Nudge – Ask the Question

How do you persuade people to do something?

An age-old question that doesn’t really have one correct answer. It’s a conundrum that marketers and copywriters spend their careers trying to solve for the product or service they are selling. A cleverly written piece of copy can translate into millions of global sales, and a carefully placed advert can subliminally nudge people in the right direction without them even realizing it. It’s all around us, our governments do it to encourage us to act healthier, act more sustainably, and even how vote.

It also raises the question of ethics. Is it ethical for brands to pay towards flooding someone’s newsfeed with adverts encouraging them to buy a certain product or vote a certain way? Is it morally right to nudge the public towards a certain decision if it benefits them? What if they don’t want that benefit? It’s important to remember that these final decisions are always a person’s free will, and they can always reject that path. There is no brainwashing here (despite what is plastered by conspiracy theorists across social media). There’s also a fascinating element to this which is human nature, that no one can control. It’s in our DNA to be pushed towards or react in a certain way to induce certain outcomes.

Nudge Theory. The phenomenon popularised by the book ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness’ by behavioral economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein, although widely regarded as having existed for centuries and just a new phrase that was coined.

Let’s look first at sales and marketing.

The entire aim of this department is to drive sales, create brand awareness, and induce a desire for the product. Some would say you start with a need and work backward, but the best can nudge their audience towards their products. I’m not talking about blatant product placement, i.e. Rihanna applying her Fenty’s makeup in the Superbowl halftime show. A genius move, without question, but not exactly subtle.

Most restaurants will train their staff to name certain dishes on the menu that they want to sell and suggest some side dishes. The dessert menu is given out at the end automatically because many people will look at it and pause before saying… “Oh, go on then”. There is usually a dish that is far more expensive than any others. You’re not expected to buy this but rather go for the second most expensive option as it feels like a bargain. This is what the venue really wants to sell, the dish with the best profit margin. Sneaky huh?

Also in this category is the company Pay and Save, which, in 2013 in El Paso, combined forces with Professor Collin R. Payne from New Mexico State University to encourage shoppers to buy more fruit and veg as two-thirds of the city’s population were obese. How did they do this? Simply place green arrows on the floor leading to the grocery section first. Studies showed that 9 of out 10 shoppers followed these green arrows. Produce sales jumped 10% in a week. This was an effective tactic that also helped the communities’ waistlines, without saying a single word. Read the article HERE.

Nudges can also be used to improve public health in other ways. In Gateshead in the UK, research showed that customers of fish and chips shops often had 50% of their recommended intake of salt in one portion! The reason? Many shops used flour shakers that had 15-20 holes in them. Once these were replaced with more traditional 5-hole shakers, the amount expelled was reduced by 34%. A massive benefit to the revelers of the region.

What about more controversial nudges? There’s no denying that fruit and veg are good for you and excessive salt is bad, but what about governments nudging citizens towards its agenda? In the UK the NHS teamed up with the DVLA and prompted people to opt-in of organ donation when they register for a license, rather than sign up for the scheme, as only 10-15% of the population did beforehand off their own back. This undoubtedly saves lives but does assume that most people would choose to be donors if asked the question.

Just asking people if they are going to vote can increase the likelihood of them doing it, as Facebook demonstrated in the 2010 American elections. Reminding people in their newsfeeds that it was voting day contributed to an estimated 240,000 extra people heading out to vote. In 2011 Christopher J Bryan and his team from Stanford University found that changing the wording in a voting poll could dramatically affect the turnout the next day. Christopher and the team conducted research that asked the public; ‘Is it important to be a voter?’ which led to 96% of participants heading to the polls, rather than ‘Is it important to vote’ which had an 82% turnout. This could be attributed to personal-identity phrasing and perhaps is down to how individuals perceive themselves.

We can gently nudge people in life all the time to our benefit. The most important thing you can do sometimes is just to ask the question. Whatever the elephant is in the room, just address it. The timing is important obviously, but don’t dance around it, or dress it up. Just ask. I saw a brilliant comment online recently that said: “It’s fine to not call them again if you are worried about annoying them and content with closing zero sales…”.

If you are looking to build a relationship, ask outright if they would be happy working with you.

If you are selling a product, ask them if are interested in buying it.

I’ve stopped ending my emails with ‘Let me know if…’. Guess what. People don’t let you know. Why would they? Why would they schedule time in their diary to just let you know?

Instead, just ask the question. Nudge people to give you an answer. The answer might be no, but that’s ok. Thank them for their time and move on.

At Global Talent 2020 we aim to ask the important questions. We’re not afraid to get to know our clients and candidates and nurture and develop relationships that are long-lasting and not just skin-deep. We are successful because we take time to build a picture around what our clients and candidates want, and we can only do that by directly asking the right questions to bring the right results. Our experience tells us what to ask, and almost immediately the relationship progresses to a new level of trust, understanding, and respect.

Go on… next time just ask the question.

Written by Ben Jones

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