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Applied Behavioural Economics pt. 2 – Mere exposure

By | All, Behavioural Science

Or ‘Using the power of repetition not just to build memory, but also trust.’

Behavioural economics is fascinating. Understanding some of the fundamentals of human decision-making will give you far more control over successful outcomes of personal and professional goals than you might have ever expected. But how do you turn this science into practice? This is a blog series highlighting the best insights from behavioural economics translated into how to make them work for you daily. Behavioural economics applied. To help you make better decisions that will help you improve your wellbeing, work and society.

Behavioural psychology: The power of mere exposure

Don’t you wish you could remember things better? Every interesting article you’ve ever read, everything you’ve learned in school, wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could recite them by heart? Well, you know what you have got to do then right? Eat, sleep, and repeat. That’s the traditional approach to recognising and remembering. And it does work— sort of. If you repeatedly see or read things, you tend to remember them. Or put differently, the number of times you are exposed to something helps something to be captured in the memory structures of our brain

But the truth is our memories are not infallible. As Kahneman and Tversky have proven, our brain operates on two decision systems: system 1 and system 2. System 2 is a slave to our system 1, which is our automatic, unconscious operating system that uses cues and shortcuts (called heuristics) to form judgments and opinions. Judgments and opinions that our system 2 then turns into beliefs. As Kahneman puts it:

‘Very quickly, you form an impression, and then you spend most of your time confirming it instead of collecting evidence.’

People rewrite and reshape their memories, often to fit with their existing beliefs. I read this quote from Caroline Webb that summarises it perfectly: ‘The startling truth is that we don’t experience the world as it is; we’re always experiencing an edited, simplified version’. What has this got to do with your memory? We tend to see our memory as a recording device that captures facts, observations and information with accuracy. The truth is, our memory is highly subjective.

 

The Law of Unintended Consequences

That subjectivity of our brain also makes it very interesting though. As it brings one of my all-time favourite mental laws into play: The ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ also known as second-order effects. Yes, you can use repetition or exposure to capture information, but this is only an immediate consequence of the action (repeat-remember). There is a subsequent effect of our repetition action as well. Behavioural science adds on a fascinating second-order effect on the concept of repetition that explains why using repetition can help you be more influential. 

If you repeat something, it doesn’t only activate memory; it also triggers trust and liking.

So, if you repeat things, you become trust worthier, hence more influential. In behavioural science, this is called the mere exposure effect, also known as the familiarity principle. It describes a phenomenon that causes humans to rate or feel positively about things to which they are frequently and consistently exposed, including other people.

Just think about when you hear a new song on the radio. At first, you may not like it, but after hearing it a couple of times it starts growing on you, and you start loving it. As you grow more familiar with the tune and lyrics, you can even get quite fond of the song. It like the saying: ‘something grows on you’.

The first scientific study on the relationship between exposure and appreciation goes way back to 1960. Researchers first asked participants to rate several nonsense words on a good-bad scale. They were then notified that they were in an experiment measuring the effectiveness of repetition in learning to pronounce strange words correctly. Some of these words were shown once, others twice, five times, or ten times. Participants had to take a look at the words, and then pronounce them every time they were presented to them. Following this ‘training’, they had to rate the words again on the good-bad scale. A significant repetition (or exposure) effect was seen, with the words shown frequently increasing in positive evaluation

Strangely, however, words which were seen only once in training were judged afterwards not quite as ‘good’ as before the start of the training. Thus, as a result of 2, 5, and 10 exposures words improved in meaning, and as a result of but one exposure, they worsened. The study revealed the same effect with Chinese characters that people didn’t understand.

So, even when you talk bullocks like Trump (sorry, I could not let that one pass), but repeat it enough people may trust you anyway. But let’s leave the roaring research sixties behind and let us see this principle a bit more in the light of the present. 

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Using the mere exposure effect to create brand loyalty

I guess the most discussed application of the mere exposure effect can be found in marketing and communication. If you expose someone to a brand logo, slogan or communication vehicle often enough, it boosts recognition. People will even recognise brands with the brand name removed. Familiar stimuli require less cognitive effort. We don’t have to go to the trouble of reading brand names, but we recognise the colours, shape of the logo and font types that we were exposed to many times before. Just do a little test yourself. I guess you can tell me which soft drinks these are even if you aren’t fluent in Arabic:

Visual source: Google.

 

Studies have shown that recognition, whether correct or mistaken, enhances the likelihood of preferenceTherefore, mere repetition can boost brand liking and brand loyalty. I guess we have all been there. If you ask me why I buy a particular brand of toothpaste, I buy it because I am used to buying it. I couldn’t give you a clear-cut answer to the benefits of my toothpaste or on which features it outperforms other toothpaste brands. I just like it (or have grown to like it because of familiarity). It again all links back to the fact that:

Our brain is continually trying to lower our cognitive overload and repetition helps us make autopilot decisions.

There is all kind of tactics to use mere exposure in marketing and communication. Depicting familiar situations in your communication, presenting ads several times, developing a distinctive identity, playing by the sector rules (ever wondered why all hotel booking sites look the same? Now you know), and so on. To me, however, the far more impressive effect of mere exposure is the impact it can have on decision-making. 

 

Using mere exposure to make better decisions

It is essential to realise that the mere exposure effect substantially impacts human decision-making. People apply for schools, pick restaurants, favour people of which they heard the names more often or which they saw more frequently. So, if you commute by train to work every day and you see the same person making the same journey day in day out, you start to trust this person. The same goes for colleagues: the ones you see or interact with more often you tend to like more.

Liking people is one thing, but what if this mere exposure favouring affects your decision-making? To give you an example. If people apply for secondary education, they may consider a school, after reading the school curriculum and the school brochure, to be the perfect match but still apply for a school with a lesser fit because they have heard of it more often. Have you ever wondered why that blend, uniform looking global hotel chains are still in business? It is again the mere exposure effect at work. People may spend hours browsing hotel booking sites, checking out pictures and reviews of luxurious or boutique hotels. But often they tend to book a hotel which they are familiar with. Hence, settling with they already know. This is also known as satisficing instead of maximising. Most of us are satisficers.

Well-known brands give people comfort, especially in uncertain situations such as travelling to new surroundings. It’s like seeing your national air carrier on an airport across the world. It feels a bit like home in a strange kind of way. It is one of the pillars of success for fast food chains such as McDonald’s. Because you are exposed to them everywhere, all across the world, McD becomes familiar to you, and it makes many people tend to feel more secure to eat there instead of at the food stalls on the streets of Bangkok, which is a major mistake! Nothing, nothing beats eating Thai street food. I almost can’t make a better case than this that mere exposure sometimes makes you make worse decisions.      

This flaw in decision-making has to do with a cognitive bias: ambiguity or uncertainty aversion. This is the human tendency to favour the known over the unknown, including known risks over unknown risks. This is why stockbrokers tend to invest in domestic companies more often, even though international companies are showing better numbers. But it also prevents people like me and you to invest in stock markets because it has risks that we cannot conceive of understanding. Even more severe is the fact that people choose to withhold from medical treatments if the risks are unknown

If you want to help people to make better decisions, you, therefore, need to be very aware of their anxieties.

Please check out, our Influence Framework© if you want to learn more about the effect of anxiety on behaviour. It would be best if you avoided ambiguity whenever you can.

 

Using the mere exposure effect to reduce risk

You can also minimise risk perception by again using the mere exposure effect itself. We, as humans are social animals. We want to be liked, we want to be like others, and we want to belong to a group. This is an innate human desire: we all want to be part of something bigger and want to feel respected and accepted. This is the reason why people tend to favour but also trust people who are similar to them.

It will reduce someone’s uncertainty when you expose them to a similar other.

Preferably several times. Let me illustrate this with an example. We worked for an institution that provided a debt relief program for youngsters with serious debts. The program was free of charge, but the attendance rate was meagre. When we conducted Behavioural Research, we revealed that the youngsters had extreme anxiety. They didn’t feel the debt advisors were people like them. When we communicated and showed, truthfully, that the advisors were all people like them that used to have debts themselves, the willingness to attend the program skyrocketed. We merely exposed them (at several touchpoints) with similar and familiar others which reduced the uncertainty aversion and boosted the desired behaviour.

 

Using mere exposure to have personal influence

If you want to influence someone by using the mere exposure effect, you can do two things. First of all, repeat the message you want to convey over and over again. Of course, connecting the message to genuine human insights as you can unlock with our Influence Framework©. You can use literal repetition, but synonyms can also work. A ‘master’ in using repetition is Donald Trump. Just take a look at how Trump answered a question at Jimmy Kimmel live, analysed by Evan Puschak

Visual source: Evan Puschak

 

What do you think after reading this text? Do you think we have a problem or not? And do you believe it is a minor problem or one that could harm us? Unfortunately, this rhetoric works. But we can learn from it. Not only how we can influence someone (please don’t turn into a Trump) but also how we are influenced on a system 1 level by the mere exposure effect ourselves.

But there is another way to make this mere exposure work for you without you having to turn into a Dumb. You can also try to be visible yourself around the people you want to influence. Be repetitive exposure in person. In his book ‘How Brands Grow’. Byron Sharp delivers scientific evidence that brands grow not by positioning or differentiation, but by salience. He introduces the concept of ‘mental and physical availability’. The more people see a brand or the more it is evoked in people’s memory; the more people will trust and buy that brand. Again, it shows that:

Familiarity breeds liking.

I believe the same goes for you being influential, as the findings of Sharp make sense and connect with the mere exposure effect. So, know that you’re the brand called you. Make yourself familiar by merely being around and make it easy as possible for people to reach, see or talk to you. And use repetition in your communication.

Be careful not to overexpose.

Not in words, visibility or advertising. Overexposure maybe makes up for arty pictures, but it is an art that is only appreciated by a few. Just a small but essential side-note repeating is not the same as copying. To be perfectly clear. Some people kind of misunderstand what repetition is about and are more in the business of stealing. And not even as an artist I may add.

Visual source: CNBC

Using mere exposure to build better relationships

Now that you are familiar with the mere exposure effect, you can also use it to build better relationships with people. Familiarity is the foundation of every relationship. You share more with people you have seen more. Mere exposure builds interpersonal trust. So, whether you want to earn the trust of a friend or your partner’s friends, your family or your colleagues you need to show up more. Invite them over for drinks, talk to them more often, go to get-togethers or send them a message now and then. It’s how salespeople or the best account managers operate by nature. They remember birthdays, make house calls, and keep in touch regularly. In the end, the unconscious decision-making part of people’s brain will prefer who they are comfortable with.

 

Using mere exposure to help solve societal problems 

I briefly touched upon the relationship between anxiety and mere exposure. However, anxiety doesn’t always have to be a bad thing; you can also use it to your advantage. The mere exposure effect can help people become more aware and more willing to take action for severe problems. Researchers exposed participants to images of environmental risks and directed their attention repeatedly to a subset of these risks. When the participants were asked about those risk they were exposed to more often, they indicated to judge these risks to be more severe, more frightening, higher priority and more distinctive than risks they were exposed to fewer times. The researchers, therefore, suggest that mere exposure can increase the perceived severity of environmental risks because it increases the fear and distinctiveness of those risks.

I wouldn’t promote fear-mongering by the way, but this research does show that you need to expose people more often to a message to have an effect on memory and action. As we are facing some serious international issues today, it could be beneficial to see if we can leverage the effect of mere exposure. Sometimes people need to be shaken up a bit to care; I don’t know what the right balance is of the amount of fear. Just like a photograph can turn out wrong because of overexposure, the same goes here. Given is, you shouldn’t overdo it. 

Mere exposure: don’t overdo it

Not all exposure is good exposure. Too much exposure can lead to conflicting feelings. Whether it is a person you see too much, or a brand or a communication. It can cause indifference, or something called ‘audience fatigue’. People reach a saturation point. So, you have to find a balance in the number of exposures. But also, the quality of exposures matters. Take a look at this social thread on Tide adds that people seem to dislike much

Visual source: Reddit

 

When following Byron Sharp’s thinking, you could argue that the quality doesn’t matter and at least Tide has built mental availability. There’s certainly truth in that. But the fact is, too much exposure can decrease liking. Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt discovered that:

People’s enjoyment rises when an idea, experience or product is new, but when it becomes overly familiar, the joy will drop. 

Visual source: the Wundt Curve (see resources below)

 

The lesson we can learn from this is that yes, we want to build familiarity. But we can build sustainable relationships by changing a familiar product, service or even yourself just enough to make the experience new again. This is why making incremental changes can be a tactic to keep benefiting from the mere exposure effect. And by the way, Wundt also discovered this is the way arousal works. So, if you want your partner to keep longing for you need to get out that familiarity comfort zone. Time to dust of those worn-out habits and find some new excitement.

 

Using mere exposure to study and remember 

Next to the fact that exposing people to something multiple times is what will activate the exposure effect, there is also the question of timing. When do you expose someone? I guess we have all grown up with the habit to repeat, repeat, repeat to learn new stuff, remember it and reproduce it in tests. What we did back then (and maybe still are doing now) is using repetition to help us remember. But what we were never taught is how to apply this mere exposure effect on ourselves to get a maximum result. And this all has to do with the timings of the exposure.

The best learning experience comes from so-called spaced repetition.

It is one of the most powerful techniques to help your brain recall information (also check out my post about chunking). It would be digging a hole here to dive into the Behavioural Design of learning right now, but to bring you up-to-speed quickly. The benefit of spaced repetition is based on the research of Ebbinghaus who has discovered the Forgetting Curve. This curve shows we forget things over time. 

Visual source: Farnham Street blog

 

But we can change the curve by adding space between the repetition. Or as Ebbinghaus said himself:

With any considerable number of repetitions, a suitable distribution of them over a space of time is decidedly more advantageous than the massing of them at a single time.

Visual source: Farnham Street blog

 

I will dedicate a particular blog to the way you can boost your learning experience using spacing and achieve memory mastery by using repeated exposure. For now, this quote of John Medina, author of ‘Brain Rules’ wraps it up nicely:

How do you remember better? Repeated exposure to information in specifically timed intervals provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain. …Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information more elaborately, and in fixed, spaced intervals, if you want the retrieval to be the most vivid, it can be. Learning occurs best when new information is incorporated gradually into the memory store rather than when it is jammed in all at once.”

Conclusion: mere exposure is applied behavioural design

To conclude, mere exposure provides people with a shortcut that lowers their cognitive overload in deciding something is valuable or not. By repeatedly exposing someone to something or someone, you can build liking, trust and memory. And it can help people to make better decisions and to shape desired behaviours. How’s that for making behavioural economics work in practice? Not bad, not bad at all.

 

Astrid Groenewegen
Co-founder SUE | Behavioural Design

 

 

Resources (in order of appearance):

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us here or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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behavioural Design

Applied Behavioural Economics pt. 1 – Chunking

By | All, Behavioural Science

Or ‘How to break-down behaviour to make it easier to perform’.

Behavioural economics is fascinating. Understanding some of the fundamentals of human decision-making will give you far more control over successful outcomes of personal and professional goals than you might have ever expected. But how do you turn this science into practice? This is a blog series highlighting the best insights from behavioural economics translated into how to make them work for you daily. Behavioural economics applied. To help you make better decisions that will help you improve your wellbeing, work and society.

Behavioural psychology: The power of chunking

One thing we all want more of in life is simplicity. In fact, mostly, our brain loves simplicity. We all have a very ingenious decision-making system in between our ears that helps us make decisions with as little effort as possible. Even now, your brain is continuously working hard for you to do as little thinking as possible. Most of the choices we make are based on automatic shortcuts. To save brain bandwidth for the decisions, we do have to contemplate rationally.

This so-called two systems thinking, that was discovered by Kahneman and Tversky, is actually a lifesaver if you imagine an average person is making 35.000 choices a day. Varying from minor decisions, such as should I step to the right? To decisions that have a greater impact, such as should I hire this person? Making all these decisions consciously would go beyond our cognitive abilities, so we need our subconscious mind.

But the truth is, sometimes we want to be consciously aware and remember things. We want to have the capability to learn, for instance. And well, you need some conscious awareness for that. That’s where the technique of chunking can help you out. In Behavioural Design, a very important notion is the fact you can boost desired behaviour if you make the behaviour easier to perform. In our SUE | Intervention Model, this is referred to as your capability (can you perform the desired behaviour).

So, let’s get back to learning and remembering. How can we make it easier for you to learn and remember? If you take the way our brain operates as a starting point, we need to start at the notion that our brain loves simplicity. By chunking or grouping separate pieces of information into chunks, this is exactly what you will be doing. Let me give you an example. Read these three sentences once and then say them out loud by heart:

Remember far is to information easier
Pieces is divided into up it if
Our logical are head that patterns in

Quite hard, right? Now, try these three sentences:

Information is far easier to remember
If it is divided up into pieces
That are logical patterns in our head

I bet; this time it was no problem at all. Fact is, it was exactly the same information only represented in another way. Our brain is a pattern-making machine, as soon as we can discover patterns it is much easier to make decisions or to remember things. I read this very interesting book by David Epstein called Range. In one of the first chapters, he dives into what makes up for a savant. Those chess players or piano virtuosos that stun everyone from the age of 3 with their talent. You probably have heard of the 10.000-hour rule: you need to practice something for 10.000 hours to become really good at it. Only that way you can reach the savant or elite level.

Kahneman and Klein found this only holds true for domains that are characterized by predictable patterns and logic. Like playing golf, playing classical music or a game of chess: ‘There are rules, and boundaries and patterns repeat over and over, feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid’. Now, you probably don’t have the ambition or are a tat late age-wise, to become a savant, but still, something very interesting was discovered with savants that can be relevant to you and it has everything to do with chunking; The plot thickens George Villiers would say.

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Join our Behavioural Design Academy and learn an easy to apply method  to predictably influence minds and shape the behaviour of clients, customers, employees or citizens.

Change in perception: you don’t need 10.000 hours.

It was often thought that next to the 10.000 hours of repetitive exercise, savants had another characteristic. Savants must have a photographic memory. A logical conclusion if you witness young children who play symphonies by heart or four-year-olds that beat chess players ten times their age with impressive high-pace gameplays. But the truth is, savants in the predictable domains are masters at chunking.

Several savants were put to the test by different researches. Epstein refers to an experiment National Geographic TV did with Susan Polgar, the world’s first female chess grandmaster; they printed a mid-game chess play with 28 pieces on the side of a truck. Susan glanced at the truck and then recreated the game flawlessly. When they printed a random play with fewer chess pieces on the truck, she could barely recreate the play. It lacked existing chess patterns. Chess players don’t have photographic memories and remember every single chess piece; they chunk meaningful pieces together that form familiar patterns. Chunking may seem like magic, but it comes from the patterns savants have locked into their memory in those 10.000-hour repetitive study. Interested to know more about how to optimise your learning experience? Here’s were you can read sone more on spaced repetition. A variety of chunking applied to learning.

Chunking is all about presenting information in a way that it is easier to process for people.

So, the good news is: you don’t need a photographic memory to remember things. Better news still, you don’t need to put in 10.000 hours to be a chunking master. The world we live in is often far less familiar and predictable than golf, chess or classical music. ‘Our rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete, there may or may not be repetitive patterns, and they may not be obvious, and feedback is often delayed, inaccurate or both’. So, focusing for 10.000 hours on patterns in daily life is less relevant.

Chunking can help people make sense of the complex world they live in.

You can use chunking to help someone make sense of what you are offering them or what you want them to do. But chunking is more than just providing someone with a logical pattern. If you chunk information or to do’s or goals, you are breaking-up a larger whole. Chess players don’t remember a whole game strategy; they remember parts of the tactics. So, when looking at behaviour:

Chunking can work as a way to break-up a harder to perform behaviour into smaller, manageable steps.

 

How to change habits using chunking

Some practical examples that may help you boost your sales, change the attitude in consumer behaviour or effectively design a customer experience or user experience. Let me start by telling you how to change habits using chunking: If you want someone to quit smoking, a sticky habit, that CAN be very difficult to change.

You can make it simpler by breaking up the quit-smoking-behaviour behaviour into chunks. The NHS has introduced a perfect example of this thinking. They help people stop smoking by not by focussing on quitting smoking at once but by helping someone step-by-step. First, you can apply for a free ‘stop smoking kit’. It contains things like nicotine patches and a squeezy toy to give you something in hand to replace your cigarette. But they guide you towards the end-goal of quitting smoking easily. By for example, first sticking on the patches and sending you motivational emails.

NHS

Visual: NHS

 

If you break down a goal into smaller steps, people feel more confident that they can reach the end-goal.

Therefore, chunking is also very effective in helping someone reach their goals. But also consider using chunking if you are trying to achieve a goal. Don’t focus on running the marathon at once, but start at 1K, 5K, 10K. You will get there in the end (and if not, running is just not your thing which I can relate to completely but that’s a different story).

 

How to improve sales conversion using chunking

Let’s check out some more examples of companies who do a good job adding chunking to their offering and who combine this technique from behavioural economics in marketing or advertising. The first example is the blogging platform Ghost which shows that chunking may help you improve your sales conversion and get you more online sales. Maybe you have ever heard of the ‘aha moment’ describing that point that people start to get value from a product and keep on using it. Ghost introduced a simple five-step process to guide users to the essential steps to get value out of the platform. These steps are laid out for users, and they see a satisfying green check mark and a strikethrough for tasks they’ve completed.

Behavioural economics chunking - Ghost 1

The only challenge with having someone takes steps on your website is that they have to be online to see the site. This was solved by Ghost by sending users who had left the online set-up process conditional emails depending on where they left off in the process.

Visuals: ghost.com

 

These emails gave clear guidance on how to finish the step. Eventually, they were able to boost the efficiency of their conversion rates with 370%, only by chunking the behaviour into smaller steps and guiding people through them.

 

How to shape behaviour using chunking

Another company who helps people develop good financial behaviour by chunking tasks is HelloWallet. They do this via a weekly Sunday email that contains just one small manageable financial task for users to focus on – perhaps merely setting up a holiday savings fund, and no more. HelloWallet points out that it takes just three minutes to set up, and by dividing up savings behaviour into smaller weekly chunks, people begin to develop better financial habits and are more likely to meet their goals. HelloWallet’s research shows that success in these small tasks builds people’s confidence and make them feel more able to tackle their finances.

Visual: HelloWallet

 

How chunking helps us remember things top of mind

Another upside of chunking is that our capability to receive and retain information improves. You probably have experienced it yourself: have you ever better remembered a phone number by chucking it? For instance, the SUE | Behavioural Design phone number is (+31)202234626. But I remember it by chunking it: 223 4626 (the country and area code are in my automatic brain already so I don’t have to chunk those). This is why our phone number is also displayed in chunks on our website: To make it easier for visitors to remember it.

Why chunking works psychologically is that the chunks are seen as one ‘unit’ of information.

So, instead of remembering all separate digits, I just have to remember four chunks. Making the cognitive steps smaller. There now maybe is a question that comes to your mind. Is there anything known about the optimal number of chunks? Well, this has been researched. Early behavioural research revealed that humans best recall seven pieces of information plus or minus two. However, more recent studies show that chunking is most effective when four to six chunks (or steps) are created.

Conclusion: chunking is applied behavioural design

To conclude, chunking is a practical user-centred design approach that helps people to make hard behaviour easier to do. By limiting steps or units of information, someone has to do or remember you help them lower their cognitive needs. At the same time, you boost their confidence, memory and capability to perform the desired behaviour. How’s that for making behavioural economics work in practice? Not bad, not bad at all.

 

Astrid Groenewegen
Co-founder SUE | Behavioural Design

 

 

Resources (in order of appearance):

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us here or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design

Where to start? This is golden era for Behavioural Design

By | Behavioural Science, Citizen Behaviour

The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change
at an unprecedented scale

Amsterdam empty streets during Corona

Abandoned Zeedijk street in Amsterdam during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A tiny creature with massive powers

One tiny microscopic creature did something to humanity what no other animal was capable of doing:

It stopped us.

Everything we thought about the present and the future has been shattered to pieces in just a matter of three weeks.

The future turns out not to be as positive as we anticipated.
The present turned out much more fragile than we assumed.

It took a tiny little virus to evaporate the profits of the last ten years in a matter of days. It squeezed out a sizable chunk of your pension. It might kill your job, and it might turn the debts you took in optimistic times, into serious liabilities.

The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change at an unprecedented scale. In this blog we explore the wicked design challenges for behavioural change.

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This changes everything

This virus has  thrown us abruptly into a forced behavioural change experiment, and we are struggling to adapt:

  • We need to figure out how to stay in quarantaine without making each other’s life miserable.
  • We have to find a way to be productive and creative while isolated from our teams.
  • We need to stay in mental and physical shape.
  • We’ll have to use our mental strength to avoid anxiety and depression and to be grateful for what we have.
  • And we’re going to get back in financial shape after this crisis. Surviving this one will provide us with valuable lessons for the future.

A Classic Wicked Behavioural Design Problem

If this is not a wicked Behavioural Design problem, then what is?

(Ok except for the climate crisis, which, by the way, is getting temporary relief from our ferocious efforts to finance our progress by pumping the CO2-byproduct of that progress into the atmosphere and the oceans, whereby we turn it into a problem the future generation will need to fix).

This forced social distancing experiment challenges us to change our beliefs and attitudes, change our behaviours and build new habits.

This crisis has all the characteristics of the ultimate behavioural design challenge:

  • It involves new behaviour.
  • We will need to break existing habits,
  • The behaviour we want to design will probably pay off in the far future,
  • While at the same time, we need to to be disciplined in the present.

In other words: although most people will want behavioural change, their habits, their context and their relative inability to resist instant gratification, will make it extremely difficult to succeed.

But isn’t this the characteristic of every exciting behavioural design challenge?

All behaviours that matter are difficult to change.

Amsterdam empty street 2

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Book a Behavioural Design sprint to prevent a standstill and have Behavioural Design help you turn this crisis into progress.

Wicked behavioural challenges to work on

Behavioural Designers always design interventions with these barriers for change in mind. We believe that behavioural change can only be achieved if we start with irrational humans. We’ll need to take into account the forces that prevent them from changing their behaviour. We need to find Jobs-to-be-Done that matter to them, and we need to try to make a connection with those jobs. We’ll need to discover the hot trigger moments, where motivation and ability are high and use those moments to let them commit to something small.

We then need to find ways to keep them engaged and to help them to build and sustain new habits.

We’ll need to leverage our psychological understanding of behaviour to help people to build the habits that:

  • keep them in a positive flow
  • get them to experience deep work
  • harvest the creative, social and intellectual capital of their team
  • be creative and productive
  • get them to experience gratitude, joy and wellbeing
  • contribute positively to the life of others
  • get them to learn new skills
  • trigger a curious and optimistic mindset
  • get them to grow as a person
  • get them to try new ideas and embrace uncertainty

 

Change behaviour and the rest will follow

This crisis forces us to practice virtue in the face of gigantic obstacles.

It provides us with a unique opportunity to practice calm, to inspire others with optimism and re-program our brain away from anxiety into fascination and desire for action.

All these positive outcomes can only follow from changing our behaviour first. We firmly believe that we will find calm, experience joy, get creative and feel the power of great collaboration, only if we act first. Our emotions and experience follow from our behaviour. Only if we can get ourselves to commit to new habits; only if we can prime ourselves into thinking differently; only if we infatuate others with our energy and excitement, we will be able to come stronger out of this crisis.

In the upcoming weeks, you’ll hear much more from us. But we also urge you to apply the behavioural design method to influence the minds and shape the behaviour of yourself, your beloved ones and your colleagues. Use the SUE | Influence framework to analyze behaviour, use the BJ Fogg method to come up with interventions for behavioural change, prototype, test and adapt.

There’s so much good work to do.
Let’s get it on.

The team at SUE | Behavioural Design

More blogs on Designing Citizen Behaviour

In this series we apply behavioural design thinking on how societies shape the behaviour of citizen

sue behavioural design

Training and sprints during Covid-19

By | Behavioural Science, Customer Behaviour

Behavioural Design and Covid-19

Training and sprints will continue

It would be the worst Behavioural Design if we as SUE wouldn’t come up with interventions to help contain the Covid-19 outbreak. Starting with how we manage things at SUE for all our clients and participants. And not to mention for our team. At our offices we have already taken all the measures that are advised:

  • We wash our hands regularly
  • Most of us are working virtually right now
  • We have special hygiene soaps in the offices
  • We have stopped shaking and hugging (and we are big on hugs)

But we are taking things a step further.

Make Behavioural Design work for you

Join our virtual Behavioural Design Academy and see how you can effectively change behaviour and habits to cope with this crisis.

Behavioural Design as part of a solution

Behavioural Design might be needed more than ever right now. In these times of uncertainty, we believe our clients and participants need all the help they can get not to come to a standstill. How can you make sure your clients are still coming to you? How can you make sure you and your team can still be a high-performance team when forced to work virtually? How can you install team habits? How can you better understand the psychology from clients, citizens and employees so you can help them make better decisions? How can we design behaviour to help slow the spreading of the virus down?

You might have been forced to stop travelling, but that doesn’t mean you want progress to stop or even worse to come to a standstill.

More know-how on Behavioural Design can help prevent a standstill or even help you acquire know-how to outsmart the competition (and virus). That’s why we will continue sprinting and training. SUE is going virtual as long as the outbreak isn’t contained. And SUE will start making free content and training to help organisations and people to install the new behaviours needed in these times. Just keep an eye on our newsletter that you can join on our homepage and this blog.

The reason for going virtual

After reading up on trustworthy sources on the Covid-19 outbreak, one of the most important conclusions is that we can help slow-down and contain the outbreak if we make sure a little people as possible come into contact with each other. We found this interesting graph that shows it in one clear picture:

That’s why we have decided to go fully digital at SUE. We feel it is our responsibility to our clients, participants and employees to protect them as much as we possibly can. By not bringing them together in one room. We have set-up a virtual training and sprint room, and we have all technology in place to visually collaborate from a distance.

Book a virtual Behavioural Design Sprint

Book a Behavioural Design sprint to prevent a standstill and have Behavioural Design help you turn this crisis into progress.

An interesting pilot

Maybe we can make the saying ‘never waste a good crisis’ true for every one of us. We will develop, prototype and improve new working habits.

Let’s turn this forced virtual working into a blessing. If we can make this work, we can also keep it up when this Corona crisis is over.

It could open possibilities for employees to have more flexibility as working from home reduces their travel time. It can open up new ways of wokring that helps parents spend more time with their kids. It can make teams surge as this time can help them experiment with high-performance team habits. It can maybe help this planet as breaking the habits to jump on planes, to commute to work by car or shop ’till we drop is replaced by more positive habits. It will be an interesting journey, and yes, we will experience setbacks. But this crisis will force us to learn super quickly to build better behaviours. Necessity is the mother of all progress. In the meantime,

We will take you along on our journey to help create better habits.

Both in staying on top of our game in work performance, but also in finding out how to make sure you still feel genuinely connected when not being in the same space. We will share this in our newsletter and on this blog. Interesting times and we hope you will join us on this ride. That is both necessary, but also extremely intriguing.

Our clients and participants

If you have booked a sprint with us, we will contact you personally to give you all instructions how to participate in the virtual sprint to help you come up with solutions to make Behavioural Design work for you. Do you want to book a new virtual sprint, as you also might feel Behavioural Design is the missing layer to dealing with this crisis? Please contact Susan; she can help you out with everything.

If you have enrolled in our Academy, we have sent you an email with the latest update on how you can access the virtual training will take place. Please also check your spam folder to find it. Do you want to join the Academy? Just enrol on the Academy page, and you’ll get all the information on how to join the virtual training room. The dates mentioned on the website are still the dates of the training.

Contact

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions: hello@suebehaviouraldesign.com
By phone: +31 20 2234626

Watch the complete overview of our blogs on behavioural design.

sue behavioural design

Thoughts on psychological innovation and the badass honeybadger

By | Behavioural Science

I had the honour to do the opening keynote at the UBX19 conference in Munich a couple of weeks ago. The title of the keynote was “The future of innovation is psychological, not technological“.

In this talk, I wanted to make a case for a more pragmatic definition of innovation. In my view, innovation is nothing more or less than trying out new shit to generate growth. And when you approach the innovation challenge from this angle, it’s evident to me that we’re too obsessed with technology to look for new ideas. In my keynote, I argue that there’s massive untapped potential for “trying out new shit” when you look into psychology.

Here’s the video (30 minutes)

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

The honey badger is pretty badass.

A couple of years ago, Robin Sloan launched “Fish, a tap essay“. The essay is a manifesto about the difference between liking something and loving something on the internet. The core idea of the piece is that reading or watching something twice is a radical act of love. There’s so much new content that tries to grab our attention, that we tend to forget that mastery and appreciation only start to emerge from second or third readings. This is a powerful idea that influenced me a lot.

Speaking of which, I honestly think that there hasn’t been a year gone by without me re-sharing the honey badger video through social media. In my opinion, it’s – hands down – the funniest thing ever on Youtube. A guy named Randall who does a hilarious voice-over of a documentary-fragment on the honey badger, the most fearless animal in the animal kingdom.

I find great pleasure in the surprising effect of mixing two completely different genres: When you put the gay hairdresser-chitchat style on top of the nature-documentary genre, the result is, well, this:

Book a 60-minutes with SUE

Do you consider hiring SUE to learn how we could help you to imrpove your product, service or marketing through behavioural psychology? Book 60-minutes with SUE. Get a Behavioural Design perspective on your challenge. Who knows where it could lead to…

The dark design pattern that made me quit Twitter

By | All, Behavioural Science, Self Improvement

The Behavioural Design of the Twitter Platform

Dear reader,

I deleted Twitter from my phone today. It drove me nuts.

I noticed that every time I opened Twitter, the platform is working hard to get me in an angry indignation mode. Under the “recommended for you”-header, partisan political messages are being suggested to me all the time. Twitter doesn’t do this because it thinks I’m interested in this content, but because its algorithms have figured out that angry people spend more time on the platform. I decided this week that I don’t want to spend more time on a platform that is actively using behavioural design to appeal to my darkest fears and desires just for the sake of being able to serve me more ads.

Twitter used to be my brain-feed. It was a delight to tap into the thoughts and links of smart people. However, the behavioural design of the Twitter-platform is triggering the worst in people: It triggers slogan-like writing, it rewards controversy with more likes and shares, and it allows people to hide their identity and reputation behind their avatar. Its design triggers outrageous behaviour and its algorithms fuel this outrage further.

I decided to switch my craving for interestingness to platforms where:

  1. The design of reputation is much better: People are much politer and wiser on Linkedin because their professional status is much more at stake
  2. Algorithms can’t play me. There’s no way for an algorithm to manipulate me when I’m listening to my favourite podcasts (Freakonomics Radio, Making Sense, The Knowledge Project). I decide to subscribe, and then the author has to work hard to earn my time. If not, I unsubscribe.
  3. Threes had to die for it: Books are still the number one source for interestingness. To take time to explore a subject through the writing of a skilled author is the greatest joy.

If you can read Dutch, this is a screenshot of my Twitter notifications. Twitter suggests under the “recommended for you”-headings three Tweets to fuel my anger: An “I love Trump tweet”, a “leftist elite gone mad tweet” and “Immigrant crimes are being tabooed (by the leftwing conspiracy of course)”.

image twitter

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

How to nudge people to eat vegetarian?

Simple. A study of over 94,000 cafeteria meal choices has found that doubling the vegetarian options—from one in four to two in four—reduced the proportion of meat-rich purchases by between 40-80% without affecting overall food sales. (Thanks André Gubbels for the tip)

#Choice_Architecture #nudging

nudging vegetarian

Smart Vegan framing

Our daughter loves chicken filet. We discovered this vegan option this week in the supermarket. I think it’s brilliant framing. By calling it “Chicken free slices”, you can’t help but thinking about the fact that it’s meant to be a chicken replacement. This is a beautiful illustration of “don’t think of an elephant”. This brand did a brilliant job in making you think of vegan chicken filet by calling it “chicken free”

#Framing

Book a 60-minutes with SUE

Do you consider hiring SUE to learn how we could help you to imrpove your product, service or marketing through behavioural psychology? Book 60-minutes with SUE. Get a Behavioural Design perspective on your challenge. Who knows where it could lead to…

growth hacking

Growth Hacking vs. Behavioural Design

By | Behavioural Science, Customer Behaviour

Growth Hacking vs. Behavioural Design

We often get questions on the difference between Behavioural Design and Growth Hacking. The short answer is that Behavioural Design is a method to come up with insights and ideas, while Growth Hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across digital marketing channels. Whereas Growth Hacking can provide you with the tactics, Behavioural Design provides you with the ideas and strategies to make the tactics work. Let’s explore this core idea a bit deeper.

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Master a proven method in just two days in our Behavioural Design Academy.

Behavioural design is about seduction and persuasion, while Growth Hacking is about conversion.

 

A couple of years ago, I attended a fascinating conference in Estonia called Digital Elite Camp. It was probably one of the most exciting conferences I have ever attended (ok maybe except for our Behavioural Design Fest). The conference brought together digital marketers from all over the world to get inspired by growth hacking. I loved every second of it. I immediately sensed that I was looking at the avant-garde in marketing.

Geeks were geeking out on landing page optimization, e-mail performance, search ranking, conversion rate optimization, etc. Everyone was obsessed with A/B testing and with building, measuring and learning. You could sense the joy of the desire to overthrow old school thinking on marketing, advertising and sales. This was where the future was happening.

Except for one thing.

I still vividly remember the crappy landing page design, the triviality of the incremental changes and the cheapness of the sales triggers with which they experimented. I felt that, although it looks incredibly cool to figure out how to get a conversion funnel right, it was too much conversion tactics and too little understanding of persuasion and seduction. They got lost in tools and tactics, while they didn’t care too much for how the bits and bolt of how seduction work.

Imagine what would happen if you would hand over the problem of seducing a girl to a computer scientist. His approach would make a lot of sense from a logical point of view, but chances that you’ll end up with a smack in the face are pretty high.

Imagine what would happen if you would hand over the problem of seducing a girl to a computer scientist. His approach would make a lot of sense from a logical point of view, but chances that you’ll end up with a smack in the face are pretty high.

Behavioural Design is about understanding how to create magic with the Growth Hackers toolbox

 

What I love about growth hacking is that it brought a bit of creativity to digital marketing. The problem with digital marketing is that to do it properly, you need to get a lot of things right. It’s not enough to know how to find audiences if you don’t know how to attract them. It’s not enough to attract if you don’t know how to convert them into qualified leads. It’s not enough to have qualified leads if you don’t know how to nurture them into trying out your products and services. And it’s not enough to sell to a customer if you don’t know how to turn them into excited, happy regular users.

Growth hackers looks at all these requirements in a more holistic way and try to figure out how to connect them in such a way that the tactics that are deployed actually lead to business growth.

You Suck At Photoshop

But learning ‘growth hacking’ is a bit like learning Photoshop. I can teach you all the tools and techniques to start working with Photoshop, but if you have no clue on how composition, perspective and aesthetic works, you’ll use the tools to create shit.

With the right tools and tactics, you can optimize for a local, but not for a global maximum. And the missing clue in growth hacking is insight in the human psychology of decision making. If you don’t understand how people make decision and why they do things or don’t do things, your growth hacking tactics are not going to to trigger the customer or user behaviour needed for growth.

If you don’t understand how people make decisions and why they do things or don’t do things, your growth hacking tactics are not going to trigger the customer or user behaviour needed for growth.

The Behavioural Design Method helps you to find radical new ways to connect with a user motivation or goal. It helps you to understand which barriers you need to address, how to make the desired outcome easy, how to add some motivational boosters to the mix and how to communicate the right series of triggers at the right time and place.

Case: Convert people for a Debt Relief Programme

Let me give you an example. In a project we did for an NGO that helps people to get into a free Debt Relief Programme, we discovered that the only way to break through people’s resistance and to turn audiences into leads, was to connect with them in three steps:

  1. Establish trust by connecting with their pain and frustrations
  2. Reduce uncertainty by claiming that all counsellors have been in debt too and know how you feel
  3. Motivate action by making it OK to have a get-to-know each other conversation first to see if it could work

Every other way of pitching the service was doomed to fail because people didn’t want to be framed as people who need help.

Imagine a growth hacker optimising both the website and the digital campaign, not knowing this crucial insight. He would optimize within the boundaries of a useless strategy.

Add the missing layer to make your growth happen

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and in just two days master the practical Behavioural Design skills to make growth hacking actually work. You’ll know how to influence behaviour and shape minds to boost your growth hacking tactics.

Short Summary: Behavioural Design versus Growth Hacking

  • What behavioural designers and growth hackers have in common is a methodology of creative experimentation to figure out what works and what doesn’t
  • Whereas Growth Hacking is about the tactics and the tools, Behavioural Design is about how to create meaning and magic with the tools
  • Behavioural Design is a method, and Growth Hacking is a process. It’s not because you have a process, that you know what you’re doing
  • Behavioural designers and growth hackers should have sex because they will make beautiful babies.

One more thing: Don’t call yourself a growth hacker (or a behavioural designer)

Growth hackers are first and foremost digital marketers. They use the creative method of growth hacking to come up with smarter ideas for digital marketing faster. A Growth Hacker without technical digital marketing skills is worthless. The same goes for Behavioural Design.

I’m not convinced we should call ourselves Behavioural Designers. We are product-, marketing-, sales- or UX-professionals who use the Behavioural Design Method to come up with better products, services, communication and policies. I think that’s a better way to put it. We have also created a post on the difference between Behavioural Design and Design Thinking. You can read it here.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

sue behavioural design

Without influence your customer won't do what's needed for growth

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and master the skills to shape minds and influence behaviour. We trained people over 30+ countries and have a 9,2 satisfaction rate. Check out our free brochure. Don’t miss out on making your growth a success.

sue behavioural design

How to influence the perception of value?

By | Behaviour in Organisations, Behavioural Science, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

In this blogpost I want to explore the concept of value. I want to argue that Behavioural Design is as much about influencing how people perceive and experience things, as it is about changing actual behaviour. The design of psychological value is in my opinion a great concept to think about how to change perception and experience.

Value is a critical concept in economics. Peter Drucker famously said: “The purpose of a business to create a customer”. And the only way to create a customer, is to make him appreciate the value of what the company is offering for a reasonable price. But what is value really? And are we good at calculating the value or something?

We are price clueless

Well, it turns out we’re terrible at understanding value. In the book Priceless, William Poundstone explains the concept of “Price Cluelessness”. Because we have no idea of what something should cost, our System 1 – or automatic brain – is always relying on shortcuts to figure out the value of something. If we see a nice pair of sunglasses in a Chanel store, we expect them to cost € 200. But in an H&M store, these € 200 sunglasses would never sell. Even worse: people would be outraged. The context determines how to decode the value.

We even take price as a clue

Our incompetence for understanding value gets even worse: We tend to look for the price itself to find a clue whether something must be valuable. Something is priced high; therefore it must be excellent, otherwise, they would never price it this high. Also, when we really want the high-priced item, we tend to look for explanations, to trick ourselves into believing it’s actually a bargain. Stella Artois once campaigned around this idea. You could buy a coupon to pay even more for your Stella, thereby underscoring its brand promise “reassuringly expensive”. What most people in Britain don’t know is that in Belgium, Stella Artois’ home country, Stella is just an ordinary beer.

Popularity as a shortcut for value

The fact that something is popular is also a classic “System 1”-shortcut for determining the value of something: Many people want this item, therefore it must be good. Popularity helps you to decide without having to think about that decision. This is probably one of the most critical roles of branding: You know you can’t miss with buying a Jack Daniels, because you know everybody knows Jack Daniels.

Psychological value

The examples above are classic behavioural psychology tricks on how to influence the perception of value. But that’s the easy part. It gets much more interesting when you approach value from a human-centred point of view. Human-centred designers take irrational humans as their point of departure, for which they design answers and solutions. And when you depart from humans, you ask yourself questions like ‘How might we help people to…’:

  • Achieve their goals and realize their dreams?
  • Build positive long-term habits?
  • Resist their impulses and temptation?
  • Look at reality in new ways to trigger positive action?
  • Feel appreciated and respected?
  • Take away pain or frustration in their current experience?

Behavioural Design is fascinated with humans, their dreams, their fears, their bad habits, frustrations and their desire for happiness. And if we can understand them and design solutions form them, we will create psychological value.

Psychological Innovation

Once you start looking at reality through the lens of psychological value, you can see it everywhere:

  • Mom in Balance makes it much easier to stick to your workout habit because you meet up every time with the same group of mums like you.
  • The value of your restaurant experience goes through the roof if the chef decides to have a drink at your table
  • The € 10 you pay extra to sit in one of the front rows in an Easyjet-flight is the cheapest possible way to feel subjectively richer than the majority of people.
  • Airbnb is selling you the feeling that you are experiencing the city like someone who lives there. That’s priceless.
  • Uber makes a taxi experience 100x less frustrating because you know exactly when your car will show up, you know how much the ride will cost and you don’t need to have a transaction with the driver.
  • Would you prefer to work at the helpdesk or at the customer success team? Both jobs are exactly the same, but the second one feels so much better

Once you start thinking about creating psychological value for humans, you try to come up with ideas to help them to overcome stress, anxiety, insecurity, bad habits. Or to help them to achieve their goals, dreams and aspirations and to experience joy, fun and surprise. The number of things you can do to innovate are endless.

When it comes to innovation, we’re too often looking in the wrong direction. We think it’s about technology, but it’s really about creating psychological value.

PS: Our Behavioral Design Method is a method to spot opportunities for psychological value. It’s a fast-paced highly-structured process to turn hypothesis into ideas and to prototype and test what works and why it works. You can learn the method in our Behavioural Design Academy or apply the method to solve a business challenge in a Behavioural Design Sprint.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure. Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

How Behavioural Science and Data Science should collaborate

By | All, Behavioural Science

Last week I had the honour to speak and lead a data science hackathon at the I-com conference in Malaga. I have never been surrounded by so many brilliant people in my life. What fascinated me was how much behavioural designers and data-scientist have in common, and yet, how little both disciplines know about each other, or even collaborate with each other.

Why I fell in love with Data Science

What data-scientists do is they look at data sets, look for patterns in that data and use that understanding to build a model that could predict behaviour. Their models predict things like: “What products will new mums buy more or less?” or “when will you watch what kind of content on which device?”, or “in which region can you stop distributing product catalogues, without hurting sales?”. I saw teams in the 24-hours hackathon come up with mindblowing predictions. And I felt really stupid for not understanding a single bit of how they build their models. But the thing is: I don’t need to because the computer simply calculates the predictive power of the model, so there’s no cheating or bullshitting possible. Fascinating stuff.

The blind spot of Data Science

There is, however, a very big limitation to this approach. And that’s the fact that we’re dealing with humans. It’s not because I can predict to a certain extent your future behaviour, based on data-analysis, that I wouldn’t be able to influence you to make different choices. After all, our choices are heavily influenced by how choices are being presented to us.

I can make you reconsider the choice of buying a camera, by letting you choose between three, instead of two models. If I present you with three models, you are far more likely to chose the middle one. And you wouldn’t have chosen it if I only had shown you two. If I play loud music in a restaurant, you will buy more unhealthy food. If I would prime you with images of Italy, you will buy more Italian food. If I add urgency and scarcity to buy the last items of a sales promotion, you will probably choose differently. The means for screwing up the behaviour that is predicted by the model are endless.

Meaning versus Reach

The challenge with the classic behavioural design method of interviewing and observation is that it’s very rich on meaning but poor on reach. And data science has exactly the opposite problem: the insights are scalable, but they are not rich in meaning. The fact that new mums buy much more housecare products, but buy far less mouthcare products , doesn’t explain why they do that. If you can understand why people do the things they do, you can easily figure out new ways to optimize your marketing.

How to collaborate?

The answer is simple: Design a creative process that leverages the best of both worlds. I would always follow these steps:
Let the whole team do interviews to develop a deeper understanding of how the target audience thinks, feels and behaves. This helps them to overcome their own biases, assumptions and prejudices and helps them to build interesting hypotheses.

Analyse the data you have with the hypothesis you’ve just formed. Try to figure out which hypothesis actually predict behaviour. But also: dare to go back: if you find interesting other patterns (e.g. non-parents buy way more deodorants than new parents), try to see if this insight could help you to revise your deep understanding of the drivers of the behaviour of your audience

Once you’ve developed a predictive model, based on qualitative and qualitative results, use Behavioral Design principles to come up with ideas for improvements of the customer journey
The fun part: Prototype, test and measure. Design experiments, measure results, improve your overall plan. Aggressive experimentation is what sets apart the truly innovative companies from the laggards.

This is such an interesting time to really make a measurable impact. But everyone’s struggling with the HOW-question: how to turn a deeper understanding of behaviour into business value. The creative method is the answer.

#justsaying 🙂
Have a great day,
Tom

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

mental models

Mental models: How to design for intelligent decision making?

By | All, Behavioural Science, Self Improvement

We want to talk about mental models. They are key for intelligent decisions making. We want to introduce you to one of our intellectual heroes. A man who turned 95 on January 1st of 2019. There’s a fair chance that you’ve never heard about him. But you definitely have heard about his 88 years old associate, Warren Buffett. The man we’re talking about is Charlie Munger.

Charlie Munger

Worldly Wisdom

Charlie Munger became a hero to many people who are interested in better decision-making with a famous lecture he gave in 1994 at USC business school. The talk was called “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business”. You can’t find it on Youtube, but the transcript was published on the blog of startup Incubator Ycombinator and in the curious book “Poor Charlie’s Almanack, The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger“.

I want to urge you to read the transcript of the lecture. It’s one of the most exciting texts you will ever read. I re-read it at least three times per year. In this lecture on Worldly Wisdom, Charlie Munger argues that the reason why Munger and Buffett beat the market with their investments, for more than 60 years is that they have a different approach to decision making. Munger argues that if you want to make better decisions, you need to use more than one mental models to look a the problem. One of his famous quotes to make his point is the following:

“To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

He argues that most people in business, everyday life and investing approach problems from a single mental model. If you work in branding, everything looks like a branding problem, if you work in business consulting, everything sounds like a transformation problem. If you are an economist, everything looks like a market-problem.

Munger and Buffett pride themselves with locking themselves up most of the day, reading books. What they are looking for is elementary worldly wisdom.They are obsessed with learning interesting “mental models”. Mental models are concepts from all kinds of sciences that offer elegant explanations to the world. To quote Munger:

“What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head”.

A list of mental models.

There’s a lot of renewed excitement for Munger’s idea of Mental Models. Shane Parish, host of the amazing podcast “The Knowledge Project” and author of Farnamstreet, the ultimate blog on better decision-making by learning from the smartest people in the world. Shane Parish is writing a book on the subject. He recently published a post called “Mental Models, the best way to make intelligent decisions (109 models explained)“. It’s a list of all the mental models that he is using in his daily life. A lot of these models are concepts from cognitive psychology and the science of influence.  BTW, Munger is also fascinated with how human decision-making works. If you understand how people think and why they do what they do, you can do a much better job at predicting and changing their behaviour.

Want to learn more:

  1. Here’s another great blogposts on Mental models (Thanks for sharing: Ed Borsboom)
  2. Start making a list of your favorite mental models in your todo-list. I use Wunderlist. I created a folder “Mental Models” and started the habit to post concepts I use a lot in my thinking. My most recent one is this: “You are the sum of the five people you hang around with”.
  3. Re-read your mental model list regularly. Once you use them to look at challenges or problems, they will always provide you with new ways of looking at the problem and its solutions.

Enjoy Munger while he’s still alive. 🙂
Kind regards,

Tom, Astrid and the SUE | Behavioural Design Team

PS: We had Munger’s mental models in mind when we designed the program of the Behavioural Design Acacademy master classes. Our program is designed to teach you some very powerful and easy to remember mental models for finding human insights and for coming up with smart interventions for behavioural change. #funfact.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.