In this talk from ProductTank San Francisco, Matt Wallaert, chief behavioral officer at Clover Health, shares psychology-based methods for designing products that inspire people to change their behavior. Matt draws on his background as a social psychologist and describes the use of competing-pressures design and behavioral statements as tools to get people to change behavior.
The Role of Competing Pressures in Human Behavior
Matt uses an example of M&Ms to illustrate how competing pressures can encourage or discourage users to take a certain action. We all love a handful of M&Ms. They’re nostalgic, colorful, give us a boost of energy and are downright tasty. Matt identifies these as promoting pressures that make us want to dig in. But why aren’t we chowing down right now? Maybe because we don’t have a bag in front of us, or we know they’re not good for us, or maybe because we don’t have any extra change to spend on something we don’t need. Matt defines these as inhibiting pressures. A product person for M&Ms could consider influencing these pressures by decreasing cost or highlighting the delicious taste to get more users to buy M&Ms. Matt suggests drawing a diagram of opposing arrows and writing out how each of these pressures act on your users. This illustrates the opportunities for product people to address these pressures as part of their product design.
Influence Competing Pressures to Drive Action
Matt gives us a few examples of how some well-known products use competing pressures to drive behavioral change.
- In their marketing and branding, Snickers emphasizes the promoting pressure of providing energy to overcome being “hangry”, driving users to buy a Snickers when they need that energy boost.
- Uber removes inhibiting pressures of cost, availability and accessibility by touting lower fares than taxis, more cars on the road, and cars in more locations. This encourages users to choose Uber as their mode of transport.
- The campaign to decrease smoking in the US increased an inhibiting pressure by raising taxes and decreased a promoting pressure by banning advertising. This drove existing smokers to quit and discouraged non-smokers from picking up the habit.
How to Harness Psychology to Influence Behavior
In addition to illustrating promoting and inhibiting pressures, Matt suggests writing a behavioral statement. A behavioral statement outlines a population, motivation, set of limitations, desired behavior, and a way to measure it.
For instance, for Uber, this might be:
When people want to go from point A to point B, they will take an Uber if they have a smartphone, a credit card, and connectivity. Uber can measure this with rides per month.
Your behavioral statement roots the action you’re looking to get from your users with the goal they’re trying to accomplish and anything that stands in their way. Behavioral statements should be specific and should anchor product, engineering, design, and marketing to a common goal. The team can then base their product decisions on how they can drive people with the given motivation and address their limitations to get them to take the desired action.
Promoting pressures and inhibiting pressures are factors that get in the way of certain behaviors. Understanding how to recognize them makes it easier for product people to put themselves into the mind of their users. They can then gain clarity on what motivates their users, what inhibits them, what they identify with, and how their emotions impact their actions. By thinking about our users in this way, we can design products that influence behavior. But with great power, comes great responsibility. Make sure you use this power for good.