CXL Institute CRO Minidegree Review Part 3

Neuromarketing, Developing an Emotional Content Strategy, and Influence and Interactive Design

This is part 3/12 in my series reviewing the CXL Institute CRO Minidegree. I will be posting a new part every week!

Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

CXL Institute offers some of the best online courses and industry-recognized certifications for those seeking to learn new technical marketing skills and tools highly useful to growth professionals, product managers, UX/UI experts, and any other marketing profile looking to become more customer-centric.

I was given an amazing opportunity to access and review one of their online course tracks, the Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Minidegree. For the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing the content of the course as well as what I think of it as I go through it. Here is part three!


Roger Dooley, an engineer turned entrepreneur and author of the book Brainfluence, introduces the Neuromarketing course. He suggests that we sometimes fail as marketers because we’re only focusing on the conscious side of the brain (5% of our thought process vs the non-conscious part which is 95%). Dooley suggests that Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (must-read alert) explains the difference between these two “systems” very well:

  • System 1: Fast, emotional, based on intuition (reptilian brain)
  • System 2: Slow, calculated, conscious thought process (new brain)

Neuromarketing studies focus on two main areas, neuroscience, and behavior. Knowledge learned from neuromarketing can sometimes be applied universally. For example, the Fogg Behaviour (also discussed in Part 1) explains that actions require a combination of motivation, ability (or lack of friction), and a trigger. As another example from neuroscience, fMRIs are sometimes used to track brain activity levels in response to different forms of marketing. EEGs, biometrics, eye tracking, and facial coding research is also commonly used in prominent commercial marketing studies.

But how can we know that all of it isn’t nonsense? Only a few years ago (and today still), neuromarketing was considered a pseudoscience by some of the world’s top neuroscientists. Dooley suggests that the same can be said about a lot of “established” principles in psychology. What is important, is to remember that everything should be tested.

No matter how sound the research is, neuromarketing research can still offer insights that can only be made true only if they are replicated and subjected to a scientific process. Dooley also includes a lecture by André Morys that outlines that even A/B testing studies suffer from several problems, such as biases or faulty research methods.

Morys also suggests that conversion optimization should not be only about improving numbers in your favorite analytics tool. It should be about changing behavior and creating growth. Motivation could be influenced in the right circumstances (although this goes against the MECLABS Heuristic from part 2), and behavior can be altered. How? Your hypotheses should be prioritized based on whether they respect the following requirements:

  • Will the change in variation be perceived?
  • Is it relevant / does it have value?
  • Is it differentiating you from the competition?
  • Does it follow well-researched psychological / persuasion principles?

Finally, Dooley discusses what he calls the “persuasion slide”, a framework that allows you to make a better persuasive argument based on addressing both the conscious and non-conscious parts of the brain. This framework is similar to the Fogg Model (motivation, trigger, ability). Here are the elements of the persuasion slide:

  • Gravity: the user’s initial motivation, needs, or desired outcome. Don’t fight it, so don’t ask them to do something for you. Ask them to do something for themselves.
  • Nudge: similar to Fogg’s trigger element, the nudge is about getting the customer’s attention and influencing them to take actions (they should also mirror their motivation somehow, or it won’t be effective).
  • Angle: the benefits and the value of what you’re selling. Emotional appeals, features, discounts, and so on. What do visitors get out of it?
  • Friction: the conscious and nonconscious elements that produce friction on your website. This is about making everything short, simple and easy to use and understand.

Developing & Testing an Emotional Content Strategy

Photo by Mario Gogh on Unsplash

Talia Wolf, a conversion expert and CMO teaches this next course. The content that she shares focuses on a framework that optimizers can use to better understand your target customer’s emotional triggers and decision-making.

Every decision we make has a strong emotional component. Even though it is difficult to quantify, big brands have been using emotional triggers for decades. She suggests that this kind of marketing focuses on the emotional value of the product (status, feeling, cohort), rather than benefits derived from features.

Wolf suggests that while brands have been busy with this in the offline world, there is a big gap in the digital one. Most landing pages focus on features, pricing, and discounts. Emotional targeting is especially lacking in mobile layouts, with a ~270% gap between conversion numbers on desktop and mobile. This is mainly due to prioritization of desktop formats, despite the fact that mobile traffic keeps growing. There is a huge opportunity there to better understand user behavior.

Here is how you can address this gap. Talia Wolf’s framework for building an emotional content strategy is split into 4 parts:

  • Emotional Competitor Analysis: start off by choosing 10–15 top competitors and analyze their messaging, colors, images, elements, and emotional triggers. Next, figure out if you need to mirror them or differentiate yourself completely.
  • Emotional SWOT Test: next, look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your competitor’s emotional presentation. This doesn’t have to be a guessing game, you should also carry out surveys and interviews with target customers.
  • Emotional Content Strategy: understand the weaknesses and the threats of your own product and address it in the content of the page. Make your visitor feel unique and exclusive while giving them a smart and simple solution. Give them value, and address anxieties.
  • Test it: use your analysis of messaging, colors, images, emotional triggers and test what works best. Make sure to test elements from competition next to your own choices.

Wolf suggests that while this is not an exact science and you’ll need to test a lot, this method can help you understand your customers better.

Influence and Interactive Design

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

This course is led by Dr. Brian Cugelman, a Senior Scientist at AlterSpark (a digital psychology and interactive design training center). Dr. Cugelman shares his unique model on the stages of behavior change:

  • Concentrating (aware): this is the first step in his model. In this stage, we need to make the visitor aware of something we are trying to sell.
  • Learning (informed): the first thing we need to do is make them aware of what we are offering in order for them to become informed.
  • Desiring (motivated): in this stage, the visitor needs to be motivated to continue to the next stages.
  • Deciding (intent): at this point, the visitor is aware, informed and motivated to take action, however they are still looking for more information and considering whether to continue.
  • Trust (confident): in this stage, the visitor needs their anxieties addressed. Social proof, for example, is a good way to make visitors more confident in their choice.
  • Acting (short term): here, the user makes a small action, such as purchasing one item or signing up to a newsletter.
  • Maintaining (loyalty): in this last stage, we want to retain the customer.

For each stage, there are specific ways to design a sales page in order to make it easier for visitors to go through this process.

  • In order to grab attention and make visitors aware, apply what is referred to as “pre-attentive processive”. An example of this is breaking patterns in order to make something stand out (bigger CTAs, contrasting colors).
  • In order to inform visitors, you need to give visitors a simulated experience of what you’re selling. Focus on both the features and the benefits (technical details and the unique value).
  • In order to get users motivated, you need to offer visitors a promise of what they get out of it. Motivation is tricky to fully understand (this is something consistent in all of the course material so far). Dr. Cugelman recommends testing incentives and loss aversion principles derived from evolutionary psychology.
  • In order to help visitors make a decision easier, avoid creating instances of analysis paralysis. Offer the right amount of options and make it very simple for them to understand the value of what you’re offering. Sell to both the rational and irrational parts of the brain.
  • In order to establish trust, make a good impression first because it will matter later down the line (the halo/devil effect). Credibility can be established based on perceived expertise, honesty and integrity.
  • In order to get visitors to take action, make the user experience as frictionless as possible.
  • In order to re-engage users, this will require the right levels of motivation and ability. These levels will fluctuate in time and should be understood well, but ability can be influenced if you make it as easy as possible to take action.

Key takeaways:

  • Only 5% of our thought process is conscious. Appeal to both the rational and irrational sides. While the science may not be completely sound, use neuromarketing principles, but test everything.
  • Making an emotional content strategy is essential, and there is currently a huge gap in this area when it comes to mobile design. Analyze your competitor’s content and test what works best.
  • Visitors go through a very specific process when they land on your sales page. Make sure to address all points in this process as best you can.


This collection of courses from the minidegree focused on useful principles derived from psychology (emotional, evolutionary) that can be used to create or optimize websites in order to appeal to the unconscious side of the brain. It is very interesting to see different approaches that can be taken to influence behavior, and it just goes to show that there are many areas in psychology that are filled with interesting ideas for future tests!

In the next part, I’ll be covering “Google Analytics for Beginners”, “Using Analytics to Find Conversion Opportunities”, and “Google Analytics Audit”!

This is part 3/12 in my series reviewing the CXL Institute CRO Minidegree. I will be posting a new part every week!

Other Parts:

Part 1: CRO Foundations, Best Practices, and Psychology
Part 2: Conversion Copywriting, Product Messaging, and Social Proof
Part 3: Neuromarketing, Developing an Emotional Content Strategy, and Influence and Interactive Design
Part 4: Google Analytics for Beginners, Using Analytics to Find Conversion Opportunities, and Google Analytics Audit
Part 5: Google Tag Manager for Beginners and Conversion Research
Part 6: Fast and Rigorous User Personas and Heuristic Analysis Frameworks for Conversion Optimization Audits
Part 7: 8 Common Testing Mistakes, How to Run Tests, and Testing Strategies
Part 8: Statistics Fundamentals and Statistics for A/B Testing
Part 9: A/B Testing Mastery, Advanced Experimentation Analysis, Optimizing for B2B
Part 10: Customer Value Optimization, Creating a Segmentation Strategy, and Digital Psychology and Behavioural Design
Part 11: Applied Neuromarketing and How to Design and Roll Out an Optimization Program
Part 12: Evangelize for Optimization, Building an Optimization Technology Stack, Optimize your Optimization Program, and CRO Agency Masterclass



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Theodor Andrei

Theodor Andrei

Growth Marketer | PPC | CRO | UX | Analytics