How The White House Is Using Behavioral Science

The White House is using behavioral science to get “better results at a lower cost”. Here’s five ways you can do the same with your marketing.

In a recent Executive Order  headed “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People”, President Obama directed government agencies to get more acquainted with the work of behavioral scientists and apply it to the design and communication of the agencies’ programs. The order describes how these insights have led to programs that “deliver better results at a lower cost”.

In my book, The Business of Choice I urge marketers to do the same. A back of an envelope calculation reveals a goldmine of research and is generated by the behavioral science community and others who study how people make decisions.

We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of minds, and thus brain-power, focused on understanding human behavior and decision-making. Behavioral and social sciences have become the hot ticket in leading academic institutions across the world, and an estimate based on the sizes of the leading faculties and academic societies suggest that more than 5,000 professors and graduate students are today involved in conceiving, carrying out, and analyzing experiments relating to behavior and decision-making. The popularity of behavioral and social science research has led to large, interconnected communities of discussion and collaboration, the output of which is peer-reviewed papers (I estimate that the leading five journals and conferences that cover human decision-making have yielded 1,500 papers over the last two years that are of at least some interest to marketers)…

Besides being, in most cases, available for free, this research can provide the keys to unlocking behavior. The majority of these studies look at how non-conscious processes affect people’s choices. By and large, this is a gap in traditional market research, so insights from behavioral science research can be a great complement — or even contrast — to your existing research. But most importantly, this type of research reveals how human nature affects people’s choices. And when you align your marketing with how people naturally choose, you then increase your chances of making your brand or business a natural choice.

In The Business of Choice we provide a taste from well over 100 experiments and papers that we believe are, in some way, of interest to marketers. And believe me — we  could have included double or triple that number. We also talk about how businesses can use many of these insights.

Here are five ways you can start:

  1. There are a number of great books that deal with insights from behavioral and neuroscience, and because they are about human nature and the quirks of human behavior, they are mostly great reads. In the back of The Business of Choice I give a list of 25 such books that have inspired me.
  2. Make friends with people who study behavioral and decision sciences. Who does this kind of research at your Alma Mater? Or at a nearby business school? I’m fortunate because I live halfway between Stanford and UC Berkeley, both of which have neuro-decision labs and world-class researchers. Or go to some of the conferences that cover the field. Again I list these in the Business of Choice.
  3. Once you start understanding some of the principles look at your own marketing. You may be pleasantly surprised – because these insights come from the depths of human nature, you may be using them in some way already. Also look at marketing you see around you. Is it using behavioral insights. How might it use them to be more effective?
  4. Try A-B testing whenever you can.   If you do business online, and have sufficient traffic, you can test how incorporating different insights from behavioral science in your communication to customers or prospects pulls versus a control message.
  5. Review the path to choose your brand or business. How can you make the decision to choose it as easy as possible? How can you make it a natural choice? When you make the decision to choose your brand effortless — a “no-brainer” if you will — you have succeeded!

The end goal of marketing is to change behavior and influence choice, and thanks to the work of the thousands of people in academia who study how people make choices, marketers have a new source of deep, rich, very human and sometimes almost tailor made insights at their disposal. The White House has recognized this – your business should as well!