Yeah, whatever (or how to use the power of ‘nudge’ to turn apathetic customers into loyal fans)

I wrote last week about Facebook’s latest attempt to alter user behaviour and improve eCommerce on its site.


I want to take this concept one step further and talk about behavioural economics – the idea that people don’t make decisions based on rationality but are actually more influenced by emotional, social and cognitive factors.

Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote a book on the topic called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. In it they examine what they call the ‘yeah, whatever’ rule: the idea that real men and women lack willpower, are poorly informed and are above all, lazy.

Thaler and Sunstein believe in ‘choice architectures’, the idea that every decision we make (getting married, using eco-friendly light globes and what we eat for dinner) is influenced by how choices are presented to us.

You can take advantage of this by altering your customers’ choice architectures. It’s more gradual change than instant 180. It’s using content marketing to encourage consumers to take one little step closer to your product, by exploiting what matters to them (and remembering that people are generally lazy).

Let me illustrate this for you.

You’re newly married and living with the love of your life. Everything’s great and you’re as happy as can be – except your husband refuses to put his undies in the dirty clothes bin. You whinge and you whine but still nothing changes. He’s established his behaviour and he’s not about to completely alter it just because you tell him to. You need to nudge, not push. Rather than trying to force him to make a huge change by depositing his unmentionables where you want him to, observe where he drops them and move the bin to him. Then, each day, shift it a little further away and eventually, voila! You’ve changed his behaviour!

That’s great, I hear you say, but I’m trying to sell a product, not wash people’s clothes. Well, how about a company that does both?

Persil, a UK laundry detergent brand, is a master of behavioural economics. It has based its entire marketing strategy on convincing mums that ‘Dirt is Good‘. It uses scientific studies to back up its claim that kids learn best when they’re free to get dirty. And guess what? Mums are going to need some detergent to get those clothes clean: enter Persil.

It’s brilliantly marketed, with tonnes of activities and tips to get young ones dirty and developing. It even teamed up with everybody’s favourite outdoorsman, Bear Grylls. First, it has convinced mums to let their kids get dirty. Once it’s altered that behaviour and changed the mums’ choice architecture, it’s much easier to persuade said mums to buy Persil detergent over some other brand that offers nothing extra.

Still not convinced, eh? Check out this post from The University of Chicago Press. Its authors spell out the way consumers (in this case, hotel guests) are more likely to respond to your nudging than your pushing. They found that hotel guests who were offered the choice to declare themselves eco-friendly and commit to reusing towels were much more likely to follow up on their commitment than guests who were told they must respect the environment. It’s all about the nudge, people.

The moral of the story? People don’t always like change. It’s more effective to nudge someone in the direction of your brand than to out-and-out shove them. Customers don’t like being told what to do but if you give them what they want now, they’ll want what you give later. You could call it manipulation, but isn’t all the best marketing?

Richard Parker is the head of digital at strategic content agency Edge, where he has experience working with leading brands including Woolworths, St George and Foxtel. He previously spent 12 years in the UK, first at Story Worldwide then as the co-owner and strategic director of marketing agency Better Things.





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