‘Marketers Are Choice Architects’


Photo by Martin Lengemann, courtesy of Dan Ariely

As Dan Ariely took the stage at the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference he asked the audience, “What drives human behavior?” Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and a best-selling author of several books including Predictably Irrational, suggested that attendees might say goals and aspirations—adding that those lofty aims rarely describe people’s actual behavior. “We think that we have goals and those drive our action. But that’s not the case,” he said. “There’s a gap between goals and actions.”

Instead, we often take the path of least resistance and make irrational decisions.

This is where marketers come in. Ariely called marketers “choice architects.” He said that by helping customers to facilitate decisions, marketers can spur desired actions and win their business.

Consider opt in versus opt out: When faced with a big, complicated decision, people often do nothing—or leave the decision to others, Ariely said. For markters this means that, for example, the right questions pre-completed on a form can prompt customers to “choose” by guiding them smoothly and easily to the desired choice. One pizza restaurant starts its “build your pizza” with all the options pre-checked; as a result, customers now usually choose five more toppings than when all the options were unchecked. “Changing the options changes the scenario,” Ariely said.

Ariely shared two lessons for marketers to consider:

Lesson 1: What we say is not what we do. Marketers can ask people why they do what they do, but they won’t get much insight. Tracking and analyzing customer behavior—especially their online behaviors—can help marketers better understand their customers.

Lesson 2: Education, logical appeal, and reason are not the ways to approach people. What you should design for is your version of Homer Simpson, Ariely said. “Not because people are bad, but because they’re busy,” he said.

Marketing, Ariely asserted, should be all about: Where can we help?

Use calls-to-action, for instance, to ask people when exactly they will do X. “Putting it on their calendar makes it part of their day and more likely to do it,” he said, adding that the aim is to get their intentions to become actions. “Just providing information doesn’t change how people behave—remember, every piece of effort is really high.”

Ariely closed with a final reminder: “How we expect people to behave is not how they’ll behave,” he said. “So, test and do research. And have humility.”

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