Think bigger

360 degree BE

Carrot Rewards, a mobile app that spruiked its use of behavioural economics (BE) to engage 1.1 million users, filed for bankruptcy this year after failing to find an investor.

Which got me thinking: are businesses embedding BE in product design but overlooking its use to influence those who pay the bills?

BE on the inside

With loyalty points for petrol, travel and groceries as their prize, the Carrot Rewards app encouraged Canadians to walk more, get flu shots and complete health questionnaires. According to a media release, it was an “AI-driven wellness app that leverages behavioural economics and nudge theory to motivate and reward users for making better lifestyle choices.”

The BE component seems largely to have been the immediacy of reward, tapping into short-term bias, with small rewards promptly transferred upon completion of a task. User friction was also reduced, with easy ways to track tasks and transact points.

Did it work to improve health behaviours? A study in JMIR Mhealth Uhealth determined the app increased average daily step count by 5%, and as much as 21% amongst physically inactive users. So yes. Early signs were good. BE-ing the inside of the app was working.

BE on the outside

Here’s where I broaden my point though, because I don’t know the details of how the Carrot Rewards team sought to influence investors, I just know they clearly failed. What I have noticed amongst businesses that talk about using BE, including advertising and market research agencies, is they seem to limit their use to the mechanics of the product to be consumed.

In other words, the app’s usability but not the task of getting people to download it. The ad campaign but not the getting the clients to agree to it. The research but not getting the clients to use what’s discovered.

It’s a blinkered, siloed use of behavioural techniques and means great BE-powered initiatives are failing for lack of a BE-powered influencing approach. They haven’t BE-d the external positioning.

It’s like having the world’s greatest chef in the kitchen but failing to think how you will get people to the restaurant. What a waste!

BE 360 degree

Behavioural techniques are a 360-degree skills-set. By that I mean you can use the same techniques on:

  • Your customer (the consumer or user)
  • Your stakeholders (investors and/or leaders)
  • Yourself

In the case of an app, for example, that means within-app usability and functionality to drive behaviour of users. It means anticipating and overcoming resistance to downloading the app in the first place, and trying to get users to prioritise its placement on their home screen.

Further, it means securing investment to develop the app by influencing stakeholder perception of value. Ask yourself, “why they should they bother?” and “how you can minimise risk?” Use short-term bias to emphasis short-term advantages, nullify loss aversion by providing assurances in favour of the investment, and amplify the downside of missing out on the opportunity.

In terms of using BE on yourself, it gives you a roadmap of how to adjust your behavioural patterns. You can use environmental primes to change the course of your behaviour for example, like setting a motivational phrase as your morning login, the size of the plate you eat from and what music you play at what time.

The lesson from the failure of some BE-infused products is that it may not be the products at all, but rather how they are sold in.  BE on the inside isn’t enough. BE the outside too.

Effortless influence

5 minutes to design the logo.

2 years to convince her clients to use it.

In 1998, as renowned graphic designer Paula Scher sat listening to her clients discuss what the identity of newly merged Citicorp and Travellers Group should be, she doodled the new Citibank logo on a napkin.

“The design of the logo is not the hard part of the job”, said Scher, “it’s persuading a million people to use it”.

Whatever your role, I’m willing to guess your success relies on your ability to work with and through others. To influence.

I’m also willing to guess that the biggest frustration you have, why some days you feel worn down, exhausted and depleted, is when you can’t cut through.

Imagine a workday that felt effortless? Where your talents could shine and every traffic light turned green. Where stress melted away.

Imagine a world of business where people were smiling as they commuted because they couldn’t wait to get to work and ply their influencing skills?

That’s what I want for you. Effortless influence.

What’s the path to effortless influence?

1.  Make your environment do the heavy lifting

Just having a meeting in the right room can help productivity. Priming, which I write a lot about because it is so critical to your success, means people are influenced by environmental cues. Some supermarkets, for example, play the sound of thunder in the fresh produce section to remind their customers of nature and freshness.

Aside from the environment, how you contextualise your message is as important as what your message is. The behavioural principle of framing means you need to choose your images, typeface and words carefully. An email with “feel free” to get in touch is better than “don’t hesitate”, for example.

2. Anticipate resistance to design your effortless approach

Conceptualising the logo was the easy part for Scher. The hard part was convincing layers of management that the logo was the right one. We could explore dozens of behavioural principles underpinning client resistance, but all roads lead back to three core barriers

  • Apathy, they can’t bothered;
  • Paralysis, they are confused; and
  • Anxiety, they are worried about proceeding.

Know that the natural human state is status quo. Even if a client thinks they want change, you still need to convince them to move. That means the bulk of your work is getting people to move away from something rather than move towards it.

3.  It’s not them at fault, it’s you

You can’t control another person, but you can control your approach. If you are getting frustrated, then change how you engage, starting with empathy.  Just like a tennis umpire who wears sneakers so they can feel how the players experience the court, you have to see the situation from your customer’s perspective. By doing so you can work back to modify how you act and communicate. 

Effortless influence isn’t actually effortless

Is effortless influence actually effortless? Clearly the answer is no. But it’s good effort rather than bad. By skilling yourself in behavioural influence you gain efficiencies every day, in every interaction, turning your traffic lights green.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Sources: Paula Scher’s work was profiled in the Netflix series “Abstract”.

How Shopify uses priming to change behaviour

Replacing a hot water service because it had too many buttons was just one of the decisions taken by Shopify CEO and founder Tobi Lütke.

“I ask everyone to build world class software”, said Lütke, “…but if you arrive in an office where the first thing you do is get hot water…and you are faced with some sort of insane user experience …where the obvious thing to use the device feels like an after thought…then I can’t really ask (my team) to do better. (If I do) I’m fighting gravity.”

Shopify is the world’s largest successful ecommerce platform, with 4,000 employees and 600,000 customers, and founder Lütke was recently discussing his approach to business in the excellent podcast, “The Knowledge Project” with Shane Parrish.

Time and again the use of environmental primes, or nudges, in the Shopify offices were mentioned as a way to shape employee behaviour. As Lütke points out, asking employees to create beautiful, effortless products is incongruent with a workspace that is ugly and full of friction. For the same reason, their floor plan is intentionally maze-like in places to prime staff to explore and have fun. Rationally, these things shouldn’t make a difference. Behaviourally, they do.

Aside from replacing the hot water and microwave with more effortlessly functional variants, Shopify also overhauled the way it encouraged staff to keep the cafeteria clean. Their first inclination was to educate staff by placing posters around the room. No effect. They then used a social norm on the poster to shame staff into correcting their behaviour. A small but fleeting effect. Finally, they just put a tray next to the exit of every lunchroom where people could deposit their dirty dishes. Problem solved!

Primes, subconscious cues in the environment, can be applied to all types of spaces, even the bathroom. In my interview for the Behavioural Grooves podcast recently, co-host Kurt Nelson mentioned toilet paper primes.  Yes, that folded triangle of toilet paper in your hotel room is sending an important message; “relax, your room has been thoroughly and carefully cleaned because we care about you.”

Lessons for business effectiveness

Priming plays a significant role in how your staff and customers will feel and act. If you need more proof:

  • a car insurer was able to increase sales 11% by varying the pitch of background traffic noise;
  • a hotel used priming in its Wi-Fi password;
  • handwritten typeface increased crisp bread sales from 5.6% to 30.4%; and
  • Will Smith was able to fleece a high-stakes gambler in the movie Focus using number primes.

Lessons for personal effectiveness

Priming doesn’t just affect others, it affects you too. To prime yourself, set up your home and work environments to support your goals. Change your computer login to something positive, surround yourself with plants and light to stimulate your energy levels, remove temptations from line of sight, use smaller bowls and spoons if you want to eat less, remove your smartphone from your office if you want to be more productive, and use “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” when refusing a treat.

You are already priming, but in the right direction?

By the way, you are already priming yourself, your customers and staff, whether you realise it or not. The key is to prime in way that serves your objective. According to Lütke, “people are so much more affected by their environment than we like to believe.” Indeed.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany

Traffic noise increased car insurance payments 11%

That background hum your customer hears may be impacting whether they buy from you. New research investigating the impact of background noise on willingness buy car insurance and try new foods has found that low pitch sounds trigger customer anxiety, which leads to greater risk avoidance.

The power of environmental primes

The environment in which a decision takes place plays a large, and often overlooked, role in shaping the outcome. I’ve written before about how music, smells and shapes can impact customers, and this latest research reiterates the importance of paying attention to how you shape your customer’s environment.

Hypothesising that low pitch subconsciously primes people to perceive threat, Lowe, Loveland and Krishna (2018, forthcoming) were interested in whether this would result in greater risk avoidance. Across a series of seven studies, the researchers varied the pitch of background noise between low (below 250 Hz) and moderate (between 250 and 1000 Hz) levels.

In one task, participants were asked to complete a computer survey on financial choices. Sine waves were played through a hidden speaker at a level they could not consciously hear.  Those in the condition where the waves were at a low pitch took significantly fewer financial risks than those in the moderate condition.

In another, participants were asked to listen to and evaluate a 35 second ad for car insurance. In the ad where background traffic noise was set at a lower pitch, customers expressed a willingness to pay $98.98 for the insurance, reducing their perceived risk. When the background traffic was set at a moderate pitch, this dropped to $88.63. An 11% difference based on imperceptible sound levels!

Moving out of the lab, the researchers set up an experiment in a self-serve yogurt store, inviting people to sample as many flavours as they wished before making a choice. Those in the low pitch environment tried 1.26 flavours on average before committing to their preferred, whereas those in a moderate pitch sampled only 0.9 flavours.

I don’t know about you, but I’m both excited and terrified of research like this. Excited because it shows how we can more effectively engage our customers, but terrified for the ethical boundaries it dances along.

What gave me some comfort is how easy it can be to counter balance these effects. Across the studies in which the researchers pointed out the background noise and gave a benign reason for it (e.g. “you might notice a hum because our speaker is broken”), any perceived, non-conscious threat was removed and the differences between low and moderate pitch levels, attenuated.

Implications for you

As the researchers note, “background sound in retail environments and marketing communications can alter a customer’s comfort level, and value placed on products that have the potential to reduce risk and their desire to try products before purchase to decrease risk.”

In other words, priming anxiety can be advantageous if you are in the business of risk reduction, like insurance and healthcare, but problematic if you are trying to get your customer to commit to something they cannot try first.

As this latest research affirms, priming is one of the most powerful tools of behavioural influence. You are susceptible, I am susceptible, and your customer is susceptible. Please use it responsibly.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

A Wi-Fi password changed his life

Mauricio Estrella was staring at the prompt on his computer that requested he change his password. Recently divorced, depressed and late for a meeting, Mauricio decided in that moment to change his life.

He typed Forgive@h3r.

As he recalls in his TEDx talk, typing the password multiple times a day for 30 days meant it became an affirmation whose “healing effect was incredible”.

“If you do something everyday, consistently”, said Mauricio, “it has the potential to become a habit”. Indeed, and there are two important words here.

  • If you do something. The action of typing I believe helped shift the affirmation from a thought bubble to an embodied cognition. The mind and the body were connected in the forgiveness objective. Typing a password forces System 2 to get active as we spell out the characters and mentally rehearse what they mean, stepping out of rote and forcing us to pay attention to what we are doing.
  • If you do something consistently. Typing the password over and over everyday was key to making it stick. Typing it only occasionally would not give neuro pathways a chance to form. The password was a clever commitment device, forcing him to repeat the behaviour because he couldn’t access his files without typing the magic words.

It didn’t just stop with forgiveness for Mauricio. Realising he was on to a good thing, he used the monthly change in his password to take more photos, keep in touch with family, save for a holiday, stop drinking and quit smoking. The small act of changing his password has changed Mauricio’s life.

Hotel Wi-Fi behaviour hack

Mauricio came to mind when I was accessing Wi-Fi at a Brisbane hotel recently. Instead of the usual string of hotel name and year, they did something much smarter. The password was “Bookdirect&Save”.

While it is unlikely their customers will stay long enough to form a habit, the hotel has at least increased awareness of the benefits of booking direct. Every time I typed the password, I was primed to book direct and save money.

Don’t overlook tiny tweaks

This is what I love about behavioural economics. It’s the small tweaks – the tiny opportunities – that can make a difference to you and your business.

For example, choosing to use a noun rather than verb can impact what your customers do.

13% more people turned out to vote in US elections, for instance, when they were asked the day prior “how important is it for you to be a voter?” rather than “how important is it for you to vote?”

Why? Nouns like “voter” tap into personal identity, and we don’t like acting against how we see ourselves. Verbs like “vote” give us greater psychological distance and more scope to rationalise not doing it. Trying to exercise more? Call yourself a “runner” rather than “someone who runs”!

The NSW Behavioural Insights Team tested different words in the hope of encouraging more people to pay overdue fines. A prominent “Pay now” stamp rather than “Act Now”, together with “You owe” rather than “Amount owed” increased debt recovery by $1 million.

Tweaks can even apply to what you call meeting rooms. Researchers at Swinburne Institute of Technology are researching whether people are more creative in a room called “Innovation lab” than “Meeting room” or  “Storeroom”.

In my recent “Influence for Introverts” webinar I also shared small tweaks you can use in emails. Reframing “don’t hesitate”, “no problem” and “don’t worry” as “happy to help”, “feel free” and “we’ll take care of that” will improve the odds your message will be favourably received.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Productivity hacks

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, right?  I was recently presenting and guesting at one of Australia’s best health retreats, which gave me the chance to reflect on my work and lifestyle habits.  Here are four tips about how you can optimise your time and productivity.

1. Schedule 50 minute hours

How do you get more out of an hour? By making it 50 minutes. One of the most counter-intuitive aspects of relaxing at a health retreat is how big a role time plays. In this case, activities were planned on the hour, and ran for 50 minutes. There were two benefits in this. First, the 50 minutes became more productive because distractions were eliminated and second, 10 minutes transition time meant you always felt unrushed.

For you that means considering scheduling blocks of an hour, which become the ‘capsule’ for whatever activity you slot in (e.g. email, meetings, writing blogs) but only conducting the activity for 50 minutes. In the 10 minutes left over you can check your phone, have a bathroom break, walk to your next meeting…whatever.

It will enable you and your colleagues to focus on the activity at hand for 50 minutes (the maximum attention span anyway) and then leave the fidgeting to the 10-minute transition.

2. Eliminate low-grade decisions

Obama famously only wore suits in two colours, blue or grey, so he could save his energy for important decisions. At the retreat, decisions like what activities were on the program and what to eat were taken out of our hands. The result? We could focus our energy on more important endeavours.

The reality, of course, is that life is full of low-grade but necessary decisions. Your opportunity though, is to streamline as many as possible so you don’t get depleted.  Habits play a big role in this, so starting your workday in the same way (same breakfast, same train, same coffee spot) can eliminate the need to think too hard. Similarly, having pre-formatted emails, presentations and documents means you can focus on what you put in the communications rather than how.

3. Focus on the present

At the retreat we were only told about the next day once we got back to our villas at night, meaning we didn’t waste any of the current day thinking about tomorrow. What we did know was certain ‘anchor’ activities would happen every day, like 6am wake-up, 8am breakfast, 9am stretch and 6pm dinner. The result? We could enjoy the moment feeling assured that the rest of the week would unfold as we got there.

Again, you’ll get into a bit of trouble if you try that in the real world, but the lesson of giving your attention to what’s before you is valid. I shouldn’t stress about a meeting on Friday because it’s not Friday yet. In fact I am better to use my time in this moment to prepare myself for the meeting so by the time it rolls around I won’t be stressed. Always ask yourself, “can I do anything about that now?” If the answer is no, don’t waste your energy.

The other avenue to focussing on the present is being present with others. When they talk, listen. When they look at you, look back. The quality of the interaction will be vastly improved and will bypass the need for follow up emails and clarifications. (The fastest way to be present with someone, by the way, is to put away the phone).

4. Let the environment make decisions for you

Why think about how much you should eat when your bowl size can do it for you? One of my favourite behavioural studies found that people ate 31% more ice-cream when they were given a bigger bowl. These people, by the way, were nutrition experts. The point is how much our environment shapes behaviour, so by setting up the right environment, our decisions will follow suit.

In the workplace that means having quiet zones if you want people to think deeply, break out areas for discussion, high ceilings for brainstorming, low ceilings for focus, chairs in circles for collaboration, and angular formation for independent thinking. You can cue behaviour simply by creating the right space.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Designing a behaviourally effective office

Parliament House would have to be the most considered architectural development in Australia, with every nook, rivet and cushion designed to add value beyond mere function. This I learnt watching the excellent ABC TV series “The House”, and it got me thinking, how can we shape our workplaces to maximise the value they generate for us? What lessons can we take from behavioural science about the impact of office design on employee satisfaction and productivity? Let’s start with three.

1.     Open plan is actually not that great

Open plan offices seem to have become the default design for workplaces, thanks largely to pragmatic advantages like cost savings and utilisation of floor space. But just because they are popular doesn’t mean they are best.

According to a University of Leeds 2011 review of over 100 open plan studies, staff do tend to feel more sociable and included in such environments, but this comes at a cost to attention spans, productivity and creativity. A Danish study also found people in open plan offices took 62% more sick leave than staff in other environments.

What does this suggest? People might say they like open plan – it makes them feel good because they are in amongst it (when they’re not sick, of course), but there’s a hidden impact to their ability to actually work. Great for collaboration, bad for deliberation.

2. Ceiling height

Look above you. How high are your ceilings? It turns out that ceiling height can influence how your staff thinks.

In research by Meyers-Levy and Zhu (2007) participants were asked to solve a range of anagrams. When seated in a room with high ceilings, participants were able to solve anagrams related to “freedom” (e.g. liberated, unlimited, emancipated) faster than they could solve anagrams related to “confinement” (e.g. bound, restricted, retrained). Why? Higher ceilings engendered a feeling that was congruent with the concept of freedom – it helped their ‘flow’. “Confinement” words, on the other hand, didn’t reconcile with the freedom they were feeling, inhibiting their fluency.

The researchers concluded that lower ceilings more effectively primed people to work on specific, detail oriented tasks, whereas higher ceilings were better for abstract, conceptual thinking.

What’s the lesson? Consider where you place teams according to their function. Creative and design teams might be better off with high ceilings whereas number-crunchers and fact-checkers are likely to improve their focus in lower ceiling environments.  You may also consider mixing up the type of communal rooms your staff can access.  Brainstorming sessions may be more productive in rooms with high ceilings, whereas business performance reviews may be more constructive in rooms with ceilings that are lower.

3. Plants and greenery

Want your staff to be more productive? Just add plants. Research by Marlon, Knight, Postmes and Haslam (2014) found employees were 15% more productive after plants were introduced to spartan office environments.

According to the researchers, “What was important was that everybody could see a plant from their desk. If you are working in an environment where there’s something to get you psychologically engaged you are happier and you work better.”

Other researchers from Washington State University (PDF) found participants in a computer task had a reaction time 12% faster reaction when plants were present in a windowless room, and reported lower blood pressure.

Yet more research found plants to positively impacted performance of females and the mood of males, pointing to some gender differences in how our environment stimulates us.

Environment shapes performance

As the behavioural research attests, there’s clearly more to an office than desks and computers. The environment you create will have a direct bearing on your staff’s performance, and with some tweaks and adjustments you may be able to unearth productivity that is currently lying dormant.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Behavioural techniques to reduce shopper theft

A small Victorian supermarket made the news recently when it created a “wall of shame” for people they alleged had stolen from them. Using security footage, they pasted a picture of the alleged perpetrator along with their name on the store’s front window.

I get it.  As a retailer it’s frustrating when people steal from you. But instead of opening yourself up to defamation, let’s look at ways to influence people to do the right thing using behavioural psychology.

Curbing self-serve checkout theft

Without doubt the move to self-serve checkouts has lead to a spike in shoplifting as shoppers inadvertently or deliberately mis-scan items. The unsupervised nature of the transaction seems to have increased people’s willingness to shoplift.

Retailers have a choice. They can spend a fortune increasing shopper supervision, say by having a more overt security presence, or use more cost effective and subtle behavioural cues to enhance shopper compliance.

That’s what large retailers like Coles and Woolies are doing. Drawing on behavioural research into personalisation and social deviance, they are experimenting with shaping honesty cues in the shopping environment.

A couple of the key theories they are employing include:

  • Personalisation – it is easier to steal from someone anonymously and when you feel the crime is victimless (like from a machine), and much harder when you have a relationship with that person. By using technology that welcomes the shopper by name, and even using robots that look more-human like, retailers are hoping to increase pressure on the shopper to behave honestly.
  • Social proof – people tend to do what others do, so if they believe everyone steals then they will be more likely to as well. Including messages throughout the store and on the screen about how most people do the right thing could reduce their willingness to deviate.

Techniques you can use to reduce theft

Building on the techniques already mentioned, techniques you can use to reduce theft include:

  • Pictures of eyes – In research from 2011 people contributed 2.76 times more money to an honesty box in the UK when it had a picture of eyes rather than flowers on it. It seems the eyes trigger a sense of being watched, and encourage people to behave in a way that is socially acceptable.
  • Cardboard cut outs of security figures – A cardboard cutout of a police officer was enough to reduce bicycle theft by 67% from a subway in Boston.
  • Priming words – Researchers found using words like “honesty” in a toilet block increased the likelihood of motorway users paying for their bathroom break
  • Music and mosquitos – Music is being used to reduce vandalism, loitering and theft. One retailer in the UK claimed theft reduced by 67% when it played classical music. Other organisations, including police in Western Australia  have been using the so called “Mosquito Device” to emit a high pitched sound that only people under 25 can hear.

The lesson from the world of retail is that we can’t rely on people to always do the right thing. Our opportunity is to remind them of what that is by crafting the environment with subtlety and psychology.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Skinny product, fat profit

“Imagine the following scenario: You are shopping at your local store when you encounter a product shaped like a human form (e.g., Coca-Cola bottles or Pom’s juice). As you continue shopping, is it possible that the exposure to those human shapes alters how much you spend on this shopping trip?”

What an intriguing question asked by researchers from the University of Colorado: How do the shapes we see around us impact what we buy? And further, does this change depending on whether we are fat or thin?

High BMI plus thin shape = indulgent customer

To find out the researchers had a group of study participants first look at either thin or round shapes and match them to descriptors like “clear” or “dark”. Then, in one seemingly unrelated task, participants were asked to buy a bottle of water. They could choose between the relatively expensive Fiji water and a generic, cheaper option. In other tasks, participants were asked whether they preferred a frugal or indulgent lifestyle, and whether they would prefer to buy something on credit or wait 3 months to save up.

Later, the researchers coded the participants according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) so they could understand whether there was a relationship between body weight and associations with product shapes.

What did they find? Participants with a high BMI (i.e. overweight) who were primed with a thin shape were more likely to spend more on expensive (indulgent) water, say they preferred an indulgent lifestyle and use credit to buy, whereas low BMI participants who saw a thin shape were not more likely to act in these ways.

The researchers speculate that in Western society, thinness is positively associated with hard work, success and financial achievement. Shapes that represent this ‘thin ideal’ therefore trigger people who may not live up to this to feel bad about their ability to manage their behaviour, and therefore act more indulgently. Being subconsciously reminded that they lack the discipline to manage their weight turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As a business, this research reminds us that our customers are influenced by their environment more than they (and we) perhaps realise.

The shape of logos impacts product perception

As a further illustration, the shape of your logo might be impacting how your customers regard your product. Researchers in this case were interested in the difference a rounded or angular logo could make to sales of shoes and sofas.

After being presented with a picture of either a pair of shoes or sofa with a rounded or angular logo, research participants were asked to give a rating of the product. Those primed with a rounded logo rated the shoes and sofa as “more comfortable”, whereas those who saw the angular logo thought each product was “more durable”.

The key takeaway from both pieces of research is we need to be considered when designing product packaging and logos. Not only do these elements serve functional and aesthetic roles, they affect the subconscious behaviour of our buyer. While there are many inexpensive design services available these days, be sure the one you choose can explain the behavioural psychology that underpins their work.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

How smells, sounds and spaces influence what people do

Right now I am enjoying new car smell. You know, that particular smell that only a new car has? So important is this smell that you can buy “air fresheners” in lavender, pine and…you guessed it, “new car”.  The smell makes me feel different, which has got me thinking about all the environmental cues that influence us and how you can use these techniques to shape customer behaviour.

The smell of success

According to a paper (PDF) by Robert Van Lente and Stephen Herman, “of all our genes, one percent is devoted to the detection of odours — more than for all other senses combined.”  Added to that, 75% of emotions are generated by smell.  In the words of one marketing professor in the NY Times, “With all of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scentyour brain responds before you think”. That means we need to pay attention to what’s wafting around us because smell can change behaviour.

For example, Van Lente and Herman cite research that smell has resulted in:

  • Greater in-store lingering time  
  • A 45% increase in gambling (where odorants complimented a casino’s theme)  
  • Increased sales (from a pine odorant in a furniture store’s heritage line department)
  • Reduced in-hospital patient insomnia plus patient calming (through exposure to heliotropin, a key ingredient in baby powder scents).

Other studies have found:

  • Purchase intent increased by 80% when Nike stores added scent
  • A petrol station convenience store increased coffee sales by 300% by pumping the smell of coffee through the store
  • Exposure to pleasant scents made people more creative in problem solving and more vigilant during tedious tasks

Hear hear

Sounds become associated with actions and brands.  They provide reassurance that an action has been completed (like the whoosh when you send an email) or alert us to something new (like a ding when a new message arrives). Known as “sonic branding”, businesses are investing heavily in what their products and services sound like.

Take, for example, the “thunk” sound of a car door closing. Mercedes have a signature sound (listen here), with their “manager of operational sounds” telling Bloomberg that while an SUV may sound slightly different to a sedan, “it should always sound like good quality, be authentic, and be a Mercedes.”  

Not to be outdone, Volkswagen even promoted the sound of their car door in an ad for Jetta (watch here).  This was particularly important because Jetta is one of their smaller cars, so they wanted to convey that size does not compromise quality.

It would have been no small decision by Apple, therefore, to remove the start up “chime” from its latest MacBook. Sure it’s great for people who want to open their computer in a quiet lecture hall, but Apple have just ceded some of their brand equity.

Space race

Beyond sound and smell, physical characteristics like dimensions and weight also have a bearing on behaviour. For example:

  • Heavier wine bottles being perceived to be higher quality
  • Mineral water served in a heavier plastic cup being judged less pleasant than a lighter cup
  • Higher ceilings encouraging expansive, creative thinking and lower ceilings, detailed work
  • Curved glasses leading people to drink more quickly than straight glasses
  • People eating more salads when seated at a window seat, and more desserts when in a booth

Lessons for you

One of the biggest mistakes we make when seeking to influence behaviour (our own or some else’s) is underestimating the environment. And here’s the thing: you can’t NOT have an environment. Your workspace is an environment. Your shop is an environment. Your website is an environment. I’d even go far to say that the collateral, letters or brochures you send your customers are part of the environment. The environment IS having an impact on how your customers are responding to you. The question is whether it’s impacting in the way you want?

P.S. An interesting read on the importance of sound is “The Sonic Boom: How Sound transforms the way we think, feel and buy” by Joel Beckerman.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.