- Thu, January 19 2012
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
I had an interesting comment to yesterday’s post. Someone wondered if it was “trickery” to use defaults to influence behavior.
That’s an excellent point to raise, especially since I intend to post a lot this year about influencing people through an understanding of how they think. If you’re a regular on this blog, you know it’s my favorite topic.
Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have labeled this idea “Libertarian Paternalism.” As my friend Alia McKee puts it, libertarian in this context means people should be allowed to do what they like — even if it is eating junk food, using plastic grocery bags, driving Hummers or not saving a dime. Paternalism means it is legitimate to try to influence people’s behavior in order to make their lives better and guide them to choices that benefit the greater good. When combining libertarianism and paternalism, choices are never blocked off. People may continue to do as they please. However, the choices are designed to influence a particular outcome that will make the choosers better off.
Last time I checked, that’s what most of us were in the business of doing: Persuading people to do the right thing. Is that immoral? I would argue instead that wasting precious resources by dealing with social issues ineffectively is immoral. Those of us working for the public good have an ethical responsibility to be effective and efficient in reaching as many people as possible. If we can’t make a compelling case that prompts people to act, then we have failed to make a difference and wasted valuable time, effort, and, often, donor and taxpayer dollars. To be clear, I’m not saying we should lie, misrepresent ourselves or be inauthentic. I’m saying we should operate out of a deep understanding of our audiences and how we can connect our cause to their hearts and minds. We should seek to influence, not manipulate.
So let’s not shy away the art of influence. Including yesterday’s example of using defaults and choice in effective ways.
How to get started?
–Ask yourself, “What is it I want my audience to do?”
–Identify potential barriers that might prevent them from doing it.
–Lift those barriers, not by blocking off choices, but by making it easy for your constituents to make the decision that is in their (and your) best interest.
–Remember, small details count. Sunstein and Thaler outline a terrific example of the devil in the behavioral details:
“In The Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a mess. But if they see a target, attention and therefore accuracy increase. Staff conducted fly-in urinal trials and found that etchings reduced spillage by 80%.”
Sorry, I couldn’t resist the example. The concept of persuasion is not a waste. It’s a way to prevent a waste of your resources.