.

It’s scratching the surface but it’s a start.

Steve Palmer

Steve Palmer is the Joint Founder and CEO of Showtime Digital. Steve has been in B2B sales since 1997 but influencing people and behavioural science has been a long-term passion.

The magic he brings to his clients is in knowing how to engage their audience. His goal is to help businesses understand the deeper reasons of why consumers convert online with them.