Create an environment for your message
My mother serves as Wylie Communications’ bookkeeper. (Yes, Mom still balances my checkbook.)
When she asked me recently to bring a bag full of business documents over, I put the bag on the bench by my front door so I’d see it on my way out. After forgetting the bag twice, I laced my purse straps through the bag handles. The act of untangling my purse finally reminded me to carry the bag to the car.
That’s called an environmental trigger — a visual cue in the right place to remind you to act in a certain way.
You use environmental triggers all the time:
- That’s why your vitamins are on the shelf in front of your cereal box.
- It’s why your take-at-bedtime prescription is on your bedside table next to your reading glasses.
- It’s why the first thing I see when I open my refrigerator is a party-sized tray of crudités from Costco. (Which, sadly, doesn’t keep me from reaching around the tray to grab the sour cream dip.)
Environmental triggers move you to act. You can also use them to move your audience members to act.
Get trigger happy
In a recent study, professors Jonah A. Berger and Grainne Fitzsimons used triggers to get college students to eat more vegetables.
In the study, one group of students saw this slogan:
“Live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day.”
Another group saw this one:
“Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day.”
The group that saw the message with the environmental trigger — the tray — ate 25 percent more fruits and vegetables the next week.
Another trigger-happy campaign is AT&T’s “It Can Wait” pledge on Facebook:
“Take out your phone right now and look at the last text message you got. Read it out loud. Is that text worth causing an accident? Texting and driving, it can wait. Please take the pledge not to text while driving. …’
- Why not “Think of the last text message you got?” Because your phone’s the trigger. Next time you pull it out while you’re behind the wheel, AT&T communicators hope, you’ll think “It can wait.”
Do it now
- BJ Fogg, experimental psychologist at the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, catalogs three kinds of triggers:
- The facilitator, which simplifies an action you already plan to take. One-click shopping, for instance.
- The spark, which motivates behavior. I get alerts from Mint.com on my iPhone, for instance, every time I buy a Twix bar or otherwise threaten to step outside my budget.
- The signal, which neither motivates nor simplifies but indicates that now would be a good time to do this. A traffic light, for instance, is a signal.
Now comes the hard part: Choosing the right trigger for your message, given your audience and where they’re likely to be when you want them to act.
Sources: Chip Heath and Dan Heath, “Time to Get Trigger Happy,” Fast Company, October 2007
BJ Fogg, “Design for behavior change: Why Facebook and Twitter are winning,” IABC 2009 World Conference, June 2009