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How to Stand Out Online

A woman holding a sign saying 'hello?'

As businesses, what we’re fighting for now is mere attention. If you don’t stand out online, it doesn’t matter how good your product is – it’ll never be seen.

We’re not politely marketing to willing eyes; we’re beating aside other screaming entities to be someone’s main focus. For seconds, if we’re lucky.

So we have to be smart about that. To make important information stand out online, we have to learn how the human brain works and how to capitalise on it.

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Using cognitive trends to stand out online

There are a hell of a lot of theories about how the human mind makes sense of the world. These are often called cognitive biases, and we’re all fairly likely to think this way.

Broadly, this is how humans process information:

  • We select what information to take in because the world is too full of stuff
  • We fill in gaps and take mental leaps with varying accuracy
  • We always want to take shortcuts for efficiency
  • We only store memories that are useful to us or bolster our view of the world – sometimes we even edit what really happened

With these general trends in mind, there are a few ways to adapt our marketing to give us a fighting chance.

Beat selective perception and stand out online

Selective perception helps us filter out information we don’t need to process and store. However, it paints in fairly broad strokes.

How selective perception works:

  • We’re less likely to notice information we don’t like or that contradicts our existing beliefs
  • We forget it more quickly, too
  • We’re attracted to information that we’re interested in or that support our beliefs (confirmation bias)
  • We effectively screen out information we don’t think applies to us

Three ways to combat people’s selective perception:

1. Repetition

We’re more likely to take notice of something that is repeated. In user experience, repetition (and consistency in that repetition) is designed to drill important information into your user’s subconscious, so your key messages stand out online or off.

This doesn’t always make for the most poetic of copy or the most artistic of design. But that isn’t what we’re trying to do here.

We’re trying to make the most of the limited attention we’re being given, while we have it.

2. Personalisation

Framing information in a personal way can help someone identify with it. I don’t mean just adding in the person’s name to emails; you can personalise information by relaying a story that speaks to someone’s experience of the world.

Our ‘target audiences’ contain millions of individuals, all of whom are very different. But when it comes to our products, they’ve largely arrived at our door for similar reasons.

With a touch of verisimilitude – scene-setting to make something seem real – we can reach into our visitor’s memory and evoke a certain feeling.

“It’s the same every year, that looming tax return dread. Make this the year you don’t waste days swearing at HMRC – let us do that for you.

3. UX

We can employ user experience tricks to direct attention to the things we don’t want people to miss.

One very, very effective example is animated movement. Movement is a time-honoured UX trick for directing attention because humans are geared to noticing movement for survival. No, not GIFs and animated text. This isn’t MySpace.

Subtle animations like a gentle bounce can direct attention to, for example, a new feature you want to direct your user’s eyes to. A light radiation on a button can tell people what to click on for the next step in a process, so even if you have quite a complex array of information, that’s the most obvious place to put their mouse or finger.

Go easy on this trick. It’s powerful but use it sparingly.

Think of attention as currency

If you don’t stand out online, you don’t make money. Competing for people’s attention comes far before competing for their cash. Use every tool you have to direct attention to your business, then the product you most want to sell, the button you most want to be clicked and so on and so on.

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