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Good behavior: Lessons from the Behavioral Science Summit | News

Liam Kay looks at some of the key takeaways from the Market Research Society’s Behavioral Science Summit, which took place in London last week.

Winning over nonbelievers
Speaking in a panel session on embedding behavioral science in organizations, Rupert Gill, head of behavioral science at Ofcom, said that it was often very easy to get people engaged in behavioral science but that initial support can “give you a sense of false confidence”, with motivation dropping quickly afterwards. The “gravitational pull” of what people’s routines and processes were before a new, behavioral science influenced way of working was introduced can be very strong.

“You need to keep making the case – don’t assume people get it,” Gill said. “Don’t assume they understand what behavioral science is and what it gives you. Don’t be afraid to be repetitive, to keep giving the message and to inspire people.” While behavioral science does lodge eventually, he added, there needs to be a time investment in making the case for the discipline internally.

Gill said that embedding behavioral science at a small scale can help it survive within an organization and become part of the culture. “If you can do something that has demonstrable impact and you can quantify it, that is a godsend,” he explained. “It is a blessing as what it does is it buys some credibility and makes people interested. You can be open about what it does and doesn’t do – you shouldn’t overplay it and should put caveats around it – but that can get your foot in the door. Often, people are looking for solutions, rather than you telling them their problem is more complicated than it appears at first.”

In previous organizations, Gill said that behavioral science suffered for the loss of advocates to new roles elsewhere, as the discipline was not a strong part of the organizational culture and not properly bought into by more senior leaders. “We didn’t have that consistent gaze,” he said. “Once the drivers aren’t there, the momentum gets lost.”

James Sallowsglobal head of transformation and capability at Haleon (formerly GSK), told the panel that the power of behavioral science needs to be demonstrated for it to be adopted across the organization. This means getting people from beyond the insight team to also have an understanding of behavioral science.

“No one wants to be the person who tried it and it didn’t work,” Sallows added. “How do you encourage that experimentation, and how do you allow people to experiment? A lot of our work has been done the same way for a very long time, and so getting someone to let that go or even adding things on top is always a challenge.

“If we don’t have the advocacy, we won’t have the practitioners.”

Combatting sales tactics
Crawford Hollingworth, global founder at The Behavioral Architects, focused on ‘sludge’, which is the toxic use of nudging, and how online companies were misusing sales tactics, featuring research conducted for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). He focused on three types of sales tactics: pressure selling, hidden charges and fake reviews. The CMA research also indicated that older people, those on lower incomes, the ‘time poor’ and people with vulnerabilities were being especially targeted by the ‘wild west’ in online selling.

Using a behavioral science lens helps understand these sales tactics, Hollingworth explained. “In the online space, the wealth of choice and information makes it much more likely to rely on mental shortcuts, and that can make everyone more error prone,” he said. “This means behavioral biases can be magnified a lot, as we make decisions quickly while trying to process a vast amount of information.”

Examples of pressure selling included demand based messaging, time limits and supply based messaging, using ‘present bias’ – get it now! – and ‘scarcity bias’, where a product seems to be running out, to drive sales. Hidden charges can include hidden subscriptions, for example, exploiting the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, where people accept hidden fees due to expended time, effort or money on buying the product. Fake reviews can pull at heartstrings to make people want to buy something on a whim.

“You would never accept the sales tactics that are used in the online world in the offline world if you knew about them,” Hollingworth added.

All about emotions
Dr Vanja Ljevarchief data scientist and Cubic Intelligence, said that personality traits are not as stable as we think they are, and that people can change characteristics according to environment. “Self-reported personality measures vary according to context,” she said. “A huge part of this context relates to our current mood and emotions.”

There are three contextual levels – emotions and moods; attitudes, which are more stable; and, finally, personality. Ljevar said that emotions and moods create the context for the other two, with moods being longer-lasting and more stable, whereas emotions are shorter term. “We have many different emotions, many different states, however, we can always circle back and think of emotions as either positive or negative.”

‘Activation’ also needs to be considered in the context of emotions. Ljevar said that some emotions are considered ‘active’, meaning they prompt the individual to take action, while others are ‘passive’. For example, anger can prompt action, while sadness does not. “When we talk about sentiment, we usually talk about aligning messaging and content,” Ljevar added. “When we talk about activation, we can also talk about the depth of information processing. If someone is in an ‘active’ mood and feels active emotions, they will be more prone to systematic processing, and can process more information and have more energy. If someone feels more content, which is a passive, positive emotion, they will be prone to do heuristic processing.”

Nudging often aligns communication to mood and emotions, but there is a hidden secret of ‘dual emotion solution’, said Ljevar. Some emotions are compatible, such as fear and humor, with the playfulness of humor helping to tackle the defensiveness of fear.

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