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More information isn't the answer

Uncategorized Sep 05, 2019

Nobody gets fired for buying an IBM, so the saying goes. No one gets fired running information campaigns or suggesting more training, either. But maybe they should.


In my workshops I ask participants to design a solution to overcome apathy. In other words, how will you engage your customers? Why should they bother to do what you ask?


This is a big chunk of the behavioural influence puzzle, because to get people to take action you need to make them sufficiently interested.


Invariably at least one group will offer, as their solution, more education.

  • If only our staff knew more about the policy they would follow it.
  • If only our customers knew more about how our product is made they would buy it.
  • If only our clients knew more about why we do what we do they would definitely sign up.

But knew more and do more are not the same thing.


Just because they know smoking causes cancer doesn’t mean they’ll stop. Just because they know they should exercise, eat well and be mindful doesn’t mean they will. Just because they know they should save for their retirement doesn’t mean they’ll bother.


Knowledge doesn’t always mean action but we’ve assumed it does.


That’s why staff are sent on more training, we produce more and more instructional content and inundate customers with fancy (immediately discarded) collateral. Government agencies are a case in point. When in doubt, just run another awareness campaign! No one can criticise you for ‘educating’ the public, can they?


Here’s the bad news. While producing more information might make you feel like you are doing something, rarely is it the path to overcome apathy. In fact it might make it worse.


I believe if you ever cite “to inform” or “to educate” as an initiative’s objective you are shirking your responsibility. You are being lazy. You are placing the onus on your customer to do the heavy lifting by suggesting that “once they are informed about x they will do y.”


No, no, no.


It’s your job to influence them to take action. The onus is on you. It’s your job to make those in your orbit feel like gravity is compelling them to take the desired action. They can’t help but click your button, sign your contract, adopt your process.

When more information is helpful

Before I get to the problems of relying on education as a behavioural strategy, there are definitely some cases in which it is important. After all:

  • I won’t apply for a government grant if I don’t know it exists.
  • I won’t follow a process if I don’t know there is one.
  • I won’t use behavioural economics in my business if I don’t know what it is.

But information for its own sake is rarely useful because it’s too passive. Instead, it needs to stimulate an appetite for bothering to change. It needs to incite, not just inform.

  • I’ll only be stimulated to apply for the grant if I think it’s worth my time.
  • I’ll only follow a process if it makes my life easier.
  • I’ll only apply behavioural economics if I know it will improve my outcomes.

Yes, training and more information can be part of your behavioural strategy BUT it will only be effective if it makes taking the action more appealing than not

Designing to overcome apathy

To overcome apathy look beyond just more information. Instead focus on ensuring the reward for proceeding is greater than the effort to do so.


Remember, for behaviour to happen, reward must be greater than effort.

Where and when to overcome apathy

Look for every touchpoint you have with someone and address apathy at each step. That means your emails, texts, social media posts, office/shop layout, website, meetings and phone calls. What are you going to say? Where will they be when receiving your message? What time of day and what day of the week are you engaging them?


Rather than add more information, look to optimise every interaction you have already. Give them less but make it better. Customers only ask for “more” if what they get from you isn’t giving them the impetus they need.

How to overcome apathy

When optimising your touchpoints, use these behavioural guidelines:

  • Make it about them - see the issue from their point of view. Make it personally relevant. What’s in it for them to bother? [Identity bias and IKEA effect]
  • Make it about now - ensure there is an immediate payoff for them. Why will they feel good about doing what you are asking right now? [Short-term bias]
  • Make it easy - eliminate unproductive friction so taking the action feels effortless. Give them less to do, not more. [Processing fluency and Endowed progress]
  • Shape the environment - engage the senses with sounds, imagery, touch and smell. Prime the desired behavioural state. Do you want them to be energised? Relaxed? [Priming]
  • Make it compelling - contextualise price so it seems reasonable and make them feel like they win if they do this. [Framing, Anchoring and Numbers psychology] 

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