Behavioural psychology in the real world

There’s been a fair bit of coverage recently on the success of the government’s Behavioural Insights Team or ‘Nudge Unit’, whose ideas are now in demand around the world. Anyone who has worked in online marketing over the last decade will recognise many of the techniques being used, as they’re the same ones we use every day in marketing.

If we need to offer prospects A or B, but want them to choose B, consider putting in an option C so that our preferred choice is in the comfortable middle. At the other extreme, there’s also the proven effectiveness of simplifying choice. As good salespeople know, offer them everything from A to Z and they’ll probably put off the decision to another time.

Another way of making prospects feel comfortable is to highlight the popularity of what we want them to do. I’d be prepared to bet that when you signed up to get this email, we let you know about the number of your contemporaries who already get it. How could they all be wrong? What were they getting that you might be missing out on? I’m sure you felt better being invited in from the cold.

A lot of this work is proven and further developed by A/B testing, something which many of us don’t have the luxury of trying. How we wish we could test one idea on 1,000 subjects while leaving another 9,000 as our control group. If you run a company which gets 20 decent enquiries a month, there’d be no statistical validity in any trial. However, we can learn from the conclusions which others make, as well as using our own instinct and common sense. Behavioural psychology may be an academic subject, but we can take practical advantage of it.

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