Fri, December 07 2012

When the dreaded stairs become the fun stairs

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

As my favorite economist says, it’s all about incentives.  If you want people to change their behavior, you have to give them a good reason to make the painful switch from the status quo.

You do that by providing a benefit exchange - a reward for taking action.  A strong benefit exchange delivers immediately and reflects people’s values.

My colleague Tanya sent me this great example of getting people to take the stairs for their health. Instead of putting a health message next to the stairs (which wouldn’t work that well because people already know it’s healthier to take the stairs and it’s not changing their choices!), they made it totally fun.

It is tempting to assume that if people have information, they will act on it. But sadly, information alone does not prompt action. People know they are supposed to do all kinds of things - read to their children, change their diets, help others. And take the stairs.  The problem is, it is usually more difficult to change behaviors than to stick to the status quo. Good causes are forever in conflict with the status quo.

That means we have to do two things, always:

1. Create a reason for action (not just offer information) that is personally more compelling to our audience than the rewards of sticking to the status quo.

2. Make it easier to take action than to do nothing.  People will do something if it looks easier than what they’re doing now.

Musical stairs are a great example of beating the status quo.

  • Comment: (8)   


We sell business-level ethics programs.  Many companies feel their employees and culture are already instilled with ethics…until there is a breech.  And sometimes negative headlines. Our challenge is similar, our service is preventative maintenance…and if we help to stave off the consequences of crippling unethical behavior - will our clients ever know?

Posted by Lori Benton  on  12/07  at  11:06 AM

Fabulous!  I remember playing on the giant keyboard in the NYC toy store FAO Schwartz!  Now, to save energy, I wonder if they can change the wiring on the escalator so it only starts when someone steps on it.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  05:42 PM

This is such total nonsense. People should learn to do what is right just *because it is the right thing to do*, and not for a reward. The human being has been conditioned into thinking there must always be a reward for everything and that everything is done for a profit, otherwise we do not do it. Even religion is a reward: «this life sucks but if you don’t complain you’ll get a reward in heaven or in the next life or whatever».
This is the kind of mentality that has been going on for millennia and should be changed soon rather than later.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  04:13 AM

Incentives can make doing the right thing easier and more likely—so what’s wrong with that?

In terms of public policy, there are important ways to harmonize economic incentives with public policy objectives.  Because the private sector is almost always looking to minimize costs or maximize profits, well-structured incentives can help get the private sector to work on behalf of public policy objectives.  A slogan that might apply could be “Tax bads, not goods!”

Today, landowners who want to construct buildings (and create housing and jobs) are penalized with higher taxes for doing so.  But owners who allow buildings to deteriorate are rewarded with lower taxes.  Thus, our property tax incentives are upside-down.  They discourage property improvement and maintenance—thereby reducing jobs. 

Fortunately, some cities have corrected this situation, at no cost, by reducing the tax rate applied to building values while increasing the tax rate applied to land values.  The lower taxes on buildings makes them cheaper to construct, improve and maintain.  This is good for residents and businesses alike.

Surprisingly, the higher tax rate on land values helps keep land more affordable.  In part, this is because a tax on land values reduces the profits from real estate speculation, thereby reducing the price that people are willing to pay for land.

Thus, cities implementing this reform create more affordable housing, more affordable spaces for business and more jobs.  Additionally, the higher taxes on land values create an economic imperative to develop high-value sites.  These tend to be infill locations near existing urban infrastructure amenities (like transit).  And these are the very places where we want development to occur.

Posted by Rick Rybeck  on  12/12  at  03:08 PM

I see the point the video tries to make but I don’t think it really proves anything much.

It’s an expensive way to make people use the stairs and how many of the extra people using the stairs are doing so because of the ‘fun’ and how many because of the power of the crowd.

If you watch the video a few are playing with the stairs the majority just rush up them. People will generally just follow the crowd so getting a few bodies on the stairs is enough to make most people walk up them without thinking about it.

Its the same as if you ever go to a market, if two people stop at a stall everyone coming past think there must be something worth looking at and stops too. I have in the past to prove this stopped at random empty stalls that had no interest in markets and suddenly the stall gets busy. It’s the same with empty shops it’s why retailers get unexpected rushes.

Posted by John Bloomfield  on  12/14  at  11:42 AM

It certainly looks nice (and fun). But the problem with incentives is that when you take them away, people mostly revert to their ‘old’ behaviour. The Stockholm experiment in the video had, as far as can be ascertained, absolutely zero long-term impact. There are much better and cheaper ways of bringing about long-term behaviour change!

Posted by Marilyn Mehlmann  on  12/17  at  12:12 AM

That was really fun! I hope I can try those. Actually watching the video and it’s positivity really lifts me up in the middle of the night while working. But not most of the time people will make things fun for us. Sometimes, we have to make the effort, for us to experience the fun that we are looking for.

Posted by Hanna  on  07/10  at  12:51 PM

Emily, all escalators in Sweden are designed to run only when someone is on them.

Posted by Marilyn Mehlmann  on  07/11  at  10:08 AM

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