Human action requires motivation, but what exactly are those motivations? Donating money to a charity might be motivated by altruism, and yet, only 1% of donations are anonymous. Donors don’t just want to be altruistic, they also want credit for that altruism plus badges to signal to others about their altruistic ways.
Worse, we aren’t even aware of our true motivations — in fact, we often strategically deceive ourselves to make our behavior appear more pure than it really is. It’s a pattern that manifests itself across all kinds of arenas, including consumption, politics, education, medicine, religion and more.
In their book Elephant in the Brain, Kevin Simler, formerly a long-time engineer at Palantir, and Robin Hanson, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, take the most dismal parts of the dismal science of economics and weave them together into a story of humans acting badly (but believing they are great!) As the authors write in their intro, “The line between cynicism and misanthropy — between thinking ill of human motives and thinking ill of humans — is often blurry.” No kidding.
The eponymous elephant in the brain is essentially our self-deception and hidden motivations regarding the actions we take in everyday life. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, this elephant in the brain is visible to those who search for it, but we often avoid looking at it lest we get discouraged at our selfish behavior.
Humans care deeply about being perceived as prosocial, but we are also locked into constant competition, over status attainment, careers, and spouses. We want to signal our community spirit, but we also want to selfishly benefit from our work. We solve for this dichotomy by creating rationalizations and excuses to do both simultaneously. We give to charity for the status as well as the altruism, much as we get a college degree to learn, but also to earn a degree which signals to employers that we will be hard workers.
The key is that we self-deceive: we don’t realize we are taking advantage of the duality of our actions. We truly believe we are being altruistic, just as much as we truly believe we are in college to learn and explore the arts and humanities. That self-deception is critical, since it lowers the cost of demonstrating our prosocial bona fides: we would be heavily cognitively taxed if we had to constantly pretend as if we cared about the environment when what we really care about is being perceived as an ethical consumer.
Elephant in the Brain is a bold yet synthetic thesis. Simler and Hanson build upon a number of research advances, such as Jonathan Haidt’s work on the righteous mind and Robert Trivers work on evolutionary psychology to undergird their thesis in the first few chapters, and then they apply that thesis to a series of other fields (ten, in fact) in relatively brief and facile chapters to describe how the elephant in the brain affects us in every sphere of human activity.
Refreshingly, far from being polemicists, the authors are quite curious and investigatory about this pattern of human behavior, and they realize they are pushing at least some of their readers into uncomfortable territory. They even begin the book by stating that “we expect the typical reader to accept roughly two-thirds of our claims about human motives and institutions.”
Yet, the book is essentially making one claim, just applied in a myriad of ways. It’s unclear to me who the reader would be who accepts only parts of the book’s premise. Either you have come around to the cynical view of humans (pre or post book), or you haven’t — there doesn’t seem to me to be a middle point between those two perspectives.
Worse, even after reading the book, I am left completely unaware of what exactly to do with the thesis now that I have read it. There is something of a lukewarm conclusion in which the authors push for us to have greater situational awareness, and a short albeit excellent section on designing better institutions to account for hidden motivations. The book’s observations ultimately don’t lead to any greater project, no path toward a more enlightened society. That’s fine, but disappointing.
Indeed, for a book that arguably strives to be optimistic, I fear its results will be nothing more than cynical fodder for Silicon Valley product designers. Don’t design products for what humans say they want, but design them to punch the buttons of their hidden motivations. Viewed in this light, Elephant in the Brain is perhaps a more academic version of the Facebook product manual.
The dismal science is dismal precisely because of this cynicism: because as a project, as a set of values, it leads pretty much nowhere. Everyone is secretly selfish and obsessed with status, and they don’t even know it. As the authors conclude in their final line, “We may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” Yes we did, and it is precisely that surprise from such a dreary species that we should take solace in. There is indeed an elephant in our brain, but its influence can wax and wane — and ultimately humans hold their agency in their own hands.
The ways people get things done are constantly changing, from finding the closest coffee shop to organizing family photos. Earlier this year, we explored how machine learning is being used to improve our consumer products and help people get stuff done.
In just one hour, we’ll share how we’re helping marketers unlock more opportunities for their businesses with our largest deployment of machine learning in ads. We’ll explore how this technology works in our products and why it’s key to delivering the helpful and frictionless experiences consumers expect from brands.
Join us live today at 9am PT (12pm ET).
Deliver more relevance with responsive search ads
Consumers today are more curious, more demanding, and they expect to get things done faster because of mobile. As a result, they expect your ads to be helpful and personalized. Doing this isn’t easy, especially at scale. That’s why we’re introducing responsive search ads. Responsive search ads combine your creativity with the power of Google’s machine learning to help you deliver relevant, valuable ads.
Simply provide up to 15 headlines and 4 description lines, and Google will do the rest. By testing different combinations, Google learns which ad creative performs best for any search query. So people searching for the same thing might see different ads based on context.
We know this kind of optimization works: on average, advertisers who use Google’s machine learning to test multiple creative see up to 15 percent more clicks.1 Responsive search ads will start rolling out to advertisers over the next several months.
Maximize relevance and performance on YouTube
People watch over 1 billion hours of video on YouTube every day. And increasingly, they’re tuning in for inspiration and information on purchases large and small. For example, nearly 1 in 2 car buyers say they turn to YouTube for information before their purchase.2 And nearly 1 in 2 millennials go there for food preparation tips before deciding what ingredients to buy.3 That means it’s critical your video ads show at the right moment to the right audience.
Machine learning helps us turn that attention into results on YouTube. In the past, we’ve helped you optimize campaigns for views and impressions. Later this year, we’re rolling out Maximize lift to help you reach people who are most likely to consider your brand after seeing a video ad. This new Smart Bidding strategy is also powered by machine learning. It automatically adjusts bids at auction time to maximize the impact your video ads have on brand perception throughout the consumer journey.
Maximize lift is available now as a beta and will roll out to advertisers globally later this year.
Drive more foot traffic with Local campaigns
Whether they start their research on YouTube or Google, people still make the majority of their purchases in physical stores. In fact, mobile searches for “near me” have grown over 3X in the past two years4, and almost 80 percent of shoppers will go in store when there’s an item they want immediately.5 For many of you, that means driving foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar locations is critical—especially during key moments in the year, like in-store events or promotions.
Today we’re introducing Local campaigns: a new campaign type designed to drive store visits exclusively. Provide a few simple things—like your business locations and ad creative—and Google automatically optimizes your ads across properties to bring more customers into your store.
|Show your business locations across Google properties and networks|
Local campaigns will roll out to advertisers globally over the coming months.
Get the most from your Shopping campaigns
Earlier this year, we rolled out a new Shopping campaign type that optimizes performance based on your goals. These Smart Shopping campaign help you hit your revenue goals without the need to manually manage and bid to individual products. In the coming months, we’re improving them to optimize across multiple business goals.
Beyond maximize conversion value, you’ll also be able to select store visits or new customers as goals. Machine learning factors in the likelihood that a click will result in any of these outcomes and helps adjust bids accordingly.
Machine learning is also used to optimize where your Shopping ads show—on Google.com, Image Search, YouTube and millions of sites and apps across the web—and which products are featured. It takes into account a wide range of signals, like seasonal demand and pricing. Brands like GittiGidiyor, an eBay company, are using Smart Shopping campaigns to simplify how they manage their ads and deliver better results. GittiGidiyor was able to increase return on ad spend by 28 percent and drive 4 percent more sales, while saving time managing campaigns.
We’re also adding support for leading e-commerce platforms to help simplify campaign management. In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to set up and manage Smart Shopping campaigns right from Shopify, in addition to Google Ads.
Tune in to see more
This is an important moment for marketers and we’re excited to be on this journey with you. Tune in at 9am PT (12pm ET) today to see it all unfold at Google Marketing Live.
1 Internal Google data.
2 Google / Kantar TNS, Auto CB Gearshift Study, US, 2017. n=312 new car buyers who watched online video.
3 Google / Ipsos, US, November 2017.
4 Internal Google data, U.S., July–Dec. 2015 vs. July–Dec. 2017.
5 Google/Ipsos, U.S., “Shopping Tracker,” Online survey, n=3,613 online Americans 13+ who shopped in the past two days, Oct.–Dec. 2017.
Posted by Jerry Dischler; VP, Product Management
When was the last time you really tore apart your search strategy and looked at why it is what it is? We’re much more likely to make necessary, iterative changes to our campaigns – but I challenge you to make 2017 the year you question everything.
It’s an exercise that really doesn’t need to cost a lot of time or money, but the answers you discover could have direct, sizeable effects on revenue.
Here are some questions to start asking about your search strategy:
What even is our search strategy?
A simple question on its surface, but it’s a great place to begin. When was the last time you actually defined your approach to organic search? Does that initial plan still apply in today’s environment, considering the rise of mobile and voice search, and with new insights into searcher intent? Reexamine how your initial strategy might adjust to better serve your current business goals (and ensure that those goals align with what your brand and its leadership is trying to accomplish).
What have our competitors been doing in search lately?
Has the competition been acting as content creating machines, publishing highly ranked content for phrases that you hadn’t thought of yet? There are tools to help answer this question. On the paid side, consider BrightEdge, which offers a valuable “Data Cube” for uncovering keywords that your competitors’ sites rank for. Using this tool, you can recognize some of those content strategies, and adapt your own practices accordingly.
Alternatively, you can use SpyFu; its free version will give you a small sample of this type of information. If that doesn’t uncover all the content strategy pieces you wish to see (and it probably won’t for most brands), the low-cost upgrade to the paid version of SpyFu may be well worth it.
Another solution that’s more tedious to use (but completely free) is the “site:” operator in Google search. Simply enter “site:www.example.com”, and the results will be the pages that Google has indexed from that website. By adding a tilde (~) and a related broad keyword, you can then find related pages with that term. Such a query looks like this: “site:www.example.com ~keyword”.
Where are our customers?
Emerging technologies and new customer bases can cause changes in where your potential customers find their information – and how they search for it. This is where you need to dive into web analytics data and understand how your current visitors are arriving at your site. Is there a big shift to mobile for your customers? (Yes, generally mobile traffic is very much on the uptick, but this definitely isn’t the case for every single industry or company.)
When looking at current data, it’s important to be thoughtful about cause and effect – do the numbers represent visitors’ natural intents or are you influencing their actions? For instance, you might have low mobile engagement because your site is not optimized for that experience, and thus customers don’t stick around for long.
Outside of your analytics data, you can further scrutinize the landscape by extending your view to areas where competitors are active and you aren’t. Ask yourself: do those areas align to customers you also want to target?
What are we trying to say?
Does your content just talk about you, or does it meaningfully address your customers’ needs? Most people don’t like being lectured to – they’d rather have a conversation, or have their question answered.
Now more than ever, search engines focus on satisfying the intent behind a query rather than just aligning results to the words typed in the search box. Is your content satisfying those search intents, or is a content refresh in your future?
Is our site quick to load and secure?
Maybe you’ve taken all of 2016 to implement an awesome new design that makes visiting your site an engaging experience. That’s good, but have you been thoughtful about your site’s load time? Speed is still a crucial factor for earning better visibility in search engine results, as well as in delivering a good user experience.
A detail that’s too-often neglected, it may be time to revisit this data point and revise some pages.
Maybe you’ve also made some smart moves in getting more information about your visitors. You use perfectly placed lead forms, and return visitors are now signing in. But are all the sign-in pages secured?
Google has announced that Chrome will start flagging pages that have sign-in forms but aren’t secured with HTTPS as “Not Secure.”
That’s not a message that visitors will find too inviting. As search engines trend toward placing a greater value on security – and as customers are ever more expectant of it – it’s beneficial to consider implementing more secure measures.
By asking the right questions, and putting the answers into action, you can set your business on the path to a more updated and effective organic search strategy.
Kevin Gamache is a Search Marketing Strategist at Wire Stone, an independent digital marketing agency for global Fortune 1000 brands.
- Citizens Reserve is building a supply chain platform on the blockchain
- Tips to maximize ROI on paid social: Facebook + Instagram
- The case against behavioral advertising is stacking up
- Fender American Acoustasonic Telecaster: Pricing, Specs, Release Date
- The Newest Amazon Sponsored Products Features of 2019