An Internet Innovation

by Drew Boyd

Imagine a Web site that detects a visitor’s “thinking” style and “morphs” its look and feel to suit that visitor’s style? Professor Glen Urban and his colleagues at M.I.T. describe an approach in the Sloan Management Review article, “Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales.”

They collaborated with BT Group, a UK telecom company, to create a Web site that learns whether a person is more analytical versus holistic, and whether the person is more visual versus verbal in how they process information. Once the Web site learns this (based on a few preliminary clicks on the site), it adapts itself to present information in an optimal way:


This is an excellent example of the Attribute Dependency Template, one of five templates in the Systematic Inventive Thinking method of innovation. Attribute Dependency takes internal and external attributes of a product or service and combines them to create new dependencies (or break existing dependencies). With Web site morphing, for example, the two attributes that have been linked are:

  • Web site appearance (an internal attribute)
  • Visitor’s Cognitive Style (an external attribute)

Dependencies can be passive, active, or adaptive. Passive dependencies are static – they don’t change once they have been established. Active dependencies are dynamic – an attribute changes only when another one changes. Adaptive dependencies change the way they change. In other words, they learn as they go. Attribute Dependency is a great tool for creating “smart” products – those that know and adapt to user preferences or environmental conditions.

Does Web site morphing work? The MIT researchers report that Web-originated purchase intentions for BT’s broadband service could increase 20% after morphing the site to match individual cognitive styles.


Drew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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