The Affecting Placebo

The sugar pill’s power to alleviate symptoms of certain diseases is a powerful example of our mind’s beguiling dexterity. In a recent study, patients knowingly given placebos reported better relief than those who received actual medicine. What is going on here? Amazingly, our bodies can be trained to activate an inherent healing network activated by the act of swallowing a pill, an act that has taken on the form of a ritual.

Aside from the presumptive arguments about the ubiquity of pharmaceuticals, there is an incredibly important point to be made about the power of rituals. Through our rituals, we find comfort and create expectations that fulfill themselves through the actions that make up a process; in this case, the opening of the bottle, taking out the medicine, filling a glass of water and then swallowing the pill, and voila: that case of the cooties you picked up in third grade is finally gone!

And yes, it’s easy to yawn at this umpteenth mention of “the placebo effect”, but dig this: in the world of marketing there are myriad ways to enhance the experience of your customers by appealing to said rituals and expectations. Marketers know that the strength of an expectation lies in doing nothing to contradict the expectation, a confusingly simple point that will leave the customer satisfied that their expectation was fully met!

On the web, design has the power to accommodate your users’ expectations by presenting elements that appeal to habit. When recommends a similar item to the one you’re currently browsing, they know that comparisons are part of the process of shopping. Whether or not you end up choosing the right nose-hair trimmer (Panasonic Vacuum Nose, or maybe the Groom Mate Platinum XL!), the ritual of deciding “this or that” confirms the righteousness of your choice through an action that congratulates the sensation that you’re smart shopper indeedy!

Tricking your customers this is not – your users are too smart and expect to be treated as such. This is about providing the best experience possible that triggers the thought: “Hey, this is what I’m used to and that’s why I made a good choice in buying into this service.” – and while this may not always be a conscious thought, it’s quite affecting across the web’s broad market.