A nudge in the right direction

A smart man once reportedly said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

2200 years ago, Archimedes understood what we all need to remember – that a little pressure properly applied in the right place can have a huge effect.

I am not talking about moving the moon of course, something far simpler; moving customers to make purchasing decisions.

when we are trying to influence sales behavior, a little goes a long way. Try to shove a customer up to the checkout and you will fail; entice them gently, and you will succeed. There is a current fad for the term ‘nudge’, as in psychologically nudging people in the right direction. I’m going to co-opt that term and coin the phrase Nudgonomics.

If you think of the sales process as one of economics, then Nudgonomics is the art of nudging customers into better economic decisIons. Better for us at times, but also better for themselves.

In the past I have seen miniscule changes have enormous impact in design success. For example on one project, moving a piece of content slightly to the left meant over twenty percent increase in conversion through a key funnel. Small change, major effect. In another project almost 80% of the test audience failed to complete a phone purchase, due to slightly confusing text attached to a special offer. Changing the words (mid-test, mind you) instantly solved the problem – 100% completed after that. Move a label, big change. Increase font size marginally, big change. Tweak contrast on links – well, you get the idea. The point is, understand the audience, understand what they want to do and how they are thinking, and a minor nudge in the right direction goes a long way.

For example, the SMH recently reported on the existence of Behavioural economists, people who’s Nudgonomics are used to influence economic behavior. A great example of this was a wording change to tax letters sent in the UK. Rather than the standard approach (“please pay your tax on time”) the new letters used a social exclusion metaphor to guilt people into joining the rest (“Did you know that most people in your town have already paid their tax?”). According to SMH this led to an additional two hundred million pounds in revenue being collected on time. for no additional cost.

Obviously it’s guilt and fear that were given a nudge with that letter, and I’m not advocating this as a key approach in UX. What I amadvocating though is that Nudgonomics can be used with other emotions, and to entice users to complete what they really want to do in the first place, overcoming fear and uncertainty that otherwise kills trust. Another SMH example involved a letter placed on a lift, stating “More than ninety percent of the time, people in this building use the stairs instead of the elevator. Why not you?” It led to a seven percent drop in lift usage. Health and environment win.

In many usability tests we see users fail to complete, often when they really want to succeed. They don’t stop because they want to leave, but leave because they are not confident enough to proceed. Often they are as unhappy as the website owners would be at the lack of completion.

And if a nudge in the right direction can help overcome that, then it’s good for everyone involved.

Nudgonomics  – remember, you heard it here first.

Gary Bunker

the Fore