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We’ve already talked about using certainty for marketing persuasion, but the other side of our informative session with Stanford Professor Zakary Tormala can be just as useful. Here are some effective ways to harness the power of uncertainty.


Interruption Effects

Interestingly, most of the data around uncertainty supports counterintuitive claims.

Most people would like their audience’s undivided attention when presenting information, but strategic interruptions can cause a positive outcome. The study that was presented to us was that participants in a study were far more likely to purchase a chocolate truffle when interrupted at a strategic point in a conversation than people who heard the message uninterrupted.


Source Uncertainty

Experts may be everywhere with sites like YouTube and Yelp, but perceived expertise matched with uncertainty can grab attention and enhance a message’s impact. Similarly, a non-expert matched with a large degree of certainty enhances a message’s impact. That a tentative rating from an expert on a restaurant is more attention-grabbing than a confident one is not the conclusion most would draw without the supporting data, but that’s what Zak’s team found.


The preference for potential

In an ad experiment on Facebook, results showed that people tend to prefer the potential over the guarantee. You’d think the tried and true result would be the one that would have the best effect, but the data shows differently.

achievement vs potential

The click-through rates for the potential ad copy were vastly higher than the click-through rates for the achievement ad copy.

The key to all 3 of these methods is that using uncertainty is all about information processing. The messaging may stick better with an interruption, but if the messaging isn’t compelling, you’re still not going to get anywhere.

How would you use uncertainty to drive results in your ad campaigns?