What motivates human behavior?
My guest today is Susan Weinschenk, behavioral scientist, author, speaker, consultant and mentor. She is an expert in understanding, predicting and directing human behavior. Her books include How to Get People to Do Stuff, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, and Neuro Web Design. In this episode we’re going to talk about what motivates people in this complex modern world, and how we can use behavioral science to become better marketers. Susan will explain five drivers of human behavior backed by scientific studies and what you should know about them in order to get people to do what you want.
Listen to this Episode:
Topics Discussed in this Episode:
- Unconscious mental processing and self-stories
- Value versus habit based decisions
- The 5 top drivers of human motivation
- The power of storytelling
- The need to belong and social ties
- Behavioral habits and instincts
- Ethics in behavioral science
- Susan’s recommended reading
- How to Get People to Do Stuff, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People and Neuro Web Design by Susan Weinschenk
- Redirect by Timothy Wilson
- Sapiens by Yuval Harari
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Louis: Susan, what a pleasure to have you on the show. I love Behavioral Science, I think it’s really the basis of good marketing and you are an expert in it. You literally wrote many books about this particular subject so I cannot wait to talk to you about it. Before we start talking about behavioral science in more details, I read one of the book, which is the 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I read that, I think, two years ago.
Thanks to you, I built this presentation around the five things you didn’t know about people. I presented that in a conference in front of many marketers and I used many of the facts that you talked about in your book plus some others from outside. This presentation was really a success, that’s really thanks to you. I want to thank you for that, first of all.
Susan: You’re very welcome, I’m glad you did that. It’s a very popular topic.
Louis: Understanding people, it is very popular. What I find fascinating about this subject is that we all have a brain, we can all agree on that. We all have a brain and yet we have a very little clue on how it works, our own brain, and even less of a clue on other’s brain and how they work. Why is that?
Susan: Why don’t we understand how our own brain works and how other people’s brains work?
Susan: There are three levels, there’s the mechanics of understanding how brains work, our knowledge about neurons and networks and all of that, the electrical, the chemical, there’s that angle. We’re just starting to really learn about that, we’ve obviously been exploring it for probably 100 years or more but our tools and techniques were so poor. I’m sure 30 years from now, we’ll look back and think that what we were doing in the year 2017 was ridiculous.
The tools are getting better, we’re trying to understand the mechanics of it. There’s that part. You’ve got just the understanding of yourself and how your brain works and how your thoughts work and what’s going on in there and then you’ve got the understanding, as you said, of other people. It’s hard because most of our mental processing occurs unconsciously. In terms of understanding our own thought process, our own way our brain works, how creativity works, how our problem solving works, most of that is unknown to us.
There are some very interesting research now that’s giving us clues and cues as to what’s going on and how we react and how we process information but it’s not very, what we might say intuitive because what we know is the conscious part, that’s our conscious thoughts. Our unconscious brain works really differently than our conscious thought. It is such a bizarre thing, it’s not that we are walking around with this powerful computer in our brain and we have no clue what it’s doing.
Because we don’t understand what’s going on in our own brain, it’s really hard to know what’s going on in somebody else’s and then they don’t even know. They try to tell you what’s going on in their brain, they don’t know either. That’s, of course, the basis of why studying and understanding people and their interactions with each other is so fascinating. To me, that’s why it’s so much fun. If we knew everything, it wouldn’t be so much fun to study.
Louis: We wouldn’t have marketers for sure.
Susan: If everybody knew and then if everybody reacted logically and exactly the same way, I’m sure the job of marketing would be really different but that is not the case. I’m sure that there are at least five years left, and probably a lot more.
Louis: I think it’s never gonna be over. It reminds me of this saying, I don’t remember where I read it but they said, “We have the body of a homoerectus and the brain of the species that were before us hundreds of thousands of years ago.” You framed that really well. Marketers are struggling to make people care about what they’re trying to sell, they are struggling to understand why certain people do what they do, they’re struggling to understand how they can convince people to take certain decision. That’s even, without spending millions or even billions on research on human behavior and stuff.
Today we’re gonna try to dig into the what motivates human behavior and some proven ways that people take decisions based on science, not just based on what we think is the right way. Can you tell us a little bit about the basis of that? What motivates people to take action and how did you manage to get these data?
Susan: I’m gonna go back again to this idea of unconscious mental processing because if you wanna understand why people will take an action and why they won’t, I think there are basically two things you have to understand. One is the fact that most mental processing, therefore most decision making is happening unconsciously. We could talk about that more because it means you have to be a lot simpler and more basic in order to grab attention and in order to make it more likely that someone will take action.
Besides that, the other thing is that there is definitely, I mentioned before the mechanics and there’s a very particular areas of the brain that respond to certain things. I’ll just give you an example so we can get concrete, there’s a part of the brain that is active when you are making what’s called a value based or a goal based decision. If you are thinking, “Should I buy a new laptop now? Should I wait until the end of the year? Should I get one of those UltraThins?” If you’re trying to make that kind of decision, you are definitely engaging this part of the brain that makes these value based decisions.
That’s not the only kind of decision that people make. There’s another part of the brain that is active when people are making what we would call a habit based decision. If you are in the grocery store and you decided to buy some cereal, chances are, you’re gonna walk to the cereal aisle and grab the cereal that you always buy. There are certain products that we buy and use in a very habit base where we don’t really think about it, we don’t really do comparisons.
What’s really interesting is that the latest research is showing us that those two parts of the brain cannot be active at the same time. If one is active, the other is silent and vice versa, which means you’re either making a value based decision or a habit decision. The interesting thing is that the kind of messaging and the way you would talk to those two parts of the brain is really different.
If someone normally makes a habit based decision, they just make it, they’re not thinking about it, it’s totally unconscious. You start introducing to them value based, you start talking about features and the comparisons and why they should buy this one, you’re essentially turning off the habit based part of their brain and turning on the value based part. You may not wanna do that. If they normally buy your product at a habit, that may not be a good thing. If they normally buy another product out of habit, your competitor, then maybe it is a good thing for you to switch off the habit part.
It can get a little complicated but if you understand the science behind it, that will help a lot. You’re making a decision about what’s the best way to approach people and when is the best time to approach people.
Louis: Correct me if I’m wrong, am I correct in assuming that when you take a value based decision, it’s more of an active process, a conscious process. And when you take a decision based on habit, it is much more of an unconscious part and your brain probably doesn’t consume a lot of energy doing this task?
Susan: That’s correct. Although there is an interesting twist, it’s the brain, it can’t be too simple. What you said is correct except if we go back to the value based part, I am making a value based decision but what’s also feeding into that are some unconscious things like what is my self-story, how do I view myself. For instance, if we go back to the computer example, if I think of myself as someone who’s very tech savvy, I always have the latest gadgets. I may not be consciously aware that that’s my self-story but that will influence how I filter the conscious value based information you’re feeding me. Is the message that you’re feeding me as I’m comparing these products, are you giving me information in which this particular model seems like the latest thing, the thing that someone who likes to be the first one on the block to own, do I get the information from you that that’s this model over here? That might be happening unconsciously.
Anything you do involves the unconscious, you just have to assume that. With the value based decision, there’s both the unconscious and the conscious. With the habit, it really is primarily unconscious.
Louis: How does one build models like this on an unconscious level?
Susan: What do you mean how do they build models?
Louis: It happens in a subconscious level that you have certain models in your head of the person you are or the person you wanna be. How is it built? Is it built from education? Is it build from birth, from your DNA? Is it built from the friends you have and the connections you have? What’s the inference?
Susan: Yes, everything. It can change too. Self-stories are really, really powerful. Your self-story can change. Interestingly, your self-story can change unconsciously, you’re not aware that it has changed. You can also consciously change your self-story, you can actually make a decision and say, “Instead of being someone who is always late, I’m going to choose to change this.” You can do that. There are things that you can do to make that change easier.
In fact there’s a wonderful research by guy named Timothy Wilson who wrote a book called Redirect. I love that book. It’s all about the power of these self-stories. This is based on the research he has done and research by many others. I think he has come to this conclusion and I definitely have come to it from reading his material, that if you want to get a long term behavior change, the only way to do that is if someone changes their self-story because otherwise they’ll change their behavior but if their self-story goes against that, they’ll eventually revert to whatever their self-story is.
Louis: Let’s take a concrete example, I want to become a better writer. I’ve been writing everyday for the last two months to get better. I’m actually a good writer and I start to believe that I can be a good writer. Basically, what you’re saying is that if my self-story, what I tell myself what I truly believe in is that I am great writer, it’s much more likely that I will stick to writing in the next few months or even years.
Susan: Obviously it’s not magic, you don’t just say, “One day I’m gonna be a great writer,” and then don’t do anything about it and just poof you’re a great writer. You’ve been writing everyday, you have to do all the other things with it. But if you didn’t decide “I’m gonna change my story and I’m gonna be a great writer” then you wouldn’t stick with it.
If you still have a self-story of I’m just not someone who can write, that’s gonna stick with you and no matter what you do, you won’t do it enough, you won’t give it all, you’ll self-sabotage yourself because you have that self-story in you that says “I’m not a great writer.”
Louis: That’s a fantastic topic. We could get into that in more details for the full episode but what I want you to dig into today is the drivers of human motivation. Why do people do things? You wrote this book called The 7 Basic Drivers of Human Motivation. Can you tell us what are those seven drivers?
Susan: We’ve been talking about one of them, because one of them is stories. There are actually two parts to stories, one is the self-stories we’ve been talking about. The other thing is also just the idea that we process information best in story format. If you’re trying to communicate with someone, tell a story, that’s the best way to communicate. Stories is one of them.
Louis: Sorry to cut you, I don’t wanna do that but it’s really important. For marketers listening, we talked about that in a lot of episodes. We basically said, “Don’t do spreadsheets, instead tell stories.” It’s true.
Susan: Always. You can always throw in some numbers. To illustrate the principles after the story, it’s honestly the best way our brain processes information. Your brain can’t tell the difference between you having an experience and you having a pretend experience through a story. When you listen to a story or you watch a little video clip of a story and it’s well done, we could even talk about what that means.
There’s a research on that in terms of the chemicals, the brain chemicals that are released when a story goes through a certain arc, you’ve probably heard of the story arc. There’s a researcher, Paul Zak, who has actually measured chemicals that are released by the brain during different parts of the story arc. We know why a certain story arc is really powerful.
When you’re watching a story or listening to a story, your brain actually thinks you’re the character and you’re having the experience. It’s a very visceral real experience. Stories are very, very important, very powerful if you wanna get your message across.
Louis: This is why it’s so important for marketers, that’s such a powerful statement. I think that we need to repeat it. When you tell a story to somebody else, when you write an email telling a story, when you tell the story of your company, when you start your blog post with a story, people will really think it’s their own story, their brain will think that it’s their own story and therefore they will be engaged, they experience it. That’s such a powerful statement. Perhaps you can drill into that a little bit more. You mentioned the story arc, can you explain a little bit more what it consists of?
Susan: I find this so interesting, the history of this, because there was this guy named Gustav Freytag. In 1880, this is a long time ago, he analyzed the great stories from up to that point and then going all the way back to great tragedies and that kind of thing. He was the first one to start talking about this idea of a story arc. What he did is he analyzed all the best stories and found that they had a similar flow.
They start with setting the stage like having a context, here’s the situation, here’s the scene then they introduce an actor, they introduce the main actor which can be either a good guy or a bad guy, protagonist or antagonist, someone you’re going to root for or someone you’re going to hope fails, but you’re introduced to this character. After you’ve got the scene, you’ve got the character, the next part, and this is why it’s called the arc because it now goes up.
There has to be some kind of conflict, some kind of tension right away where there’s a problem. If it’s a protagonist, someone you’re rooting for, then it’s a problem that you want that person to solve. If it’s an antagonist, he’s a bad guy and he’s doing something really bad. You introduce that tension. You have to let that go for a little while but not too long because then you have to get to the crucial turning point where it all comes to a head and something’s gonna happen, either the good guy is gonna be able to rescue the princess or the bad guy is gonna get caught and get killed, it’s gotta be that moment when it all comes to a head.
After that, you have this downward curve of the arc where all the loose ends get tied up and then you have what Gustav called the new mentor of resolution where it all comes to a close. That’s the arc of the story. Of course it makes it sound very simple but then how fast do you raise the tension, how long do you let it go. These are the things that can make a story. We’ve all, I think, heard someone tell a story in which they go on and on and on and on and you’re like, “Now it’s getting boring.”
You’ve gotta be able to play with the story so that you can get that arc right. This is what Paul Zak did, what he found was that, when you have that rising tension, your brain releases cortisol which is a chemical that gets you ready, you may have heard of it as the fight or flight. You get ready to either fight or run away, there’s tension, there’s stress. That stress is going to grab your attention, that’s why you’re paying such close attention, you wanna know when or what’s happening. You’re actually gearing up as though you were the person in the story.
At the top, when it comes to a head, if this is a character that, probably either way especially if it’s a character that you like, you’re gonna release oxytocin. That’s a bonding chemical and that makes you feel empathy. You’re either gonna feel empathy for the main hero or you’re gonna feel empathy for the victims that the bad guy is doing things to. This keeps you engaged in the story and it makes you care. Now you are emotionally connected to the people in the story.
On the way down after that oxytocin, you release dopamine. Dopamine is an interesting chemical. Most people think about it as a reward chemical but it’s actually anticipation. It makes you want to know what’s gonna happen next, it keeps you curious. It actually makes you take action. It’s a really important chemical. This is why stories that are well done, if they’re well done with this arc, they grab people, they pull them in and they get them ready to take action. It really is very, very powerful.
It can be hard sometimes. I know these things and I don’t even do them right all the time. Sometimes it’s just hard, when I give presentations, I’ll often spend a fair amount of time thinking, “Wait a minute, what stories am I gonna use and where am I gonna use them?” I know I need to do it but sometimes it’s hard to come up with a story that’s really good, it’s not necessarily an easy thing.
Louis: It takes effort. If it was easy, everybody will do it, I suppose. What you’re telling me reminds me of this book I read recently and you probably read it or at least heard of it called Sapiens.
Susan: I love that book.
Louis: In Sapiens, it’s basically the full history of mankind from the apes and us evolving from them up until today, basically. There is this part, you should remember vividly, where they say the difference between us and all of the other animals is not the fact that we can talk and they cannot talk. Dolphins, for example, can talk. There are species that can talk to signal danger, there are basically a lot of other species that have languages.
The author says, “The only difference between us, humans, and the rest of the animals is the fact that we can talk about stuff that are not real.” We can tell stories. This is fascinating because that explains a lot of things around the fire thousand years ago when we had not much to do, we were telling stories to keep ourselves entertained. I’m interested, do we know why we connect so well with stories? Is there a particular reason why humans connect so well with stories?
Susan: I don’t know. As you asked that, I’m thinking about the research that I’ve read. I don’t know that. If you’re thinking about an evolutionary perspective, there must be some kind of advantage to processing information in this way but I’m not sure exactly what that would be or what would be the alternative. I don’t know, I just know that we definitely do.
Louis: That’s the first basic driver.
Susan: Yeah. We got six more.
Louis: There’s no point in rushing. We can go through another one.
Susan: Another one is the need to belong. We have a deep desire to be part of a group, to be part of a tribe. This, also, has basis in biology. There is a research that just came out, it’s been suspected for a while but it just came out in the last year or two to show that if you don’t have enough really good social ties, if you don’t feel that you’re part of at least one or more groups, your body will actually start to shut down and you will develop any number of the chronic diseases.
There is an inverse relationship between the quality of your social ties and your likelihood of dying from diabetes, heart disease and other kinds of the chronic illnesses that we have in our civilization. It’s sometimes called failure to thrive syndrome, your immune system starts to shut down if you don’t have these ties. We really need to feel connected to other people. That definitely drives our behavior. There are a lot of things that we will do in order to become part of a group or remain part of a group, there are things that we won’t do because we feel it will exile us from the group.
We all have tribes and groups. We usually have more than one; we have our family, we have our tribe at work. Again, related to our self-stories, we might think of ourselves as oh I’m part of a cycling group and so I’m part of that tribe. We have, usually, more than one tribe. These social ties are really, really important. That’s a way to motivate people. A lot of this is unconscious and a lot of this just has to do with the way you word things.
For instance, a wonderful research done by Gregory Walton that showed that if you used nouns instead of verbs, it implies a group. His researchers would call people up and they would ask them, “Are you going to vote in the election tomorrow?” Or they would say, “Are you going to be a voter in the election tomorrow?” It was either go to vote or be a voter. 11% more people voted if he asked the question as be a voter. His theory is that it invokes a group identity. He did this with not just voting but all different kinds of things.
Again, largely unconsciously, if we feel that by taking a particular action it means that we’re part of a group that we want to be part of, then it’s more likely that we’ll take that action.
Louis: I have two questions for you, the first one is what are people willing to do to remain in their group? What is the extent of this behavior?
Susan: It depends on the group, it depends on the situation. We know cases in history where people will do quite extreme things, they might kill someone to remain part of a group. I’m not suggesting that that’s a good idea. Some groups, your tie to that group might not be that strong and it’s like, “No way, I’m not gonna do that.” It depends on the group, on how important it is to us and how many other groups we have.
If you have one group and that’s the only group you feel a part of, you’ll probably do almost anything to stay a part of that group. If you have many groups and this particular one you don’t care that much about, then it might be easy for you to drop it.
Louis: You might be willing to kill someone or to go to an extreme extent in order to stay in a group because it’s literally a matter of life or death, as you said at the start. It’s such a profound behavior for us because biologically speaking, we know that it’s needed for our survival. That’s really interesting. Am I right to say that your self-story might change depending on the group you are in?
Susan: Yeah. A lot of these things, not all but many of these seven drivers are connected and related. If I have a particular self-story that’s going to, probably, sway me to become part of this group rather than that group and vice versa, if I’m part of a group, that changes my self-story.
Louis: That’s fascinating. How can marketers apply this principle in their daily work?
Susan: In terms of the need to belong, a lot of it has to do with just being very careful about how you phrase things. The nouns versus the verbs, letting people know what other people are doing, that whole idea of social validation, this is why ratings and reviews are so powerful, 5 million people have already viewed this video, I’m gonna watch it.
Making sure that you are letting people know what other people are doing, especially if that’s good for your product, and then using wording that makes them feel not just that they’re buying a product but that they are joining this group of people who, and then you have to fill in the blank.
Louis: That’s number two, what will be the third driver?
Susan: Another one is habits, which we mentioned before. So much behavior is habits. You may have heard “it’s so hard to make a new habit or break a bad habit” but it’s actually very, very easy to create a habit because we all have hundreds of them and we don’t even remember creating them. It couldn’t be that hard. There’s a certain science behind how to get people to create a habit but habits are very powerful. If you can establish a habit that your product is part of, that might stick for a really long time. Some products are more likely to be related to habits and others are less likely but if you can get that going, you may have that person for a very, very long time.
Louis: How does one create a habit? What’s the process involved?
Susan: In order for a habit to get created, there are a couple things that have to happen. One is that the action that creates the habit and maintains it, the thing you do with the product has to be really easy and small. Let’s say there’s an app on your phone, how do you listen to podcast? I listen to podcast with this app. It’s not a big deal to find a podcast app, install it on your phone and open it. These are not difficult things, they don’t take a lot of time, they don’t require a lot of skill or special knowledge. In order to create a habit, the actions have to be fairly easy and fairly fast. That’s one thing.
Another thing is, we know from the research, I don’t know if you studied psychology in college but anyone who took a Basic Psychology course might remember Ivan Pavlov and classical conditioning and his research on dogs and saliva and that kind of thing. What we know is that when there are visual or auditory cues, that will cause a habit to be created. Most of us have a habit that when a notification pops up on our screen and our computer, we look at it and we click on it, oh you have a new email. It’s really hard to ignore those.
If your phone makes a noise because there are text messages coming, it’s really hard to ignore that because you hear the ding or you see something flash. We are very sensitive to auditory or visual cues. If you can attach an auditory or visual cue to your product and have that alert or notification, it will make it much easier for using that to become a habit, especially if it’s unpredictable, interestingly.
Again, why do we react so quickly when our phones make a noise or a notification appears on our screen, it’s because we don’t know when it’s gonna happen. If a notification is always there or if it always shows up at 9:00AM, it may not become habitual that we check it. One of the reasons we go and click on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter is because we don’t know if a message is coming and we want to find out because by now we’re addicted. Those are the things that make it easier to have a habit.
Louis: A few months ago, I was at a stage in my life where I was checking Twitter or LinkedIn, any type of notification based system or environment almost every 30 minutes because I was just bored, I was just burning out and I wasn’t really happy and that was my habit to try to get out of it. It’s crazy how addicted I was to those notifications.
Susan: It’s very hard to get out, you have to really go cold turkey, as they say. I don’t know if that’s a phrase. If you wanna break a habit, actually, interestingly, the easiest way to break a habit is to install a new habit in its place. You can do that by connecting the old cue with a new action. If you wanna stop reacting to Facebook and LinkedIn and so on, you have to turn off all notifications so you don’t get anymore alerts.
You really have to do what I call a reset. You have to, for instance, go away somewhere where there is no internet, no cellphone signal for a week so that you aren’t checking anything. When you get back, you have to put in place your new habit. So many people, the first thing they do when they get in the office or having a cup of coffee in the morning is they’ll do that check, they’ll check Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.
You have to have a new routine. I’m not gonna sit down with a cup of coffee at the table and my laptop anymore, now what I’m gonna do is sit down with my favorite book I’m reading. You have to establish a new routine in order to break the old one.
Louis: It’s funny because that’s exactly what happened. A few months ago, I took three or four weeks holiday, I didn’t check my emails for three weeks, I didn’t check LinkedIn, Twitter, anything for three weeks. Exactly as you said, it reset my routine. When I came back, I setup plugins to block sites that I would visit out of habit. Now, I’m happy to say that I’m free of all of those addictions. I only check Twitter or LinkedIn once a month and I schedule posts in advance for the episode to go, for example. I feel much more relieved.
Anyway, it’s not a therapy session for me or for anybody but I think the power of habit is incredibly powerful. This is why in marketing, a lot of people will tell you to start small, this is why so many marketers are doing lead magnets even if I don’t like this term, basically asking for an email against a guide which is a small commitment, it’s a small thing, and then you move on to something bigger and then bigger and then bigger. This is related to this driver, isn’t it?
Susan: Yeah, definitely.
Louis: That’s three drivers, that’s already a lot, number four.
Susan: Let’s do instincts. One of the things that drives behavior are just automatic reactions that humans have to fear/danger, sex, and food. This is just the way we area and it’s just to keep us surviving. We have a part of our brain sometimes called the old brain or the reptilian brain and it’s all about keeping us alive. We are particularly sensitive to messages that have anything to do with food, anything to do with sex, with the implication that we might get sex, and then anything to do with fear or danger.
That’s a whole other world, fear, fear of loss, just arousing that fight or flight with the cortisol. I always tell people, “I’m not saying that this is necessarily a good idea and that you should try and get everyone afraid or sex crazed or hungry but you should know that those things are very, very attention getting.”
Louis: How did the scientists prove that this was the case?
Susan: For instance, with the new EEG and the ways you can measure what psychologists called arousal which we don’t mean just sexual arousal, we just mean general level of interest. You can measure that now very easily with EEG, you don’t have to do the brain scans. You’ve probably seen or maybe you’ve had someone on your show that has talked about the technology which now makes it very easy to connect these skull caps up and you can do readings from just the outermost portions of the brain.
Also respiration, your breathing rate and then galvanic skin response which is measuring minute amounts of sweat. By doing that, you can see when people are getting ready for action, when they’re aroused, when they’re interested, pupil dilation is another one. These are the three things that get the most immediate and strongest response.
Louis: That’s fascinating. That really gives me the next topic that I want to talk about which is the ethics of such knowledge. Before that, we haven’t agreed together on this. I’m telling you that, on the show, I’m putting you on the spot but we’ve done the four first driver. I think you deserve, definitely, another episode, at least, because there’s so much more we can talk about. It’s really fascinating for me. Offline, I’ll try to convince you to spend more time with me and record another episode.
I know now that food, sex, danger, fear, all these stuff can entice people to do something I want them to do. Marketers have this knowledge and some marketers might definitely use it against people’s will in order to manipulate them or make them do something they don’t necessarily wanna do. Where is the line between the two? What are the ethics of behavioral science in general?
Susan: This is such an important question and it’s one that my colleague and I are working on. In our workshops that we teach, we’ve been starting to put in the questions about ethics and he’s working on a workshop and he has a talk and he’s working on a workshop just around ethics of this behavioral science techniques. We’re having debates with people about how would you measure it and how would you determine whether something is ethical.
I don’t have any answer, I was gonna tell you I’ll start there, about the ethics of it because we’re still working on it. We do have a theory that I’m not even gonna try and explain because it’s complicated and I probably can’t do it justice in a short amount of time but I’ll give you a hint. You look at the potential for damage in the average person with whatever you’re doing. What is the potential that an average person getting this message, interacting with this product because they got the message, it’s gonna hurt them?
You also look at what is the potential for damage to not the average person but the extreme. You wake and think about, for instance, let’s say you have a website where people can go do online gambling. For a lot of people, probably for most people, they’ll waste some time, they’ll lose a little bit of money but it’s not gonna ruin their life. But there is a small amount of people who get addicted easily to gambling and for them, it could ruin their life.
We’re actually working on the mathematical formula of these two questions, what is the potential damage to the general population, what’s the potential for damage to the extremes. Actually, we’d like to come up with a score.
Louis: That will be interesting. What springs to mind straight away is the product itself. Here, we are talking about the product itself like gambling, that kind of stuff, and the damage it can have. What if, as a marketer, I use shady tactics to promote a good product?
Susan: That’s the other question, that’s the other part of the equation we’re working on. I think it’s a problem, I do think it’s a problem. Yet, if you don’t do any of these things, there would be no advertising and no marketing. I don’t know the answer to this. You could say, it’s okay to invoke, to try and get someone to change their self-story but you shouldn’t invoke fear or sex or hunger. It’s like, “I don’t know. Why not? Isn’t it just as manipulative to try and get them to change their self-story?” You’re just like, “Why is one better or worse than another?” I don’t know yet but we are working on it. Maybe if I come back on the show we can actually spend some time talking about that.
Louis: That’s something we talked about with a guest, we talked about it with many guests, with Laura Roeder who’s CEO of a social media company and she was saying, the line is basically “don’t lie.”
Susan: There are some lines, don’t break the law, don’t lie, to me that’s like, “Yeah, okay. We gotta draw out some other lines that aren’t as far out as that.”
Louis: Susan, I had a lot of other question to ask you and I won’t have the time to ask you that. Before I let you go, I always ask this question at the end of every episode. Outside of all of the books you wrote, that I’m obviously gonna mention in the show notes and that I already mentioned in the intro of this episode, what are the top three resources you would recommend to the listeners?
Susan: Besides my books?
Louis: Yeah, besides your books.
Susan: I love books, probably I’m gonna give you three books rather than a podcast and so on. I would definitely say the book Redirect that I mentioned which is about the whole idea of self-stories, I think that that’s a really powerful book and would really help marketers. Of course, all my choices are gonna be behavioral science oriented, you knew that.
I think another one that I’m gonna recommend is a book by Daniel Kahneman that you may know, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Do you know that book?
Susan: That’s a wonderful book, that covers one of the drivers we didn’t get to talk about which is what I call tricks of the mind. I guess, maybe, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg which is another one of the drivers that we talked about.
Louis: Very interesting. Just to mention your book again, I’m gonna start from 2008 onward, Neuro Web Design, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, How to Get People to Do Stuff. I think that’s it.
Susan: That’s good.
Louis: I have to say once again, I will mention those books in the show notes and all but they are already interesting. I love reading about behavioral science in the way you are describing them which is really easy to understand for anybody and backed up by science not backed up by what you think is right, which is even more interesting.
Once again, Susan, thank you so much for your time.
Susan: I really enjoyed it.
Louis: Thank you.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.