Tag / Behavior engineering

In app purchase

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Jonathan Libov explores free-to-play apps and takes a wry look into our future. You can connect with him on Twitter at @libovness or visit his website, Whoo.ps.

Three-card Monte is a classic street hustler’s game. The dealer shows you the target card — say, the ace of spades — then leisurely shuffles it with two other cards and places them in a row, face-down. Your job is to pick the target card. Pick right and you win.

The game starts out shockingly easy. You’re offered the chance to play a few rounds for free — or at a very low cost — just to get the hang of it and you win each hand. Not only does your confidence rise with each turn, but you find yourself amped-up from playing the fast-paced game on a bustling street.

Nir’s Note: An edited version of this essay appeared in The Atlantic. Below is my original.
Stairway to Heaven

It’s not often an app has the power to keep someone out of a strip club. But according to Bobby Gruenewald, CEO of YouVersion, that’s exactly what his technology did. Gruenewald says a user of his app walked into a business of ill repute when suddenly, out of the heavens, he received a notification on his phone. “God’s trying to tell me something!,” Gruenewald recalled the user saying, “I just walked into a strip club — and man — the Bible just texted me!”

YouVersion recently announced its app hit a monumental milestone — placing it among a rare strata of technology companies. The app, simply called “Bible,” is now on more than 100 million devices and growing. Gruenewald says a new install occurs every 1.3 seconds.

5318665531_b62722f817Imagine walking into a busy mall when someone approaches you with an open hand. “Would you have some coins to take the bus, please?” he asks. But in this case, the person is not a panhandler. The beggar is a PhD.

As part of a French study, researchers wanted to know if they could influence how much money people handed to a total stranger using just a few specially encoded words. They discovered a technique so simple and effective it doubled the amount people gave.

The turn of phrase has been shown to not only increase how much bus fare people give, but was also effective in boosting charitable donations and participation in voluntary surveys. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 42 studies involving over 22,000 participants concluded that these few words, placed at the end of a request, are a highly-effective way to gain compliance, doubling the likelihood of people saying “yes.”


Cookie jar
Interested in boosting customer desire? A classic study reveals an interesting quirk of human behavior that may hold a clue.

In 1975, researchers Worchel, Lee, and Adewole wanted to know how people would value cookies in two identical glass jars. One jar held ten cookies while the other contained just two stragglers. Which cookies would people value more?

Though the cookies and jars were identical, participants valued the ones in the near-empty jar more highly. Scarcity had somehow affected their perception of value.

There are many theories as to why this was the case. For one, scarcity may signal something about the product. If there are less of an item, the thinking goes, it might be because other people know something you don’t. Namely, the cookies in the almost empty jar are the num-numier choice.

TemptationHow do products tempt us? What makes them so alluring? It is easy to assume we crave delicious food or impulsively check email because we find pleasure in the activity. But pleasure is just half the story.

Temptation is more than just the promise of reward. Recent advances in neuroscience allow us to peer into the brain, providing a greater understanding of what makes us want.

In 2011, Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, gained unheard of access to sensitive information about the way undergraduates were using the Internet. His study tracked students on campus as they browsed the web. Chellappan was looking for patterns, which not only revealed what students were doing online, but provided clues about who they were.

“Successful entrepreneurs recommend reading this article about the persuasion techniques companies use to drive engagement.”

Scratch that, how’s this? “Tons of people are tweeting this article. Find out why.”

OK, here’s one more. “This article will only be on the TechCrunch front page for a few hours before fading into the information abyss.”

Perhaps your preference for one of the opening lines above is a matter of taste, but for companies leveraging the explosion of personalized data, it’s very big business.

Marketers are increasingly personalizing their products and services to meet their customers’ changing needs. But customization used in conjunction with powerful persuasion techniques is arming marketers with new weaponry to boost customer engagement and drive profits.

This week, Baba Shiv and I taught a class at the Stanford Graduate School of Business called, “Using Neuroscience to Influence Human Behavior.” The course focused on the science behind how consumers make decisions.

During the class, we walked through my Desire Engine framework, a four-step cycle that creates preferences and usage habits. Readers of my blog will be familiar with the model but I wanted to share some slides regarding one particular part of the Desire Engine, the “investment phase”.

This phase involves customers doing a bit of “work”, which commits them to the usage of the product. Investment makes re-engaging with the product more likely, and with the slides below, I try to explain why.

Slides from the Investment Phase discussion are below and I apologize for not having a voiceover to go with them yet. I’ll be writing more on this topic in the coming weeks but wanted to share some of the research into the topic.

I was honored to present at WordCamp this year but had to make do with the small amount of time allotted. I crammed my talk into a very short intro to the Desire Engine that sounds like I’m talking while on fast forward. Enjoy!

If you’re reading over email and the video does not appear, click here: http://www.nirandfar.com/2012/09/desire-engine-in.html

Step 1: Build an app. Step 2: Get users hooked to it. Step 3: Profit. It sounds simple and, given our umbilical ties to cell phones, social media, and email inboxes, it may even sound plausible. Recently, tech entrepreneurs and investors have started to look to psychology for ways to strike it rich by altering user behavior. Perhaps you’ve read essays on how to create habit-forming technology and figured you’d give it a shot?

Well hold your dogs Pavlov! Though I’m an advocate for understanding user behavior to build high-engagement products, the reality is that successfully creating long-term habits is exceptionally rare. Changing behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade users to act — for example, the first time they land on a webpage — but also necessitates getting them to behave differently for long periods of time, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Video from my recent talk at the Designers + Geeks Meetup in San Francisco on August 1st, 2012.

Note: This talk is similar to my “Behavior by Design” talk but has approximately 20% new material.

If you’re reading this over email and the video does not appear, click the link below:

http://www.nirandfar.com/2012/08/designing-user-habits-video.html