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In this episode of The Speaker Show, Maria Franzoni interviews Nathalie Nahai.

Nathalie is an international speaker, consultant and author of two books: the recently published Business Unusual, and business best-seller Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion.

Exploring the intersection between persuasive technology, ethics, and the psychology of online behaviour she teaches businesses how to ethically apply behavioural science principles to enhance their online presence, content marketing, product design and customer experience.

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Episode #222

The Hidden Psychology of Online Persuasion

Maria Franzoni

00:00:17 – 00:01:16

Welcome back to the Speaker Show with me, your host, Maria Franzoni. In today’s show, we will be talking about the hidden psychology of online persuasion. The Speaker Show is brought to you by Speakers Associates, the global Speaker Bureau for the world’s most successful organisations providing keynote speakers for events, conferences and summits. My guest today is an international speaker, consultant and author of two books, the recently published Business Unusual and the business bestseller Webs of Influence. The Psychology of Online Persuasion. Exploring the intersection between persuasive technology ethics and the psychology of online behaviour, she teaches businesses how to ethically apply behavioural science principles to enhance their online presence, content marketing, product design and customer experience. She hosts the hive podcast seeking the self and several guardian podcasts and contributes to national publications, television and radio on the impact of technology in our lives.

Maria Franzoni

00:01:16 – 00:01:22

Please welcome my guest today. Natalie Nahai, Natalie. Thank you so much for joining me. How are you today?

Nathalie Nahai

00:01:22 – 00:01:25

Very well. It’s nice to be here with you. Maria, Thanks for having me.

Maria Franzoni

00:01:25 – 00:01:38

So listen, I’m excited because I think I’m going to learn a lot here and I like sort of getting under the skin and understanding a bit about psychology is a fascinating topic. How did you get into the specifics, this specific area of psychology? Because it’s very niche.

Nathalie Nahai

00:01:38 – 00:02:03

Yeah, it is. So, my background. I did a degree in psychology. I ended up spending some time learning design and development of websites for a while and then got to a point where I thought, Well, if physical environments shape human behaviour, then one would assume that the same can be said for virtual environments. And that was back in 2010-2011. And there wasn’t any research that I could find in book form or like for the public.

Nathalie Nahai

00:02:03 – 00:03:06

And so I thought, Well, in the absence of that or any further studies, you know, you X wasn’t the field yet back then I’ll write a book on the research that I want to read about to see what we can see about human behaviour in online environment. And so that kind of was a starting point for thinking about behavioural sciences, consumer psychology and how we interact with technology. And then, with this sort of more consumer focused, leadership focused, business focused book with business unusual. Excuse me. It was much more about how can we use some of these same principles in this different context to understand how to build resilience in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability and change. What can we learn from the science and the psychology and the research that tells us about things like leadership or things like psychological organisational safety and psychological safety. What can we learn about these things and draw into organisational practises today in order to help us do better with business. This kind of those stepping stones and key themes really.

Maria Franzoni

00:03:06 – 00:03:24

And it’s so topical now, of course, because we’re spending so much time online. I mean, my goodness, literally. My life is online. I feel I’m constantly looking at two dimensional people. Um, the fact you mentioned that there wasn’t any research is that what moved you to write both your books?

Nathalie Nahai

00:03:24 – 00:04:32

So the research, the the research existed, it just wasn’t in the public domain. And so it was more the sense of how can we democratised knowledge? How can we take what is often publicly funded but publicly unavailable? We have to pay huge amounts for many of the leading research papers and documents. So it’s really about making sure that people have access to this knowledge and with a new book. It was also a question of that because I still believe in these principles very strongly. But it was it was also coming from a place of well, given that we’re in for quite a turbulent time ahead. What are some of the ways that I could help like, what do I know about what am I perhaps more practised in that I can then lend my skill towards helping people to think differently about meaning and purpose at work or resilience or careers or, you know, what are the qualities and the values that drive their decisions that mean that they could choose a job or change a job in order to have greater satisfaction from it or in order to affect positive change. So it is really kind of my way of thinking how can I contribute to this wider discussion and do something that’s going to actually benefit people from the research that countless other extraordinary people have done.

Maria Franzoni

00:04:32 – 00:04:41

Brilliant, Brilliant. So you mentioned that you know it’s about behaviour and what are you seeing in terms of the ways that consumer behaviour is changing?

Nathalie Nahai

00:04:41 – 00:06:41

So there’s some interesting generational shift, which is a contentious one because a lot of people don’t like to talk about broad trends that we see according to the cohorts of people through age. But we are seeing larger shifts around Gen Z and millennials and their expectations of good corporate citizenship, of companies standing for specific values, many millennials. And it was up to 40% will take a pay cut just because they want to work for a company whose values align with their own. We’ve got the majority of work forces in the next 10 to 15 years are going to be made up of these groups. So we’ve got a large group of people already in and entering the workforce who are more interested in issues around social justice, sustainability around ESG around provenance of goods. So I think these key things we’ve seen for a while and they’ve been amplified and catalysed by the by the pandemic and the lockdowns. And I think the other element that we’re seeing is this talk which a few years ago was completely unheard of in boardrooms talk around purpose and meaning in this this kind of older Greek concept of you pneumonia, the sense of striving for personal integrity and a sense of self actualisation. And younger people also want this because if you can’t own a house or a car or whatever because you’re strapped for cash and housing market surprise you out. What are the things that you’re going to look for that are valuable that your job can give you? These are some of those things, and against a backdrop of a kind of increasingly secular Western society, we’re looking elsewhere to meet these desires and needs for belonging for relatedness, for purpose. And I think increasingly, we’re looking to our employers and our jobs to give us that sense of, I guess, a kind of a rudder in life. So these key things are going to be absolutely vital in terms of getting the talent that we want into organisations and also reaching out to consumers who want different things than they used to.

Maria Franzoni

00:06:41 – 00:07:10

No, it makes absolute sense if you think about it. We spend so much of our life at work. I think the the younger generations seem to have got it right, really. And also I hadn’t made that connection that you made the fact that it’s very difficult for them to purchase a house. So then they’re trying to self actualise in a different way. I haven’t made that connection and again that makes perfect sense that that’s fascinating, really great. So is this. What’s driving is this. What’s the shift that’s driving purchasing decisions? Would you say?

Nathalie Nahai

00:07:10 – 00:08:55

I think many of them come from these shifts and values. I think the other thing that’s really interesting that we’re seeing is when we think about the kind of reactions that we see when we have uncertainty, or we have, um, unpredictable context around us when we’re living through a time which is very difficult to navigate. Often, what we strive for is a deeper sense of agency of control, either over our immediate environment or in our lives, and this relates to some of our deeper psychological needs which are innate, their universal um they transcend culture and time, so these needs are starting to show up more in terms of consumer behaviours, and they relate to our ability for self determination to determine what we want within our own lives. And so it connects with agency our desire for autonomy to be in the driving seat. It also connects with our desire for competence or skill or mastery. You know, these things that enable us to kind of engage with and achieve those things are meaningful to us and then the final pieces around, belonging and related as to feel like we are part of a group of people that we want to be a part of that we want to be connected with. And so I think these three elements are also showing up time and again in consumer behaviours and also in terms of the brands they want to buy from an affiliate themselves, with all the businesses that they want to be involved. And it’s like, Well, how much of a say do I get in this company or with his brand? How much you’re actually helping me to achieve my life’s goals? How much do I feel a sense of affinity with your identity with a brand or with the organisation? And so these these three core needs are also becoming more and more salient in the conversation. We’re having about organisations and culture and about the consumer brand relationship.

Maria Franzoni

00:08:55 – 00:09:07

I like that autonomy, mastery and belonging. It’s so simple, really, isn’t it. So profound and so tough? You talk about virtue signalling. Tell me what that’s about.

Nathalie Nahai

00:09:07 – 00:09:45

Virtue signalling is when we conspicuously proclaim to uphold certain moral principles or values, and we do it for, um, gratification. We do it to get the accolades of our peers or to be perceived as being kind of in touch with and on top of social norms of the day. What it does imply because it’s a bit of a majority term, is the fact that there doesn’t have much substance behind the words. So it is talking the talk without walking the walk. So it’s really greenwashing, or justice, washing or climate. Whatever washing. There’s so many different kinds. It’s basically about that.

Maria Franzoni

00:09:45 – 00:10:00

Okay? And so because consumers and certainly the younger generation really want to buy into brands and organisations that have integrity, if they’re doing this virtual signalling, how how do we avoid falling prey to that?

Nathalie Nahai

00:10:00 – 00:10:32

Such a good question, because it’s really tricky because so many brands do it right, so one of the frameworks that I developed as I was looking at the brands that do this well. So I’m thinking about brands like Ben and Jerry’s or Patagonia. You know, those pining brands everyone’s heard about because they were doing it way before it was sexy or cool. Um, so these these frameworks are, well, the framework I devices called the four C’s framework. So the first C is about commitment making a public commitment to a certain set of values or principles that you cherish that you will uphold.

Nathalie Nahai

00:10:32 – 00:11:32

The second C is about being congruent. So it’s about walking the talk, making sure you have evidence to support your claims. The third C is about consistency over time. So it’s showing people that you haven’t just proclaimed it, and you’re not just doing one or two actions. It’s really building that track record. So when people look back over 25, 10 years, they can say, Well, OK, there is consistency in what they’re doing and they’re proving that they really care about this. And the fourth and final C is about coherence in intention and behaviour, and that’s really about making sure that you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. So it’s not just enough to say, Well, we’ve been legally compelled to do X, or we’ve got pressure from our customers to do. Why is making sure that you’re doing it. Because you actually care. Because maybe as a founder you had specific values that you want to see enacted in the world, and your business was a great vehicle in which to actualise those values. So, yeah, so those are some of the ways in which you can look at it.

Maria Franzoni

00:11:32 – 00:12:02

That makes sense. That makes total again. That makes total sense. You speak a lot of sense. Actually, it’s very good. It’s very good. And what would you say? Are some of these very deep questions gone all philosophical today? What are some of the deeper needs that we can meet in our customers to create more meaningful exchanges, would you say, but the businesses can do. I mean, I’m asking for myself as well, but businesses can do to meet, you know in our customers the deeper needs that they can meet?

Nathalie Nahai

00:12:02 – 00:13:23

So we talked about those three and eight universal needs which are very important. We then also have elements around values, so one of the things when we’re talking about virtue signalling and we’re talking about integrity is also to think What are the values as a business that we uphold or that we care about? Is it about benevolence? And universalism isn’t about making sure that we are extending care to the rest of the living world and the other beings with whom we share the planet? Or is it more about self preservation and dominance? Maybe it’s about getting ahead in the market and creating, for instance, high end cars that are going to be bought by people who want to express their power. It could be any number of these things, but I think if you are able to identify, to assess, identify and then communicate values that you stand for as a business, or to have a small number of people decide that and then plummet that out throughout the organisation, it then kind of act as a clarion call for other people who share those values. To then be able to connect. The brand have a greater sense of affiliation and identity with a brand, and that helps to build and forge a longer, more committed more loyal consumer brand relationship and indeed, the people who are coming into the organisation if they believe in the same values that the organisation espouses in its public facing branding and internally within its culture, there’ll also be more likely to be intrinsically motivated and want to stay.

Nathalie Nahai

00:13:23 – 00:13:35

So I think having a clear understanding of what your values are and how you communicate them to the world, and not just virtue signalling or being responsive to the latest trend that’s going to stand you in good stead to meet people’s deep unease.

Maria Franzoni

00:13:35 – 00:13:52

Okay, perfect. That’s good. Great. So tell me what our clients, when they’re inviting you to come in and speak for them because this is quite there’s quite a wide ranging topic. What are they asking you specifically to say? You know, Natalie, come in and talk to us about this or help us with that. What are they? What are the challenges?

Nathalie Nahai

00:13:52 – 00:15:25

Sure, so it’s a range of things. So you’ve got the kind of the persuasive technology. How do we use behavioural science to create more resonant, fluent and frictionless designs, apps, marketing. Um, so it’s looking at kind of like the persuasive technology and ethics, peace and on the other side is obviously the new work or the more up to date work which I’m doing now, which is looking at how to build resonant communications. So what can you do in terms of tools you want to use? Active listening? Do you want to talk about mirroring techniques when you’re using box? We can also look at things like psychological safety and virtual teams and context, looking at self determination, examples of thoughtful marketing that gives people back competence, agency and relatedness. So it’s it’s looking at not only the technology piece and how can we make more seamless and more resonant and more joyful the interaction with the brand of the consumer. It’s also looking inwards and saying, Okay, well, when we dig deeper than the communication side of things, what is it that you can do? Who can you be? How can you use these tools within organisations with your employees with partners and with your consumers in such a way that you understand the deeper needs that driving them, that you can respond to that and get ahead of the curve? Um, and then practical examples of brands that are doing this really well so that people have examples they can look to be able to start to apply those learnings in health. So it’s really it’s really a range of things, and they’re all the kind of facilitation that happens with all of the podcasting. Um, yes.

Maria Franzoni

00:15:25 – 00:15:49

You are busy, busy, busy. So the piece that really caught my attention because it’s something that affects affects me and is that user experience, you know, And when it’s good, it’s just because a lot of experience is so bad that when it’s good, you just shout it from the rooftops. You really do. Can you give me some examples of some of the organisations that are doing this right?

Nathalie Nahai

00:15:49 – 00:17:10

Yes. So if we take the example of Instagram as a platform upon which many companies are reliant to get new customers in to buy the products on those images where you have several products that possible for you to buy, the companies that do this well create a frictionless experience that feel very, very easy, and the way they do this is to reduce what’s called cognitive load or mental effort. That’s the total amount of working memory being dedicated to understanding what you’re interacting with. And the second is around processing fluency, which is making sure that whatever you’re putting into that image, whether it’s video or a static image or text, is easy to process, is fluent and therefore more trustworthy and more pleasurable to consume. And so one of the tricks that is used by brands that to understand this and do this well, is to have an image with say, for instance, I don’t think I would say I’m wearing a necklace here and imposing like this, and it’s oriented down. That’s the image I see on the social media feed a tap on the image of the necklace. And then I get taken to the product page, and it’s a close up of the necklace on my nexus and exactly the same orientation. And then you get a close up again, which is in the same orientation again, but much closer. That gives us a sense of not having to repeat information or not having to change the information that’s repeated so that as you go from one image to the next is getting faster and faster process, which feels easier, which means by the time you get to the point of sale.

Nathalie Nahai

00:17:10 – 00:18:03

You’re already in this fluent yes space, so you’re more likely to hit by. So it’s kind of these small repetitions that make it easy for people to digest and move from one step to the next with low mental effort without new information that helped people get to the point of buying much more quickly and with less resistance. There’s one example, um, in terms of other examples, good brand of examples will be simply things like having perceptual fluency in such a way that you’re making the text really easy to read. This is a very basic thing, but you’d be so surprised how so many podcasts and content creators ought to make the captions on whatever video is that selling, whatever it they want to sell and you can’t read the text, and most people will want to be able to read what’s there because sometimes they’re not in the place where they can hear it. So making sure that the contrast is making the text legible at all points in the process is very important tricks like this simple but effective.

Maria Franzoni

00:18:03 – 00:18:33

And again it’s all so simple and so obvious and I wish you had been involved because clearly you weren’t in some of the the user experience that we’re all going through with regard to sort of when we wanted to travel and do our covid tests. And this that and the other. My goodness, let’s not go there. But I wish you had gone there. So So you mentioned podcast. You also host a podcast, tell us a little bit about that and what people can gain from listening to that because hopefully they’ll come and listen to to to hear more.

Nathalie Nahai

00:18:33 – 00:19:28

Sure, thank you for asking. So it’s called the hive podcast. I’ve been running it for several years, and it looks at our relationship with one another with technology and with the living world. And the idea really is kind of. It’s a platform upon which to bring voices that may not get as much air time as I think they deserve, um, and get the ideas that people are really thinking about in tackling some of the biggest challenges that we face. So how can we create a sense of belonging and divided societies? How can we build a sense of ethics and values at the heart of persuasive technology. Or how can we better relate to our living environment? Create more regenerative future, these sorts of big questions? Um, and it really looks at different perspectives on how people approaching this so that we can start to have more enriched conversations about what we could do together to create a more resilient future across those different levels and more. Yeah, that’s it.

Maria Franzoni

00:19:28 – 00:19:48

Fantastic. I’ve got a couple more questions before I let you go. I want to know a little bit about the demise of cookies, and we’re not talking about chocolate chip, are we? How do you engage people more meaningfully with the fact that there is a demise of cookies? And if you could explain what that actually means in terms of what’s happening?

Nathalie Nahai

00:19:48 – 00:21:59

Sure, so many data driven marketers rely on the information they get from third party cookies embedded on websites and apps. To give them information about user behaviour is to be able to personalise the experience that you or I might have on any given platform. And it can be very, very helpful because it means that if you have a specific interest in, I don’t know, mince pies of a particular brand, and I have a particular interest in olive oil. Then maybe that’s what we end up getting served more of on particular platforms that sell food because you know it’s tracking prospects now. The tricky thing is, is that Google has said that within the next couple of years they’re going to stop the use of third party cookies in websites, which means that all of that data that previously marketers were accessing they’re not going to have access to they are creating like a black box solution. But you know, that’s not That’s not the kind of thing that I think is going to be the right fit for all marketers. So the question is, in the absence of all this data, which will make it trickier for many of us to personalise, what can we do to create more meaningful experiences? And here this is where we can think about things like not just demographic. So when and where and who people are like age, gender, ethnicity, location, we can think about some of the deeper things that drive them. So if we’re thinking about things like the kind of content that we know, engage people online. It’s not just about the vitriolic outrage. It’s about things that lift people’s moods. It’s about things that enable you to live out your days in a way that you feel and more fulfilling. It’s about belonging again. It’s about a sense of connection to something that’s bigger than yourself. So being engaged in an action that’s going to have a ripple on effect. I think if we look at the bigger trends that we talked about earlier, with consumer behaviours and changing expectations in the absence of cookies, we can look to wider societal changes and the values of a particular industry or a particular brand. To be able to use that as the relative design and create content that’s going to attract people who are similarly minded. That’s going to be the most interesting thing is to be creative within these new parameters, understand human psychology and then design content and user experience is going to be much more interesting at a much deeper level.

Maria Franzoni

00:21:59 – 00:22:22

Wow, I had no idea that actually I think that’s really interesting repercussion. I think that’s really good. Um, maybe an unintended consequence. I don’t know. You will be more in demand than ever. Natalie, What thought would you like to leave our listeners with with regards to, you know, the understanding of the online psychology?

Nathalie Nahai

00:22:22 – 00:23:33

The thing that I think I would like to leave with is that we’re all seeking, generally speaking in our lives. We are seeking things that make us feel as though we matter and that we’re contributing to something that’s bigger and it’s more meaningful. And I think now more than ever. And so if you’re thinking about using behavioural sciences and what we know from the psychological search to be able to create better experiences for people, don’t just leave it on the thin level of making something more friction nous or making something a bit easier to navigate. Think about what is it that you’re helping people over the long arc of their lives to achieve. And I know it might sound a bit anathema to kind of the fast paced world of technology and, you know, dopamine loops and constant information and notifications. But I think if we can start to think in longer time and say OK, well as organisations as businesses, if we’re creating user experiences for people or we’re creating consumer brand relationships. What are some of the longer term, life based goals that we can help people to achieve or feel like they’re chipping away out in order to give them a greater sense of depth and meaning of interaction when they’re connecting with us? Yeah, that’s where I’d like to do.

Maria Franzoni

00:23:33 – 00:23:41

That’s really profound. Thank you. That’s really, really good. Really love that. Natalie. It’s been a pleasure. I hope you have enjoyed yourself.

Maria Franzoni

00:23:41 – 00:24:09

Fantastic. Well, thank you, everybody to listen for listening to the speakers show. If you enjoyed this episode, which I’m sure you have, please give it a rating on apple podcasts and keep up with future episodes on the Speakers Associates website, which is Don’t forget to order a copy of Natalie’s book and also make sure that you contact Speakers Associates in plenty of time to look Natalie for your next event. I will see you all next week. Thank you very much indeed. Bye Bye for now.

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Maria Franzoni is an established and recognised speaking industry expert and one of the most experienced speaker bookers in Europe.

As well as working with speakers, Maria also hosts live shows and podcasts. She currently hosts The Speaker Show podcast for Speakers Associates.

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