Sheri Lawson
Sep 13 · 7 min read

Let me introduce you to Isaac Baker Applied Behavioural Scientist and Consultant at Mapien (formerly Livingstones & SHR Group).

Isaac Baker — taken at one of Orange Digital’s Wine & Cheese events

We had the pleasure of having Isaac speak at our [Orange Digital’s] August Wine & Cheese event.

In Part 1 of my interview with Isaac, we discussed a brief history of human evolution and why we are predisposed to respond in certain ways. You can read Part 1 here.

Being a marketer myself, I wanted to dive a little deeper and understand how behavioural science can be applied to marketing campaigns…

Orange: Could you tell us a little about how marketers might use this [behavioural science techniques] and create moments that might nudge customers along a particular purchase pathway?

Isaac: The best way for me to explain this, would be by first explaining how social norms, social proofing and social networks influence consumer behaviour.

Examples of social norms

Social norms can be used to nudge people towards desirable behaviour (e.g., purchasing a product). We can display figures that reflect the number of other people who are engaging in desirable behaviour. This is signalling to consumers there is a ‘norm’ of behaviour, which people will have a greater likelihood of following when framed in this way.

Adding a label to the norm group to match that of the target group (i.e., consumers) is a powerful strategy. This is useful for segmentation. If you target a particular group, have the norm that you’re referencing align with the identity of the group (e.g., “76% of professional skaters wear this shoe” when targeting self-identified skaters).

We can also use injunctive social norms, which demonstrate what people should do: “88% of people believe doing X is the right thing to do.”

Further to using static norms, you can take it to the next level by using dynamic norms. These messages reflect how social norms are changing, and get at people’s tendency to want to ride the wave of change and be early adopters. For example, “use of this product has increased by 52% over the last year.”

(Warning: be careful of back-fire effects when using social norms. Be sure to convey that a majority of people are engaging in a desirable behaviour you want others to engage in.)

Examples of social proofing

The pull of celebrity power must not be underestimated. Using popular or respected figures can act to vouch for your product. The high status of the celebrities may cue the status motivation systems in others, while the positive affect and fondness we may have for the individual can become coupled with the product.

Similarly, influencer marketing leverages this principle. Individuals who are popular can promote products that may or may not be related to what they are best known for (e.g., Alec Baldwin and insurance). I recommend finding an authentic connection between the individual and the product. Ensure you communicate that the individual does indeed believe in and/or use the product, and an additional perk would be for the individual to have some form of expertise and weight behind their endorsement. This leads to the next technique.

Authority and expertise of the communicator of your marketing message can be important. Why? Because they convey expert knowledge, reputability, and trustworthiness of your product. Sensodyne advertising that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend their toothpaste offers an apt example (see below). Most of us aren’t dentists and don’t have the requisite knowledge on dental hygiene and health, so we defer to experts to guide our behaviour. In this case, 9 out of 10 dentists recommend this product. Who am I to argue with the experts!? This sentiment is nicely captured by expert recommendations.

Sensodyne advertisement example of social proofing

Speaking of recommendations, even having non-experts can be useful. In particular, demonstrating that many others, particularly if you identify with their group identity (e.g., ‘basketball player’ group), are buying the product or rating it highly is an effective way to influence behaviour.

You want people to know your product is highly rated and that many people hold favourable views towards it. This social information is crucial, so I implore you to have as many people as possible provide ratings and reviews. Again, authenticity is key here. People are becoming savvy to the ploys of companies inflating these statistics and paying for fake reviews. Case studies that convey the authenticity and “proven buyer” status of recommendations are valuable for this purpose.

If you want to signal your trustworthiness and high quality to consumers, you can also use reputable companies, in addition to celebrities, influencers, and the public. Displaying the companies you’ve worked or partnered with shows consumers that if these juggernauts of the industry trust you, you must be doing something right. This can reduce uncertainty around decisions, increase trustworthiness, create positive affect, and lead to a higher likelihood of desired target behaviour.

Examples of social proofing techniques to reinforce trustworthiness and high quality

If we come to appreciate we live in social networks, where individuals are nodes and the relationships between each other are connections, we can leverage this information to drive messages and influence behaviour within networks.

We can also target individuals who are connecters of distinct groups. These individuals are the gatekeepers that can control the information flow from one social network to another.

The strategy employed with Tupperware is a perfect demonstration of using social networks to spread their message. They used social ties to organically scale up and spread their presence. Applying this concept — underlying the idea of 6 degrees of separation — shows that we can reach many people with our messages through the social networks we are all embedded within.

Social proofing techniques leveraging social networks

Finally, I should mention that many of these social norming and proofing techniques are likely to be strengthened when the norms and proofs come from those that are relevant to the target consumer group. You want the consumer group to identify with the group used in the norming or proofing.

Orange: We’ve focused heavily on how we could apply these human motivations within a Marketing context, but could you share how this same framework could be applied within businesses?

Isaac: The same approaches noted above in the Marketing context can be applied to people within businesses.

In this context, it’s important to build a sense of unity and shared identity within the business.

We’re not longer Department A versus B; now we’re the cogs involved in a well-oiled machine achieving aspirational goals for the good of the business. The communications, physical environment, flow of work, governance, and work activities people engage in must be framed to emphasise this new group whole-of-business level identity.

One the one hand, there are organisational charts that may display the formal, official structure; on the other hand, there are the very real social networks of relationships that overlay this structure.

I’d argue the latter is the more important element for a lot of behavioural and cultural outcomes we want to achieve. Someone may have a position of power, but there is likely a sense within the group there is another individual who has greater sway and influence over decisions and decision-makers.

These individuals are crucial when you’re wanting to spread desirable behaviours and cultural practices. Ensure these key individuals are role modelling desirable behaviours and watch the flow-on effect to others in the network. It’s leading by example, with added nuance to account for who is likely to have more influence upon the behaviours of others and the culture at large.

Orange: Thank you very much for your time Isaac. Some incredibly valuable insights here.

Isaac: It’s been my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me and for your interest in spreading the science of human behaviour.

Isaac Baker is an Applied Behavioural Scientist and Consultant at Mapien (formerly Livingstones & SHR Group).

To read Part 1 of my interview with Isaac on “Applying the science of human behaviour”, you can view it here.

Orange Digital

We are a Brisbane based digital marketing agency taking on the world with cracking web design, development, apps, videos, social media, SEO/SEM… all that sort of stuff.

Sheri Lawson

Written by

Orange Digital

We are a Brisbane based digital marketing agency taking on the world with cracking web design, development, apps, videos, social media, SEO/SEM… all that sort of stuff.

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