Behaviourally effective websites, part 5: The effort/reward equation

We have arrived at the final piece of the Five Essentials for a Behaviourally Effective Website, the “Effort/Reward Equation”.

In the past four weeks you have learned how to:

1. Establish confidence
2. Communicate value
3. Create a pathway
4. Ask for action

Let’s bring it all together with the essential that underpins all the others.

The Effort/Reward Equation is a pretty simple construct and its beauty is that you can apply it to any behavioural situation – online or offline. Simply put, when effort is greater than the payoff, people won’t do what you want them to. When reward is greater than effort, then you’re in business!

But if it’s so easy, why do we get it so wrong?

Three reasons businesses get it wrong

Businesses get the equation wrong for a three reasons.

1. Fixate on reward when effort is more important

According to Stanford University’s BJ Fogg, there are three things you need in order to make behaviour happen.

  • Motivation: The desire to do something
  • Ability: The capability to do something
  • Trigger: To be asked to do something

BJ’s very elegant behaviour change model describes how Motivation and Ability are a trade-off. In other words, to get someone to do something really hard (aka effort), they have to be extremely motivated. Learning to drive a car is an example.

On the flipside, if something is easy to do then they don’t really have to be motivated very much at all. New ‘touch and go’ payment terminals are an example of reducing the effort so that people don’t use cash or other cards instead.

Most businesses spend a lot of their time focusing on the reward for their visitor (the motivational side) rather than simply making it easier to do business with them. And guess what? It’s much harder to change your visitor’s motivational state than it is to change how you let them take action with you.

Marketers take note! Stop trying to win hearts and minds when you really should be concentrating on hands and feet to maximise ROI.

The good news is that by making your website easy to understand, navigate and interact with, you will be able to convert more customers without having to entice them with fancy deals and discounts.

2. Forget that effort includes more than money

Effort includes more than money and that’s why I call this the “effort/reward” equation rather than “cost/benefit”.

Effort includes three components:

  • Psychological effort – what my colleagues or friends will think about my decision, how anxious I feel about what you are asking me to do, how smart or stupid I feel trying to use your website.
  • Physical effort – how far my eyes have to travel across the page, how easy or difficult the fonts are to read, how many clicks I have to go through, how much data entry is required.
  • Economic effort – what it costs in my time as well as money.

3. Think it’s enough for effort to be equal to reward

Effort is associated with the behavioural principle of Loss Aversion, where we are more motivated to avoid loss than seek gain. The magnitude of difference is about 2-2.5x, which means the payoff needs to be double the amount of effort.

The key here is to remember that whenever your visitor is looking to do something with you it means they have to give something else up. To commit to a new insurer, for example, I have to give up my familiarity with dealing with the old one. Same for banks.

In fact, why most of us stay with incumbent businesses is not because there aren’t better offers out there, it’s because we can’t be bothered giving up the comfort of our status quo.

That’s it for the Five Essentials

So that wraps up our five-part series on making websites behaviourally effective. Work through each essential and ask yourself how your website stacks up, or get me or your web specialist to do an appraisal. Websites are far too important to your results to rely on opinion-based design when behavioural science is available right now for you to use.

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



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