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Last month I attended a fascinating inspiration session by the Art Director’s Club Netherlands on the topic of ‘behavioural design’. Below I share some of my thoughts and key takeaways for marketers:

Let’s be honest: marketing, and especially content marketing, has not traditionally been particularly scientific. But as traditional business models consistently continue to get overthrown by agile, digital-first disruptors (Uber versus the taxi industry, AirBNB versus hotels, Booking.com versus traditional travel agents) it becomes clear that the next battle for customer attention, affection and loyalty is going to rely largely on predicting and satisfying user needs in real time - in other words, marketing has no choice but to become data-driven.

 

As a result, many businesses are turning to a field which has been somewhat in the shadows for many years, at least as applied to marketing: the science of behaviour change (influence, or persuasion). This new approach to marketing is being labeled by some as ‘behavioural design’.

At its most basic, the practice of behavioural design centers around leveraging people’s biases, heuristics, and triggers in order to get them to behave the way you want them to. Many behavioural design initiatives are simply traditional advertising tactics which have been updated for the fast-pace of the digital world. Here are some key examples:


Know your customer

Understanding the behaviour of your users is the first step to engineering ways of changing it, and in the digital sphere this is easier than ever.

Traditionally, a lot of marketing work has been based on large-scale consumer research surveys, which must be combed for insights, which fed into long-lead-time brand and product campaigns. While these big-picture surveys still have value for brands in many industries, marketers today have the opportunity to look beyond the research firms and instead to observe the actual behaviour of their own customers. The amount of information that can be gleaned from visitor data in digital properties is enormous; it’s only a matter of extracting actionable insights from it. 

When you can read your visitors’ behaviour, see how they engage with your content, what they find interesting, what makes them take action, what makes them lose interest - you hold the power to influence their behaviour. Not only can you improve your content based on this information to drive optimal conversion, but with the right tools you can also tailor your content to fit individual visitors’ specific interests and needs based on all of the contextual and behavioural information that you can glean from their visitor profiles (with the right software this can even include anonymous and first-time visitors).

 

Experimentation

Experimentation is at the heart of behaviour design. The companies and brands that continuously differentiate themselves in their respective industries are not only digital-first (or digital-only); they are also obsessed with knowing exactly what they are doing that works (and what doesn’t). The best, and perhaps only, way to achieve the highest possible levels of optimization of your digital experience is to continuously test content performance - everything from micro-copy to entire landing pages.
 

Remove barriers to action

A key ingredient to influencing behaviour is simplification. That is, if you make it as easy as possible for people to take an action, they will be far more likely to do so.

This means simplifying content by removing unnecessary details, calls to action, descriptions that don’t get read or links that don’t get clicked.

It also means helping people accomplish the desired action with as little thinking as possible. Through a good content targeting and retargeting mechanism, businesses can show people exactly the content they want to see to make their journey to the desired action as fast and rewarding as possible. They can also follow up intelligently with their visitors with well retargeted content at the perfect place, time, and channel, that takes them to exactly where they left off and rewards them for coming back (“we bookmarked your flight to London - finish your booking for 5% off?”).

 

Bottom line

Behavioural design is a concept that sounds difficult on the outset, but it can be easily facilitated by today’s leading digital experience management tools (such as smart CMS solutions) and leveraged by any industry.  The businesses that internalise and implement these principles and techniques are the ones that are continuously going to win the game of engagement and conversion, and whose customers will happily keep coming back, knowing they can expect the best user experience.