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Behavioral Science

What is behavioral science?

Behavioral science represents the study of human behavior through the use of systematic experimentation and observations. It is an umbrella term given to a number of fields such as psychology, social science, etc. The main aim is to study the impact of human behavior on thoughts and decisions.

Scientists have conducted diverse and expansive experiments to understand the factors influencing human decisions, beliefs, and attitudes. These experiments help the need to understand the when and why of individuals’ specific behaviors in different situations. These are based on the impact of factors such as:

  • Conscious thoughts 
  • Motivation
  • Social influences
  • Contextual effects
  • Habits

Difference between behavioral science and social science

 Although both sciences study human behavior, they have some basic differences in their application. Some of them are listed below.

Behavioral ScienceSocial Science
The focus is on human behaviorThe focus is on humans in the social context
Employ more experimental methods Low on experimentation
Concentrates on communication and decision-making skillsConcentrates on the larger socio-systemic skills
Includes: psychology, behavioral genetics, cognitive scienceIncludes: political science, sociology, economics, demography, geography, history

Behavioral science and marketing

Behavioral science has altered the way marketing is done. It helps by providing insights into the consumer’s mind. Behavioral science has the power to empathically decipher consumer thinking. Human behavior helps marketers understand that they depend on certain “nudges” to encourage potential customers to take the desired action. The word ‘nudge’ has become an important part of the behavioral sciences glossary. The simple idea is that gentle encouragement is more persuasive than impatient direction.

Behavioral science can be used as a marketing tool to help marketers do the below:

  • Craft better and more targeted campaigns
  • Improve sales and customer loyalty 

An important question for marketers is how to develop an alternative approach that presents choices to the target market in a way that encourages (nudges) better decision-making. Some concepts that can be helpful are explained below:

  1. Anchoring effect: This method is based on human-specific cognitive bias. When asked for a value or rating for something, the “anchor” in the user’s mindset is the number so they can make the right decision. 

In digital marketing, this method is commonly seen in subscription packages. The value of a ‘premium plan’ is set on the left-hand side, which is the first thing visible to the user when scrolling across the page, which makes the ‘standard plan’ on the right look more affordable in comparison, and more likely to be purchased by consumers.

  1.  Loss aversion: According to behavioral scientists loss aversion is a stronger motivation as compared to the craving for something new. It is at least twice as painful to lose something as to have acquired it in the first place.

A good example of marketing is the “free trial” system offered by many subscription plans (VWO offers an all-inclusive, 30-day free trial too!). As per the “ownership effect”, offering a free trial makes losing more difficult. The most latest example of this is Netflix. It offers a “try for free for three months” subscription that has proven to be really successful. By the end of three months, the subscribers are so hooked to Netflix that they don’t want to lose it.

An effective approach employed in digital marketing is to talk about the possibility of what consumers may lose by not investing in a product. This has proven to be more powerful than convincing people of what they can get.

  1. Choice: We have all been overwhelmed by choices at some point. Capitalism works on the foundation of providing abundant choice, but in reality, as per behavioral economists, too much choice often draws us away from making the right decision. Excess of choice results in anxiety and overloads the brain to think about what it doesn’t have rather than what it has.

The solution offered for this kind of scenario in the marketing field has been by filtering the offered choices to meet consumers’ specific needs. Filtering of choices, as seen on most of the e-commerce sites offering numerous products, is a way to compress the choices to provide more clarity to the consumer in making the relevant decision.

  1. Social proofing: The analogy of people being like sheep fits aptly to the concept of social proofing, or ‘herding’. It outlines the human tendency to behave in a similar manner or to make decisions based on what others are doing around us. 

There are several ways to apply social proofing in marketing strategies, like:

  • Using terms such as “bestseller” telling people that “other people have used and benefited from it”
  • Online ratings and reviews that talk about how people have made decisions and their thoughts
  • Testimonials are the most powerful tools to influence people

Notifying people of what others are already doing not only simplifies the decision-making process of many individuals but also takes advantage of the modern phenomenon of FOMO (Fear of Miss Out Out).

  1. Cognitive overload: Cognitive overload is all about the mental effort required to process all this information. When the load exceeds the ability to process, we want to stop exploring and learning. This makes it an important psychological principle for marketers to understand and adopt in the process of website optimization. Using the right amount of visual cues, structured text, easy to understand language, is all part of reducing cognitive strain on users. 

The solution to this is to A/B test in order to come up with an effective UX that doesn’t make the users spend time and energy deciding if they should engage with a piece of content or not.

Encyclopedia Britannica used VWO’s A/B testing to reduce cognitive load on their website to decide on a universally accepted color for links. Read more about the success story here. If you would like to try VWO to improve conversions on your website, you can opt for a free trial or request a demo with our product experts

When used correctly, applying behavioral economic, or ‘nudge’ theories can enhance the overall user experience, and improve the consumer decision-making experience.