Category

SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

Tom De Bruyne @ NowFest

Transforming an ad agency through behavioural design

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

This blog is the talk I gave at NowFest 2020, a global conference on Behavioural Science. We were asked to talk about how we successfully transformed from an ad agency to a design and innovation consultancy. This is the story of all the things we learned while making lots of bad decisions along the way. So if you work in the ad industry and you’re struggling with your business model, then this might provide you with some inspiration on where to look for answers. If you prefer to see the whole talk. I inlcuded the video below.

Part 1: The existential crisis as an agency

About ten years ago, Astrid and I were leading an advertising agency in Amsterdam. According to the market, we were doing great. We won a Dutch “Agency of the Year”, and we were doing award-winning work for brands like Nike.

The problem was: we hated every bit of it, and we felt that there were several trends that didn’t look promising for the future of the ad agency business model. Both our customers and the market were changing.

  1. Customers were changing: After their CEO’s went on a pilgrimage to Silicon Valley, they all saw the light and every big client were going through two transformation waves:
    1. Digital transformation, which meant they were now getting obsessed with everything measurable and easy to optimize. Advertising started to be seen as this old medieval art in comparison with this new obsession, and investment in advertising shifted to programmatic and tactical, instead of creative.
    2. Agile transformation: our customers were starting to work in multi-disciplinary teams around customer segments and around customer journeys. The consequence of this is that more and more creative marketing was taking place within the teams, as opposed to being outsourced to agencies.
  2. Markets were changing: Digital disruption was on its way. At that time we had a quote up our wall by Rei Inamoto – the former ECD from AKQA – that said: Business models from the least expected angles or players could disrupt your business faster than advertising can save it”. So more and more clients were betting their money on trying to cut costs and figure out how to fight the incumbents.

It was the hight of the aftermath of the financial crisis. Everyone in the industry was talking about how to build “the agency of the future”. But the problem was: All the interesting and exciting things were taking place outside our industry. To name four domains that inspired us:

  • The Conversion Optimization community was (and still is) the hacker avant-garde of digital marketing
  • The Persuasion design / UX community, because they re-introduced psychology into design
  • The Lean Startup Community, because they were combining both psychology and conversion optimization to figure out the laws of marketing growth
  • Most thinking about Creativity came out of the industry: Ideo introduced ‘Design Thinking’ as a creative process and Creativity .inc by Ed Catmull from Pixar on how to manage a culture of creative excellence

We were deeply frustrated with our inability to transform the agency from within. Our creatives mistook creativity for originality and were obsessed with awards. Probably because they perfectly realized that what they were doing was utterly pointless.

Unlock the power of Behavioural Design

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.

Part 2: The path to transformation

(solution version 1)

In 2011 we decided to quit the agency we were leading and start our own company in an attempt to design a solution that could deal with all the challenges above.

We called the company SUE, named after “A Boy Named SUE“, the beautiful song by Johny Cash.

Four principles or beliefs formed the foundation of SUE:

  1. The core of what we do is behavioural change, not communication. You probably know the famous aphorism by Charly Munger who said “To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail”. Well, to a branding guy, every problem looks like an advertising problem. To an ad guy, every problem looks like an advertising problem. But a behavioural designer should be agnostic to the tools he or she uses to shape behaviour: comms, design, physical spaces, framing, technology,…we even did an intervention in which we used children to prevent parents from picking up their phone while driving. As long as it contributes to the desired behavioural outcome, the medium is just a tool. Behavioural designers combine psychology, technology and Creativity to figure out how to influence minds and shape behaviour.
  2. We believe that Creativity is a step by step process, not the product of genius creatives. We were tired of the advertising myth of brilliant creative teams. We strongly believe that the quality of the output is a function of the quality of the input and the process.
  3. We believe that the separation between research, strategy and creativity into silos makes no sense. If you have a research agency for your Research, a strategy company for your big strategy, an ad agency for your Big Idea and a production company for your design and production, the process will produce lots of waste. They all tend to act upon the executive summary of the previous stage and selectively pick the insights that fit with their own framework. Instead, we felt that behavioural designers should do research and strategizing themselves. If they did the research themselves, they would have had a much deeper understanding of the problem.
  4. Since we’re dealing with humans: we should always be prototyping and testing to learn and improve. We should shred our expert bias and embrace uncertainty and a hunger for learning and improving.

The idea sounded good in theory. But let’s first delve into what we did wrong:

  • We still called ourselves an agency. Therefore in the mind of the market, they put us in the ad agency frame. That was problematic. We wanted to solve the briefings in different ways, but in the end, we were working for the campaign managers, and they just wanted a campaign. So we attracted ‘ad agency clients’.
  • We made the classic startup mistake of hiring too many people who could work on the projects while neglecting supporting sales and marketing.
  • We couldn’t figure out how to design our process in a way that made economic sense. We introduced the Behavioural Design Sprint as our method, but we had five people per sprint team.
  • We also suffered from the famous Kruger-Dunning effect. We were very confident that we could quickly master marketing automation, but that problem of finding the sweet spot between technology and creativity was hard. If you think of it: most inbound marketing is obsessed with tactics, but sucks at impact.

We thought we had the answer to “the agency of the future”-challenge: introduce creative methodology, marketing technology and behavioural sciences into the process, and your clients will love it.

The problem was: We were thinking too much inside-out. We were trying to transform from within, but the problem was the ad industry itself.

Back in 2017, this culminated in a crisis. On Easter day, we were sitting in a supermarket eating breakfast, exhausted with a 6-month-old baby that didn’t sleep and our accountant called. It’s never good news when your account calls on a holiday. He said: are you guys aware of the fact that you are loosing 100k per month and you’ll be bankrupt within three months if you don’t act?

That sucked.

Big time.

We had about two days to figure out if we would stop or tackle the problem. We chose the latter.

 

Part 3: When we finally got it right.

The nice thing with running out of cash is that you have to make bold decisions. There are no other options. We did a series of interventions:

  • Intervention 1: Staff. We had to fire about 15 people. That burned our cash reserves even more, but there was no alternative. We needed to start from zero if we wanted to succeed.
  • Intervention 2: We stopped being an agency and turned into a consultancy. The difference turns out to be substantial. We were betting on the belief that the market changed from outsourcing creativity to agencies, to developing customer intelligence capabilities internally. So said to clients: don’t hire us to do your campaign, but hire us to help you to improve your product, service, marketing or customer experience through behavioural science.
  • Intervention 3: We decided to claim the word “Behavioural Design”. At that point, the term was not owned by anyone. So the dilemma we had was: Nobody knows behavioural design, so it would be pure suicide to start a company on something that doesn’t exist. ON the other hand, it held the promise of a new story that we could own.
  • Intervention 4: The business model was still very fragile, so we started the Behavioural Design Academy. We figured that if the market was shifting to more capability development, we should begin to offer training in how to use behavioural science to improve products, service and customer journey through a deeper understanding of human psychology.
  • Intervention 5: We productized our offering. We were fed up with budget discussions, so we re-framed the whole pricing away from hourly rates to value-based pricing: you pay for the behavioural design sprint process. A 13-days process in which we do behavioural research, spot opportunities, come up with ideas, prototype the most promising ones, and test them with the users. A sprint is
  • Intervention 6: We made the Behavioural Design Method the hero, and by doing that we challenge some problematic market conventions worth solving: It solves the problem that the research industry is facing of not being able to turn insight into ideas. It solved the strategy problem of not being able to validate the power of the strategy until it’s too late – i.e. when the execution doesn’t work -, because we prototype and test the strategy right away.

 

What have we learned so far:

  • The Behavioural Design Academy is a huge success: We had over 42 nationalities who flew in for our two-day masterclass.
  • We are doing more in-company training programs all over the world, training teams in the Behavioural Design Method.
  • We spiralled out of advertising and are now working on projects that exceed our wildest dreams: to win elections, fight radicalization, transform team behaviour, design spaces, get people to save more, get people to donate. We had the honour to work on all continents for major brands and organizations.
  • Our clients like and respect us for what we do. It makes a great deal of difference if you’re in the business of making your clients smarter, instead of producing their campaigns. As an ad agency, your clients like you, but don’t respect you.

 

We transformed our company by putting deep human understanding at the heart of what we do. All the rest follows from this premise.

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
SUE's Influence Framework™

SUE | Influence Framework Explained

By | All, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

SUE | Influence Framework™:
Understand the forces that shape behaviour

SUE | Infliuence Framework™

The Influence Framework™ is a powerful mental model we developed at SUE to systematically analyse the forces that shape behaviour. The framework will provide you with all the human insights you need to come up with ideas for behavioural change. A deeper understanding of the forces that prevent people from change, or that could boost behavioural change, is essential to influence minds and shape behaviour. In this blog post, we explain the model step-by-step and illustrate it with lots of examples.

1. How does influence work?

For a full overview of the essence of behavioural design, I want to urge  you to go to read our blog “What is behavioural design“. For this blogpost, it suffices to understand that you need three ingredients for successful behavioural change: 

  1. Understand how people think and how they make decisions. (cognitive psychology)
  2. Understand how you can analyse the forces that shape people’s behaviour (SUE | Influence Framework™)
  3. Understand how you can come up with ideas for behavioural change (BJ Fogg and the science of Influence

One of the biggest misconceptions of behavioural design is that it’s limited to this third ingredient. Think about all the persuasion techniques in the field of interface design and UX to boost online sales. Booking.com has turned these techniques into an art form

However, if you don’t take into account what happens inside the mind of the human you try to influence, you can use as many persuasion tactics as you want, you’re not going to be successful. 

Let me illustrate this with an example: You can use all the scarcity, authority, social proof in the world to persuade me to make my next city trip with Flixbus. But as long as you haven’t addressed my (probably irrational) prejudice that travelling by bus coach is going to be a social nightmare, full of annoying people, my brain will stay locked for every attempt to change my behaviour. 

Flixbus

2. Analysing the forces that shape behaviour

The best way to think of the SUE | Influence Framework™ is to think of it as a tool that brings the dynamic forces to the surface that shape behaviour. With this framework, you will be able to understand why people do the things they do and what prevents them from changing their behaviour

Understanding these forces helps you to spot opportunities for behavioural change. Only when you have armed yourself with these opportunities, you can start to come up with ideas. 

To illustrate this with the example from above. Only when you take into account that I have anxieties, doubts and prejudices that prevent me from travelling by coach, you will have the right insight to come up with ideas to influence my decision-making. You will ask yourself the question: How might we take away the prejudice that cheap coach travel equals social nightmare. 

If you want to design a successful strategy for behavioural change, you will have to work outside-in. You start with learning what happens inside people’s mind, and you adapt your intervention to this understanding. 

Master the Behavioural Design Method

In our two-day masterclass Behavioural Design Fundamentals, you will learn how influence works and how you can come up with interventions for positive behavioural change.

The SUE | Influence Framework™ has three parts, with a total of seven elements. We will delve into these three parts below.

  1. Part 1: Current and Desired Behaviour 
  2. Part 2: The Job-to-be-Done
  3. Part 3: Pains, Gains, Habits and Anxieties

3. Part 1: Current and Desired Behaviour 

The best way to think of behavioural change is that you need to have someone (or yourself) switch from a current to desired behaviour. This sounds obvious but is actually quite challenging. Because people need to stop doing the things they do and start doing something new. Stopping is hard because your current behaviour is full of comforts. You don’t need to think about it, and your behaviour is more than often driven by habits that are difficult to control. 

Furthermore, there are several difficulties associated with new behaviour too: Am I able to do this? Do I want it? Do I trust it? Do I get it? Can I afford it? What will others think of me? 

You immediately sense that, if you want to get someone from A to B, you will have to deal with several forces at work that lock us in our current behaviour and prevent us from switching to the desired behaviour. The SUE | Influence Framework™ is nothing more or less than a tool to uncover these forces.  

 

4. Part 2: The Job-to-be-Done

 If you want to understand why people do the things they do, then the Job-to-be-done framework by Clayton Christensen is essential. Christensen argues in a famous Harvard Business Review paper that people “hire products and services” for a job that arises in their life. Understanding the “job” or “task” is the key to understanding what motivate people to do the things they do. If you want to know how you can get more people to buy milkshakes in a fast-food restaurant, you need to understand the job-to-be-done for which people would come in and “hire” a milkshake. In the famous lecture below, Christensen argues that most people who buy milkshakes at a fast-food restaurant buy it because they have a long and boring drive to work. They want something to fill their stomach while keeping the commute interesting. The milkshake does this job better than any other product. It keeps you busy for at least 10 minutes, it doesn’t crumble all over you, and you can easily keep it in your hand while steering the car. 

Job-to-be-Done thinking requires a deeper understanding of the human behind the customer. A while ago we discovered in a Behavioural Design Sprint we did for a health tech company that the real Job-to-be-done for people with diabetes is to live a normal life. They want to be reminded as little as possible by their disease. People with diabetes look at every product and service through the prism of this Job-to-be-done. The unconscious question they ask themselves is: Does this product help me to approach my Job-to-be-Done to live a care-free life in which I am bothered as little as possible by my disease? This insight was incredibly important because, until that point, our client always communicated to people as patients.


Case: Zoku Amsterdam

The founders of Zoku Amsterdam had given themselves more than 2 years to figure out how they could design the ultimate hospitality experience for people who needed to stay longer in a city, because of their job.

Zoku Amsterdam - Hotel Room

The Job-to-be-done that Zoku took as the critical opportunity for their prototyping is that people want to feel at home. They want to feel part of the community of the city. And this experience is precisely what most hotels don’t offer you. Every hotel reminds you in everything of the fact that you’re just a passenger. Zoku designed the room with this Job-to-be-done in mind. The centrepiece of the room is a dining/working table, not the bed. Lunch and dinner at Zoku are to be consumed at a long communal table. You can invite your customers for meetings, and they have daily activities in which you can participate.


More about Job-to-be-Done:

5. Part 3: The forces diagram

5.1. Four forces 

We already argued above that the biggest challenge with designing for behavioural change is that people need to stop doing the things they do. Furthermore, they have all kinds of insecurities and discomfort about the new behaviour we want them to perform. We have also argued that the best way to motivate them to embrace new behaviour is to connect with their deeper goals in their life (called Jobs-to-be-done). 

The third and final component of the SUE | Influence Framework™ is four dynamic forces that push people towards or pull people away from the desired behaviour. The Influence Framework works with these four forces: 

  1. Pains of the current behaviour
  2. Gains of the desired behaviour
  3. Anxieties, doubts, and other barriers of the desired behaviour 
  4. Comforts of the current behaviour

SUE | Infliuence Framework™

5.2. Force 1: Pains

Pains are what people experience as shortcomings and frustrations related to their current behaviour. 

Pains are often the problems to which a behavioural designer designs a solution. Pain and frustration trigger a propensity or willingness for change. The better you can connect with people’s Pain, the higher the eagerness to change their behaviour. 

In our behavioural design sprints, we often discover that if you can articulate people’s pain quite well, they reward you with their trust. They appreciate that you understand their world. Every populist in the world knows that people are not interested in what you want to do. They want to feel instead that you get their pain. It’s a meme in every sales training that the best sales-men sell pain.

 

5.3. Force 2: Gains 

Gains are the positive consequences that people will experience when they perform the new desired behaviour.  

Whenever I stay at Zoku, I can at least work in my room if I want. I can eat healthy without having to go out. I can enjoy hanging around in the big co-working living room with my laptop. I can impress my clients with the view, etcetera. These are all gains you will experience if you book at Zoku. 

However, these gains only make sense relative to the Job-to-be-Done. You appreciate the Gain of the design of your room, the shared breakfast table, the healthy food kitchen and the co-working living room because they all contribute to the Job-to-be-done of feeling at home in the city you have to stay for work. 

Important to remember: Always connect the Pains and Gains with the Job -to-be-done


Case: Pains and Gains and travelling by train 

I often need to travel between Amsterdam and Belgium. I have stopped taking the car, and I only go by train these days. My Job-to-be-done is to spend my time as purposeful as possible. The Pain of driving my car is obvious: I can’t answer e-mails, write blogs, or finish reports. I’m utterly exhausted after a six-hour drive, of which I regularly spend two hours in traffic jams (Belgium is a traffic jam inferno). The Gain of travelling by train is also apparent: Travel time equals working time. I can read, write, or answer e-mails. For travellers like me, a power socket and a little table for my laptop are worth a lot. 



5.4. Force 3: comforts

Comforts are the routines and habits that get people to stick to their current undesired behaviour. 

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to work out more often. And if I’m honest with myself, I do have the time in the morning to go to the gym. My only problem is that I have too many bad habits that stand in the way: I want to wake up slowly. I need to have breakfast. I need to bring my toddler to school (and she adores not cooperating). By the time I dropped her at school, my window of opportunity to go to the gym is closed. It’s already late, my stomach is full, and my mind is already at work. 

You could argue that everything is in place for me to start working out. I feel the desire to have more energy and to lose a couple of kilos (my JTBD). I feel the pain of not being fit. I know how much I enjoy the feeling of being fit (gain) and I only have to walk 200 meters to my gym, so I can’t blame it on an inability to get there. As the co-founder of SUE I’m pretty free to decide how I run my schedule (no anxieties). I just can’t break through my comforts/ habits. What works for me is that my gym organises a 10-minute abs-workout every hour. I know that if I can make it in time to join this 10-minute class, I will probably stay a bit longer.

5.5. Force 4: Anxieties 

Anxieties are fears, doubts, prejudices and other barriers for the desired behaviour.

Anxieties could be all the things that prevent you from changing behaviour Anxieties could be related to: 

  • The desired behaviour: Too complicated, too hard, too socially uncomfortable, etc. 
  • The supplier: can I trust this supplier? 
  • My own capability: I’m not sure if I can do this, or if it matches with my self-image. 
  • My environment: I don’t know what my significant others will think of this behaviour

Taking away Anxieties are often underestimated in a strategy for behavioural change. However, they form a crucial piece of the puzzle. Sometimes taking away anxiety is the last puzzle piece needed to turn an intervention into a success. Like in the Flixbus example I wrote about earlier: taking away my fears and prejudices towards coach travel is addressing the most critical force that stands between me and the desired behaviour. 


Case: De Porsche Pitch

In The Perfect Pitch, a book by advertising legend Jon Steel about the art of pitching, the author shares the story of a pitch his agency won for the Porsche-account. The killer insight that got them to win the agency competition was that advertising doesn’t need to persuade Porsche-drivers. It needs te to persuade non-drivers that Porsche-drivers are not cars for men with a middle-crisis. They called it the “asshole-factor” of a Porsche driver. Taking away these anxieties and prejudices towards the Porsche driver turned out to be the most genius advertising strategy ever for the brand.


7. How to start working with the SUE | Influence Framework™?

 The Influence Framework helps you to build empathy for your target audience. Our Behavioural Design Sprints always kick off with six interviews. If you conduct six interviews with people from the target audience, you will be able to fill in your Influence Framework. For a proper Behavioural Design interview, there’s only one simple rule of thumb:   

Past behaviour never lies 

When we conduct interviews, we always try to map human journeys. What we’re looking for is how real humans think, feel and behave. How does a successful journey look like? What about a failed journey? Why did people fail? What made them feel uncertain or uncomfortable? Why didn’t they do the things they wanted to do?  

In 6 interviews you’ll get a clear idea about the Jobs-to-be-Done, the Pains and Comforts of their current behaviour and the Gains en Anxieties of the desired behaviour. It can also be gratifying to interview extreme users. Experienced people can tell you a lot about Jobs-to-be-Dones and gains. People who are struggling can teach you a lot about pains, comforts and anxieties. 

When you have mapped out these forces, you can spot opportunities for behavioural change, by asking yourself these 5 questions: 

  • How might we help people to achieve their goals (Jobs-to-be-done)? (Job-to-be-Done)
  • Can we come up with solutions that solve pains or frustrations that people experience (pain) 
  • Can we break into an existing habit? Or do we need to change a problematic habit? (comforts)
  • Which anxieties, doubts, prejudices and other barriers do we need to take away? (anxieties)
  • What could be the psychological value that we can create for people (gain)

More about this topic: 

8. Examples

  • The best way to think about the success of Uber and Lyft – aside from a nearly unlimited supply of cheap investor capital – is that they successfully eliminated all the pain from the taxi-experience. Not knowing when your car is going to arrive, not being confident about whether the cabbie will rip you off, or having to negotiate about the price. They brilliantly help you to achieve your job-to-be-done to experience the city. An Uber-Gain is that you never have to worry when you go out: You order an Uber when you leave the club, and within 5 minutes, you’re back on your way home.
  • AirBnB is a much more gratifying way to experience new places. This is the ultimate traveller Job-to-be-done. The Pain that is associated with hotels is that they’re anonymous. They make you feel like an outsider-tourist. The Gain of AirBnB on an emotional level is that you can feel home abroad. This feeling gets even strenghtened on a functional level: Since you do your cooking and supermarket shopping, you can feel what it is to live like a local. There are some anxieties AirBnB needs to take away, like whether the place is as good as advertised (that’s why they always demand professional pictures). A relatively new anxiety is the worry that the neighbourhood might be completely fed up with AirBnB-tourists.

9. The ethics of influence

 We have argued above that a successful behavioural design strategy consists of three ingredients:

  1. A deeper understanding of human decision-making 
  2. Understanding the forces that shape behaviour 
  3. Using principles from the science of Influence to come up with ideas and interventions for behavioural change

The SUE | Influence Framework™ is a powerful mental model to get a clear understanding of why people do the things they do, and what prevents them from changing their behaviour. 

The SUE | Influence Framework™ is also the best guarantee that a strategy for behavioural change will be human-centred. When using this framework, Behavioural Designers always ask themselves the question on what they can do to help people to become more successful at what they do, or help them to overcome their anxieties or help them to break bad habits. if you take your time to build empathy with your target audience and you use the Influence Framework to analyze their behaviour, you will always spot opportunities to design positive choices. 

PS: The mission of SUE is to unlock the potential of behavioural psychology to nudge people into positive choices about work, life and play. We use this mission as our guiding principle for everything we do. We’re very conscious of the fact that behavioural design can be a ‘dark wisdom’, and that those who master it are often the ones with the worst intentions. We don’t want to be naive about the fact that people will abuse this knowledge to manipulate people. Still, we firmly believe that the world would be much better off if we can inspire more people with a better understanding of how influence works, and do positive things with this knowledge. 

More about our mission at SUE

More about human-decision making (system 1 system 2)

More about ideas for behavioural Change (BJ Fogg Model and Cialdini)

In this overview of our Behavioural Design Blog, you will find our essential reads, key concepts, and Behavioural Design Thinking applied to citizen behaviour, employee behaviour, consumer behaviour, personal development and politics and society.

sue behavioural design

Hoe werkt gedragsverandering in de praktijk?

Schrijf je in voor de Behavioural Design Academy and leer hoe je positief gedrag kan beïnvloeden. SUE heeft intussen meer dan 600 mensen uit 30+ landen getraind en krijgen een  9,2 tevredenheid score. Ontdek het programma.

sue behavioural design

What is Behavioural Design?

By | All, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals


This blog post is an extended introduction of Behavioural Design. You will get a clear idea about what it is, how you can use it in your professional and personal life to influence minds and shape behaviour, and what you could do to learn more about it. Moreover, this blog post is the perfect entry to most other blogposts we published on the SUE Behavioural Design website.

  1. Behavioural Design is about influence
  2. Behavioural Design is a Method
  3. The ethical side of Behavioural Design
  4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices
  5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.
  6. Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence
  7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test
  8. Domains of Behavioural Design
  9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design

 

1. Behavioural Design is about influence

How do you influence minds and shape behaviours?  How do you change other people’s, as well as your personal behaviours? How do you help people to make better decisions?

Isn’t it strange that the majority of all of our behaviours and communication aims at influencing other people, and yet at the same time, we have no clue about the principles and laws that govern influence?

Behavioural Design is a systematic understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to behavioural change.

Maybe you want to influence the behaviour of your partner of children. You might want to influence your colleagues or managers. Some people want to develop a healthy habit for themselves or want to live a more sustainable life. Maybe you want to influence customer behaviour, or win elections. No matter what the subject is, you can all think of them as a behavioural design challenge.

So what is Behavioural Design. The most pragmatic definition of Behavioural Design we came up with so far, is the following:

Behavioural Designers combine Psychology, Design, Technology, and Creative Methods to find out why people do the things they do and to figure out through experimentation how to activate them to change their behaviour.

 

2. Behavioural Design is a method

The best way to think about Behavioural Design is to think of it as the combination of Design Thinking with the Science of Influence. 

Design Thinking is the method through which designers solve problems. Designers start with empathy. Through interviews and observations, they try to “fall in love with the problem”: Why do people do what they do and where could we spot opportunities for improvement? This insight phase forms the groundwork for ideation. First, designers come up with as many ideas as possible, and then they prototype the most promising ones. They take the prototypes back to the real world and test them with real people to learn and to observe how the prototype succeed in influencing the targeted behaviour. Design Consultancy Ideo, the godfathers of Design Thinking uses this simple graphic to explain the process:

This image describes the process of design thinking

When you combine the method of Design Thinking with Behavioural Sciences, you will get Design Thinking on Steroids. Because a better understanding of human psychology you will get 1) better insights into why people do what they do 2) better ideas on where to look for solutions 3) better prototypes, because you will have a much sharper understanding of what specific behavioural outcome you’re designing for.

At SUE the essence of what we do is to train the Behavioural Design Method at our Behavioural Design Academy and at In-company training and we run the Behavioural Design Method in Behavioural Design Sprints together with our clients.

More about Design Thinking:

3. The ethical side of Behavioural Design

Behavioural Design is dark wisdom. The difference between positive influence and manipulation is a very fragile line. In the end, we have to be aware that Behavioural Design is about using deliberate action and techniques to influence the behaviour of the other in the direction you want.

The problem is that those who want to design for good, quite often feel bad about using dark forces. Whereas those who use this dark wisdom to manipulate and mislead, are usually much more motivated, advanced and have fewer scruples about the application of it.  Think about how extreme-right populists exploit fear and uncertainty, or think about how technology companies exploit our vanities, and our desire for social recognition and belonging to the extent that it leads to (social media) addiction.

The world of interaction design is full of  “dark patterns“, which are manipulative ways to present choices to us in such a way that they manipulate us into making a specific decision, whether we want it or not.

Doctor Evil

At SUE, we are very sensitive to this ethical component. We even encoded it in our mission. The SUE mission is “to unlock the potential of Behavioural Psychology to nudge people into positive choices in work, life and play”. Our point of departure for designing interventions for Behavioural change always starts with the question “How might we help people to make better choices? Moreover, how could we design products, services and experiences in such a way that they contribute to helping people to achieve their goals or dreams? Our commitment to this mission is sacred, even to the point that we refuse to accept work that doesn’t match with this mission. You can find more about this way of thinking below at “5. Outside-in Thinking“.

More about the ethical side of Behavioural Design:

4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices

Multiple levels of influence

In a certain sense, the term “Behavioural Design” is a little bit misleading. Behavioural change is the outcome we aim for when we design an intervention. When we want to achieve this outcome, we need to design on multiple levels at the same time:

  1. The design of attention: How do you make sure something catches people’s attention?
  2. The triggering of curiosity: How do you get people to invest time and mental energy to learn more about what you want from them?
  3. The change of perception: how do you get something to stand out as the attractive option between other choices? How do you design the desired perception?
  4. The design of experience: How do you get someone to have a positive feeling? How can you reduce stress or uncertainty?
  5. The triggering of behaviour: How do you trigger the desired behaviour? How can you increase the chance of success that people act upon your trigger
  6. The change of habits: How can you get people to sustain the behaviour? Most behaviours require much more than a one-time action. Think about saving, living healthy, exercising, recycling, collaborating, etc.

Thinking fast and slow

This simple list of influence levels teaches us that Behavioural Design is all about how we design choices and how we present those choices.  Behavioural Design has everything to do with human decision-making and how the brain works.

The cornerstone of thinking about human-decision making is the masterpiece “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Kahneman and Tversky. This book – awarded with the Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 – is the fascinating journey of the collaboration between two Israeli psychologists and their discoveries of how the mind works. This book is the ultimate work on thinking about thinking.

Kahneman and Tversky discovered that about 98% of our thinking is automatic and unconscious. Our brain is making most of the decisions for us, by taking shortcuts – which they call heuristics -, with the goal of not having to invoke the 2% bandwidth of our slow, rational brain.

In a way, influencing behaviour comes down to helping people to decide without having to think. Because the more we need to think about something, the more stress we get, the less we end up making choices.

Since 2018, we now have a second psychologist in the ranks of noble prize winners. Richard Thaler built upon the work of Kahneman and Tversky and zoomed in on how to make use of System 1-System2 thinking to nudge people into better decision making on wealth, health and happiness.

Our hard-wired tendency to persuade

Our biggest fallacy, when it comes to our attempts to influence minds and shape behaviours, is that we always tend to persuade the other with rational arguments. The problem with persuasion is two-fold:

  1. Persuasion evokes System 2-thinking, and we don’t like that. When you try to persuade someone, you want them to think about your argument. Thinking complicates things.
  2. System 2 is the little slave of System 1: we only accept rational arguments or facts, when they are in line with how we already think about matters. You can only persuade someone who’s already convinced.

The real challenge is to make decision making extremely easy.

More about designing choices:

5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.

The most common mistake we make when we try to influence minds and shape behaviour, is to think inside-out. We take the benefits our product or service as our point of departure, and we try to figure out how we could pitch those benefits in such a way that people would realize the value of what we have to offer.

Behavioural Designer work the other way around. We take the human behind the customer as our focal point, and we try to figure out what this human needs to be successful, which anxieties, doubts, prejudices or bad habits he hold that stand in the way of embracing the desired behaviour, or which pains or frustrations we could solve for him.

The Influence Framework

We developed the Influence Framework as a tool to do outside-in thinking systematically,. This model brings all the forces to the surface that influence the behaviour of the people for whom we need to design interventions.

The Influence Framework consists of five questions we need to answer to understand why people do what they do and how to get them to act:

  1. Job-To-Be-Done: What is the underlying goal for which people would have to embrace the new behaviour? How might we align the desired behaviour with goals that matter to them?
  2. Pains: What are possible frustrations and pains in their current behaviour, for which we need to come up with a solution?
  3. Gains: What are the benefits we have, compared with their current solutions?
  4. Anxieties: What are anxieties, doubts, prejudices or other barriers that prevent someone from embracing the new behaviour?
  5. Habits: Which habits keep them locked in their current behaviour?

Finding the answers to these questions will provide you with a blueprint of where to spot opportunities for behavioural change.

In this video, you can find a brief explainer of the Influence Framework.

More about outside-in thinking:

6. Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence

The next step in the Behavioural Design Method is about turning a deep understanding of the forces that explain people’s behaviours, into ideas for behavioural change.  These are two different games. Whereas the Influence Framework uncovers the unconsciousness of people, is this part about applying principles from the science of influence to come up with solutions on how to change behaviour.

We use a variety of principles, but the basic framework is this elegant and simple   formula of Prof. BJ Fogg:

B=MAT,
Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x Trigger.

bjfogg model uitgelegd

When we try to come up with ideas and interventions for behavioural change, we try to find answers to three simple questions:

  1. Trigger: What’s the perfect time and place to prompt a desired behaviour?
  2. Ability: How might we make the desired behaviour easier (or the undesired behaviour more difficult)?
  3. Motivation: How might we boost motivation for the desired behaviour?

The purpose of these three questions is to help system 1 to decide without having to think.

You could plot every known persuasion principle in the literature onto these three axes. The persuasion principles by Robert Cialdini (authority, scarcity, social proof, liking, reciprocity, commitment), can be understood as techniques to boost motivation. Lot’s of usability-principles are ability principles: default options, choice reduction, simplicity, affordance, all aim at making the desired behaviour easy.

More about principles from the science of influence:

7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test

The Psycho-logic is a different kind of logic

The more familiar you get with how the brain works and how influence works, the more you become aware of the fact that human behaviour obeys to a different kind of logic than formal logic. Rory Sutherland calls this “psycho-logic” in his brilliant book  Alchemy.

The way people make decisions is highly context-sensitive. These decisions are full of stories they tell themselves and full of irrational beliefs they hold. Furthermore, even the slightest difference in how something is framed can have a dramatic effect on how people perceive the meaning. When an English native speaker says he or she thinks something is “interesting”, it usually means precisely the opposite. Whereas a non-native Dutch audience would think they “interesting” means what they think it means.

The importance of doing the research yourself

That’s why research and prototyping are so important. Before you come up with an idea for behavioural change, you first need to fall in love with the problem. You observe or interview humans and try to put yourself in their shoes. You’ll be surprised about how many thoughts and beliefs you hold, are actually projections of your limited world view onto the world of the target audience you want to influence.

Prototyping and testing is all about trying to find out which variation of your intervention has the highest potential to design perception, attention, curiosity, experience, behaviour or habit. Even with the clearest of insights, you can still come up with an intervention that ultimately misses its desired effect. What you thought your intervention was supposed to trigger, sometimes triggers the exact opposite.

More about prototyping and testing:

8. Domains of Behavioural Design

The number of applications for Behavioural Design Thinking is endless. Because in the end, most of the things we do as humans aim at influencing the behaviour of others. You can apply it from managing teams to the design of products. Or from getting people to buy products, to changing the way they perceive a service or experience. And from the design of financial habits, personal habits and healthy habits, till the raising of children.

At SUE, we’re particularly fascinated by six specific domains for behavioural change:

Most of our blogs and our weekly newsletter “Behavioural Design Digest” is about one of these topics.

9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design

Now you have a deeper understanding about what Behavioural Design and how you can apply the Behavioural Design Method to influence minds and shape behaviour, there’s a couple of next steps you can take to learn more about the method:

  1. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter Behavioural Design Digest, in which we take a closer look at how influence works in daily life.
  2. Subscribe to one of the upcoming editions of our Behavioural Design Academy masterclasses and learn the Behavioural Design Method step by step.
  3. Organize an in-company training for your team and learn the method while applying it to a critical business challenge for your organization.
  4. Hire SUE to run a Behavioural Design Sprint to research, prototype and test ideas to improve the success of your product or service
  5. Book SUE for a keynote or workshop  (contact us)
  6. Check or frequently asked questions and discover answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.

sue behavioural design

We Want You - Uncle Sam

The Behavioural Design of Applying for a Job

By | All, Self Improvement, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

How do you apply for a job?

From a Behavioural Design point of view, this is a fascinating question. When you are applying for a job, there are several challenges you need to overcome. It’s a multi-level game in which you need to figure out how to reach level 3 or 4 with one single run.

  1. Trigger attention and curiosity
  2. Get invited
  3. Persuade that you are the one

A context of fierce competition for attention

First of all you have to be aware that most companies like ours get about 2-5 applications per day. In addition, those applications have to compete with about 50 other e-mails we have to try to process per day. That means you only get about 10-20 seconds to trigger my curiosity to invest more time in learning more about you. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with being an asshole. It has everything to do with having to figure out how to process the flood of information  – in my inbox alone – that is competing for my attention every single day. Add to this the daily requests by vendors who approach us by phone or e-mail to “have a coffee” and you must realize that time is incredibly scarce and valuable.

Applying for a job is a classic choice problem: With a very limited amount of information and a limited amount of time, we need to make a judgement of whether we want to invest more time in getting to know you.

How to trigger curiosity?

The best way to help us to make a decision is to offer us system 1 shortcuts. One of the core principles of the Behavioural Design Method, that we train at the Behavioural Design Academy is “Help people to make a decision without having to think”. What this means is that the more we have to use our rational brain to figure something out, the more we end up with not making a decision at all. Here are a couple of tips to create shortcuts when you’re applying for a job:

  1. Get introduced by someone we know and trust. If you can get someone to vouch for you, you make it a lot easier for us to get curious
  2. Never pull a stunt to grab our attention. Applying for a job is a delicate seduction process. You wouldn’t set up a surprise act on your first Tinder date, won’t you?
  3. Be intriguing: what are surprising things you’ve done in the past, both in your personal, as well as your private life, that proofs to us that you’re an interesting person? Past behaviour never lies.
  4. Signaling: There’s a lot of value that you communicate in the effort you put into reaching us. We once got a hand written love letter in which the candidate wrote why and when she fell in love with SUE. We hired her on the spot. She still works at SUE.
  5. Study the people to whom you are writing your application. It’s not that hard to find the founders on Twitter, Linkedin and Google. Try to find out what they write about and try to contribute something to the things they are passionate about.

Summary: Think outside-in

An application is like professional flirting. It might take a little more effort to go from Awareness to Interest to Desire and Action. Sometimes it even takes a couple of years. But just like with every every challenge to influence someones behaviour, you have to think outside-in: Try to figure out what the Job-to-be-Done is of the person you try to persuade, then take away their anxieties, then present yourself als the best solution to their pains and make them understand how hiring you would offer them gains that are incredibly valuable.
One more thing: At SUE we prefer to recruit within our network of Behavioural Design Academy alumni,or people who participated in one of our Behavioural Design Sprints.  The simple reason is that are already familiar with the Behavioral Design Method.
I hope this post inspired you to rethink the way you design your application process approach. Good luck!
Tom

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 to create Excitement for a Design Sprint?

By | All, Service Design, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

A Design Sprint is a thrilling experience. You get to collaborate with your clients on trying to crack problems that deeply concerns them. However, a Design Sprint also requires a big leap of faith. What you ask them is to agree on a process, much more than an outcome. That’s not a small thing to ask. You will need to take away a couple of anxieties first. Not only to reassure them, but also to give them the ammunition to persuade their stakeholders. I want to share five insights we’ve learned over the last couple of years.

Tip 1: Address process anxiety at the start of the sprint.

I always begin my sprints with a “trust the process” slide. I acknowledge that their will be times when they will become a bit impatient, or that they will become worried about where the outcome is heading. I warn them that a design sprint is a systematic creative approach to turn profound insights on how their customers think and behave into innovative solutions. The best way to come up with new answers to solving problems is to be patient and to resist the urge to come up with ideas and solutions too fast. When you address this at the start of your sprint, you can come back to it easily whenever friction arises.

Tip 2: Explain why research and prototyping is so valuable

Whether the goal of the sprint is to create new value propositions or service and product innovations, the underlying promise is that the Sprint will provide them with a systematic approach to solve customer problems. The beauty of a (behavioural) design sprint is that its setup forces the participants to approach the problem with a rigor they haven’t probably experienced before: The sprint method forces them to get a better understanding the problem. It forces them to formulate hypotheses on how to solve those problems. It forces them to prototype multiple solutions, and finally, it forces them to learn which prototype works and why it works. By going through these steps, the (Behavioural) Design Sprint protects client teams against their own biases, and it protects them from the HIPPO in the room. The HIPPO is the Highest Paid Person in the Organization, who believes he/she is being paid to know best what the right strategy is. This alone already makes a sprint incredibly valuable.

Tip 3: Take away budget anxieties by anchoring the alternative

A Behavioural Design Sprint requires a considerable investment of time and money. You can’t do a sprint properly if you haven’t got a full-time dedication from your clients. Moreover, a Sprint with experienced Sprint Facilitators also requires a financial commitment. However, look at it this way: First of all, there’s a huge hidden cost of not developing a strategy through rapid prototyping. Imagine you come up with a strategy yourself and you ask your advertising/digital/design agency to execute it. Only to find out that you acted on the wrong assumptions after you produced the whole campaign or designed the product innovation. A (Behavioural) Design Sprint – and the act of prototyping and testing – at the start of your process minimizes this risk and maximizes the chances that you will be doing the right things and doing them right.

“There’s no such thing as a smooth waterfall from research to strategy to creativity to production. In every step of the process, everyone always wants to reinvent the wheel all over again”.

Another way to look at the cost of a behavioural Design Sprint is to compare it with how things are usually done. First clients pay a research agency to do the research. Then they hire a strategy consultancy to help with the strategy. Then they hire a design or advertising agency to bring the strategy to life. Not only do they need to pay three different agencies, but the level of noise and the loss of insights that this process produces is just gigantic. There’s no such thing as a smooth waterfall from research to strategy to creativity to production. In every step of the process, everyone always wants to reinvent the wheel all over again.

Tip 4: Make your client fall in love with the customer problem

A design sprint is a highly structured process to explore new answers for critical marketing or business problems. One of the first things you realize when you start with your customer interviews is that the briefing nearly always is asking the wrong question. The question we tend to ask is the question of how to improve our products and services to get people to buy them. After a couple of customer interviews, you always realize you’re asking the wrong question. You will come up with more intriguing answers when you turn the question outside-in:

“How might we help people to achieve their goals, dreams, and desires in the best possible way?”

Once the sprint team falls in love with the Job-To-Be-Done of the target audience at the offset of the sprint, the sprint becomes way more interesting. (Check out this 4 minute video in which we explain Job-to-be-Done thinking)

Tip 5: Create a shared language

I always found that once the sprint team embraces a shared language to look at the sprint goal, to define the real customer problem and to ask the right questions in the ideation round, magic starts to happen. For us, this is one of the most powerful benefits of our Behavioral Design Method. However, this applies to every human-centric framework you will use. When everyone is trying to answer the same customer-centric questions like “Are we really solving the customer’s Job-To-Be-Done, or “Is this a real customer pain?” or “Are we sufficiently taking away anxieties and other barriers” or “What can we do to make the desired behaviour easier?”, you will witness that you have created a group that is will dedicate itself to solve the problem together.

More on this topic:

Three Cardinal Sins against Customer Centricity in Finance

Three Techniques that will Supercharge your team’s creativity

Video: The Influence Framework: A magical tool to turn human understanding into ideas for Behavioural Change.

Why research is too important to leave it to market research agencies (Dutch)

De onzin van het opsplitsen van onderzoek, strategie, creatie en productie


Learn more about SUE’s Behavioural Design Sprint, a five-day sprint to solve critical marketing and business problems. We combine the method of Design Thinking with principles from Behavioural Psychology to discover human insights, come up with solutions that change behaviour and test them right away with the target audience to learn what works and why.

How can we help with your Challenges?

1. Get inspired, Subscribe for free to our popular bi-weekly mail on Behavioural Design skills.
2. Get answers, Do a Behavioural Design Sprint with us and come up with proven strategies to change behaviour.
3. Get skills, Book a seat at a two-day masterclass to become a certified Behavioural Designer.

 

 

 

Why Nir Eyal is a bit of a hypocrite

By | All, Behavioural Science, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

Nir Eyal – the author of the book Hooked – taught a whole generation of designers and developers how to make people addicted to technology, by using techniques from behavioural psychology. Eyal demonstrated in his book how to design habits – a newspeak word for addiction – through the principle of variable rewards. The more a product or service rewards you in unpredictable ways, the more we will get hooked. There’s nothing our brain finds more appealing than the joy of anticipation.

The principle of variable rewards

Gambling addicts know this all too well. Casino’s designed gambling machines in such a way that they reward the gambler once in a while. Just enough to keep the player in a psychological status of being “on the verge of an epic win.” The effect is that the player continues to play until he runs out of money.

Well designed games use the same mechanisms. Jane McGonigal included in her fantastic book “Reality is Broken” pictures of the facial expression of people who are on the verge of an epic win. It’s like they’re about to get an orgasm.

Face of a gamer who's on the verge of an epic dwin, illustrating the power of variable rewards.

Face of a gamer who’s on the verge of an epic dwin, illustrating the power of variable rewards.

The secret behind gambling addiction and game addiction is a carefully designed reward system. And by writing the book Hooked, Nir Eyal brought these dark principles to the world of technology to teach technology companies to get their users addicted to their products. And based on the time we spend on our devices, they paid great attention. We’re always alert for this one crucial e-mail, that one little instant message, or the Facebook notification that could make our day. Most of the time it’s nothing, but once in a while, it’s a bingo! That’s variable rewards.

Why Nir Eyal is a hypocrite for blaming the user

My problem with Nir Eyal is not his work. On the contrary. I think Hooked – and the principle of variable rewards – holds enormous opportunities to apply these design principles to design positive behaviours. Think about the worldwide wave of positive Karma that the Japanese soccer fans received for cleaning up the stadium after their national team got beaten in the second round of the World Cup last month.

Japanese fans cleaning up after their national team lost the 1/16 final of the World Cup against Belgium

Japanese fans cleaning up after their national team lost the 1/16 final of the World Cup against Belgium

What I do think is problematic, is that Nir Eyal refuses to be held accountable for the global wave of smartphone addiction. In a recent interview with Dutch newspaper NRC, he claims that we are entirely responsible for our addictive behaviours. We shouldn’t blame Facebook. It’s us who lack discipline. That’s utter bollocks of course. The simple truth is that we’re fighting an unfair battle. Our mental control can’t possibly win from the refined techniques that continuously attack, exploit and reward our unconscious desires. Technology Ethicist Tristan Harris calls “a race to the bottom of the brain stem.”

I think that we need to get in terms with the fact that the science of influence is out in the open. The clock can’t be turned back on this. Ever since the invention of fire, humanity both did terrific as well as horrifying things with their newly acquired superpowers. However, in the right hands, we can do amazing things with these superpowers, such as designing healthy habits or altruistic behaviours. But in the wrong, greedy hands, the knowledge can go evil. Think Facebook, think Trump. Think Brexit. It seems like Nir Eyal opened pandora’s box and can’t close it anymore. It would suit him if he stopped being a hypocrite about it.

Related blogs:

The Dark Wisdom: How Design Manipulates the Way we Think, Feel and Behave.

How to create Change by Design, a blog on how to apply Behavioural Design to solving wicked problems.


Get your ticket for Behavioural Design Fest, September 21st, Amsterdam

Three Cardinal Sins against Customer-Centricity in Finance

By | All, Financial Behaviour, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

Last week, I was attending a keynote presentation by the CEO of one of the biggest Belgian banks. He was presenting the story of the digital transformation of his bank and he brought it as if it was a visionary story. And although the man certainly had excellent presentation skills, I somehow got annoyed with his storyline. Probably in the first place because it felt like 2007 was back with cliché-slides as “Shift Happens”, “The Consumer is in Control” and “Remember Altavista? Look at what Google Did!”. But the second reason for my annoyance had to do with something more profound. He was preaching the “customer-first”-mantra, while in reality, his story had absolutely nothing to do with customer-first. It was very obviously “Bank-First”, under the disguise of “we want to make it more simple for the customer to buy more stuff”.

In my view, his keynote sinned against three cardinal sins of customer-centric innovation. And I want to argue that you can find these three cardinal sins in every digital transformation pitch by gurus, consultants and managers. So what I want to do is to put the spotlight on each of these three sins and I want to use the next blog post to suggest how you can transform these cardinal sins into decisive action.

Cardinal Sin 1: The customer as consumer at the heart of the strategy

At the heart of all these digital transformation keynotes sits the demanding, narcissistic customer. This customer is said to be spoiled by the speed and simplicity of Google, the absurd logistics of Amazon and the mobile interface-perfection of Apple and Facebook. What follows is that all these corporations assume that it’s exactly this demanding and spoiled attitude what makes this customer so different from the good old days. The CEO shared an example in his keynote of how his bank redesigned a front-office and back-office process to allow a customer to open an account in a couple of minutes on his smartphone. The bank would reward this customer with € 5, allowing him to walk into a Starbucks and buy a coffee just minutes after opening his account.

The problem with this example is that the banker looks at his customer with a “consumer”-frame in his mind. But when you look at the customer as a moody, demanding, click-trigger happy cowboy, and you build your processes and services around this persona, you’re doomed to lose the battle. Because the real challenges where every digital transformation project should focus on, are the challenges and problems that the human behind the customer is facing. And those problems are on an entirely different level: An incapability to build wealth, or to become financially independent. 95% of the people are financially illiterate and could really use some help to construct financial buffers, make smarter investments, generate passive income, etc. Thát’s the real design-briefing for which financial institutions need to develop intelligent answers. A better interface just a simple hygiene-factor for which they do need to catch up. To design your entire digital infrastructure around a spoiled persona is, to put it mildly, incomplete. And to put it more bluntly: out of touch with the real world.

Cardinal Sin 2: Evil KPI’s

Every time you hear Mark Zuckerberg doing an interview, he keeps insisting that the interest of the Facebook-community is central to everything the company does. In a recent interview on Reid Hofmann’s Masters of Scale-podcast, he says: “Our mission at Facebook is to discover where our community wants us to go.” With this mission in mind, Facebook employees conduct hundreds of experiments each day. Mark Zuckerberg is convinced that the world will be a better place if Facebook discovers what people want.

The only problem with this mantra is that Facebook has become a public company in 2012. And once a company goes public, its primal reason for existence is to create shareholder value. And the number one metric to create shareholder value is “engagement”: when as many people as possible, return to Facebook as many times as possible to serve them as many ads as possible.

Facebook-scientists, Facebook-algorithms and the Facebook-AI work really hard to generate a maximum amount of “engagement”, which, frankly, is newspeak for addiction: 1) The company has perfected the way notifications trigger little dopamine-shots in the brain in order to get people to return to the platform over and over again. Nir Eyal describes this addictive design in the book Hooked. 2) The algorithms and the Facebook-AI also know that the best way to get people more engaged is by fueling outrage. Nothing fuels better engagement than extreme content. The reason why a relatively small Russian troll-farm could have such a significant impact on the US-elections is that they correctly understood that outrage is the fuel that drives the Facebook-algoritms.

The point I’m making is this: Although Facebook’s rhetoric may be full of storytelling on “connecting” and “creating a better, more open world”, it’s business metric drives the behaviour of the company in a different direction. To maximize “time-on-device” and “engagement” to generate as many opportunities as possible to serve ads to people, has, in reality, led Facebook, its employees, its algorithms and its Artificial Intelligence to steer on more evil KPI’s like Facebook-addiction, craving for constant social recognition and political polarization.

This brings me back to the banker. His “digital transformation with the customer at the center” eventually also steers on traditional banking-KPI’s of selling as many products and triggering as many transactions as possible. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this. The bank needs to make a living. However, if they would also steer on real customer-centric KPI’s, I guess they would be much more successful. If they were to focus on maximizing spending power, maximizing investment capacity or capacity to loan, maximizing interest,… they would easily be able to come up with tons of new services for which their customers would never want to switch to another bank again.

Cardinal Sin 3: An inadequate understanding of the good life.

Behind all these digital transformation stories I never hear the philosophical question whether all these changes are actually meaningful. If the goal of all these digital transformation projects is to help a spoiled consumer to buy everything faster and more frictionless, then the vision they have on humanity is incredibly limited. You can read in it the fulfilment of the ultimate corporate wet dream of reducing every human to a consumer.

Today, this reductionist consumerist vision leads to two crises of epic proportion. Of course, there’s first and foremost the ecological crisis. The speed with which our consumption behaviour is exhausting the earth and its vital resources is not sustainable. Read Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics” or watch her Ted-talk.

But next to this ecological crisis we are also in the middle of a more profound psychological crisis. The more gratification we can buy, the less we seem to enjoy. The more we pursue impulses and individual greed, the emptier our existence appears to become. This crisis of meaning could well become the biggest crisis of the 21st century. It is funny in that context to observe that all those “Silicon Valley”-bobos are utterly obsessed with Stoic philosophy. Because they no longer know how to enjoy, they go back to the answers formulated two millennia ago.

In his keynote, the banker does not say a word about how the derailed banking world wants to play a meaningful role again in the lives its customers. We know what happened in 2008 with the money people entrusted to the banks. That turned out to be nothing more than casino money for speculation to increase the profits of the banks and the bonuses of the bankers. The fantastic challenges for the banks are nevertheless obvious: Helping freelancers to make ends meet. Protecting the middle class from loss of wealth and poverty in their old age (which is something the Dutch Rabobank is actively working on for example). Investing in projects that promote public prosperity. Boosting general well-being. Helping people to make their capital work for them. Looking for new ways to let the abundance of capital in the market find their way to entrepreneurs. Managing an aging population. Speeding up urbanization. Financing sustainability,…

There are so many opportunities to use digital transformation to become truly indispensable in the economy. So many possibilities to become incredibly relevant, once you put the human behind the customer at the center of your digital transformation. Simply start with replacing this spoiled persona at the heart of your transformation story with the citizen who has more and more difficulties to live a carefree life in increasingly difficult times.

 

Tom De Bruyne
Co-Founder SUE Amsterdam and the Behavioural Design Academy.

 

Cover image by April under Creative Commons License.

—————
Master the method and tools to change behaviour in our two-day masterclasses at the Behavioural Design Academy.
Create, prototype and test your marketing challenges in 5 days with SUE’s Behavioural Design Sprints.
—————

Want free training, tools, and tips in your inbox?

Join 2500+ others. Sign up right here, right now for free.

What’s Neymar worth? A lesson in price psychology.

By | All, Financial Behaviour, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

Behavioural economics has always been fascinated by pricing. Classic economic thinking has taught us that a price is a fair representation of supply and demand. A rational or even objective evaluation of worth. But in practice, nothing holds further from the truth than this assumption. Almost nothing is more subjective or manipulative than the price of things. Our unconsciousness uses price as an irrational shortcut to evaluate the value of things. Driving up prices or value perception without any logical or objective explanation: Something is expensive so it must be good.

Some examples to illustrate this. For most wine buyers the price of a bottle of wine is the only cue on which they base their quality judgment of wine. A bottle of wine that is priced from 9,99 to 5,99 gives you the feeling that within your wanted price range of a table wine you suddenly get access to a high-quality wine. If the same bottle of wine were just priced 5,99, it just would feel like a table wine. Something happens in your value perception by the price indication. Another classic example of irrational value perception is the introduction of the black pearls in the twenties. When the first black pearls were discovered, nobody wanted to have them. People were used to white pearls and had no idea if black pearls were as valuable as white pearls. The distributor of the black pearls than made a genius move. He retracted all black pearls from the market and paid the world famous Tiffany’s New York to expose them in their window next to ridiculously expensive jewelry items. Suddenly everybody had to have the black pearls, and they were willing to pay a price that was a multitude of the original market price of the black pearls. The rest is history. Black pearls are still more expensive than their white sisters and brothers.

One of the key concepts of psychology is called price cluelessness. We don’t have any concept of what the price of something should be. Our brain solves this problem, by unconsciously looking for clues to help us answer a simple question: Is this product a bargain or is it overpriced? And that’s where things go wrong because most mental shortcuts we use aren’t only incorrect, they are also professionally abused by product suppliers.

A perfect example of this is the recent price escalation in soccer. This summer Neymar was sold by FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for a staggering 220 million Euros. The story behind this outrageous price is that Barcelona had put a leaver clause in Neymar’s contract of 200 million Euros to protect themselves from people buying this crucial player from them. They never expected that somebody would be that crazy to pay for such an excessive amount. But that was just peanuts for some wealthy oil sheiks that simply wanted Neymar to play for their Paris club.

The price that paid for Neymar just became the price that someone was prepared to pay for something he wants to own. But the effect was greater than this: What happened next is that the whole soccer transfer world went berserk. The price paid for Neymar became the new price anchor against which the value of all players is measured. In a few days time, the prices that used to be paid for players have been wiped off the table. Lionel Messi got a leaver clause of 300 million Euros in his contract, Ronaldo has to do with a clause of mere one milliard Euros. On the last day of the transfer period, Barcelona paid a 100 million Euros for 20-year-old Dembele, who ‘just’ had an estimated worth of 40 million Euros a few days before. Early summer, Manchester United bought the Belgian player Romelu Lukaku for 85 million from Everton. Jose Mourinho, the coach of Manchester United, actually called this a bargain. One month later, when the whole Neymar price spectacle took place, the transfer of Lukaku could easily have cost the club 115 million Euros.

Markets are irrational. The price paid for Neymar was nothing more than an excess of ultra-rich oil billionaires. But the price paid for Newmar ignited a chain reaction of reactions, tactics, and strategies that caused every player transfer to conform to this new price benchmark. In the end, the soccer market is not that much different from the housing market: It is an artificial bubble that will implode. Behind the game with a ball, there is a game with aggressive investors that will earn crazy amounts of money by blowing up this bubble. When the bubble pops, as it always does eventually, it will be only a few already filthy rich people that will profit while others will have to pay the painful and sometimes lifelong price of having bought something overpriced that has suddenly has lost its value. No billionaire will help you there; they are buying something outrageously new already.

 

SUE Amsterdam is helping clients to conquer the challenges of fast-changing markets by making their marketing and communication smarter using insights from behavioural psychology. We’ll help you get a grip on the needs, wants, and decisions of your customers by becoming radically human-centered. Exposing new opportunities and developing creative ideas that will influence the choices of your users and nudge them to the desired behaviour. We apply our Behavioural Design Method in which we train and coach our clients on the project. This way we can not only come up with winning ideas together, but client teams also master the method themselves. Do you want master behavioural psychology? Take part in the Behavioural Design Academy. You’ll learn the science of influence in just two days.

 

Cover image by Leonid Domnitser under Creative Commons license.

Want free training, tools, and tips in your inbox?

Join 2500+ others. Sign up right here, right now for free.

3 techniques that will supercharge your team’s creativity

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations, Self Improvement, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

Brainstorms must die

Before we get to the goods of supercharging your team’s creativity, there’s one thing that needs to be taken care of first: Dead to the brainstorm. Maybe it sounds a bit harsh, but sorry, there’s no pardoning act. Brainstorms should die. The ‘inventor’ of the brainstorm Alex F. Osborn gave birth to brainstorms in 1939. So, it’s about time for a makeover. But let’s not question his intentions. According to Wikipedia Mr. Osborn “Was frustrated by employees’ inability to develop creative ideas individually for ad campaigns, in response, he began hosting group-thinking sessions.” And it still holds true: Solitary creative processes have an entirely different dynamic and output than a process in which great minds collide.

But why, oh why, are we then all still trapped in those everlasting flip-over led sessions that feel like such a waste of time and resources and where great minds tend to collapse instead of connecting?

But why, oh why, are we then all still trapped in those everlasting flip-over led sessions that feel like such a waste of time and resources and where great minds tend to collapse instead of connecting? Looking at brainstorms from a human psychology perspective, there’s a quite simple explanation. When a group engages in a group think process, the leader of the pack prevails. It is just nature. The one who is the loudest is heard the most. And the highest in rank at the table is often followed. The real problem with this is that a group only delivers a fraction of the possible number of ideas in a brainstorm.

 

How to supercharge the creative capital of a group

But there’s an upside to this: Research shows that teams are terrible in coming up with ideas but great in selecting ideas. So, if we fix the ideation part of the process, we can create magic. In fact, three simple behavioural design techniques can have a massive impact on the creative output of a group. They will help you to unlock the creative potential of a group, even of presumed non-creatives.

Research shows that teams are terrible in coming up with ideas but great in selecting ideas.

 

How Might We Questions

The first technique has to do with a human psychology principle that’s called the Framing Effect: How information is presented shapes our opinions about it. In this case, it is the question from which you jump-start your creative thinking. You can drive creative output by designing the problem using these three magic words: “How Might We?” Feel how the “Might” instantly liberates you: It urges you to go ahead and explore, to free your mind, be boundary-less, an explorer or pioneer even. Compared to its tight ass brother ‘Can’ it makes a world of difference. Just feel what it does to you when you frame the question as ‘How Can We?”. The ‘Can’ immediately forces you to think about the possibilities and even worse the impossibilities; practicalities also, harshly limiting the number of ideas already at the start of the process.

 

Brainwriting

When getting to the ideation part of the creative process we’ve to keep a few human psychology principles in mind. The first is social proof: People tend to follow the lead of others. Sometimes this manifest itself in the social bias of Authority: We have a strong tendency to comply with authority figures. Or we adjust our behaviour to reflect positively on how peers see us: The Reputation bias. The job to be done in the ideation phase is to reduce the biases that could potentially reduce the creative output and install a free-flowing non-judgmental exchange and ideation process that sparks everyone’s creative fire.

You’ll be amazed by the number and diversity of ideas you as a group will come up with in such limited time. From everyone. The bold and the timid. The upper rankers and the climbing uppers. The creatives and the presumed non-creatives.

A technique to do so is Brainwriting. Instead of coming up with ideas as a group, you start by thinking about ideas as an individual. The method is simple. Determine a ‘How Might We Question’. Give every person a stack of post-its. Set a timer for a brief period, somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, and then as an individual write down as many ideas as possible, no talking, just go wild by yourself. Write down every idea that pops into your mind on a separate post-it. After time’s up, everyone shares his/her ideas with the group. Stick them on a large piece of paper. Describe them if necessary. But don’t comment on each other’s ideas just yet. All you do is grouping the ideas that seem similar. You’ll be amazed by the number and diversity of ideas you as a group will come up with in such limited time. From everyone. The bold and the timid. The upper rankers and the climbing uppers. The creatives and the presumed non-creatives. Then use the third technique to select the ideas.

 

Dotmocracy

A fundamental concept in behavioural psychology is making target behaviour easier to do. A well-known psychological phenomenon in groups is social compliance. It’s very challenging for an individual to go against the norm, breaking the rules, to think differently. Social deviance is a hard behaviour to show, as it triggers another psychological principle: Loss Aversion. Humans prefer eliminating the risks of loss over increasing the odds of winning. And the most significant loss in a group process is rubbing against the hairs of the highest ranked person in the group and dealing with the personal retributions. But it’s precisely that kind of social deviance of going up against the top-ranked person in the group that helps to select the best ideas. A simple technique to eliminate this pressure and to fight compliance is called dotmocracy.

Loss aversion: Humans prefer eliminating the risks of loss over increasing the odds of winning.

 

The technique is simple: Everyone gets two same colored dots. Everyone groups around the paper with all ideas and at the same moment, you stick a dot on your two favorite ideas. Could be two dots at the same idea, could be dots on your ideas, could be dots on two different ideas. Just pick the ideas that you think have the most potential. Nobody can follow the lead of others, and you instantly get a clear overview of the best ideas. Usually, as a group, you discuss the selected ideas with two dots or more where people are asked to elaborate on the reason for picking the idea. After the explanation, the second round of dotmocracy should be done, placing dots on the ideas that came out as best in the first round. Although sometimes sticking dots at the same time is sometimes impossible (the best group size is therefore 5/6 people), the process shows people authority is not an issue. Everyone’s vote has the same weight. There are no larger dots. No different colored dots. No order of placing the dots.

 

If you only have 30 seconds of reading time, this is what you have to know:

  • Three behavioural psychology techniques can help you to boost the quality and diversity of your creative output;
  • It can help you make your creative output more qualitative as you can involve stakeholders from very different backgrounds, making your ideas more multi-layered and distinct;
  • It offers you a method to come up with ideas on your own without being distracted or disturbed, but at the same time the process involves interaction with others to make ideas better;
  • Instead of working for days on ideas, you come up with ideas fast, and you already get feedback after 15 minutes. Enabling you to make your ideas better or to kill the ideas that appeared not to be as good as you thought at first;
  • It offers new established multidisciplinary teams, such as scrum teams, easy to apply techniques to come up with creative output.

 


You might also like to read:

How to create change by design

 


Astrid is the founder of SUE Amsterdam and The Behavioural Design Academy. Our mission is to unlock the power of behavioural psychology to nudge people into making positive choices in work, life, and play.

In two days of high-end master classes, we train people as certified behavioural change directors. We teach them to unlock the powerful principles of behavioural psychology and use The Behavioural Design Method™ to translate this knowledge into actionable skills to influence personal behaviour or the behaviour of customers, employees, family members or the general public.

Cover image by BntOman ♥ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ✿ under Creative Commons license.

Want free training, tools, and tips in your inbox?

Join 2500+ others. Sign up right here, right now for free.