We have updated our Privacy Policy and Privacy Options

Got It

“Oh, BEhave!” Behavioral Principles to Know and How to Use Them


Did you know that you may be crafting a solution for a problem that a behavioral scientist has already researched?  There are decades of behavioral science experiments at your fingertips that can be leveraged to better inform your digital experiments.

For example:

  • Wondering why friendly, simple content worked better than content filled with technical brilliance?  Robert Cialdini’s research on “liking” in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionmay shed some light.   
  • Strategizing for the best way to present your product line?  You should definitely check out Dan Ariely’s research on “relativity” in his book Predictably Irrational.  

Imagine consulting that type of research each time you are creating an experiment!

What’s also great is that these experiments often map to defined “principles,” which neatly codify our understanding of human decision making. If you get familiar with the principles and the experiments that define them, your digital experiments are going to be more inspired, and better-informed than ever.

To help you put this information to use, we’re going to:

  • Share five of our most frequently referenced principles
  • Give suggestions on how you can incorporate them into your ideation process
  • Share fun ways to bring behavioral economics into your company culture
  • Provide ways to stay informed with the new behavioral research

Let’s dive into some of our favorites!

Principle to Know #1: Social Proof

  • Definition: When people are unsure of a course of action, they often look to others for direction.
  • Ask Yourself: Are you able to use social proof to communicate the benefits of your product or service? What feedback do you have from your customers and how can you surface it in a meaningful way for prospects?
  • Example Applications: “Most people [do this]”, Star Ratings, Customer Reviews, Testimonials
  • Learn More: Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed.

Principle to Know #2: Choice Overload

Principle to Know #3: Goal Gradient Hypothesis

  • Definition: People will work harder to achieve a goal as the goal gets closer.
  • Ask Yourself: What are the steps required for a user to achieve their goal? How can you turn that into a visible process that you can use to illustrate them moving through it?
  • Example Application: Progress Bar, Number of Steps, Progressive Reveal of Steps
  • Learn More:  The Goal Gradient Hypothesis and Maze Learning, Psychological Review, 39, 25-43.

Principle to Know #4: Scarcity

  • Definition: People are motivated by shortage.
  • Ask Yourself: Could a user come back to your site later and be disappointed to find their desired item out of stock?
  • Example Application: Limited Stock, Limited Time, Countdown Clock
  • Learn More:  Influence: Science and Practice, 5th ed.

Principle to Know #5: Sunk Cost Fallacy

Do those examples have your wheels turning with ways to use them in your program? When you’re trying to launch an experiment, you want to minimize delays and process extensions. Pouring over another set of info is likely not high on your list. We get it.

In order for you and your team to truly build these principles into your process, they’ve got to be easy to access and reference. Here are some simple suggestions to get you started!

Handouts: At Brooks Bell, we’ve created laminated handouts that live in our meeting rooms. Our team uses them during our strategy sessions. Additionally, we provide them alongside other ideation-fueling info with our on-site strategy trainings, and the feedback has been great. Let us know if you are interested in ours, or create your own.

Flash Cards: Irrational Labs provides awesome flashcards that you can print and put in your meeting rooms, provide to your team, or bring to your ideation sessions.

Want to do even more? For more in-depth reviews of ways to incorporate BE into your process, check out this post.

Having the resources above available is crucial, but that alone may not get your team obsessed with behavioral economics. The principle of “gamification” says that people like to play games and they will go to great lengths playing it even if all they get are points.

Make it fun! Check out Dan Ariely’s Irrational Game; it’s gamification in action!

We brought it to Click last year and it spurred some great conversations (and laughs) and we’ve got a few of the games in the Brooks Bell lending library. To make them even more accessible, we hole-punched the cards and put them on rings in our meeting rooms for quick review. We browse through them while waiting for meetings to start and it’s a great mood booster! Not to mention that it helps educate the team on the principles, which naturally brings them into our experiment ideation.

But investing in those resources once isn’t enough. To keep the information fresh and ensure you’re taking full advantage of the behavioral science experiment findings, it’s important to stay tuned in and update your resources. Here’s a great post from the Center for Advanced Hindsight that lists some sources you can use to stay current.

Have you incorporated behavioral principles into your ideation? If so, we’d love to know how you’re doing it and which principles you apply most often. Let us know!

Need to catch up on our series? Here are the links to our “Oh BEhave” series posts:

  1. Creating Experiments with Behavioral Economics
  2. Even Experimentation Experts Get Surprised
  3. Create a Powerhouse Methodology Using Quantitative and Qualitative Data Alongside Behavioral Economics
  4. Ethical Experimentation: Using Behavioral Economics for Good

Kristen Berman, Co-founder of Irrational Labs, Author, Advisor & Public Speaker
Kristen helps companies and nonprofits understand and leverage behavioral economics to increase the health, wealth and happiness of their users.  She also led the behavioral economics group at Google, a group that touches over 26 teams across Google, and hosts ones of the top behavioral change conferences globally, StartupOnomics. She co-authored a series of workbooks called Hacking Human Nature for Good: A practical guide to changing behavior, with Dan Ariely. These workbooks are being used at companies like Google, Intuit, Neflix, Fidelity, Lending Club for business strategy and design work.  Before designing, testing and scaling products that use behavioral economics, Kristen was a Sr. product manager at Intuit and camera startup, Lytro.  Kristen is an advisor for Loop Commerce, Code For America Accelerator and the Genr8tor Incubator and has spoke at Google, Facebook, Fidelity, Equifax, Stanford, Bay Area Computer Human Interaction seminar and more.

Suzi Tripp, Sr. Director of Experimentation Strategy
At Brooks Bell, Suzi sets the course of action for impact-driving programs while working to ensure the team is utilizing and advancing our test ideation methodology to incorporate quantitative data, qualitative data, and behavioral economics principles. She has over 14 years of experience in the industry and areas of expertise include strategy, digital, communications, and client service. Suzi has a BS in Business Management with a concentration in marketing from North Carolina State.