Today, most recommendation and targeting systems focus on the products: Commerce sites analyze our consumption patterns and use that info to figure out that, say, viewers of also watch . But new work by Maurits Kaptein and Dean Eckles, doctoral students in communications at Stanford University, suggests there’s another factor that can be brought into play. Retailers could not only personalize which products are shown, they could personalize the way they’re pitched, too.1
Kaptein and Eckles set up an experimental online bookstore and encouraged customers to browse the titles and mark a few for purchase. By alternating the types of pitches—Appeal to Authority (“Malcolm Gladwell says you’ll like this”), Social Proof (“All your friends on Facebook are buying this book”), and the like—Kaptein and Eckles could track which mode of argument was most persuasive for each person.
Some book buyers felt comforted by the fact that an expert reviewer vouched for their intended product. Others preferred to go with the most popular title or a money-saving deal. Some people succumbed to what Eckles calls “high need for cognition” arguments—smart, subtle points that require some thinking to get (“ is the of children’s literature”). Still others responded best to being hit over the head with a simple message (“The is a fun, fast read!”). And certain pitches backfire: While some people rush for a deal, others think discounts mean the merchandise is subpar. By eliminating persuasion styles that didn’t work on a particular individual, Kaptein and Eckles were able to increase the effectiveness of a recommendation by 30 to 40 percent.