Published at 11/02/2021

Understanding your users' behaviour as a key to persuasion - Fogg's "Behaviour Model"

based on “A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design” by BJ Fogg

Persuasion is something we do daily, without thinking too much about it. Professionally, it’s perhaps the most important skill in marketing - be it convincing somebody to purchase a product or a service or sign up for a newsletter. So how to do it effectively?

There are many books and research papers on the art of persuasion already. Probably the most popular one is “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini. I could cover the book, however the chances are you have already read it.

That’s why I will cover a research paper by BJ Fogg titled “A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design” which states that behavior is a product of three simple factors.

To introduce the practical implications & examples I must first introduce you to the three guiding factors:

- Motivation

- Ability

- Trigger

Motivation

We could define motivation as the willingness to perform a task. Simple enough. There are several elements of motivation:

Pleasure/Pain

This is the most core motivator, primitive even, low on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Whilst really effective, designers should most definitely not use pain to motivate their users.

An example of delighting your users, is to make your app or website run exceptionally well. For more examples of types of pleasure I will refer you to this article posted by the Aalto University.

Summarising it, there fre for main times of pleasure:

  1. Physio-pleasures (“bodily pleasures derived from sensory organs”)
  2. Socio-pleasures (arising from relationships with other people)
  3. Psycho-pleasures (cognitive and emotional reactions, e.g. colours)
  4. Ideo-pleasures (connected to people’s values)

Hope/Fear

This is about what do we feel in anticipation to xyz. When designing an action, we have to think how will users feel like before we deliver on a promise we give them. Do they feel hopeful about our promise, or do they use our services because of fear?

While fear can be very effective, I implore you not to use it. For sure, it might be effective, but using is really low, and frankly, unethical (looking at you, insurance companies).

Social Acceptance/Rejection

Humans are social animals. Therefore, it’s natural that the list of motivators could not be complete without social acceptance and rejection.

This is a primary reason people use social media even though they might be negatively influencing our mental health, we go to stores to buy new clothes once a new collection is out even though we might not need them or when we know that the textile industry is literally turning rivers black.

Ability

Ability as being able to perform a task is pretty self-explanatory. What’s more important, and perhaps not so obvious, is that you can influence your users’ ability to perform an action by making it easier to perform. This is why ability can also be looked at as simplicity. For able users, most tasks are easy.

If you want to encourage a wider audience to perform a hard task, they naturally won’t be able to do it, thus, their rank too low on ability, thus the action is not simple.

As with motivation, there are few underlying elements of ability.

Time

If you ask a person in a hurry to stop and perform a survey, your chances of getting responses are pretty slim. If you ask them, at a right time, to go online and do it, your chances increase.

As a side note, some companies make it so that it takes an unusually long time to perform an action, such as cancelling a plan.

Money

Perhaps the weakest link in the ability chain. People with limited financial resources will not be able to perform a lot of tasks that cost money.

One thing is to be noted, and that’s the fact that people with “deep pockets” will often trade time for money. Furthermore, people that don’t have time, have money, and the other way around. There are times when people have neither, although it almost never happens that customers will have both.

Physical Effort

If you ask your users to visit your store at the end of very steep stairs chances are they will not want to do it. Your chances for a visit increase once you position your store just by an elevator.

Our ancestors often survived by conserving as much energy as possible, so expect humans to be naturally lazy.

Brain Cycles

Brain Cycles are about how hard do you make your users think when they are performing a task. If you want to explore the topic, and I encourage you to do so, pick up “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. If you for any reason can’t, then the main point is this - there are “systems” of thought - System 1, which we are in while walking in our usual tempo, and there is System 2 which kicks in when we are trying to maintain an unusually fast tempo for a longer period of time. Being in System 2 requires spending energy (see the previous point) so don’t expect your clients to like it.

If you want to jump straight into making products easier to use, pick up "Don’t Make Me Think[…]" by Steve Krug. The title illustrates the point the author makes - don’t make your users think. Everything should feel automatic.

One common way designers make it easier for clients to use their products is by using Jakob’s Law. They know that users spend most of their time on other sites, so they make their site work more or less the same.

Social Deviance

Since humans are social, don’t expect people to perform actions that will make them break the rules of the society.

BJ Fogg gives the following example - “wearing pajamas to a city council meeting might require the least effort, but there’s a social price I’d pay, which creates complications for that behavior.”

Non-routine

Doing something for the first time is often hard and troubling. If we, however, perform a task over and over, it naturally becomes easy.

Think of the time you first rode a bike. Think of how effortless does it feel now.

Triggers

According to Fogg’s Behaviour Model the desired action will not happen without a trigger; even if a target is sufficiently motivated, and is sufficiently able to perform a task.

There are three types of triggers:

Spark

A spark could be a video that inspires hope. It is a trigger that you want to show to your user that has sufficient ability but insufficient motivation.

What you want ideally to do is to inspire, make people feel good, and/or socially accepted.

Facilitator

Facilitator is needed when users are motivated, but don’t have the ability to perform an action.

What you want to do then is to show your users that performing an action is in fact easy.

Imagine a scenario where you would turn the whole job interview process into a simple, 5 minute affair. That, for applicants, would be a facilitator.

Signal

When you conclude that your customers both are able AND motivated, that’s when you want to simply remind people about an action.

Imagine people that want to learn how to play an instrument - they have dedicated some time to do it, and they are motivated enough to do it. All they need is a simple reminder.

Takeaways

Here’s the thing - nowadays we are bombarded with poorly adapted triggers - try to count how many times do you see ads online. Count how many notifications do you get on your phone. Because of all this noise, you need to think carefully where your users are at, to surgically apply the best trigger. The wrong message, can be really costly.

First and foremost, understand your users. Survey them, perform in-depth interviews. Don’t spare expenses, nor time.

Remember about analysing what you were doing, and are doing. Adjust anything out of place as soon as possible. When planning new features/products/services, keep in mind what you have learned here.

Finally, when thinking about a business model, give the freemium model a thought. Keep the base product free forever, but offer “shortcuts” that will be paid. People that have time, but not money will be satisfied, as they will accept some minor inconveniences as ads while doing what they wanted to do. People with money will use shortcuts to shorten the time necessary to achieve a goal. It’s a win-win situation for every party.