Behavioral science – also known as behavioral economics – encapsulates multiple domains of study, including cognitive science, psychology, and economics. Unlike traditional economics which assumes that people consume all available information, evaluate all available choices, then make a logical decision, behavioral economics studies how humans really make decisions.
In particular, behavioral science studies the way that the environment (both physical and digital), cognitive shortcuts, emotions, and social factors influence our decisions- everything from browsing and purchasing to habit formation. We know from research that it’s very common for people to take mental shortcuts, called heuristics and biases when it comes to making decisions. These “rules of thumb” show up in the most common behavioral science interventions.
You don’t need to be a scientist to know firsthand that we humans are occasionally irrational. If you’ve ever stayed up late binge-watching Breaking Bad on a Tuesday night or hit the snooze instead of going for a run when you swore to yourself you’d be in bed by 10:30 pm and get up early to exercise, you know that just because you know what’s good (or bad), and were motivated to do it yesterday, for you doesn’t automatically mean you’ll make the right decision.
But what’s important is that human irrationality isn’t random; if it were, we couldn’t predict anything. What behavioral scientists focus on is finding patterns within this sea of irrationality. When you’re studying how people make decisions, you can actually understand why people do what they do. These insights have a real-world impact for marketers. When you understand the “why” you can pinpoint a causal relationship between what your company does and how your users respond.
Science of Design: A faster framework for accurate insights
Whether you’re a researcher, designer, or marketer, you know that when it comes to research, the proof is in the pudding. That is, will your costly recommendations actually motivate behavior change among users? How confident are you that your insights matter? What results will they produce and why? Guesswork, even that masked by blistering self-confidence, does not guarantee results, though it does make for some entertaining presentations.
Based in the Bay Area, Next Step works with a lot of technology startups. The stakes are higher, the clock ticks faster, and evolution is critical for survival. We needed to back our insights up with science, then apply them to the real world.
So we developed The Science of Design, a proprietary methodology that’s both “actionable” and “timely”. This nimble framework allows you to create meaningful insights in a matter of weeks, not months. Best of all, because it’s backed by quantitative research, you have confidence that the applied interventions will lead to behavior change at scale.
Behavioral science begins with the story. You create the hypothesis, run the experiment and measure the results. First, you take a theory, control for other variables, run an experiment, and measure a difference in behavior (i.e. your behavioral data). If your hypothesis is confirmed, then you’re that much closer to understanding the specific mechanisms that drive human behavior.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the stages of our mixed method framework.
Step One: Identify Opportunities
Begin with what you’ve got and do a deep dive into your existing marketing assets, campaigns, customer journeys, etc. If you have past research and data, consider that as well. Before you begin testing, pluck the low-hanging fruit. There are proven interventions that you can put to immediate use, so-called “Just Do’s” that can be put to immediate, effective use. The other main goal of this assessment is to identify the areas that merit further research, so you end up with the behavioral interventions with the highest impact.
Step Two: Create hypotheses
Look at your product or service with fresh eyes, preferably by bringing in an intelligent outsider who can demo your products, review research, and interview the executive team. The goal here is to unearth some relevant themes that you can later test.
For the greatest candor, be sure to conduct these interviews individually. Otherwise, you’ll experience groupthink, a behavioral bias, which simultaneously creates more consensus among less opinionated people and more division between more opinionated people.
Once you’ve found several relevant themes, you can consider which behavioral science concept will boost what’s already there.
Step Three: Get real-world feedback
We call this stage “Stepping outside the Bubble”. You want to see whether your ideas can stand up against reality. We step outside the executive suite and interview a variety of people, including those with different levels of satisfaction and adoption.
Qualitative interviews are extremely valuable, but you also need to ensure you’re not bringing your own biases to the discussion.
Ask better questions in Qualitative Research using behavioral science. Some tips to keep you on the right path:
- Don’t Prime
When interviewing people, it’s tempting to ask leading questions. You might even accidentally put words in their mouth while summing up. Instead, seek balance. Ask neutral questions about pros and cons, benefits and risks, agreement or disagreement.
- Avoid Confirmation Bias
Most people seek to prove their ideas as correct: when presented with new information, they interpret it as confirmation of an existing belief. To avoid your own confirmation bias during the interview, actively seek counter evidence. Ask questions that try to prove your idea wrong. If your theory holds up anyway, you know you’re onto something.
- Stick to the Script, But Be Flexible
Your questions are there for a reason. You want to look for patterns across interviews. But the people you’re interviewing know things that you don’t. Give yourself ample time to let them go on a tangent or two. Sometimes this provides totally new and valuable perspectives.
- Break Concepts Apart
Don’t ask “Do you find [X] product helpful, and if so, why?” Instead ask:
Are you familiar with this brand?
How do you use product [X]
Was it helpful, why or why not?
- Beware of Selection Bias
The people who are most willing to talk to you are the people with the strongest opinions. You can avoid selection bias by ensuring that your sample represents the population intended to be analyzed, not just the most vocal. Reach out to old customers, infrequent users, and new leads. Ask them the same questions to see how their answers vary.
Step Four: Test your insights from Qualitative at scale.
Talking to 10-20 people is a nice place to start, but selection bias and random flukes in who we talk to are still problematic. Now we want to see if our ideas scale to 10,000-20,000 people.
Narrow your scope, define your hypothesis and run A/B tests in a medium that is relevant and correctly powered. For example, say you’re testing messaging. After you’ve created randomized groups, send each group a unique subject line and body for each hypothesis.
Your experiments will reveal:
- Primary Experiment: Subject Line. Each subject line has a different hypothesis. Which got most people to open their email?
- Secondary Experiment: Email Body. Which hypothesis got the most people to interact with the email- i.e. clicking on a link, taking a survey, or visiting a landing page?
Step Five: Analyze the Results
Analyze the results to see which one of your Behavioral Science hypotheses worked best. You’ll know which intervention resonates most by seeing the actions people took for each hypothesis.
Now, when you see that one idea is performing better, you’ll know it’s not just because you got lucky. Following this framework gives you an intervention that’s been well-researched in the lab, validated in qual, and proven in quant. You have the data you need to move forward with confidence.
Step Six: Creative Execution in Marketing
Research on its own is meaningless. To make a real-world impact, your marketing, sales, and product must incorporate the winning behavioral science interventions. Next Step differs from other market research companies in that we don’t just deliver insights in a deck, we make sure whatever we learned is actually infused into your marketing. This way your ads, website, sales decks, or even the product itself includes the things proven to motivate your audience.