There is interesting misconception in the world that we humans are rational. You know the drill: we believe that we take in information around us and make reasoned decisions.
In reality we are quite the opposite: we are fundamentally irrational creatures. A rational person would save carefully for retirement, exercise regularly, and eat healthy food. Instead we eat at Taco Bell, laze around binge-watching Netflix, and fritter our earnings away on senseless frivolities.
Interestingly, from a marketing perspective, we are rather predictable and consistent in the way we behave in these irrational ways, and these behavioral economics patterns can provide a blueprint we can use for tapping into the human condition. Behavioral economics is something I use extensively in my work as a community strategy/management consultant.
Soaking Up The Psychology
There are a number of wonderful books on the topic (including Predictably Irrational, The Upside Of Irrationality, Nudge, and Thinking Fast And Slow), but to give you a head start, I am going to share a number of intriguing behavioral economic principles and some ways in which you can apply it to your work as a marketeer.
Before we start, it is important to note that these principles should be considered a guiding light as opposed to a framework or model. Behavioral economics sheds light on consistencies in human behavior, but we are not robots, and there will of course be variations in our behavior. As such, be informed by the principles, but don’t religiously adhere to them. Without further ado, let’s get started.
An interesting study found that if a class of students was given an opportunity to cheat, they will cheat just a little. This is because we hold a positive self-image of ourselves that we don’t want to compromise. If that same group of students, at the point of being tempted to cheat, is asked to read the 10 Commandments though, cheating goes down. This is unlikely because of any religious significance, but more that when we are reminded of a moral code it adjusts our behavior.
If you have a community, online discussion forums, social media accounts, or other points of engagement, reminding people of their moral compass can be a useful subtle tool here. This can also be helpful in setting the tone when sharing contentious topics, when dealing with complicated negotiations, or building an alliance towards a common goal.
At the heart of many behavioral economics principles (such as the one above) is our view of ourselves and our identity. When at the point of temptation to make a poor decision, sometimes we can avert the poor choice if we are reminded of ourselves.
As an example, some people cheat their tax returns a little bit. If they are asked to sign at the end of the form the cheating goes ahead. Interestingly, if they are asked to sign FIRST and then fill in the form, cheating goes down. This suggests that if we identify the identity first, we get more honest responses and results.
This can be a useful consideration when you want to ensure people give you honest and accurate information such as in reports, surveys, and research — ask them first for their identity. Associating someone’s identity can also be useful for encouraging accountability (e.g. tasks that are assigned to a person on a publicly visible space will improve the likelihood of them actually completing them).
The Ikea Effect
Imagine I buy an Ikea table and you buy the exact same one. We both independently put it together, both of us following the same instructions. Interestingly, you will think your table is better than mine, and vice versa. This is because we place an increased level of value in the things we create, even if those things were constructed in a rather rote way.
This has interesting implications for anything where your customers/community submits material for assessment. This could include competitions, contests, and more, where they may see more value in their work than is reasonably. As such, we might want to put in place objective measures and assessments to reduce this effect.
The Importance Of Status
While we often say we don’t care about status, in reality we do. Titles, positions, and differentiators of role are things we care about. What is as important as different types of status is clarity in how people can transition between them. An example of this are airline rewards programs: they offer distinctive perks, and accomplishing them is clearly defined.
This can be a useful tool in deliberately building in different status types into products, services, and communities (complete with clarification for how to transition between those types). This principle also maps neatly to the principles of gamification and how we distribute intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
Choice Is Everything
One of the understated rules of building things for people, and a key behavioral economics principle, is that choice is something we actively seek out. We don’t like to be put into a box or follow a linear path. This is why when you buy a car you can customize every detail from the body to the entertainment and beyond. The car maker is still getting your money, but it is more rewarding if you have a choices to customize your car.
This is a critical insight in marketing. People hate traditional marketing that foists an outcome on your. Think instead of how you can give people choices and options within your campaigns. How can they customize, adjust, and influence the outcome while still providing the result you want? Considering this choice architecture can lead to great outcomes, give your customers a sense of autonomy, and deliver great results.
Irrational Value Assessment
If I have an incredible wine that I can sell for $7, people are likely to be suspicious of its quality. Interestingly, if I re-label it and sell it for $50 the perception of the value will improve significantly. This is because we make a judgement call in different parts of life to assess value, and in the wine world for example, the notion of value is defined by cost, labeling, and other elements.
This can have a huge impact on pricing. If you have a product or service that costs little to provide, you may want to consider the perception of value for your customers. Research and blind tests can be helpful here.
Interestingly, the notion of “free” also plays its own unique role. Free things are a tremendously powerful force in how people make their choices, which is part of the reason free trials are so popular. There is though a dark side to free: people may consider it to be of limited value. As such, think of how free can be a gateway for your customers, but then value your main product in a way that they respect the value of it.
These are just a few of the many behavioral economics principles that line the books and papers on the topic, but hopefully it will give you some food for thought for ways in which you can tap into these intrinsic human behavioral patterns. Doing this well will help you to deliver better results, more human and humane initiatives, and a more satisfying experience for everyone involved.