Mighty Morphing Power Rangers
The best salesman knows intuitively to size up his customer's style and character. In an instant, a sales ace understands not only what the customer wants but also where he is coming from and how he makes up his mind. And this is where hi-tech falls far behind the human sales relationship. At most Web sites, one size still fits all, as different kinds of shoppers encounter the same basic process.
Recommendation engines help a bit, as does personalization, but both approaches require that a user frequent a site regularly and build up a history, or proactively customize the experience. But what if your Web site recognized at the front door whether a customer is an impulsive buyer or more deliberative, a comparison shopper or a slave to fashion?
Researchers at MIT recently experimented with new behavioral-modeling and customization technologies that morph a site's look and features set to match the visitor's "cognitive style." Using a test site and focus group for British Telecom's broadband service, researchers segmented visitors after their initial click-streams into types of decision-makers: impulsive vs. deliberative, visual vs. verbal, analytic vs. holistic. They then served each group different site experiences to accommodate these different styles.
Psychologists argue a person's "cognitive style" remains relatively constant throughout life, but is fundamental to the ways he absorbs information and makes decisions.
The morphing works in two complex stages. First the site must glean from just five clicks how to characterize the visitor's "cognitive style." Second, the site must decide how to modify the content dynamically to appeal to each style. Just imagine the math. In their article called "Website Morphing," professors John R. Hauser, Glen L. Urban, Guilherme Liberali and Michael Braun lay out this enormously complex process in a torrent of probability formulae and equations that, quite frankly, made our head ache.
For the non-math majors in marketing, however, the test had a very clear and lucrative result. Even with imperfect segmentation of the audience, matching a site's look and feel, not just its content, to the relevant cognitive style could lift intent to buy almost 20 percent.They predict that site morphing could well be the next battleground for e-commerce. "Web site design has become a major driver of profit," say the dear doctors in their study. "Web sites that match the preferences and information needs of visitors are efficient; those that do not will forego potential profit and may be driven from the market," they warn. The bottom line is that a company like BT could add $80 million in additional revenue by moving from simple personalization and recommendations to a next generation of site morphing. They have an extremely long equation that works all of this out on the board, but there isn't enough Advil in the world to help us through it.