Using behavioral science to drive action

So here’s a question for you. You walk into the restroom. You are alone. There are three empty stalls. Which stall do you enter?

Before you answer, I should warn you: You may not be able to tell me.

The truth is, we are all hardwired to behave in certain ways. Over the centuries, we’ve developed certain shortcuts to decision-making, certain automatic, instinctive, reflexive actions.

We don’t really think about them, and if we did – if we were asked what we’d do – we might very well come up with an answer that’s different from what our automatic response would be.

So what does this have to do with direct marketing? In a word, everything.

Since direct marketing is all about getting to people to act, knowing that human beings are hard-wired to behave in particular ways is very important. Knowing that some of these behaviors can be triggered is even more important.

It comes down to this: As marketers, we can actually use what science has proven about human behavior in order to influence it.

Let me give you an example. Social scientists have found that people naturally gravitate toward the middle. We don’t like to feel we lag behind most people. Nor, for the most part, are we terribly comfortable being way out ahead. As people, we tend to cluster in the center. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

We have a client who sells insurance. And most of their customers don’t buy anywhere near the maximum amount available. With that in mind, we included a graph in our upsell letter. At the left end of the continuum was $0. At the right end was $2 million dollars, the maximum. And somewhere a little to the right of $0 was an arrow with “You are here.”

What the customer saw was that they were below the middle point, lagging behind, and they increased their coverage amount, moving closer to the instinctive comfort zone for human beings.

Now they may have told themselves they were increasing their coverage because the timing was right or because the rates were good. But social scientists will say the desire to be closer to the midpoint was also exerting its pull, and when I think of all the times I’ve chosen the middle option – the mid-priced bottle of wine, the mid-level service plan, etc. – I have to think they’re right.

By the way, according to a study published in Psychology Today, more people naturally walk into the center stall. So now you know.

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