February 5, 2021

What is Behavioral Science, and How Does it Relate to Marketing?

Strategize Now

Let’s talk about decisions.

We make them daily. Some decisions are good, and others are pretty poor. Some are rational and others are so, so irrational. Have you ever stopped to consider why?

The truth is that most of our decision making runs in the background. We’re basically on autopilot throughout our day to day, except when things are of the utmost importance. Over the years we all start using mental shortcuts to speed up our decision making and sometimes those shortcuts lead us to good decisions, and other times we end up with worse decisions. These patterns are the keys to that autopilot mode.

Human actions have patterns to them, and the better we understand these patterns the better we can utilize them to design environments that help people make better decisions.

Enter behavioral science.

What is behavioral science?

Behavioral science, sometimes known as behavioral economics, is the study of how human beings make decisions in the real world. Thanks to the work of behavioral scientists we’re starting to learn not just what people will do in certain scenarios, but more importantly why they choose to do what they do.

Although this concept is not new, it is becoming more readily available to the general public thanks to the work of behavioral scientists in the fields of neuroscience, social psychology, political science, social science, psychiatry, and economics. Their published findings have started changing the way people can think about decision making, without needing any advanced degrees in social and behavioral science research.

Around the world, hundreds of behavioral teams in governments, businesses and other organizations are changing the way you and I interact with our world on a daily basis and we’re probably unaware of it.

A hotel looking to reduce food waste shrunk the size of their plate by 2”, while keeping food portions the same, and reduced their food waste by 22%.

To see one of the most famous examples of behavioral design in practice we need to leave the United States and head over to the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. We won’t spoil too much, but one little etching on the urinals in the men’s room reduced spillage on the bathroom floor by 80%. You gotta see it to believe it.

Now, plates and urinals are all fine and good, but you’re probably not seeing the connection just yet. Let’s get back to marketing.

Behavioral science and better decision making

When thinking about marketing strategies for our clients we are often heavily focused on decisions and decision making.

Depending on the objectives and target audience, sometimes we’re interested in very small decisions like how someone will choose between chocolate and vanilla frosting for their next cake. Other times we’re interested in better understanding larger decisions, like how someone might pick an attorney to represent them.

In both circumstances, a choice needs to be made, and no matter the size of that decision we’re interested in helping people reach that conclusion as easily as possible.

As we’re thinking through our user’s journey and the choices they will face, we often have to design a space where our users must make a choice. In our profession, this is usually something like a landing page or a product menu.

Wherever we create something that involves a choice we’re creating something known as “choice architecture”. Now, this is where it really gets interesting.

Whether you intend to or not, just the fact that this choice architecture has been designed means it will influence people’s decision making.

That’s why behavioral science matters so much. Even if you’re not remotely interested in the study of human behavior, you’re having a real impact on the way people will make their decision due to the way we’re all programmed.

There are predictable patterns that humans naturally fall into, and knowing this allows us to use these patterns to design for better outcomes. When done properly, applied behavioral science can have massive, positive impacts on the world around us.

Dying to know more? Don’t worry, we’ll be going into detail about how exactly we influence decisions with choice architecture, and some of the most common patterns you are likely to come across on a daily basis in future blog posts.

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