The top 10 behavioural influences

There is something like 150 biases and heuristics that influence behaviour. That’s a lot to navigate if you want to apply behavioural economics to everyday business issues like writing an email, putting a pitch together or pacifying a disgruntled customer.

So here is my top ten. I’ve packaged them into a mnemonic called INFLUENCES. Use it as your checklist when embarking on an activity designed to get someone to do something.

  1. Immediacy (short-term bias): We act for now, not later. For example, snacking now and promising to eat salad for the rest of the week. Ask yourself: what’s the immediate payoff and have I deferred any downside?
  2. Norms (social norms): We do what others do, e.g. preferring a bustling restaurant to one that’s empty. Ask yourself: How can I signal that the desired behaviour is what other people also do?
  3. Framing: Context changes meaning. For example, black pearls became highly prized once they were associated with expensive gemstones. Ask yourself: What is my customer’s frame of reference for this? With what am I compared?
  4. Loss aversion: We are more motivated to avoid loss than seek gain, e.g. second serve in tennis is more conservative than the first because there is something to lose. Ask yourself: What does my customer have to lose and how do I negate this?
  5. Uniqueness: We like our individuality to be recognised, not compromised. For example, personalised Nutella and Coke. Ask yourself: Does my customer feel special and acknowledged?
  6. Environment: Location and surroundings shape behaviour.
    For example, a bigger bowl leads to more ice-cream being consumed. Ask yourself: How can I shape the environment in which purchase and consumption take place?
  7. Numbers: Contextualisation and display alter interpretation, e.g. 1,500.00 is perceived as larger than 1500. Ask yourself: Have I made painful numbers look small?
  8. Choice (paradox of choice): We desire the freedom to choose but can be overwhelmed by it. For example, ten times the amount of jam can be sold if there are fewer varieties on display. Ask yourself: Have I reduced the options to three to five?
  9. Effort vs reward: For behaviour to happen, reward must be greater than effort (R>E=B). For example, Amazon’s one-click strategy. Ask yourself: Have I removed points of unnecessary effort?
  10. Status quo bias: When in doubt, we leave things as they are. For example, leaving superannuation in the default fund. Ask yourself: What am I doing to budge people from their existing status quo? What do I want the new status quo to be?

If you found this useful and would like it in a snazzily formatted PDF to pip on your wall, simply email [email protected].

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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