I just started reading the book Affect Imagery Consciousness, by Silvan S. Tomkins, potentially the best face reader in human history. In just the first few pages, the book proves to be profound and, most important for marketers, actionable. One of his students, Paul Ekman, has written several books on face reading that have become some of the more popular and accessible in the field. I’ve browsed through those books, but have not yet read Ekman’s.
Let’s look at some choice quotes from the book, and how they mirror what we try to do in search engine marketing and conversion optimization.
This complex patterning of material we are defining as the informational aspect of the duplication transformation.
One of the most important parts of internet marketing is competing for the transfer of information in users’ brains. There are billions of webpages they could be browsing, and potentially hundreds they will want to remember for the short or long term. More than trying to just make a sale, we want to make an impression, and ideally cater that message to the users’ positions in the buying cycle.
Once the particular conventions [of language] are established, however, the use of language becomes more representational and less arbitrary.
This is a lesson I first picked up from Brad Geddes’ book Advanced Google AdWords, and is important to search engine marketing. Users do not type in the exact questions they have in their minds and for which they are seeking an answer. Instead, they tend to think in concepts, translate those concepts into words, more general or more specific as the case may be, and then hit the search button. Language is the tool they use to seek answers to questions they have about the experiences in their environment.
Transmitted messages are here further transformed by an as yet unknown process we will call transmuting, which changes an unconscious message into a report.
Again, another lesson for getting your search engine or display network or social media ads in front of users. In a split second or a few seconds at most, users will see your ad and already generate a “report” in their minds based on the look and feel of the ad. Is it poorly done? Have they seen it a hundred times before? Is there a misspelling? Is it a well-constructed ad with direct relevance to their situation? In some cases, we get the click and can continue helping the user transmute our messages into the report we want to give them. In other cases, they just click away or ignore our ads entirely as irrelevant or badly done.
There is, further, a rough match between the type, amount and rate of information which is received and the type, amount and rate of information which can be acted on.
Ever wonder, with billboards so huge, they often have very little actual text on them? On billboards, the rate of information is extremely fast due to the amount of information drivers are receiving and have to act on. There’s simply not enough time to read more than a few words, so the message has to be boiled down to an image and a couple short sentences, at most.
On the internet, while people are less mobile physically, the speed at which they can click, browse, hit the back button, click again, and so on makes it even more important to have a concise message to send. People can click on your ad and, in 2-3 seconds, determine if the landing page is relevant to them or not, and go right back to what they were doing before clicking on your ad. Same with your position on the search engines. Just because you’ll get more traffic doesn’t mean people will take the time to process it.
Not all the information which bombards the senses is permanently recorded. Rather, we think, it is that information which in the competition for consciousness has succeeded in being transmuted that is more permanently duplicated.
This is the last quote for today, but I saved the best for last. In the competition for impressions, clicks, and conversions, our messages have to be the best out of all the competition. Don’t be another “LCD TVs: Low prices on LCD TVs” type of ad that all your competitors are also running. Don’t use dynamic keyword insertion all the time if it turns a standout headline into a generic one. Use a landing page where the call to action is clear and stands out from the competition.
In branding campaigns, this concept is even more essential. With brand awareness marketing, we want people to get a strong impression of us, and be able to remember our website or name and be able to search for us again.
UPDATE: Here are some more passages from Chapter 1, which I just up and decided to finish last night before falling asleep.
[T]he human being as we conceive him as purposes, intends to achieve these purposes and does achieve them through the feedback principle. His purpose we think is primarily a conscious purpose — a centrally emitted blueprint which we shall call the Image.
This reminds me quite of bit of von Mises’ axiom of human action. Not being an economist or expert on Ludwig von Mises’ particular philosophy, I can’t comment much on this. But it seems as if Tomkins is saying essentially the same thing: humans act, they act purposefully to achieve their ends.
A sign need bear no resemblance to what it signifies, so long as it does stand in an invariant spatial or temporal relationship of some kind of the significate.
This is Tomkins’ restatement of the lessons learned from Pavlov’s dogs. The bell ringing doesn’t need to represent food in any way, but as long as it is close enough in space and time to the event of receiving food, it can come to signify food. In the same way, marketing attempts to associate feelings of fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction with products and services that companies offer. Just take a look at the common 60-second advertisements for pharmaceutical drugs, which overwhelm 45 seconds of warnings of side effects with 15 seconds of positive messages and 60 seconds of images of people being happy.
[In discussing the affective system]
The price that is paid for this flexibility is ambiguity and error. The individual may or may not corretly identify the “cause” of his fear or joy and may or may not learn to reduce his fear or maintain or recapture his joy.
Tomkins is going into deep psycohistory of the individual experience here. Why do people associate good feelings with certain advertising messages or products? They may be able to tell us, but they may be completely wrong about the reasons given. Why are some people depressed or have trouble relating to others? There may be a reason buried so far back in their past that they can no longer associate their current feelings with their coping mechanisms as children, for example.
[W]here a way of life puts a premium on early dispersal of the young, maternal care and the social responsiveness of the infant to this care are minimal and are replaced by individualism and competition.
One of the great debates I have with myself is whether our society is getting more collectivized or individualized. Nationalism, patriotism, xenophobia, racism, and other tribalisms are still widely supported, yet all I hear on the radio is how isolated and competitive our society is becoming. I tend to agree with Stefan Molyneux that we live in a matriarchy of single mothers and fatherless children, where a handful of men in the White House and on bank boards rule the rest of us peasants who are in turned brought up primarily by women. Is this a reflection of the dispersal of the young, with decreasing maternal care and social responsiveness to children?
This is an extremely long book in four volumes, but it’s compulsively readable. I’ll post more choice quotes from it in the coming days, weeks, and months as I get through it. In the meantime, I’ll also be updating this blog as usual.
[As an aside, I’d also like to extend an invitation to anyone who wants to contribute a guest blog on any aspect of internet marketing. We’re always looking for great content to promote!]