Influencing behaviors through nudges
Nudges are techniques, based on cognitive sciences, which aim to guide behaviors without coercion or penalty. How can they be used effectively and wisely?
Since the 2008 publication of the book Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, said nudges have spread massively. These soft inducements are based on a major learning from the behavioral and cognitive sciences: our decisions and behaviors are not exclusively rational. On the contrary, they are biased by many factors: excessive weight given to the most rapidly available or seemingly easiest to process information, a propensity to conform to the opinion that appears to be most popular around us, etc. Knowing this, companies or public organizations can steer our choices without forcing them, simply by refining the ways in which they are presented: proposing a default option, pointing out a piece of information, highlighting the majority preferences, etc.
Quickly adopted in marketing, in recent years nudges have found applications in many other domains. For instance, during the Covid crisis, floor markings facilitated the respect of physical distancing. In Great Britain, the government works with a specialized unit to fine-tune the wording of its messaging. Experiments have demonstrated that the simple acts of simplifying the messages and including a social comparison (“X% of your fellow citizens have already paid their provisional taxes”) increase tax collection rates. In the corporate world, nudges take the form of option recommendations adapted to each customer, of pop-up windows on the intranet to incite team members to sign up for training, of signage reworked to encourage safety reflexes, etc.
However, the use of nudges requires skill. Indeed, their effectiveness depends on a detailed understanding of human behavior, which is complex and multifactorial. And a slightly too crude usage of soft inducements generates resistance and becomes counter-productive—not to mention that the company may be accused of manipulation. It is therefore best to think ahead about when the soft inducement approach is appropriate and to make clear the limits that should not be overstepped.
In this synopsis:
– When to call on nudges to cause behavioral evolution?
– Handling nudges deftly to influence without manipulating
– Crafting more effective behavioral inducements
the synopse (8 p.)
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this synopsis (8 p.)
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A seminal book on the nudge theory, in an enriched and updated new edition.
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A Harvard Business Review webinar on the effectiveness of default choices offered to consumers, but also on the ethical questions they can raise.
Why Nudging Your Customers Can BackfireUtpal M. Dholakia
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A case study to illustrate the perverse effects of nudges when they are used to the exclusive benefit of the company.