Meet Joe, our new behavioural scientist
We sat down with Joe to talk about all things behavioural science.
What’s behavioural science to you?
It’s the science of who we are and what we do. It starts with accepting we’re not logical masterminds, and that we’re more influenced by the world around us than we think.
If we see a door with a handle, we pull. If we see one with no handle, we push. The handle is a small prime for what we should do with the door.
Behavioural scientists look to understand this autopilot mind and how we behave. We create ‘nudges’ to get people to behave in certain ways, then we test the nudges in the real world with real people and measure the results. If they work, we can roll them out or plan more tests to keep improving.
That sounds a bit Big Brother. Is it tricking people to behave how you want?
That’s what my mum calls it. And if used for evil, it can be. It all comes down to your intention: are you nudging people towards things that are good for them or bad for them? For example, if a nudge is to get people to eat unhealthy food more often, it’d probably work because we love fatty, sweet, and salty foods. But that would be evil.
Most nudges are there to help people do things that are good for them. For example, take some parents who need to register their child in a school by a set date. It’s definitely good for them to do that, but it’s exactly the sort of thing a lot of people put off doing. Behavioural scientists know that people tend to do things they know others have done (called social norming), so we could say ‘9 out of 10 people return this form on time’ to subtly nudge those parents into hurrying up. By the way, in one pilot that exact nudge manage to cut late applications by 33%.
Why did you get into behavioural science?
It’s a cliché but I’m fascinated by how people behave. If you don’t put people at the heart of all your processes and communications, you won’t get the results you want.
In my career so far I’ve answered big questions like ‘Why do people stop playing our game after one day?’, ‘Why don’t our contact centre staff encourage online transactions?’, and ‘How can we get people to use their Mastercard at the till?’. Now I’m excited to work with clients on the questions that seem too big to answer.
So why Schwa?
I love the marriage of behavioural science to tone of voice. I’ve focused so far on helping companies with ‘what’ to say, but I’ve never really looked at ‘how’ to say it. A nudge can live or die based on the tone of the message. And, just like logos and colours, tone is a perfect way for a brand to stand out.
And finally: favourite nudge?
I’m a big fan of changing the physical environment to influence behaviour. I picked up a nudge from a former colleague to get me to read more. It’s a handwritten progress bar for each book I’m reading, and I update it as I get further along towards the finish. It sits on the wall by my desk. Very simple in design, very effective. I love how it works across a bunch of insights like chunking (breaking big goals into easier chunks), priming, and a public commitment. I think for me it takes the guilt out of not reading a book to the end as well.