How to use behavioural science in marketing

A framework to make users do something you want them to do by using reward and transforming friction


In my work with founders I always use as much science as I can. I vigorously read every research in behavioural science, psychology and neuroscience I can get my hands on, and use the new discoveries about ways to change users behaviour to help founders with their product/ service design.

This is the framework that I find works wonders so far. And this is what I suggest you to use in you service design practice.



Reward and friction framework

Customers evaluate every single second friction vs reward. Scientifically, it's proven to be connected with the glucose level and energy that we need to solve a particular problem. It's like running a budget: if you have to spend too much and you gain too little in return you know straight away it's a bad deal. Our brain knows it too. Therefore, Friction > Reward framework ⇒ Rejection ⇒ failure to change users behaviour.


But the curious part is that when Reward is tangible and no friction appears to be around it usually also leads to rejection (and failure to change users behaviour). How so?


Have you heard of the IKEA Effect that is also called "Betty Crocker effect"?

In the 1950 US food company General Mills launched a perfect new product, as they thought - the Betty Crocker brand of instant cake mixes. All necessary ingredients for perfect pancakes were already there. Customers were supposed to do just one little thing— add water. Unfortunately, sales did not go very well. So General Mills management invited psychologist Ernest Dichter – the “father of motivational research” – and put him on the case. Dichter ran focus groups. And offered to change the recipe. Remove powdered eggs in the cake mix. And add the requirement on the package to add fresh eggs. — All-instant cake mix makes baking too easy. It undervalues the labor and skill of the cake maker, - concluded Dichter. Ironically, the answer to the sales problem was not to make a mix better but to make it worse. Make customers work a little — and it will give them more ownership in the final result. Later, the same approach was used by IKEA that made customization and customer contribution into the assembling process the core concept of its business. The idea is simple and proven by studies and numerous successful businesses: customers place a disproportionately high value on products if they have contributed work into getting them. But not too much.


Therefore, when Reward is big and Friction nonexistent it leads to devaluation of the product and rejection in the long run.


The best mix is when Reward is there, and the Friction is there. And that's the intersection of both that forms that sweet outcome you, as a founder need so much — consistent behaviour.

But theory is cool. How do we get there? This is how I implement the R+F=B framework.


1. Identify the key behaviour

It all begins with the goal setting. You can't expect getting more sign ups to your newsletter while you're working on the chatbot engagement all along. You might think: but what if I need engagement too? This is great but the path to success lies through focused effort. If you're not sure what behaviour is more important for the revenue growth, set a series of experiments and hose the winner, or create 2 landing pages with 2 different key behaviours as a goal and send traffic to both. But you always work on one key behaviour at a time.

Depending on the stage your product or service is and what exactly are you working on right now, your key behaviour can be repetitive or singular.


Examples of key behaviour:

— Download an app from Appstore/ Google Play

— Workout 3 times a week

— Sign up for Premium subscription


For instance, for my side project — How to Find a Tech cofounder course, my key behaviour is:

— Buy the course


Mistakes founders I work with commit on this stage:

1. Mix behaviour and outcome. 1k sign ups = outcome. Newsletter signup = behaviour

2. Being not specific. "Exercising regularly to get the most out of using our app" is not specific. How many times is enough to get the most? Once a week? Twice? Every day?

3. Behaviour that has no business outcomes. "Sign up for the newsletter" is a good example of a key behaviour. But why do you need it? Have you built a funnel to navigate users from receiving the newsletter to using your product?



2. Identify the Reward

Many founders, especially working on the B2B market, mistakenly think that there are just 2 types or rewards they can offer:


— Use our stuff to make more money

— Use our stuff to save your money


I love to think that those are basic values for every business (there's a useful podcast where these differences are explained by April Dunford (@aprildunford) — I highly recommend listening to it).


But that can't be all to it. Rewards (ore benefits) is the next level of abstraction where these two basic values are wrapped up in social norms, cultural traditions, norms, biases, etc.). That's what lets us be creative when designing services and products — if we all addressed just 2 basic values, the competition would be crazy, and there would probably be 3-5 monopolies out there who would solve our problem of making money and saving money more efficiently than everyone else.


I like to think of rewards and risk-related factors.

Financial/monetary risks — these are directly related to values (money lost). Reward ⇒ save money/make money

Functional Risk — these are related to the values indirectly. What if the process gets broken? What if my company's bank account gets blocked? Reward ⇒ proper functioning ⇒ money made/saved.

Physical risk — these are related to everyone but it makes sense to use it more when dealing with B2C markets. Landing on your website, B2B customer is usually solving some business-related problem and it's not the perfect timing to remind them about their personal safety. But this risk is very legit. Reward ⇒ personal safety ⇒ high quality of life.

Social risk — applied to products and services that utilise the idea of social visibility or symbolism (example: iPhone, NFTs, Nike). I have not dealt with those, honestly, but it doesn't mean this risk can' be translated into a reward (mostly, for B2C products, again). Reward ⇒ being a recognised part of a club

Psychological Risk — digs very deep in how customers perceive themselves, what image they want to project into the outside world. Heavily biased by social and cultural norms. I used to deal with this a lot being in the Oriental studies 15 years ago, and these risks were very localised (what people perceived as unacceptable behaviour in India was Ok in the US). I don't see so many local differences now. But it's always a good idea to check🙂 Reward ⇒ a feeling of content about the projected image.


Let's see how it works in real life.





3. Identify the friction and size it just right

For me, it's the most tricky part. Identifying the friction is usually not so hard. The challenging part is to remove the friction that is distracting and add the friction that is rewarding, the one that makes the user value the product or service.

The most common distracting frictions:

— Clutter (too many choices)

— No clear messaging

— No clear path (how does it work? what do I have to do to get where you intend me to get?)

— No social proof


As you can see, they are not so different from aspects that are proved to be conversion rate reducers in classic CRO theory.




Now, as I've explained above, you don't have to remove all the friction. You have to replace the distractive friction into actionable friction.


How to replace distractive friction with an actionable friction?

By simplifying the decision. This is the best way to change users behaviour

A smart use behavioural science in marketing would be adding one of the following frictions:

— choice (customer still has to choose),

— relevance (customer has to decide if the reward you're offering is relevant to them),

— affinity (customer has to decide if the social proof you're shoving is valuable to them, is it the proof from people they trust),

— action (they have to do something — book, sign up, request a quote, etc. — this part is tricky too, because too much action creates distraction, better to keep the journey from decision to take an action and an action within 3 steps).




So, let's cap up. How I use behavioural science frameworks in marketing and service design

I begin with:

1. Identifying the key behaviour (what do I want the customer to do?)

2. Identifying relevant reward (I like to go from risks)

3. Identifying the existing distractive frictions and replacing them with actionable frictions.


The results

I managed to get +165% growth in newsletter sign ups for one of my customers

For SaaS products growth is obviously smaller. But here the results are not so bad either.





If you need more information on this subject feel free to contact me on Twitter or LinkedIn (DMs are open) I'm also available on ProductHunt if you prefer this network.

You can get additional information on behavioural Science and marketing here:
— The irrational Lab (https://irrationallabs.com/blog/ )
— Podcast https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-science-of-change/id1587407079?
— Fuelling growth with behavioural science https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/publication/documents/2019-04/external_ipsos_besci_advising_-_vf.pdf
https://ethanolrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Marketing-Ethanol_Wilcox.pdf
—https://www.nim.org/en/research/studies/former-studies