Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 2: How to Apply Behavioral Science for Diversity


In our Diversity and Inclusion Series, we embark on a journey to answer the most commonly asked questions related to the topic – everything from how behavioral science consulting works in the context of diversity, to some of our favorite nudges in action. Check out the other parts from the series here.

Q: How does one begin to implement behavioral science for diversity? Diversity is a very broad topic and organizations can be very large, with different players and behaviors. Where does one start?

A: Indeed, diversity and inclusion can be encouraged at all stages of the employee journey, from recruitment to career management, to the day-to-day life at work.

Defining the Primary Objectives

The first thing that we define with our clients is their primary objective, based on their key challenge.

For example, it could be about hiring a diverse workforce, promoting women to senior positions, increasing retention rates of all staff, ensuring equal pay, or better valuing more senior employees. Other times, our clients already know there is a specific process they see as flawed, like annual reviews or talent identification.

And finally, it could be something that is more vague or broad, like creating diversity of thought culture, at which point we then work with the client on what that tangibly means for the organization.

Prioritizing the Objectives

We also help companies and organizations prioritize their diversity and inclusion objectives.

For example, our work with a large bank started with the CEO’s commitment to gender equality, becoming a champion of the HeForShe movement. We worked with the bank on narrowly defining their objectives based on specific challenges. In their case, two objectives were identified in two distinct departments. First, hiring more men in the female-dominated HR department. Second, hiring more women in the CIB division.

When we prioritize, we look at many things. For example, the magnitude of the gap between the current situation and the desired situation, the extent to which other classical approaches (e.g. training, communication, quotas, etc.) have already been explored, the willingness of leaders to powerfully communicate to seed change and the urgency of the change needed (e.g. the presence of harassment, high turnover, stakeholder dissatisfaction, etc.).  We then support the organization in its challenges in priority order.

Q: Ok, so once you have the objective, how do you begin applying your theories or solutions?

A: Our methodology is simple and effective. First, we identify all stakeholders involved. For example, if the objective is to recruit a more diverse workforce, the immediate stakeholders are the recruiting managers, the HR team supporting managers and the candidates (internal and external).

Secondly, we identify all steps of the experience for each stakeholder, because barriers to diversity can be observed at each step.

For example, a candidate who could be competent for the job may decide not to apply due to the framing of the job ad (e.g., vocabulary used, salient points, length of the ad, etc.). Whereas in the case of the HR recruiter, when pre-selecting CVs for a manager, they may anticipate a negative reaction if the presented candidates appear out of scope. Therefore they only present “classical” candidates, leading to a higher representation of the existing majority.

Barriers to diversity can also occur with the hiring manager: by willing his or her team to meet a specific candidate. This can influence the team’s feedback, which can then lead to the team only presenting the hiring manager with the candidate that they wished to hire.

For each step of the experience of each stakeholder, we identify barriers and levers to diversity, from an individual, social and situational perspective. We identify the elements that impact each stakeholder’s decision-making at each step. As we do so, we also identify all the underlying factors influencing the stakeholders: company culture, possible incentives, etc.

When we do this, we use a behaviorally informed approach, based on our expertise in cognitive biases, which generally involves a process review, interviews and observations.

Q: And what is your methodology for coming up with solutions to nudge these different stakeholders?

A. Before answering this question, as mentioned previously, it is important to note that these “direct stakeholders” are impacted by a range of underlying factors – including the actions of their colleagues and senior management. Our approach is comprehensive, and thus based on the results of our observation phase. We are very likely to propose recommendations at multiple levels, based on our expertise in diversity and inclusion, change management and behavioral science.

Specifically, our recommendations are likely to include behaviorally informed elements in the following areas:

  • Information and communication (which can range from a strategic communication plan to an optimized employee scorecard or job ad)
  • Senior management ownership of the objective
  • Small process changes (e.g., people present at interviews, a process to list the key requirements for new job openings, etc.)
  • Tools to use
  • And of course nudges – these small changes in choice architecture will have an impact on people without constraining them (e.g., changing the default setting of a company’s intranet so that all employees are by default marked as mobile – thus leading to more visibility of groups who traditionally declare less mobility, such as women.)

Now to more specifically answer your question about how we come up with these solutions: we use two combined approaches. First, through our expertise in behavioral science applied to diversity. For example, we use our nudge and diversity database and access our understanding of what works and why and in which contexts. Secondly, we co-create solutions with clients.

The results are in the form of recommendations in two complementary directions. First, in “debiasing the processes” to mitigate the impact of identified “universal” biases (e.g., halo effect, status quo bias, etc.) and thus the creation of more fair and equitable processes. Second, in responding to barriers that are specific to some groups (e.g. stereotypes, autostereotypes, etc.) – sometimes by directly targeting these groups.

Q: When you do co-creation sessions, how do you bring in behavioral science so that it’s different than other types of workshops?

A. What we do, aside from bringing in our expertise and proposing solutions based on behavioral science, as previously mentioned, are two things.

First, we present the behavioral barriers to change from our observation phase (e.g., a very uneasy process, some hard-to-forget habits, etc.) and some behavioral levers that we know from experience can create motivation and lead to change. Second, we share with participants the main cognitive biases that can, if properly used, encourage positive change (e.g., ease processes, change the default setting, use the best messengers to share the messages, etc.), and we share with them case studies and examples (as we will share later in our series), allowing for generating ideas that are based on this scientific and experimental knowledge.

In addition, depending on the objective, we also use very specific tools, developed by the BVA Nudge Consulting based on behavioral science. For example, Our Stairs of Change model that encourages us to view the process step-by-step, starting from awareness, to interest, to intention, to action and finally to communication and viral effect. We have used this tool in our HeForShe project for the United Nations, which you can read about in the Behavioral Economic Guide 2019.

Q: And once you have these solutions, how are they activated within the organization?

A: Once recommendations have been proposed, selected, optimized and validated within the organization, three things need to be done: 1.) design the solutions, 2.) test and deploy the solutions, and 3.) engage everyone / communicate around them. We support clients for all these steps, and in concrete terms, this is what they mean:

Design the Solutions

First, designing the solutions. With one industry client, one objective was to encourage more diverse candidates to apply to certain positions, which were viewed as highly technical. Focusing on internal candidates (those already working in the company, who had declared being internally mobile), one of the ideas was that the HR team would directly contact identified potential candidates by sending them a message sharing a job offer with which they thought their profile could be a good match (therefore making the “technical job” offer salient to them, and framing the message to encourage people to try).

Once the decision was made to implement this nudge, the focus then shifted to how to frame the email in terms of sender, subject, content and call to action, in order to maximize the chances that it raised interest and drove a response.

Test and Deploy the Solutions

Second, testing and deploying the solution. With the banking client we referred to earlier, one objective was to encourage the recruitment of more men into the HR department. Specifically, we looked at how to encourage men to apply to HR positions. We uncovered that one of the reasons men did not apply to the client’s HR positions was that they had an overall misperception that the position would have little business impact or low technical involvement. And we observed that indeed, the job ads for these positions did not reflect much of that side of the job.

One solution that was co-created with the client was to have the job ads rewritten by men. In behavioral science, and at the BVA Nudge Consulting in general, we are true believers in test and measure. So in this case, the ideal next step would be to test and compare, before deploying the solution on a larger scale.  

Engage the Organization / Communicate the Solutions

Lastly, engaging everyone / communicating the solution. Let’s look at the example of changing the default setting of a company’s intranet so that all employees are by default marked mobile. This leads to more visibility of groups who traditionally declare less mobility, such as women. When you implement such a change, it is often key to also communicate the rationale for doing it and the freedom that each individual has to choose the best option for them. We support companies in communicating this.

But engagement and communication can also take a broader scope, for example, when solutions decided at the group level need to be deployed in all business units. Here too, we advise on engaging stakeholders and on broad communication.

If you missed them, check out the different parts from our Diversity and Inclusion Series: Why Behavioral Science for Diversity?,  Behavioral Science Outputs for Diversity,  Mind Your Language #WOMEN4STEMReducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance ReviewsPromoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question and Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary.

Interested in knowing more about how to encourage gender diversity by design? Get in touch.



Nudging Gender Diversity within Teams at BNP Paribas


Retail and investment banks are confronted with the absolute need to evolve: to meet new client needs, and to face competition from new entrants.

Change is essential. It has to happen, at multiple levels.

Teams need to be creative, agile, make informed decisions, and enter new markets themselves. They have to be collectively efficient, they have to innovate. It is not optional anymore. And the wellbeing of employees has to be cared for, both because it is the right thing to do, and also because it has been proven to increase performance.


But change is difficult. And the norm is failure.  


Team diversity is strongly correlated with multiple positive financial indicators – including higher margins, higher market shares, and higher likelihood to enter new markets.



See also: the BVA Nudge Consulting’s D&I Series – Part 1, including multiple sourced figures on the impact of diversity on business.


Inclusive companies are also 1.7 times more innovative[1].


And importantly, studies have shown that employee satisfaction is boosted if the representation of their minority group exceeds 15%.


Diversity proves to be an essential element of a transformational business strategy. It is a business objective, as well as a moral imperative.


The BVA Nudge Consulting’s Diversity & Inclusion practice is proud to have worked with BNP Paribas to increase team diversity.


Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, director and CEO of BNP Paribas, is personally involved in the diversity initiatives of the group, and as part of this commitment, became a thematic champion of the United Nations HeForShe initative, aiming at engaging men for gender diversity.


We worked with BNP Paribas to increase team diversity, in particular on two axes:

  • Encouraging the recruitment of more men in the HR department, and
  • Favoring the recruitment and retention of more women in Global Markets, a business unit of the CIB branch.


Indeed, as with many organizations, BNP Paribas has committed to actively encourage gender diversity, not forgetting that the ultimate goal – for it to have business and wellbeing impacts as well as social impacts – is that diversity is favored at team levels and not just at a company-wide level.

We supported BNP Paribas to increase team diversity on two axes:

  • Encouraging the recruitment of more men in the HR department, and
  • Favoring the recruitment and retention of more women in Global Markets, a business unit of the CIB branch.

Why would BNP Paribas choose a behavioral approach to foster diversity?

BNP Paribas has been at the forefront of multiple initiatives since 2004, when it first signed the Diversity Charter, launched the Mixcity network and reached a first agreement on equality at work.


When we met, the Diversity and Inclusion team, and in particular Caroline Courtin, Corporate Head of Diversity and Inclusion & HR CSR at BNP Paribas, they wanted to try out a new approach, one that could help them get one step further. They felt after all these initiatives, there was still something that was difficult to overcome.


And first and foremost, they wanted to use an approach that was not constraining for managers, HR or talents – a complementary approach that would leave room for freewill. BNP Paribas, as many other clients we work with, had indeed started to observe reactance to some of the initiatives led to recruit and equally promote more women.


Our behavioral approach met these objectives, and had the other advantage in this context to complement what had been done before, and to be aligned with the initial and always reaffirmed objective to make sure that people with the relevant competences and the best qualifications were hired.

BNP Paribas, as many other clients we work with, had started to observe reactance to some of the initiatives led to recruit and equally promote more women.

But the most important reason why BNP Paribas decided to launch a behavioral approach, is that it had observed its tremendous impacts to encourage behavioral change within and outside organizations.


Behavioral Economics, a field of research born in the 1970s, is now a revolution recognized by the academic world with three Nobel prizes in the last 5 years, to Robert Shiller, Richard Thaler and Esther Duflo. Its insights are used by more than 200 government and public organizations across the five continents, and applied by the world’s most innovant and successful companies such as Google.


And in particular, to quote Iris Bohnet, a Harvard professor, Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, and a renowned academic expert on diversity: “Behavioral Design is the most useful and underutilized tool we have” to foster gender diversity in organization (Iris Bohnet, “What Works”).

So what did we do?

We looked at things with a double objective: suppressing frictions and adding levers to encourage good decisions

We looked at the drivers impacting the behaviors of all stakeholders, with the double objective to suppress all frictions acting as barriers from the objective and to add levers to create motivation and facilitate the good decision.


At BNP Paribas, the main stakeholders in recruitment processes are the managers looking to recruit, the potential internal and external candidates and the HR staff supporting the recruitment process.


We analyzed the drivers impacting their behaviors from two angles:


  1. We went through all the steps that each stakeholder goes through in a recruiting process (e.g. a recruiting manager first identifies the need, then lists the required competencies for the position, goes to HR for support in writing and posting an internal / external recruitment ad, goes through the CVs of the candidates pre-selected by HR, meets relevant candidates, organizes meetings with other team members, and gives their final “go” to HR): and identified all barriers to a diverse recruitment at each stage
    • e.g. managers often appeared inclined to look for the exact replacement of a team member rather than being open to other types of profiles (-> status quo bias)
    • e.g. managers evaluated candidates alone, with no comparison tools or interviewing guide (-> encouraging possible halo effect or ingroup favoritism)
    • e.g. informal networks appeared to play an important role, leading some potential internal candidates not to be aware of open positions, and therefore not being able to apply


  1. We identified the less tangible possible barriers to diversity at a broader level: company, country, and job culture, underlying stereotypes, day-to-day values and behaviors that may impact perceptions
    • e.g. the relative scarcity and invisibility of senior women (-> reinforcing female belief that no career is viable for them in an investment banking environment)
    • e.g. the lack of interest in HR positions (-> leading men not to adjust their misbelief that HR positions are less strategic or less business oriented than what they are looking for)

We analyzed the drivers impacting the stakeholders’ behaviors from two angles:

  • Identifying all factors in the recruitment processes that could lead to bias in favor of the most represented group
  • Identifying the underlying cultural and less tangible factors also at play

Based on this analysis, the BVA Nudge Consulting and BNP Paribas co-created and designed a variety of actions to suppress frictions and create motivation, using the BVA Nudge Consulting’ award winning approach (ESOMAR 2014 and 2015).


See also: our work for HeForShe


Here are three examples, successfully implemented by BNP Paribas HR departments to encourage the recruitment of more men in HR.

Reframing job titles from HRBP to HR Business Partner

HR Business Partners are a large group within BNP Paribas’s global HR team, and one that we specifically focused on. We observed that people referred to them not as HR Business Partners but using the cold and meaningless acronym HRBP, thus missing out on the opportunity to counter the above-mentioned misconception shared by many men that the “HRBP” position was not very strategic, business-oriented or demanding.


Systematically using the wording “HR Business Partner” as opposed to HRBP allowed to highlight the Business and Partner elements of the job.

Having men write the recruitment ads

We wanted to go further to respond to this misconception. And we also wanted to tackle the different but related misconception shared by many potential male candidates that HR positions required less technical skills and few tools.


So we also asked men in HR positions to write the recruitment ads for new openings.


Because in general, men and women don’t use the same vocabulary and men may use a vocabulary that speaks more to other men. And because we expected men in HR positions, when writing the ads, to naturally highlight the characteristics that they valued in their jobs that may be less highlighted by women.

Making career paths currently viewed as “atypical” visible and aspirational


We had also identified other reasons why men did not apply for HR positions: for many, it did not even come to mind. Others had difficulties projecting themselves in the role – given their career and the competences acquired so far. And others did not manage to visualize the next steps of their career after an experience in HR.


So we made career paths including a HR experience visible, to create social proof.


For example, we interviewed a newly hired HR Business Partner with a strong marketing background, asking him in particular what he valued in his new position. And we made sure the interview got traction.

BNP Paribas has implemented a comprehensive approach involving multiple behavioral interventions to encourage the recruitment of more men in the HR department, including in particular:

  • Reframing job titles from HRBP to HR Business Partner
  • Having men write the recruitment ads for HR positions
  • Making career paths currently viewed as “atypical” visible and aspirational

BNP Paribas increased the nominations of men to HR Business Partner positions by 40%

As a result of a comprehensive approach involving multiple behavioral interventions and other actions, BNP Paribas has already managed to reach three of the four team diversity objectives the group had set for itself by the end of 2020.


One of these objectives was to increase the nominations of men to HR Business Partner positions by 40%. So far, the goal is actually largely exceeded since they went from 18% to 28%, an increase of 55%. 


The specific results of the twin approach led with the Global Market team are expected to be released in the course of this year.


Such a quick and large evolution was only made possible by addressing the objective holistically from a behavioral perspective: not looking at things simply from a recruitment perspective, but putting everything place for a cultural adaptation, so as to create an attractive environment where more diverse profiles feel welcome, feel like they belong, feel that they can contribute to their full potential, and feel that have a successful career in the organization.


To again quote Iris Bohnet, “We will use all what we know about how the mind works, how biases influence decisions and outcomes, and how behavioral design can alter this. We can effect this change not in a matter of decades but in matter of years” (“What Works”).


BNP Paribas’ experience is an illustration of what is feasible with behavioral design to reach diversity and equality in the workplace.


BNP Paribas already managed to reach 3 of the 4 team diversity objectives the group had set for itself by the end of 2020, including increasing the nominations of men to HR Business Partner positions by 40%. 

Multiple entities at BNP Paribas and in other financial institutions have now been using behavioral science for multiple purposes, including

  • Promoting financial well-being and driving loyalty 
  • Reframing the Role of the Physical Branch (& Its Employees) 
  • Helping/Encouraging Customers to “Self-Serve” and Use Digital Tools
  • Optimising Contact Centre scripts to improve customer experience 
  • Recruiting and retaining a diverse and talented workforce


For some of them, behavioral transformation is a key axis to drive long-term transformation and position themselves as major players in the future of financial services.


If you wish to learn more about our work with financial institutions, do reach out, we are always happy to share our passion. 

Anne Charon, BVA Nudge Consulting

[1] http://joshbersin.com/2015/12/why-diversity-and-inclusion-will-be-a-top-priority-for-2016/

Anne Charon

BVA Nudge Consulting

Get comfortable with Sustainability


This article was originally published on the World Federation of Advertisers’ website.

The key insight from the WFA’s Marketing and Sustainability: Closing the Gaps research is that marketers need to get more comfortable with the topic. Scott Young explains how that’s possible.

I recently had the opportunity to work with the WFA and Project 17 on a landmark study, talking to more than 600 marketers across 34 countries about sustainability.

And right from the start, one message came across quite clearly: Marketers simply aren’t all that comfortable talking about this issue.

This mirrors a key finding from the study, which identified a gap between organizations’ efforts on sustainability – and what their marketing teams are communicating. What’s particularly interesting is that more than two thirds of marketers felt that their company was “progressing well” or “well advanced” on its sustainability journey. Yet under 50% felt that way about their own marketing function. By their own admission, marketers are lagging their own organizations on sustainability.

The bottom line: marketers may have a good sustainability story to tell, but they aren’t quite ready to tell it.

Source: World Federation of Advertisers

What’s holding marketers back?

The issue doesn’t appear to be intent, as a vast majority of marketers agreed that brands have both an opportunity and a responsibility to make a difference in the sustainability journey. Further, more than 75% saw an opportunity to create competitive advantage in this area, through both innovation and consumer education. 

Instead, our study points to several inter-related issues. First, there are clearly structural challenges within organizations. While many organizations now have a Chief Sustainability Officer, the vast majority do not report to the CMO nor the Marketing department. It’s not difficult to envision potential gaps in internal communication – and perhaps the implied message that sustainability is “someone else’s job”.  

Second, lack of confidence plays a much larger role. Many feel that their marketing teams lack the technical knowledge to speak about such a complex issue. They also fear alienating people (or perhaps being accused of “greenwashing”) if they are outspoken on this sensitive topic.

Third – and the heart of the sustainability challenge – is a lack of definition. In fact, our study revealed (or perhaps reinforced) that sustainability means many different things around the world, with the primary challenges (and manifestations) varying by region; preventing deforestation in South America, reducing water usage in India and limiting pollution of air and water in China, for example.

Sustainability is also linked closely with human rights and gender equality in some regions, which opens a wider range of issues tied to working conditions and diversity/inclusion. In other words, there is no clear definition of sustainability. And while the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a valuable roadmap, they do not clearly convey “what good looks like” for businesses.

In this context, it’s understandable that marketers are hesitant. To break through this barrier, education must be linked to definition – and ideally a common set of expectations, standards and KPIs that provide marketers and their organizations with needed clarity.

While this study highlighted many challenges, it also pointed to a promising path forward, tied to helping consumers live more sustainably. In our background research, we found clear evidence that many consumers want to change. In fact, there’s a definite ‘intent to action’ gap, in which many consumers would like to act and live more sustainably, yet are not doing so. Moreover, they don’t perceive brands to be an ally in their efforts. This dynamic is a missed opportunity, both for the planet and for brand owners, and it means that there’s  an enormous “win-win” opportunity, if marketers can reorient their efforts and actively help consumers adopt new habits.

Some might be skeptical that marketers can “win” by promoting sustainable behaviours. First, I’d point out that sustainability does not need to involve reduced sales. Efforts could be focused on reuse or recycling – or perhaps selecting one product form over another. In fact, emphasizing behavior change provides an opportunity for companies to pro-actively “define” sustainability in a way that potentially aligns with their business model.

More importantly, behaviour change it is a way to bring sustainability to life in a tangible, visceral way – and to connect with consumers on an issue of increasing importance to them. Surely, people are likely to reward brands that help make them to solve their problems – and to feel better about themselves.

What needs to change?

Our study points to three ways that can work together to “close the gap” and help marketers become more pro-active and assertive on sustainability.

First, we need more education of marketers (and consumers): This should be tied to efforts to develop a common language and set of expectations/KPIs, which will help define progress and success – and help marketers to speak confidently. 

Second, we need more inspiration and knowledge sharing: Marketers will also gain confidence by learning from others.  And of course, these efforts and examples will also provide a form of social pressure, nudging them and their organizations to act and speak up.

Finally, we need to increase our efforts to help consumers live more sustainability. This is not only the right thing to do for our planet.  It also provides a way for marketers to pro-actively define sustainability for consumers – and engage with them in a meaningful way

Collectively, these efforts can help drive the “step change” needed to ensure that marketing leads the way to a more sustainable future.  And I’m pleased to say that WFA is helping make this happen, beginning with its Planet Pledge.

The initiative is designed to put marketers in a position where they can help lead brands’ responses to climate change, encourage efforts across the wider marketing industry and help consumers act more sustainably when using their products and services. To find out more go to www.wfaplanetpledge.org.




Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 7: Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary


In the final part of our Diversity and Inclusion series, we have selected a sample of iconic and measurably impactful behavioral designs, targeting both staff members and managers, at different moments of the employee experience.

Note that the BVA Nudge Consulting’s behavioral design interventions will generally involve a combination of nudges, so as to maximize impact. We also support companies to more broadly build behaviorally-informed organizations.

This example summarizes the findings from the research paper “Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations? Evidence from a large scale natural field experiment”, by Andreas Leibbrandt and John A. List (2012). It is targeting women as negotiators of their own salary.

About the adjusted gender pay gap

Equal pay for equal work (i.e. equivalent work contributions at comparable positions, possibly taking into account academic and professional background) is simply fair.

However, the gender pay gap is significant in most western countries – even when adjusting the calculations to compare equivalent positions, and taking into account specific factors like industry, company size and title. In the US, for example, the gender pay gap is still a difference of 25%  for pilots, chefs and C-suite executives. According to a study from Glassdoor, the adjusted gender pay gaps in 2019 averaged across job categories, were 4.9% in the US, 3.7% in France, 4% in the UK and 6.4% in Germany.  

The gender pay gap can be explained by a number of factors including occupational segregation, motherhood, gender differences in education and qualifications, part-time work… The adjusted gender pay gap, however, controls for all these parameters and many more. The reasons for this remaining gap must therefore be found in the behaviors of employees and decision-makers in organizations.

In general, we tend to consider that this salary gap, for equivalent positions, is due to employers’ stereotypical views on the quality and/or quantity of work, or on the potential of men vs women.

But what if the behavior of women in salary negotiations also played a role in this gap? And what if we could use this information to reduce the gap?

The specific case and behavioral diagnosis

To address this question, two versions of real job advertisements were placed for administrative assistant positions. The key difference was that the first one explicitly stated that “salary is negotiable,” while the second one did not, leaving ambiguity. Around 2,500 job seekers responded:

  • Men were generally more likely than women to apply – irrespective of the advertisement.
  • Men were also more inclined to respond to the ad where negotiation of initial wages was ambiguous. In contrast, women appeared more likely to apply to workplaces that offered explicitly negotiable wages.
  • Moreover, when there was no explicit information that wages were negotiable, women were more than 20% less likely to negotiate than men (8.2% vs. 10.6%).
  • What was key in this study, however, is that when it was explicitly mentioned that wages were negotiable, women were nearly three times more likely to negotiate (23.9% vs 8.2%)! In that situation, women were also slightly more likely to negotiate than men (23.9% vs. 22%).

The behavioral design

Just adding a simple sentence, “salary is negotiable,” increases the likelihood that women will apply for the job, and significantly increases the likelihood that women will negotiate salary.

The main levers for success

Providing this specific guidance reduces ambiguity. It has been observed that women can be more averse to “larger levels of ambiguity” and uncertainty than men. For example, for a tech university with whom we are working with, providing clarity on the job opportunities that are available after students complete their studies plays a large role in encouraging more female students to apply.

This example can be replicated within organizations, and at different moments of the employee experience, for example by addressing targeted messages to female employees and/or managers at annual reviews.   

If you missed them, check out the different parts from our Diversity & Inclusion Series: Why Behavioral Science for Diversity?How to Apply Behavioral Science for DiversityBehavioral Science Outputs for DiversityMind Your Language #WOMEN4STEMReducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance Reviews and Promoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question.

In this case study series, we have chosen a range of examples that are both impactful and which play on various levers: framing, default option, messenger effect, and many more. To learn more, please contact us.



Marketing and Sustainability: Can the Cat Help the Hummingbird?


This article offers a sequel to the famous Hummingbirds tale, adding a controversial character, the cat, who may in the end help fight the calamities of climate change. But here is the original story first:

Once, when a huge fire was raging in a forest, most animals either stood paralyzed or started running for their lives. Except for the Hummingbird, who started flying back and forth from the pond to the flames, each time fetching a few drops of water in its beak to douse the fire.

The elephant was intrigued. He asked, “Why are you doing this? You are too small, you won’t stop the fire!” And the hummingbird answered, “I know, but I’m doing my part, I’m doing the best I can.”

The conclusion could suggest that if all of us, as consumers, play our part in fighting climate change, so should the corporate world. But big organisations are like Elephants, powerful, but also risk averse and often slow movers. That’s when the Marketing people come into play.

Marketers are like cats, agile and good at charming consumers. But do people really trust marketers talking about sustainability? Can the Marketing cat really offer help to a Consumer bird, the hummingbird being a symbol for the most engaged individuals?

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Poor reputations for cats

Unfortunately advertising executives form part of one of the most mistrusted professions globally, and ‘greenwashing’ is somehow seen as a by-product of marketing. After all, when Marketing people endeavour is to push people to consume more, could people see them as accountable for sustainability? A marketer’s natural grandiloquence, to say nothing about their occasional misconduct, would simply prevent hummingbirds from approaching.


When we think about driving positive social change, marketers are not the first to come to mind. And yet, consider that those working for health, or environmental, or social causes have created some of the most effective campaigns. Promoting tobacco control, sexual health, or animal protection,  have helped evolve consumer behaviour at scale for society’s greater good.

On the commercial side, a recent survey by World Federation of Advertisers shows that Marketers realise they are lagging behind regarding sustainability. And that they lack expertise as well as dedicated resources. And corporate environment often locks them into conflicting priorities and timeframes.


Hummingbirds Can’t Make it Alone

Let’s be honest. At this point, one drop at a time will not save us, considering the urgency and speed of climate change. The best way forward would of course be to educate everyone, but educational campaigns take an enormous effort and don’t always convert to action. And Nudging one person at a time with small interventions will also take too long.

However, a possible way to achieve change at scale quickly would be to light up a social movement, to have more hummingbirds and forest animals join forces, i.e., to have public institutions and the corporate world work together. But how?

Behavioural and social science offer helpful tips in that matter. Researchers from both domains have gathered evidence of key ingredients required to trigger social change. We have selected 5 that we believe are critical in a consumer/brand collaboration.

  • Reframing the narrative in a rewarding way: delivering collective purpose and what’s in it for each individual
  • Make the “early adopters move” salient: showcasing role models and giving confidence to shy consumers to step out and engage social groups around them
  • Nudging “Better for the Planet alternatives”: making it easy to develop and adopt alternative sustainable innovations
  • Engaging and empowering communities: getting groups to connect emotionally and coordinating regional collective actions
  • Providing feedback and shaping social norms: encouraging early successes and progressively establishing new standards in society.


And What if Cats Could Really Help?

Those of you who are familiar with the marketing industry may have noticed that the above requirements are all part of essential marketing skills:

  • Defining purpose and crafting storytelling
  • Studying trends among, and advertising to, consumers
  • Driving sustainable and desirable innovation
  • Designing habit-building products and activations
  • Creating fan groups, sparking emotional contagion with Key Opinion Leaders

Because marketers have always been involved in behaviour change, to the benefit of brands and their fans, not mobilizing their talents would be a missed opportunity. But how can we use their skills while solving the trust issue at the same time?


A possible way out?

Another tale, “The town musicians of Bremen”, gives us a hint for a sequel. In this German story, four old and overworked domestic animals—a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster—decide to run away and become town musicians in Bremen. But before they reach Bremen, they manage to trick and scare off a band of robbers from a house by climbing on each other to create a monster seen from the window.

They scare the villains away by using their vocal instruments all at the same time. Adding on each other’s talent, they fight evil and win, despite their old age. They were bound together by a joint purpose: becoming famous musicians before dying.

So while hummingbirds show us the way—each individual must do what they can—the marketing cat could ride and persuade the corporate elephant to join the effort to put out the fire. He can use its trump to bring more water to fight the fire, and even protect the hummingbird, but it needs a well gripped rider. And certainly, the wisdom and aerial view of the hummingbird.

In the end, only a motivating purpose to bind them together can create a successful team: where everyone can be recognized for their unique contribution to a shared goal.


What to do tomorrow?

To conclude, we believe that renewed governance must be on the agenda for sustainability matters. Old leadership battles and role descriptions are ill-suited to tackling the upcoming challenges. The first question you may then ask yourself is who is which animal in your own forest? And what individual motivations and collective goals would engage key stakeholders, beyond external pressure? This conversation is a good start and can often be triggered sharing some behavioural science learnings, or an animal tale.


Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 8: Reducing the Gender Gap in Economics Majors with Nudge

In the final part of our Diversity and Inclusion series, we have selected a sample of iconic and measurably impactful behavioral designs, targeting both staff members and managers, at different moments of the employee experience.

Note that the BVA Nudge Consulting’s behavioral design interventions will generally involve a combination of nudges, so as to maximize impact. We also support companies to more broadly build behaviorally-informed organizations.

This example summarizes the findings from the research paper “Do Mentoring, Information, and Nudge Reduce the Gender Gap in Economics Majors? By Hsueh-Hsiang Li (2018). It is focused on encouraging women to choose an economics major in university.

About the gender gap in economics majors

Even though the majority of college graduates are women, there is an uneven distribution of genders among different specialties. Some majors, including economics, have continued to have far fewer women participating than men. In fact, only 31% of economics degrees were obtained by women, even worse than another stereotypically male field, mathematics and statistics, which has 43% female graduates. To put it another way, for every one female economics major, there are more than two male economics majors. This results in a less diverse field and may deter future women from choosing a major in which they would excel and could benefit from economically.

Many factors have been explored to try to explain this persistent gender gap: lack of female role models among economics faculty, lower perceived aptitude in mathematics among women, greater sensitivity of women to receiving poor grades in introductory economics courses, enjoyment of coursework, expectations about future earnings, and more. None of these factors clearly explained the gender gap among economics majors on their own, but a combination of a few seemed to have some greater collective influence. Together, could these factors point towards possible opportunity for an effective intervention to decrease this gender gap?

The specific case and behavioral diagnosis

The researchers in this study organized a multi-arm, randomized controlled trial that involved providing information, nudges, and peer mentoring. Specifically, the arms were:

  • Control: no intervention
  • Partial intervention: information and nudge
  • Full intervention: information, nudge, and peer mentoring.

The information provided was about career prospects (potential career paths and average annual earnings of economics majors) at the beginning of the semester, and the grade distribution near the end of the semester. The career information was given via a short video clip and a pamphlet, both delivered during class time. The grade distribution information was given via email.

The nudge that was given was directed at women who had received grades during the semester at or above the median. It acknowledged that they had performed well in the class and encouraged them to consider choosing a major in economics.

Peer mentoring was delivered in the form of activities throughout the semester.

Overall, the interventions increased female students’ likelihood of majoring in economics by 6.27%. Among the high-performing freshmen and sophomore female students, the effects were even more significant – up to 12.6% more likely!

The peer mentoring did not appear to have an effect, mostly due to low participation rates. Therefore, this significant change was almost entirely due to simply providing information and bolstering it with a strategic nudge.

The behavioral design

Simply adding a nudge explicitly acknowledging the above-average performance of female students in the economics course at the time they receive their grades, and encouraging them to consider continuing down an economics-focused path, led to a significant increase in women choosing economics as their major. This is a small intervention for a potentially life-changing outcome!

The main levers for success

Making the significance of their above-average performance salient by explicitly pointing it out was an important part of this nudge. Additionally, helping students connect the dots between their performance in the class and their potential career prospects in economics was important, especially for females.

It appeared from this study that men who came in holding certain views about their ability in this area were not influenced much by this nudge and information, but women were more likely to adjust their perceptions when given this new information. Therefore, when it comes to promoting diversity in male-dominated fields, this type of nudge can be especially effective for encouraging women to reconsider their stereotypes in light of their actual ability.

This approach can easily be taken in many business situations, including in performance reviews where positive female performance can be linked to future advancement possibilities and explicitly encouraged.

If you missed them, check out the eight different parts from our Diversity & Inclusion Series, including: How to Apply Behavioral Science for DiversityBehavioral Science Outputs for DiversityReducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance Reviews and Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary.

In this case study series, we have chosen a range of examples that are both impactful and which play on various levers: framing, default option, messenger effect, and many more. To learn more, please contact us.



From BVA Nudge Unit to BVA Nudge Consulting: a small change, to reflect a big transformation on our 10th anniversary!


In 2012, leading Market Research and Insights firm BVA leveraged the power of behavioural science (still an emerging field back then) to sell their first Nudge Pilot Project to a client in France. The surprisingly strong traction then led to the creation of the BVA Nudge Unit, designed to help structure BVA’s internal approaches and help them become trailblazers in the market research industry.

Soon afterwards,  BVA Nudge Unit grew to become the dedicated Behavioural Science arm of BVA, with a mission to solve brands’ behavioural challenges detected in research (e.g. loyalty, churn, innovation trial etc.) – particularly in the private sector – and continuously implementing ad-hoc initiatives such as improving Customer Experience by guiding consumer and staff behaviours, or enhancing health through better patient interactions, safety at work or hygiene compliance.

Ten years later, we have now expanded from France to the rest of Europe, the UK, Americas, and most recently Asia. Our clients’ demands have also evolved alongside this expansion, requiring more strategic support to build their internal capabilities across departments ranging from Marketing, Communications and Insights, to Human Resources and C-Suite strategy to name a few.

BVA Nudge Unit have therefore become an integral part of board room discussions on guiding brand purpose and transformation strategy. Our partnerships with clients, combined with our sectorial business knowledge, has helped identify where behavioural science can really make an impact, how to realistically intervene and measure interventional outcomes.

With our newly designed B.E. Wiser training and coaching program, the firm is now training organizational teams to infuse behavioural science in our daily work at scale. This has accelerated a shift in collaboration modes with our clients, and now functioning as a fully-fledged consultancy. The team  have therefore decided to acknowledge this shift by reflecting it in our name, signalling our progression as trusted advisors who can be consulted to develop client teams’ expertise year-round.

And so, BVA Nudge Unit now unveils its new name: BVA Nudge Consulting – keeping “Nudge” as the flagship of the BeSci  revolution during the year of its re-edition, and adding “Consulting” to reflect the impactful outcomes we work to attain for our clients.

A small change that echoes a big transformation in the industry!

Napisan: Fostering Hygenic Behaviors at School

During the lockdown in March 2020, we had the opportunity to collaborate with our sister company BVA Doxa, along with clients Reckitt Benckiser and Napisan on the success of the Hygiene Together initiative (https://www.igieneinsieme.it/). Napisan wanted to distribute its sanitizing products for hands and surfaces to help the reopening of schools in Italy but questioned two aspects: Would sending the products alone be enough to guarantee their use and to make sure the hygiene regulations wound be applied? How to enforce the rules in school?

To facilitate teachers and classrooms to maintain proper hygiene at school, a series of “Nudge” didactic proposals have been studied to help Italian schools promote more responsible behaviors among their students. This process was completed by a team of Behavioral Science experts from the BVA Nudge Consulting, researchers from the BVA Doxa KIDS unit, hygiene brand ambassadors of Napisan and La Fabbrica education experts.

When we talk about Nudging we are referring to how the behavior of individuals can be influenced without coercive intervention, but rather by providing a free choice where the desired result is perceived as easier, more evident or advantageous. Nudges could be interventions with which to capture attention, or with which to make an option more evident, visible and useful. The theory of Nudging has its roots in the teachings of behavioral science and is applied by BVA, all over the world, following a proprietary framework, to help companies and organizations to achieve behavioral changes in line with strategies – in order to always bring a benefit for the ultimate user: this is Nudging for Good (http://www.nudgingforgood.com/).

The BVA Nudge Unit team, together with the support of the BVA Doxa team, first observed the current context in schools through digital ethnographies, interviewing 12 teachers throughout the country. The levers and barriers to hand and surface hygiene were then identified during the school day and in the spaces within the school, with attention to the classroom. 

More than 200 potential interventions (the “Nudges”) were therefore carried out and, after an accurate selection process, 25 of them were chosen, and 5 were identified to be implemented in the Toolkit that Napisan sent to about 5,000 schools

Below is an example of Nudge developed through the NudgeLab process:

Scrub the Stamp!

A stamp that has been given the shape of a germ that is erased after 4-5 hand washes. On which drivers of human behavior does it act?

Salience: The stamp works on Salience, i.e. it acts as a reminder for students to remind them to wash their hands, and is a reminder for teachers to check whether their students’ hands are clean.

Easiness: The stamp reduces the cognitive effort required to remember to wash your hands, making the desired behavior easier to apply.

This is an example of how we can use Behavioral Sciences to make an intention into action or behavior by applying the influence driver framework of the BVA Nudge team.

There are several areas in which BVA Nudge Consulting and BVA Doxa can help companies and organizations, using their knowledge on how to influence behavior in a non-coercive way, and applying behavioral science to:

  • Improve customer experience
  • Increase the usage of digital tools and services
  • Make communication and advertising more effective
  • Optimize the online acquisition funnel or via call center
  • Promote a new company culture among employees

To learn more about how Behavioral Science can help you overcome the challenges of your business, contact us.




Bonus Chapter: Some Ideas & Advice from our Friends


We progress to our seventh and final chapter, where we hear from the many guests of our B.E. GOOD! Podcast, who have taken the time to share their wisdom, thoughts and advice on the Behavioral Science topics, issues and challenges which they’ve found most interesting


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Eric Singler at the UN HeForShe Impact Summit

Chapter 6: Nudging for Positive Social Impact


At BVA Nudge Consulting, we believe that Behavioral Science can play a significant role in promoting positive social behaviors and “nudging” communities in safer, healthier and more sustainable directions.

Moving from Awareness to Action on Sustainability. Image credit: Tiphaine Breton

In the sixth chapter of our book, we explore how we’ve put this belief to work.  Inside, you’ll find articles from Ted Utoft, Eric Singler and Scott Young on how organisations and individuals can move from “intent to action” on sustainability – and on the wisdom of focusing on “Agnostics.”  You’ll also find an insightful case study, regarding a project with Reckitt and our sister agency BVA Doxa to promote hygienic behaviors in Italian primary schools.

To find out more about applying behavioral science to sustainability and advocacy, download the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting.

The Behavioural Science Behind Gift-Giving

We’re often reminded that festive holidays are about more than just gifts – but we don’t always appreciate just how powerful gift-giving and receiving can be.

We’ve explored just a few of the biases involved in gifting, including how they can strengthen relationships and what kind of gifts we tend to value most.


Interested in more behavioural science? You can learn more from our blogs or check out our podcast.

If you’d like to discover how you can use gifting to improve your business practices, you can get in touch directly – we’d love to hear your thoughts!





How behavioral design can support healthy eating?


That is the question The National Collaborative of Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) tries to answer through its initiative ‘the Health, Behavioral Design, and Built Environment Project’.

In its white paper published in 2017, the NCCOR reminds us that our environment (and the physical and informational exposure we have to it) enables, guides, encourages, requires and informs our behavior – and not always positively.

Indeed, it is possible to intentionally design environments to have specific behavioral outcomes in most settings, such as homes, public buildings, schools, workplaces and etc., by relying on architecture, behavioral economics, psychology, and environmental design.

What do we mean by design environments?

With regard to encouraging healthy eating, factors can include ambience, functional design and colors of the purchase, location of consumption, labeling, presentation, options for ordering, sizing, pricing, choices for priming and prompting – and so on.

Three important biases identified by behavioral economists can be applied to design environments for specific behavioral outcomes. We think of them as part of the Drivers of Influence that act as catalysts for behavioral change.

1. Easiness is a key driver to design pro-health choice environment; the easier an action is, the more likely we are to adopt it.

This is what researchers at Irrational Labs call the Path of Least Resistance, and can be defined as the behavior that is most easily done in a given environment. The smallest friction can discourage a certain behavior.

In design, the placement of items matters; make healthy choices easy to reach and, likewise, unhealthy choices difficult.

It can be as simple as designing the layout of a cafeteria to have the healthiest option shown first and/or make unhealthy foods less visible.

In their paper, Irrational Labs researchers describe how Google has taken insights from behavioral design and applied them in their workplace cafeterias. They have moved candy to opaque dispensers and found that this simple nudge reduced employees’ caloric intake from sweets by 9% in just a week. They also found that placing water at eye level increased water intake by 45% and reduced caloric intake from drinks by 7%.

2. Default is one of the most prominent and effective ways to design health-friendly environments.

Defaults are usually defined as ‘choices that have already been preselected, making it necessary for a person to take active steps to avoid them if they want to choose another option’. We humans are more likely to stick to the default option than look for alternative which requires time and energy.

An example of using default to promote healthy eating could be automatically serving vegetables as side dishes in school or workplace cafeterias unless people specifically request otherwise.

The Default option is used to guide choices across a number of domains such as organ donations and saving for retirement, as well as food choices.

An experiment at a conference has shown the power of default: when a non-vegetarian buffet is presented as the default option and people have to actively ask for the vegetarian meal, 98% stick to non-veggie menu. When reversed and the vegetarian buffet is the default option, only 13% request a non-vegetarian buffet – 87% stick to the default option.

3. Framing is the third bias involved in designing environments.

Framing refers to the fact that the way information is presented can affect decision making. Different wordings, settings, and situations will have a powerful effect on decision-makers.

The most famous example of framing is Mark Twain’s story of Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence. By framing the chore in positive terms – and even as an enjoyable or entertaining activity – he got his friends to pay him for the ‘privilege’ of doing his work.

In healthcare, research by Brian Wansink found that putting fruit in an appealing bowl and well-lit area increases fruit consumption by 103%.

Research on size descriptions showed that labels are important because they influence size perceptions, preferences and actual consumption. For instance, researchers found that ‘labeling down’ (labeling a large portion ‘medium’) makes people eat more but think that they eat less.

To conclude, if you want specific behavioral outcomes, then behavioral design strategies must be considered when building the environment.


This is true whether you are public authority, an individual (seeking to change his or her family’s behavior), researcher, retailer, architect or real estate developer.

Moreover, more and more architects and real estate developers are realizing how the environments they construct actually affect people, and the opportunities (and obligations) to society that this presents.

Recognizing this significant development, the BVA Nudge Consulting is working with OGIC, a French real estate developer to create “Nudge buildings” designed to help their inhabitants adopt sustainable behaviors thanks to the practical application of behavioral design before and during construction.

For more information about how designing environments within a behavioral framework can impact citizens lives and change behaviors for the better, and to learn more about the Drivers of Influence, feel free to contact me via the email address below.



Chapter 5: The COVID Crisis & Healthcare


As we navigate the post-COVID healthcare landscape, Chapter 5 of our book reflects on the crisis and its many implications for Behavioral Science.In addition to several articles, you’ll hear from our two health sector specialists and be introduced to the TRACER framework. We’ll also speak more broadly to issues of public health, including nudging physicians and applying Behavioral Science to promote smoking cessation.

Below is an excerpt of Beltrande Bakoula’s thoughts on the potential ways the healthcare sector could benefit from behavioral science learnings:

“In France, according to the French National Institute against cancer, 4 out of 10 cancers result from exposure to risk factors linked to our lifestyles and behaviors. So, by stopping smoking, drinking less alcohol, eating a balanced and
varied diet, and having more physical activity, we could prevent 40% of cancers that occur each year.”

Every challenge in healthcare is somehow tied to human behavior. So I think it is important for each healthcare actors, public or private, to see through a behavioral science lens.”

To read the complete chapter, download the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting.


Can we “nudge” away coronavirus? Image credit: Tiphaine Breton

World Mental Health Day: A quick trick to encourage better mental health for employees


This article was written by Ileana Boyes (She/Her) a Junior Consultant at BVA Nudge Consulting UK.

The cost of diminished productivity as a consequence of mental illness is at an all time high. In 2017, Deloitte estimated the cost to UK employers from lost productivity at between £33 and £42 billion. Factors such as absenteeism (regular absence from work), presenteeism (attending work but not being productive) and staff turnover all contribute to this overall figure.

Organisations have started to take action. Training programmes developed by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) have been deployed internationally and have been proven to positively affect the mental health of employees who make use of MHFA representatives in their organisations. Surprisingly, it has even been shown to have a positive impact on the mental health of the MHFA volunteers themselves.

Nevertheless, while such interventions are proving successful, behavioural science can be a powerful tool to supplement organisations’ mental health strategy and drive it forward. Given the often cost-effective nature of nudges, organisations can implement these interventions with enhanced return on investment (in addition to the obvious ethical benefits). Perhaps the easiest and most effective of these interventions is to encourage physical activity during the workday. 

Credit: rawpixel.com

Encouraging exercise:

Credit: goonerua

It is no secret that exercise has a positive effect on mental health – it is widely accepted that physical activity can increase energy levels, improve mental alertness and reduce stress. It is also one of the easier healthy behaviours that organisations can encourage using behavioural science.

Lunch breaks are a valuable time to build in physical activity within the working day. One study of white-collar jobs found that exercise during the workday not only improves mood but also drives productivity, even for those with larger workloads. In particular, doing so in nature or green spaces enhances mood and self-esteem, both of which are indicators of good mental health.

Taking a break:

Although the benefits of using lunchbreaks to exercise in nature is apparent, some statistics suggest that over 80% of employees don’t always take a break at lunch. It is no surprise, then, that over half of us reportedly eat at our desks in the work day. To counteract this, organisations can ensure that managers not only encourage their employees to take their lunch break, but also lead by example. We are all influenced by the authority bias – we take cues from people in positions of power. Senior leadership taking their lunch break will encourage staff to do the same.

Similarly, we also take cues from our peers (known as the bandwagon effect). Organisations can harness this to encourage employees to integrate more physical activity into their workday. Setting up a company running group can make exercise more social – you could even gamify the exercise to take advantage of group rewards and inter-team competitions as motivation. These socially inclined nudges have the added value of social interaction, which is known to improve mental health and improve productivity.  

Credit: gstudioimagen

The bandwagon effect can also be harnessed to increase uptake of existing organisational tools, such as highlighting the number of people within the organisation who have opted into stress-management training or utilised a MHFA resource.

The importance of environment:

Context is an extremely important factor in our decision-making process and changing the office environment can be a powerful tool to encourage employees to incorporate more physical activity into their day.

Creating nudges that highlight the use of stairs (such as placing signs that suggest stair usage by elevators) can encourage people to think about their options at the point of decision, where there is less friction against changing their choice. One study reported a significant increase of stair usage from 8% to 17% using a sign that said “Stay Healthy, Save Time, Use the Stairs”.

Similarly, a study in the Netherlands found that giving stairs an aesthetic makeover encouraged 8% more usage when the wooden doors to the stairwell were replaced with glass doors (i.e. making them more visible) and the walls were painted a pastel green shade, which is associated with peacefulness and freshness. Even when people were not consciously aware of their behaviour change, there was a significant increase in stair usage reported.

Organisations need to remember however, that the perception of behavioural control – our belief in our own free will and decision-making autonomy – is an important aspect of a person’s intention to exercise. You can only provide the tools to encourage physical activity – it is ultimately important for the responsibility to still lie with the employee. After all, it is a fundamental cornerstone of behavioural science to motivate behaviour change by taking away choice. We don’t push – we nudge.

An organisation thinking about how their mental health agenda can be improved should take the learnings of behavioural science into consideration. There are many ways that the myriad applications of behavioural science can be used to influence employee wellbeing, only some of which have been suggested in the above article.

For more information on low-cost interventions that can increase employee mental wellbeing, and decrease presenteeism and absenteeism, get in touch with us at contact@bvanudgeconsulting.com



October is UK Black History Month

This guide was developed by BVA Nudge Consulting UK Junior Consultant Ileana Boyes (She/Her) and Marketing Manager Michelle Novellie (She/Her) in collaboration with Chief Growth Officer Ted Utoft (He/Him) and Global Marketing Coordinator Naledi Mphathi (She/Her).

Black History Month pays tribute to the often under-valued contributions and achievements of Black communities throughout history, as well as the vast richness of diversity that these communities bring to society today.  

This October, we are excited to see our clients at Channel 4’s Black to Front initiative showcasing the voices, cultures and lived experiences of the Black community in the UK. See our infographic below to discover the science behind inclusive media representation and how it shapes audience perceptions, attitudes and behaviours.

Redressing the balance of racial representation in the media reinforces the commitment to addressing the racial inequalities that pervade minority ethnic groups everywhere.

This is not only significant for fostering allyship and inclusion, but also amplifies the ongoing campaigns for equal rights, opportunities, and representation of Black and other underrepresented ethnic minority groups throughout the year.

If you’re wondering how you can implement some of these ideas into your own systems – or indeed develop your D&I processes even further using behavioural science – we’d love to hear from you.

Get in touch with us at contact@bvanudgeconsulting.com

© BVA Nudge Consulting (2021)

Chapter 4: Management Applications (Training, Health & Safety and Diversity)


We turn our focus to internal applications of Behavioral Science, including training, health/safety and diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Find out “What We’ve Learned about Learning”, the Stairs of Change framework for driving successful behavior change and how nudging was used to foster gender diversity within business teams.

Etienne Bressoud, a pioneer in applying Behavioral Science principles to learning, speaks to the application of Nudge to make training sessions more productive. Watch the short video below to discover how many of the principles have been applied to B.E. Wiser, our new training and coaching program designed to help organizations learn and apply Behavioral Science:


Discover more about Nudge for Learning – and how different teams in organizations can successfully apply Behavioral Science at scale to their various business challenges by downloading the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting.

Chapter 3: Marketing & Consumer Applications (Communications, Insights & CX)


Chapter 3 explores the implications of Behavioral Science on Communications, Customer Experience (CX) and Insights. We share examples of applications within the Financial Services, Consumer Goods and Retail sectors, including an introduction to our proprietary EPIC framework.

You’ll also find interviews with experts in these areas (Richard Chataway, Richard Bordenave and Pauline Le Golvan), who reveal various applications of behavioral science to challenges involving safety, cleanliness and customer satisfaction.

How Amazon, Netflix and Google use behavioral science to simplify the user experience. Image credit: Tiphaine Breton

Below is an excerpt of Richard Chataway’s article on how technology leaders (such as Amazon, Netflix & Google) are applying behavioral science to simplify the user experience:

“But what do people want? Generally speaking, they want companies to “make it easy” – in the words of University of Chicago Professor Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and co-author of ground-breaking book “Nudge”.

The most successful digital companies of the 21st century understand this; the so-called FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) have minimised consumer cognitive load, achieving market dominance in social, ecommerce, content and search by providing products that are not just driven by technological innovation, but by reducing the
amount of cognitive effort required by their customers.”

To read the complete chapter, download the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting.

Customer Experience in the world’s “new normal” ?


This article was originally published on the World Federation of Advertisers website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable ripple effects on customer experience due to supply chain disruption, travel bans, preventative measures – but also individual & sectorial hardship.  Such issues inevitably lead to painful moments, including missing products, disputes on refund policies, closed facilities, longer waiting times, frustrating on-line journeys…  This has required some companies to undergo life-saving transformations, while also challenging the value chain of entire industries. The subsequent changing behavior of customers (and employees) in the light of the newfound economic and sanitary context is rapidly & dramatically reshaping the business landscape.

At the same time, there have been cases of substantial engagement levels from both front-line and back-office workers, as they support each-other to deliver essentials. A lot have managed to accommodate concerned clients, and take initiatives to solve issues beyond their call of duty. Leaders of firms both big and small have stepped up to offer their support to their respective communities. Furthermore, new digital forms of collaborations and socialization have flourished all over, demonstrating an unexpected level of industrial creativity and adaptative ability. While some pre-existing transformations at play have simply accelerated.

How can behavioral science help rebuild CX post-Covid times

At BVA Nudge Consulting, we believe this unprecedented period offers a unique window for brands to leverage human-centricity (Employee Experience as well as Customer Experience) as the foundation of their business’s bounce-back. We surmise that in times of crisis, brands become like people in that they are judged by their behaviors rather than their storytelling. Only those that adapt to serve their customers’ new expectations and constraints will survive. Behavioral science can help with this by engaging in the following endeavors:

1 – Reframe value, reshape habits: Understand the new needs of consumers, and new choice drivers to rethink your value proposition, adapt your marketing mix and reframe pricing. Onboard customers in “new normal routines” nudging the right contact channels. Re-engage employees, aiming for them to sustain the best of what was learnt over the work-from-home period.

2 – Make the invisible visible: Help manage the fears and irrationalities of customers and employees, managing expectations and new sensitivities, make hygiene efforts salient, show safety cues along the journey, reassure on health status, manage waiting lines, social distancing… A lot of new standards to nudge as new basic defaults of the service quality.

3 – Create positive peak & end moments: The peak and end effect posits that people judge experiences based on how they feel at its peak (positive or negative) and its end. These emotional moments disproportionately influence brand memories, (cf Daniel Kahneman in “Thinking Fast & Slow”) and can build experiences of brands that are perceived as human, caring, helpful, and reliable even in difficult times.

Create magic moments:  With more attention allotted to personal situations, reassurances, consideration for long relationships, empowering staff to facilitate “out of script” initiatives, showing effort & accountability to solve tricky situation.

Avoid tragic moments: Tone-deaf communication, self-serving initiatives, staff hiding behind policies, processes sending to dead-ends, and all cross-channels inconsistencies.

4- Build brand trust in accordance with society’s new aspirations: Brands that prove they prioritize the interest of their customer over their own are the ones that will increase their perceptions of trustworthiness and overall reputation. Brands must now ask themselves what actions they could take – that others won’t – to be truly helpful to their customers, employees, and communities in the coming months and years. Are there opportunities to “nudge for good” and demonstrate their contribution to evolving social norms? As brand purpose will only exist through measurable behaviors, it is necessary for brands to demonstrate their intentions.

Where to start?

During our Webinar (80 participants), we have seen that at the end of April, most participants (45%) were in the process of re-thinking their customer journeys and building a plan, only 15% were fully ready, while actually 1/3 never stopped trading and have continuously adapted.

Engaging front-line staff and customers for onboarding in the “new normal” is an essential first step for businesses, to ensure that resources are directed to keeping companies afloat in the short term. However, leadership teams should reserve some bandwidth to plan for the future, using behavioral trends and technological opportunities as an inspiration to evolve business models. It is also the perfect moment for brands to challenge their purpose in “a new normal.” In each time frame, relying on experts of customer experience with a deep knowledge of applied behavioral science and nudge techniques can help businesses operate faster, with bolder moves that secure new competitive positions “in the new normal”.

Interested in knowing more about how to improve customer experience by design? Get in touch.



Chapter 2: Building an Ethical & Global Foundation


In Chapter 2 of our new book, our focus turns to building an ethical and scalable foundation for Behavioral Science. Readers will learn about the Nudging for Good Awards, which promote the ethical use of Behavioral Science -as well as the flipside: the concepts of “Dark Nudges” and “Sludge” and potentially damaging behaviors that crop up as the field matures in the 7 Temptations of Behavioral Scientists and Consultants.

The 7 Temptations of Behavioral Scientists & Consultants. Image credit: Tiphaine Breton

This chapter also speaks to the challenges of scaling Behavioral Science at the global level. Below is an excerpt of Richard Bordenave’s article on this topic:

“As Behavioral Science continues to spread its influence around the world, questions about cultural sensitivity and the universality of its principles pose barriers in the application of insights… but are all behavioral insights fit for travel, i.e., universally applicable?

“What should behavioral consultants put in their suitcases, and what should they try to discover locally if they want to intervene in countries other than their own? In an attempt to guide them, we have built a compass for context exploration: an empirical framework articulating the contributions of various disciplines – from individual diagnostics, with sensory biases, heuristics and situational factors, to social ones with interdependent norms and cultural memes.

To discover the framework and read the complete chapter, download the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting.

The Reluctant Zero-Sum Consumer

What distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?

Among many possible answers to this question, there is one characteristic that pervades human societies, and that is almost entirely absent among even the most evolved and complex animals. It has been instrumental to human evolution, to prosperity and innovation, to technology and arts. This prominent feature is none other than the positive-sum transaction.

Among our distant hunter-gatherer ancestors, some will have been better at fishing, others better at setting traps to catch rabbits. One day, they would have realized that having one’s diet entirely determined by what one is good at providing does get a little boring, and one of them suggested exchanging a fish for a rabbit. Someone with plenty of rabbits would have put more value on a fish than on a rabbit; mutatis mutandis, the opposite would have been true for a person with more fish than they could eat. A positive-sum swap would leave both of them better off.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Hundreds of millions of positive-sum transactions take place every day – from the purchase of gas and electricity or a cup of coffee, to a Netflix subscription or a haircut. Yet, something seems to be amiss.

In a recent paper, Samuel Johnson, a psychologist at Warwick University in the UK and colleagues document and investigate a remarkable, and somewhat worrying phenomenon. Instead of being ecstatic with how much better off we are every time we buy something, many people see purchases as a zero-sum transaction: the seller wins, and they, the buyer, lose out. On the basis of a range of experiments in which participants imagine buying items like shirts, cars and olive oil, and the services of plumbers and hairdressers, the researchers conclude this is mainly because we consumers are, deep inside, mercantilists. We treat money as the principal seat of wealth. If we buy something, we end up with less of it, and the seller with more, so they win, and we lose.

While this obviously does not entirely stop people from buying goods and services, it certainly fuels consumers’ perception that they are being exploited. For financial institutions, this win-win denial attitude poses a challenge that looks even more complex than for retailers. Most account holders don’t pay directly for the services banks provide, but they were of course not born yesterday, and they do realize that banks get their income from the difference in interest between what they charge borrowers and what they pay depositors.

So, whenever a bank seeks to encourage its customers to do anything – say, open a new type of savings account, or move some low-interest savings into an investment product – they will be suspicious. They will need little convincing that it will be to the bank’s advantage, but their mercantilist intuition tells them that it will be to their detriment.

Does that mean it is inevitable that huge amounts of money will forever more sit languishing in current accounts, returning next to nothing to the account holder? Thankfully there are some ways banks can engage more effectively with banking customers, based on understanding the reasons why they might think they are coming off worse.

For a start, in contrast with retailers who by definition take their customers’ money, banks actually give their depositors money. Framing the options that a customer has in terms of the money they might gain (compared with the status quo) – especially when it concerns longer-term investments, but also in the short term – should play to the perception that money equates to wealth.


Consumers may also feel they are worse off because they no longer value their purchase at the price they paid for it: their preferences at the time of purchase were different from what they are now.


That lilac shirt may have looked good back then, but it’s way too brash now – yet the money’s still gone and it’s too late to take it back. Changing preferences can play a role in financial decisions, too. Risk profiles, the purpose for saving, the need for liquidity and so on, they all evolve over time. In comparison with retailers, however, banks are able to more easily explore customers’ preferences, and understand the aims and motives that underlie them. That makes it possible to offer products that are optimally suited to their requirements. Better still: unlike the shirt shop, a financial institution can very well offer flexibility in savings and investments. Even if preferences evolve more quickly than anticipated, there are always options to satisfy a changed mind.

Another source of suspicion for a consumer is information asymmetry: the seller knows much more about the nature and the quality of the product than they do, and can sell them a pig in a poke. That suspicion may well arise in finance, too. Many customers are unsophisticated and have, at best, a superficial understanding of different categories of savings and investment – much in the same way as they know little about the thread and the stitching in a shirt. But for a bank it is a lot easier to provide a clear, transparent explanation of the costs involved in a particular account or investment, and the benefits to the account holder. This can restore the perception of a fair division of benefits, and of the notion of a win-win, positive sum relationship.

These approaches – emphasizing the financial benefits of the possible choices (including “do nothing”), ensuring that the chosen option meets the customer’s complex requirements, being responsive to changing customer preferences, and providing transparent costs and benefits information – are perhaps not really new in themselves. But, when they are seen in the light of the profound and widespread win-win denial attitude, they come to life and go beyond standard marketing speak. They become instruments that directly address the concerns of the reluctant consumer, and restore their faith in positive-sum economics.

And in doing so, financial institutions have one unfair advantage compared to retailers: their relationship with their customers is all about money.

Chapter 1: Getting Started – Making the Case for Behavioral Science


In Chapter 1 of our new book, we begin with the challenge of “making the case” and gaining support for Behavioral Science.  Clearly, an initial challenge is to generate interest, support and funding for Behavioral Science within an organization. In other words, to “make the case” to senior management and the powers that be.

‘Infusing Behavioral Science’ Image Credit: Tiphaine Breton

In this initial chapter, you’ll find several articles on this topic. Below is an excerpt of Eric Singler’s paper which presents the “3E” model (Evangelize, Experiment and Embed) as a tool for promoting Behavioral Science:

“We know very well from Behavioral Science that driving change – including change within an organization – is very difficult for people, due to the Status Quo Bias. Generally speaking, humans are risk averse and inclined to stick with the familiar. As Dan Ariely put it in this wonderful sentence: “We don’t like change, even if it is small and even if the new route is clearly better.”

“So of course, infusing behavioral science within an organization is a big challenge, because it involves a major change. To break from the status quo, we often need to employ the Messenger Effect, through a senior executive who is strongly and visibly supporting these efforts. So our first piece of advice for Behavioral Science champions is to cultivate senior sponsorship within the organization, ideally from the leader of the organization or perhaps the leader of your team. From there, you can begin to pursue a disciplined process to successfully infuse behavioral science across the organization, which we’ve named the E3 Process.”

To read the complete chapter, download the book Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Frameworks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting which includes an interview with Eric Singler, as well as a case study featuring Anne LeDouble of BNP Paribas, who speaks to the Behavioral Science journey at the French banking organization.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Applied Behavioural Science



A Journey to the Land of Nudge for Marketers and Behavioural Consultants

Context is everything…but what is context?

The definition of what counts as context varies depending on academic frame of reference:
a) the behavioural economist decodes biases,
b) the sociologist networks and social norms and
c) the anthropologist cultural traits

But what if we could bridge their approaches? For more information, download the full working paper below:

A Cultural Compass for Context Exploration

This paper was written by Richard Bordenave, CEO of BVA Nudge Consulting APAC and Trisha Nagpal, Founder of the Ashoka Behavioural Insights Team, with the contribution of Sophie Mahe, VP Associate Director of PRS IN VIVO Group Asia.

The paper is also featured in the book: Applying & Infusing Behavioral Science: Insights, Framewroks & Case Studies from the BVA Nudge Consulting edited by Scott Young & Eric Singler, 2021

Pride Guide: Fostering LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Workplace


This guide was developed by BVA Nudge Consulting UK Junior Consultant Ileana Boyes (She/Her) and Marketing Manager Michelle Novellie (She/Her) in collaboration with global Chief Growth Officer Ted Utoft (He/Him).

Being an ally is a behaviour. You can have an open mind, great intentions and voice your support, but true allyship is in what you do.  It’s in the actions you take to live up to your inclusive intentions.  

Wondering what you can do to create a more inclusive environment for all in your team or office?  

Have a look at our Pride Guide to better understand some our inherent biases we may not even be aware of that can trip us up in the workplace. And consider the behaviours you can adopt at any level to foster more inclusion at work.

© BVA Nudge Consulting (2021)

Worry less about getting it right and try adopting some behaviours that demonstrate you are an ally to all you colleagues, clients, consumers, partners and patients.

While we hope to inspire organisations to use behavioural science to make their recruitment processes more inclusive this Pride month, we believe diversity and inclusion should be a core focus for businesses year-round.

Aside from the obvious moral benefits, the business case for diverse teams is becoming increasingly robust for companies, with a McKinsey report demonstrating that companies with more diverse executive leadership in the top quartile are 25% more likely to perform above average financially, compared to those in the bottom quartile.

If you’re wondering how you can implement some of these ideas into your own systems – or indeed develop your D&I processes even further using behavioural science – we’d love to hear from you. Why not get in touch with us at contact@bvanudgeconsulting.com




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De-biasing recruitment to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive

This article was written by Ileana Boyes (She/Her) a Junior Consultant at BVA Nudge Consulting UK.

To celebrate Pride month this year, we at the BVA Nudge Consulting want to promote ways in which behavioural science can help de-bias the recruitment process to be more inclusive, levelling the playing field for candidates of various identities and orientations.  

Despite there being an increasing acceptance that employees need to bring their whole selves to work, we are still far from a world in which inclusive workplaces are the norm. In 2018, Stonewall (Europe’s biggest LGBTQ+ right charity) reported that more than a third of LGBTQ+ staff (35%) have hidden that they are LGBTQ+ at work for fear of discrimination. On top of this, 18% of LGBTQ+ job seekers surveyed had been discriminated against specifically due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year. Unsurprisingly, this translates to over a third of LGBTQ+ people on the job market reporting feeling worried about harassment and discrimination in the workplace, with one Canadian study finding that LGBTQ+ individuals consequently have lower salary expectations. Clearly, we have work to do.

The discourse about creating more LGBTQ+ friendly workplaces often jumps straight to how to foster inclusion for LGBTQ+ colleagues already in the workplace. Ensuring psychological safety (being in a work environment that fosters the ability for all employees to feel secure and take risks at work) and inclusion for every employee is paramount, but before we get to that point, we have to make sure that everyone has the same opportunity to enter the workforce in the first place.  

At each step of the recruitment process where a decision is made – by the applicant or by the organisation – there are environmental factors that can impact these choices. The recruitment process can therefore be filled with unintended bias that negatively impacts LGBTQ+ candidates (and, indeed, disadvantaged candidates from other groups). So, how can we counteract this? 


Employers have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment and inclusion from the very first touchpoint with prospective candidates: the job ad.

The power of language in job ads has been widely demonstrated. Within the BVA Nudge Consulting, our work with BNP Paribas has shown that men and women respond to different words in job specifications, with male applicants increasing by 55% when the job ad was written by a man, for vacancies that had previously attracted mostly female applicants. The principle rings true for all groups, and may have much farther-reaching implications for LGBTQ+ candidates and other minority groups. It cannot therefore be understated how important it is to test recruitment materials and reveal biases that could be hindering applicants.

Screening and Interview:

At screening, applications are often reviewed very quickly (recruiters reportedly can spend as little as 10 seconds reviewing a CV). When decisions are made quickly like these, they are made by system one  processes, which relies predominantly on biases and mental shortcuts. At interview, affinity bias leads interviewers to be drawn to candidates that mirror their own selves, whilst status quo bias results in hires who fit the mould of the outgoing employee. Our government estimates that just 5-7% of the populations of England and Wales identify as LGB (the research on this is limited and excludes transgender people), meaning LGBTQ+ candidates form a much smaller sub-section and are at significant risk from these biases at screening and interview. If you do not have LGBTQ+ employees in your organisation, you are less likely to be drawn to those candidates in interview.

So, how we mitigate these biases? Well, beyond the bread and butter of anonymising aspects of applications and blind screening, as well as introducing objective measures of performance such as psychometrics, organisations can create a framework with which to evaluate candidates’ interview performance, implementing a semi-structured process that will reduce the subjective differences between candidates. Consistent questions should be asked between candidates that test competencies, relating directly to what is required in-role.

Who interviews the candidate – as well as the role they play – should also be considered. Candidates should be assessed by more than one interviewer, who should themselves represent different demographics and backgrounds where possible. Interviewers should assign a score to each response and be provided with guidance on evaluating responses with respect to the scoring system to maintain consistency between assessments. Additionally, in order to mitigate the effects of confirmation bias (the tendency to make a decision based on existing beliefs), interviewers should evaluate performance separately before discussing.


Best practice at the selection stage is to involve someone who has not yet been part of the recruitment process to be part of the decision-making wash up. The value of this  practice is that this person can bring more impartiality and objectivity to the decision, having not met the candidates themselves, but being able to review purely how they performed through the assessments. 


Once a candidate has been hired, there is a final step that is often overlooked by employers: the review. Taking stock from both internal and external sources (i.e., recruiters and candidates) and collecting insights for optimising the process can be a valuable resource. For example, collecting feedback from candidates – both rejected and selected – can help shed light on where the process might be letting down candidates. One 2015 study highlighted that making jokes about LGBTQ+ people was the most widely reported issue faced at recruitment, highlighting the need for a post-recruitment window review – without this, important information is lost, along with the opportunity to create real and significant positive change.

While we hope to inspire organisations to use behavioural science to make their recruitment processes more inclusive this Pride month, we believe diversity and inclusion should be a core focus for businesses year-round.

Aside from the obvious moral benefits, the business case for diverse teams is becoming increasingly robust for companies, with a McKinsey report demonstrating that companies with more diverse executive leadership in the top quartile are 25% more likely to perform above average financially, compared to those in the bottom quartile.

If you’re wondering how you can implement some of these ideas into your own systems – or indeed develop your D&I processes even further using behavioural science – we’d love to hear from you. Why not get in touch with us at contact@bvanudgeconsulting.com

Nudge for Learning Series Part 5 of 5:


Applying Behavioral Science to Digital Training: A Case Study

After my book ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’ was published during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of my former colleagues (who are professors in educational institutions) asked me the same question:  How can I engage students in a course taught entirely via Zoom (or Microsoft Teams or another program)?

My answer to them was simple:  Do not replicate the course you were doing in a classroom via Zoom. Switching from an in-person to a virtual course is not just a question of sharing your slides within a video conference.  The course must be designed to be facilitated online.

And this is exactly what I’ve done myself:

  • First, instead of using my familiar PowerPoint, I leveraged a Learning Management System to build an appropriate digital path (employing several Behavioral Science learnings).
  • Second, I used a dedicated software package to integrate test-enhanced learning.
  • And third, I integrated a collaborative platform to encourage active engagement, rather than passive listening. 

And of course, I applied many of the principles shared in this article in building BE Wiser, a program to help organizations learn and apply Behavioral Science:

_distributive learning:

The format changes from 3 days of in-person training (7 hours a day) to 16 weeks of training (only 1 hour 30 minutes per week).

_flipped classroom:

Students commence the course individually at home (with self-guided videos) and then do exercises with others at school (during bi-weekly interactive sessions with coaches/trainers, aided by collaborative platforms, such as Miro and Klaxoon). This flips the traditional model, in which most teachers focus on presenting the material in school (via lectures). 

_test enhanced learning:

After each learning session, there are brief, ungraded quizzes, to help people learn, and retain knowledge.  The only evaluative quiz comes at the very end of the training, as part of the certification 


Thanks to digital technology, quizzes are personalized based on answers. So the more errors a person makes, the more a quiz is repeated (in context).


Each quiz is also repeated a minimum number of times during the full training cycle. Repetitions are spaced over time to help ensure retention. 

_follow up:

When the course and classrooms end, the Coaching & Application sessions begin. These bi-monthly sessions help people apply learning to their jobs and create or reinforce new habits. 

This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeconsulting.com




Nudge for Learning Series Part 4 of 5:


Nudging for Behavior Change Training

From Behavioral Science, we know that change is a process, not an event. How many training sessions have you led, in which you and the trainees have had a wonderful day learning together.  We then go home, thinking that the training is over… when in reality, everything really starts the day after.


When trainees make an effort to retrieve the information they have learned, it contributes to its memorization. To ensure that this test effect is real, researchers had 120 students learn scientific texts.

In a first group, half of them studied one of the texts twice (Condition 1), and in a second group, they studied it only once, before being asked to write down what they had retained (Condition 2). The students were then interviewed either 5 minutes later, two days later or one week later. The results of Condition 2, which involved studying the text and then recalling it, proved to be slightly less effective in terms of short term memorization (5 minutes after learning), but much more effective in driving longer-term memory (two days or a week later)[1].

It seems that the best memorization results are achieved when the recollection phase is set up after 40% of the reading is completed.[2] So, if you dedicate 10 minutes to learn a text, it is optimal to read it for 4 minutes and try to recall what you had read for the remainder of the time.  By doing so, you will retain 30% more information than if you simply spend 10 minutes reading it.

Flashcards are entirely based on this test- enhanced effect. These are cards with a question on the front and the answer on the back. They allow trainees to evaluate themselves, by reading the question on the front and answering it, before checking the solution on the back. As a trainer, have you created some?

Take your time with Distributed Learning

Do you remember how you used to learn poetry in school?  Were you the kind of child who would spend 30 minutes, at the very last moment, learning the entire sonnet by heart, or the kind of person who would take a week to learn one stanza a day, while reviewing those previously learned each evening?

Teachers should know that the second strategy is more efficient. This strategy actually has a name: distributed learning. With the same amount of work, spacing out the learning sessions over time leads to gains in memorization and restitution.  In other words, spacing makes it possible to obtain the same result, with less effort.  And yet, even though the spacing effect is more effective for 90% of the learners, a vast majority of people (72%) think that tightening up the sessions is more efficient[3].

The Spacing (or Distributed Learning) Effect was demonstrated in a recent study that showed that learning foreign language vocabulary, 13 sessions (one session every two months) was as effective as 26 sessions (with one session every two weeks).  So the same result was achieved with half the effort[4].

But to be most effective, a spacing strategy must be voluntary, not forced[5]: adults who are forced to space their learning sessions do not perform better (than when they learn the same content in a single session).

Create new habits in context

Several experiments have proven that we better retrieve information when we are in the same physical environment where we learned it.  Even familiar sounds or music have this effect.  

So what are the implications of this, when we know that B2B sales reps forget 70% of the information they learn within a week of training, and 87% within a month[6]?   It suggests that, whenever possible, we need to train people within the application environment.  So think about doing training in an actual work environment or store, because the environmental cues will help them to retain and apply the learning and build new habits.

And since behavior change is a process, rather than a single event, training should mirror that reality. A recent study revealed that, on average, companies spend only 5% of their budgets on “post-event training,” despite the fact that post-learning event activities contribute roughly 50% to learning effectiveness[7]. As trainers, we should work to help correct that imbalance, by planning follow-up sessions for people to share/discuss experiences in applying the learning to their daily jobs.  This is a great way to reinforce new learning and help ensure the adoption of new habits.

This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeconsulting.com

[1] Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological science17(3), 249-255. dans Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. Random House Trade Paperbacks

[2] Gates, A. 1.(1917). Recitation as a factor in memorizing. Archives of psychology6, 40., dans Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. Random House Trade Paperbacks

[3] Kornell, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition23(9), 1297-1317

[4] Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science4(5), 316-321

[5] Son, L. K. (2010). Metacognitive control and the spacing effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition36(1), 255

[6] Bryan J. (2019). The Evolution of Sales Training and Coaching Technology. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/the-evolution-of-sales-training-and-coaching-technology/

[7] Kirkpatrick, J. and Kayser Kirkpatrick, W. (2009), The Kirkpatrick Four Levels™: A Fresh Look After 50 Years 1959 – 2009.




Making the Medicine Go Down


“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, sang Mary Poppins. It is unclear whether this claim has ever been empirically verified (in the song, ‘medicine’ was a metaphor for an unpleasant task – can any chore be more unpleasant than, as a child, having to tidy your room?). Let’s just say that there is little, if any, evidence that sugar can help make sure people take their medication according to the prescription.

This is a pity, since it might have been a simple way of solving a serious problem: it is estimated that only half of patients with long term conditions take their medication as required. In the UK, the annual cost of medicines wasted in this way was estimated at £300M in 2009. In the United States, the cost of medication non-adherence is even more staggering – to the tune of $100-289 billion per year in avoidable healthcare costs.

While many who try to tackle this challenge tend to assume that forgetting is the main problem to be solved, such non-adherence can have many different causes.  Some of these are unintentional (e.g., problems with dexterity or memory or mental capacity), others are more intentional (e.g., beliefs, doubts and unmet expectations). Recent research has also identified perceived necessity of the treatment (positive) and concerns about potential adverse effects (negative) as factors in adherence. Can behavioural science help?

To explore this question, it is useful to refer to six behavioural phenotypes that are sometimes used to classify non-adherent patients: (1) those who consider the treatment too complex, (2) those who don’t pay enough attention to their regimen, (3) those who are unaware of the importance to follow prescriptions, (4) those whose beliefs conflict with the treatment, (5) those who doubt the efficacy of the medications, and (6) those who consider the efforts required to adhere outweigh the benefits. The first three categories are more related to non-intentional non-adherence, while the latter three are more intentional behaviour. But these conceal multiple underlying reasons, ranging from unconscious influences (e.g., the patient denies the problem, or wants to avoid being reminded of their condition by taking medication), fear of addiction and mistaken belief that the diseases is cured, to forgetfulness and difficulty accessing or measuring the required dose.

Not one size nudge fits all

This perspective reveals a crucial fact: the heterogeneity of the patient population. It is unlikely that one type of intervention will address this diverse set of reasons for non-adherence. Nevertheless, it makes sense to consider some basic behavioural science insights – none more so than the way Nudge co-author Richard Thaler summarizes nudging: ‘Make it easy’. What can be done to make taking medication easier? Multi-compartment pillboxes exist, but they can – certainly for patients on relatively large numbers of medicines – be a bit baffling. A design that is adapted to the capabilities of the individual may help overcome dexterity-related as well as cognitive barriers; an alternative might be tailored calendar blister packs. It may also be worthwhile to consider altering the dosing frequency, or a different way of administering it (e.g., a pill rather than a liquid) to make it easier to handle from the patient’s perspective.

Of course, if patients intentionally resist following their prescription, such nudges will have little effect. If that is the case, practitioners are better off seeking to understand what is behind the patient’s reluctance: “Ditch the deficit model”, as Caitlyn Finton, a psychologist at Cornell University, writes. An approach that assumes people’s distrust is based on insufficient information (a deficit) and that seeks to fix it by bombarding them with facts and evidence is unlikely to work. Instead, “approach conversations with the other person’s background in mind,” and perhaps even more importantly, “acknowledge their views and feelings” – every patient wants to do what is best for them. Active listening and empathy might help an unwilling patient acknowledge the need, recognize the potential value of the treatment, and weigh up the pros and cons differently. Unfortunately, this is not an easily scalable intervention, which relies heavily on 1:1 interaction with the patient.

For patients who struggle with remembering to take their medication, reminders may help. A randomized controlled trial in the UK followed just over 300 people taking medicines to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease over six months. In the control group, the proportion of patients who were taking less than 80% of the prescribed drugs was 25%, while in the intervention group, where patients received regular text messages, that proportion was 9%.

Reminders are one of five types of nudges featuring in a systematic review (of 38 studies focusing on diabetes management, with medication adherence as the primary outcome), alongside framing, gamification, social modelling and social influence. The authors found all types of nudges had the potential of significantly influencing patient behaviour, although the efficacy might depend on both the delivery mode of the intervention (ranging from 1:1 counselling and group sessions to email, SMS and via an app), and the patient characteristics (in particular their age).

For patients with long-term conditions that are at the start of their treatment, adopting a habit of taking medication can help maintain good adherence. Common wisdom has it that a habit is formed after 21 days of task completion, but unfortunately this is not supported by evidence. Recent research by Colin Camerer and colleagues found that a hand washing habit in a clinical environment took on average 36 shifts to take root, and developing a habit to visit the gym 198 days. Perhaps more strikingly, the range around these two averages was very large in both cases: the 75th percentile for handwashing was 83 days, and for gym attendance 453 days. Developing a habit is not easy and takes time. Behavioural engineer Nir Eyal suggests starting with a routine (a series of actions that is followed regularly and consciously) before trying to turn it into a habit (a behaviour that requires little or no thought). This involves deliberately scheduling taking the medication, anticipating and getting used to the discomfort that is experienced, and pre-committing.

Yet even these simple steps will be different for different patients, especially for medication that cannot be tied to mealtimes. The context, including the patient characteristics, will influence what is more, and less, likely to help build the adherent behaviour as quickly and robustly as possible. Stuart Mills, a behavioural scientist at the London School of Economics, argued recently that the future of nudging will be personalPersonalized medicine makes us think first of all of tailored treatments – both preventative and curative – for diseases, with doses and even formulations of drugs adapted for individual patients. That is a massive biochemical challenge, but the behavioural challenge of customizing interventions to encourage the right patient behaviour is at least as ambitious.


All images designed by Freepik



Mastering the Psychological Drivers of Decision-Making


“It’s now time to engage new tools, including behavioral science, to redesign sales for our virtual context.”

In PM360 Online’s latest paper, Virtual Engagements: What Works, What Doesn’t and What’s New? Suzanne Kirkendall, MPH offers insight into how behavioral science can offer some much needed guidance in helping healthcare sales reps to master the psychological driver of decision-making – and ultimately find success in the shift to online engagements with patients.


Read the full article on PM360 Online.

This article was written by Suzanne Kirkendall, MPH, Behavioral Scientist and Nudge Consultant at the BVA Nudge Consulting USA.



How to Run an Online Event using Behavioural Science – Part Three


Part three – Experiment and evolve

Like so many people, last year I found myself in the position of moving a large event – The Association for Business Psychology Annual Conference – online. For those who haven’t seen our previous blogs in this series, you can find our first (on keeping it simple) here, and our second (on making things bite-sized) here.

Last time, we talked about breaking the event down into bite-sized pieces. An unexpected benefit of moving things online was our access to a broader audience – we had delegates from the US, South Africa, and many European countries. This is something we’ll keep in mind for the future and is the benefit of experimentation; the ability to discover improvements and avoid falling into sub-optimal patterns of behaviour just because ‘it worked before’.

‘Experimental’ – aka when no one knows what to do.

When facing a new challenge like this, there are plenty of unknowns. Experience is a helpful guide, but we can’t rely on what worked before when the context is different. After agreeing on a two-week conference, we had to answer two key questions: how much do we charge and what time of the day should we have the sessions? Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach an agreement. That’s when we remembered that experimentation is vital.

How much are we charging?
Basic intuition tells you that running an online event is cheaper. It’s even tempting to keep the price of a face-to-face event and benefit from the savings. However, that would be unfair to delegates who are struggling financially. Therefore, we looked at similar conferences to establish a reference point. We saw everything from ‘free’ to ‘£400’, with our closest competitor going for £80. We were still unsure what to choose within such a price range, so we decided to do them all!

How? By allowing members to “pay what you want”. We clearly laid out the conference’s benefits before showing the option to buy a ticket. Delegates saw a price slider “anchored” at £95, which we felt was the right price. By moving the slider, members could choose to pay £1 – rather than nothing, since it encourages “engagement” – up to £150, or even enter a custom price.

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We also aimed to attract non-members in the hopes they would join The ABP. Our conference is a fantastic opportunity to meet the community, so we decided to bundle the membership costs within the ticket price. Non-members would access what we considered to be a great package – an opportunity to access all the content plus a year-long membership for free! 

To drive this point home, we used a combination of two behavioural principles. First, we relied on “framing”. In the image below, you can see the standard ticket on the left. In the middle, we introduced a second ticket for the same £125, which included the free year-long membership. This choice architecture encourages visitors to choose the option that gives them the highest value for money.

The second behavioural principle used was “salience”. To make the middle option more noticeable, we chose a larger box size and a different colour. Comparing these two options might seem like a no-brainer, but keeping both preserves the delegates’ choice to join The ABP or only attend the conference.

The results: we doubled our revenue expectations and had the most significant number of delegates in our conferences so far (300+). We had an average of £54.34 per ticket when promoting it under “Pay what you want”, which changed to £37.15 after using the subject line “just £1 to register!”. And even better – we attracted 56 new members compared to 16 in 2019.

What time of the day should we have sessions?
Given most are working remotely, putting ourselves in our audience’s shoes was crucial to identify when to broadcast live sessions. Mornings might be easier for some, as they can start their day with the conference and then resume work. However, international delegates might struggle if time zones don’t align. Afternoons can give you a solid morning of work, so you can be at ease when watching speakers. Evenings should be work-free for most, but anyone with children would have to sacrifice family time. What to do? Try them all! Week one had morning sessions, week two had afternoon sessions, and we had reruns during the evenings.

The results: more delegates participated in the morning sessions – an average of 70 for each. Afternoon sessions showed a reduction of 20 people on average compared to ‘week one morning sessions’. Testimonials reinforced this, which has given us excellent data for future conferences. One delegate wrote: “I couldn’t access talks and conferences before given their location and cost. For me, it’s like someone has turned the tap to opportunity on”.

Reruns only once – that same evening.
A somewhat divisive decision was to play back the recordings only once, during the evening of the session. Two behavioural science principles supported this: ‘we are social’ (aka “Norms”) and ‘scarcity as a motivator’. When Netflix started releasing whole shows in one sitting, it was revolutionary. 

This shift should have been the end of the ‘one episode per week’ approach, especially for streaming. However, we now have top-rated shows like The Mandalorian, WandaVision, and Better Call Saul, once again releasing one episode per week. If you have binge-watched a show, you probably have blurry memories of it. One episode per week lets you anticipate it, savour it, think about it and share that with others. It’s a communal experience. We aimed to tap into this while providing flexibility; you could watch the session’s rerun with others and comment on content live.

I also mentioned scarcity, a bias we include under our “Loss aversion” Driver of Influence. If you only have two chances to access something you care about, you are more likely to set aside time. Though the word ‘paternalistic’ might come to mind, we know how hard it is to set aside time to do something when there are no deadlines. 

‘Learn at your own pace’ websites promote this stridently. But how many of you have paid for a subscription and still aren’t a ‘data science/coding/photoshop master’? A deadline makes it easier to plan and execute. Eventually, we uploaded all recordings we had permission for onto our website and learned that next time, we could do this at the end of each week rather than once the whole conference ends.

The results: We only expected a few people to join the reruns. But we were surprised; evening recordings fluctuated between 30 – 50 delegates, with the 18:00 to 20:00 slot doing much better than 19:00 to 21:00. Even on Friday nights at 8 pm, we had 30 delegates watching! There’s nothing more humbling than being someone’s Friday night plan.

These are not all the things we did; there were optimised communications, reminders, easy to follow instructions, and more. There are also plenty of things we could have done better. But the bottom line is this – behavioural science principles can quickly help you make the right choices when facing uncertainty, and luckily, they apply to everything we do.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can impact the behaviour of delegates, customers or employees for the better, you can learn more from our blogs, check out our podcast, or get in touch directly if you have any questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.



Nudge for Learning Series Part 3 of 5:


Nudging More Efficient Training Sessions

Once participants are enrolled in a training session, our job as trainers is to help them learn efficiently and boost their performance. No doubt, experienced trainers are intuitively aware of many tactics that behavioral science can bring.  But do they really apply them consistently?

Using reciprocity to engage

If someone gives you something, then you intuitively know that you owe them something in return.

Professor Robert Cialdini has conducted several experiments to demonstrate the impact of reciprocity.  In one experiment he demonstrated the power of reciprocity, relying on an anchoring mechanism. He initially asked for a major commitment from participants, which acted as an anchor.   Later, he reduced the ask, which served as a form of kindness and successfully activated feelings of reciprocity. 

So if you want your trainees to read one academic research paper per week (and we know that reading a research paper is a huge effort for non-academics!), you may want to initially ask them to read two papers.  You can then be kind and allow them to read only the one they prefer, amongst the initial two. They will probably end up reading it, in reciprocity to your kindness.

Find the right level of difficulty

In a famous experiment, researchers demonstrated that the sense of effort required by a task influences people’s appreciation and ownership of the result achieved .  This is called the IKEA effect, as people who assemble an IKEA storage box on their own tend to value it more than those who were just asked to inspect an identical pre-assembled box.  In other words, effort brings value.

It’s important to note that there are limits to this. Participants who spent a lot of time constructing the box or those who failed to construct the box placed a lower value on the object. As a trainer, we have to find the correct balance between making things easy, yet also requiring some effort.

How do we find the right balance when designing training sessions? Again, there is no universal answer.  We simply need to experiment according to the behavioral science mantra: test, learn, adapt.

Too easy vs. Too hard Image credit: Adrien Liard

Be positive about learners

Researchers administered intelligence tests to children. They then told teachers who were the most gifted students and asked them not to treat these children differently from the others. But not surprisingly, by the end of the year, the students identified as the most gifted had performed the best.


However, there’s a twist to this story:  In fact, these children were not the most gifted.  Instead, they had been chosen randomly.  Thus, their superior performance was not tied to test scores, but rather to what’s called the Pygmalion Effect, which says that having positive thoughts and self-perceptions is self-fulfilling.  And the Pygmalion Effect works in many ways. For example, telling learners that their trainers are the cream of the crop will make them more successful in learning.

If you put people in a positive mindset, they will perform better.  In fact, happy doctors were shown to make an accurate diagnosis almost twice as quickly as their colleagues.  Students who were asked to recall the happiest day of their lives (just before a math exam) performed better than others[1].  So being happy is one key to being successful.

Provide the right physical environment

Put some plants in a classroom, and your trainees’ learning will progress by 10 to 14%[2]. Find the right decoration in a room, with inspiring icons on a poster, and you will stimulate your learners to achieve.  Find the right color and you can boost creativity[3].  Without question, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest that the physical environment influences learning.

English researchers created an acronym SALIENT[4] to summarize the physical factors that can influence wellbeing and performance at work. It stands for Sound, Air, Light, Image, Ergonomics, Nature and Tint.  This is a great roadmap for small changes that can make a big difference.  So please use it.

This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeconsulting.com

[1] Achor, S. (2010).The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Virgin Books.

[2] Raanaas, R. K., Evensen, K. H., Rich, D., Sjøstrøm, G., & Patil, G. (2011). Benefits of indoor plants on attention capacity in an office setting. Journal of Environmental Psychology31(1), 99-105.

[3] Mehta, R., & Zhu, R. J. (2009). Blue or red? Exploring the effect of color on cognitive task performances. Science, 323(5918), 1226-1229

[4] Dolan, P., Foy, C., & Smith, S. (2016). The SALIENT checklist: gathering up the ways in which built environments affect what we do and how we feel. Buildings6(1), 9



How to Run an Online Event using Behavioural Science – Part Two


Part two – The benefits of bite-sized

Like so many people, last year I found myself in the position of having to move a large event – The Association for Business Psychology Annual Conference – online. For those that missed the first blog in this series, you can find it here.

Last time, we talked about keeping it simple. As mentioned, our website went down during the event – something uncontrollable that is hard to predict or avoid. However, by keeping the event bite-sized, we minimised the impact of both the website crash and other potential tech issues. This is how…

‘Bite-sized’ – aka don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Historically, ours was a two-day event, including 20+ speakers in three simultaneous timeslots. Our first reaction was to replicate the same structure online, but we stuck to our second principle: bite-sized.

We decided to have two speakers per day over two weeks, essentially breaking it into smaller, more manageable parts, a strategy we call ‘One step at a time’. This structure provided us with a long list of benefits: 

  • Avoiding Zoom fatigue: After six months of working from home, people would surely be tired of online meetings. Sitting through 8 consecutive hours of speakers in a day would break our delegates – and us! With an hour in between, two speakers per day was a successful tool to fight screen fatigue.
  • Provide time for knowledge to be ‘digested’: All-you-can-eat buffets might seem attractive for some, but if you see them as a challenge to overcome, you will probably feel full and a bit sick. When it comes to training or conferences, we know an attendee’s attention span is limited; it’s better to stick to sessions lasting an hour or so, with a break in between. Having up to two one-hour sessions per day – with a sizable gap in between – allows delegates to think about what they’ve heard and even sleep on it.
  • Content works around work schedules: Even if some people were willing to watch everything at once, their work, family and life could still make it hard to commit the time. Before COVID, you could go to a venue and disconnect for a day. Under the circumstances, two sessions per day gave attendees the flexibility to schedule important meetings or tasks. Even if that was still too restrictive, they could watch recordings of the sessions during our evening reruns.
  • No conference-ruining tech issues: One of the most stress-inducing things that can happen at work is hosting an event and having technology fail at the last second. In face-to-face meetings, we develop a plan A, B, C, and D because we have one shot at success. However, an online event hosted over two weeks gives you ten times to get it right! If something goes wrong, only two speakers might be impacted, who you can easily reschedule later on. Additionally, you can tweak and improve things as you go based on what worked.
  • No need to choose between speakers: I always hated choosing between speakers due to scheduling issues. Our approach meant each session had a unique slot and thus never competed with one another. For the first time, our delegates could watch the entire conference if they wanted, and our speakers had the entire audience available.

The results: we had an unseen number of delegates attending our sessions. Between 50-70 watched live and 30-50 during the evening reruns. In face-to-face conferences, delegates had to choose which session to attend, so speakers typically had 20 people per session. Our post-conference satisfaction survey showed how happy our attendees were: “I didn’t think I would be able to attend many of the sessions due to work but so far I’ve managed to watch every session and even join some discussion. It was a great idea to spread it over a longer timeframe, and really helps to balance commitments “. We also managed to attract delegates from the US, South Africa, and many European countries – something we certainly couldn’t have pulled off before.

It wasn’t something we expected, but we’ve learned for future conferences to attract a greater audience with online content. That’s the benefit of trying something new – experimentation yields optimisation, which we discuss in more detail in part three of the series.

If you’d like to learn more about how salience and easiness can impact behaviour in the mean time, you can learn more from our blogs, check out our podcast, or get in touch directly if you have any questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. 



Nudge for Learning Series Part 2 of 5:


Nudging Training Enrolment

Enrolling people in training is a starting point. And it’s not an easy one. People are busy; they have other priorities; they don’t see the benefits; they forget to register…and the list of barriers goes on.  However, by nudging their environment through your communication, you may be more successful in this critical first step.

Leveraging the Power of Defaults 

What is your organization’s process for training? Are people actively asked to “opt in” in order to be included? Or are people registered by default, meaning they must “opt-out” if they don’t want to attend?

Defaults can be very powerful mechanisms. In the case of retirement savings, 98% of employees saved when it was the default option, as opposed to only 65% who had to “opt in.”[1].  So why not apply this knowledge to enrol people by default in important training sessions? 

Avoid the Paradox of Choice

Trainees may tell you that they prefer to choose between different options, different dates  or different time slots. But when registration time arrives, be aware that if they face too many alternatives (such as too many options for time slots), it increases their risk of not registering for anything at all. This is the Paradox of Choice.

So what is the best combination of choices? How many time slots should you provide? There is no universal answer – and asking people will probably lead you to propose too many options. The only way to know is to test, learn and adapt. In fact, “testing and learning” (through experiments) is a core principle of Behavioral Science.

Applying Pre-Commitment

When starting a training session, I often ask participants to fill out the WOOP tool[2].  One reason is to define and reinforce their motivations for the session (Wish and Outcome).  However, it is equally important to help people anticipate the barriers (Obstacle) and actively prepare to overcome them (Plan).

This serves several purposes. Firstly, it improves motivation by making the goals more visible and present.  Secondly, we know from behavioral science that the very act of making a plan is a form of pre-commitment, which increases follow-through. In fact, research showed that students who do this type of planning follow-through 67% more frequently than those who do not[3].

And can you guess that most common obstacle that student cite?  It’s lack of time.  

And the most common solution?  To set aside dedicated time in advance, so it is on your agenda.

Image credit: Adrien Liard

This serves several purposes. Firstly, it improves motivation by making the goals more visible and present.  Secondly, we know from behavioral science that the very act of making a plan is a form of pre-commitment, which increases follow-through. In fact, research showed that students who do this type of planning follow-through 67% more frequently than those who do not[3].

And can you guess that most common obstacle that student cite?  It’s lack of time.  

And the most common solution?  To set aside dedicated time in advance, so it is on your agenda.

Relying on the right Transmitter

Of course, simply encouraging people to register for training is a major challenge.  Here, the use of the right transmitter can have an enormous effect.  In a recent experiment, letters sent to less privileged English students to motivate them to apply to selective universities had different impacts, depending on who signed it. When it was signed by a student of one of these selective universities, they were more likely to apply (23.2% compared to 19.9% with the same letters signed by non-students), to receive a positive response (21.2% vs. 17%) and to join one of these universities (11.4% vs. 8.5%).

This experiment suggests that sending letters signed by peers has a real influence on commitment to training.  This lever could easily apply in companies, to help encourage workers access available training sessions.

This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeconsulting.com

[1] Madrian, B. C., & Shea, D. F. (2001). The power of suggestion: Inertia in 401 (k) participation and savings behavior. The Quarterly journal of economics, 116(4), 1149-1187

[2] https://characterlab.org/activities/woop-for-classrooms/

[3] Duckworth, A. L., Grant, H., Loew, B., Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2011). Self‐regulation strategies improve self‐discipline in adolescents: Benefits of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. Educational Psychology31(1), 17-26.



How to Run an Online Event using Behavioural Science – Part One


Part one – Keeping it simple 

The past year has presented extraordinary challenges for every organisation. We’ve had to rethink how we conduct our most fundamental business tasks within new constraints – namely, moving online. 

Last year, during my second term as Conference Dean for The Association for Business Psychology Annual Conference, I faced the same issue. Six months before the event and halfway into our third monthly meeting, I had to come out and say, “We have to do the whole conference online“. Going online meant throwing away all our plans, including most of what we knew about delivering a successful conference. 

You might have heard that ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ are both part of the word for ‘crisis’ in Chinese. Although thoroughly debunked, it’s not a bad metaphor for what happened. Going online meant that people across the world could join, speakers wouldn’t have to travel, we didn’t need to rent a venue, etc. Switching to an online event brought plenty of unknowns, but luckily, we had a versatile toolbox to handle the challenge: behavioural science

We used the following guiding principles to design our first online conference: 

  • keeping it simple 
  • bite-sized 
  • experimental 

Over the course of these three blogs, we’ll be looking at each of these in detail. We used plenty of the biases included in BVA Nudge Consulting’s ‘The Drivers of Influence’ for inspiration. As we go through the three guiding principles, you will see individual references to these. 

Keeping it simple – aka reducing friction. 

If you’ve organised an online event in the past 12 months, you’ll have heard of Teams, Zoom, WebX, Adobe Connect and many others. Which one we should choose was one of our first problems. After reviewing more than 11 options, we went back to our principle and decided to use Zoom. Why? Because we wanted to keep it simple.  

For better or worse, Zoom had become a synonym for online meetings. Other platforms offered integrations with external services, 3D-rendered virtual show floors, forums and chat systems. But, above all, we needed to ensure one thing – that our delegates could reliably connect and watch the sessions. A key behavioural science principle that we call ‘Easiness’ stresses the importance of reducing friction between intention and the desired behaviour.

If you want to exercise, but the gym is one hour away from home, you are less likely to go before work. When the platform you choose is unknown to attendees, they will need time to learn how it works before connecting to a session. Those running late will have an unpleasant experience trying to create an account, remember their password, figure out where to go, and so on. 

The top priority for any online event is ensuring attendees can access sessions, meaning you and your attendees should be comfortable with the platform of choice. It should be stable and easy to use. We heard horror stories of how fancy webinar platforms had crashed badly during online events – and since they were less popular, few people knew how to troubleshoot them.  

To ensure our delegates knew where to find our details, we created a simple website using WordPress. After logging in, we greeted them with a big blue rectangle containing two instructions: a password to remember and a link to the speaker session. Details were updated for each session and reinforced by email an hour beforehand. For this section, we chose this size, icon and colour to increase its ‘Salience’, ensuring our users wouldn’t miss the most important details. 

The results: Our delegates spontaneously messaged the conference team saying the ” … structure and the technology are both working very well – great design, very impressive. Very slick.” We had no delegates asking for zoom details to connect, and the stream was smooth as butter, except for when our website went down – something almost inevitable. This ties in neatly to our next point – keeping your event bite-sized. You can find part two here.

If you’d like to learn more about how salience and easiness can impact behaviour in the mean time, you can learn more from our blogs, check out our podcast, or get in touch directly if you have any questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts. 



Nudge for Learning Series Part 1 of 5:



Why Use Behavioral Science to Improve Training?

The world is changing fast. This seems obvious, but do you know that it took 75 years for the traditional phone to reach 100 million users?  By comparison, the mobile phone reached this number of users in 16 years! The Web did the same in 7 years, and WhatsApp in 2 years.

The pace of change is clearly accelerating and we need to adapt to these changes –  by developing new skills and updating our knowledge. But the challenge is that, as humans, we are naturally resistant to change.  We all know that we have to learn.  But that doesn’t mean that we actually do it. That’s because learning requires effort. 

The good news is that the science of learning has also progressed.  It has evolved to adapt to different learning styles and help individuals learn in their own way.  Neuroscience has brought new knowledge of how our brain actually absorbs and retains information. Behavioral Science can also be applied as a lever to help people learn. In this Nudge for Learning Series, we’ll focus on the application of behavioral science to make training sessions more productive and to help ensure that new information is retained and applied.

What is Nudge for Learning?

Even if you give them rules, such as “smartphones prohibited” that they agree with, they may not respect them.  Your participants put their smartphones in their pockets, make a pledge that they will not use them. But a few minutes or hours later, they have a look at them.

Have you ever tried to put all smartphones at the back of the room? Perhaps linked to phone chargers to add utility to phone deprivation. You should. Because having smartphones two meters away can make a huge difference. By doing this, you will change participants’ “choice architecture” and increase the probability that they won’t look at their phones. 

As defined by Thaler & Sunstein[1], a “Nudge” is a small intervention that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way, without eliminating any options nor significantly changing economic incentives.  Nudges are not mandates. So putting fruit at eye level (in a cafeteria) counts as a nudge, while banning junk food from that cafeteria does not, because it eliminates the option.  Nudge for Learning is the application of nudge to teaching and training.

Image credit: Adrien Liard
This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeconsulting.com

[1] Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin.



Impossible Foods’ Success: A Behavioural Science Perspective


People love meat. Yet CEO Patrick Brown aims to end all meat consumption by 2035 through Impossible Foods, his company that sells plant-based “meats” that taste exactly like animal-based meat with just as much protein.

Although countless meat-lovers could never imagine giving up meat, Impossible Foods has converted 33 million Americans to plant-based meat[1] — a feat previously thought of as insurmountable. At the same time, Impossible has started a significant contribution towards combatting climate change through sustainable eating. As a result, Impossible Foods has raised $1.3 billion and been evaluated at $4 billion.

© Impossible Foods – https://impossiblefoods.com/media/images

From a behavioural science perspective, much of Impossible Foods’ success can be attributed to their deep understanding of consumers’ behavioural drivers. Studying their case, we have identified four main learnings that could inspire brands willing to explore plant-based opportunities: a bold behavioural mission, a decoding of consumer trade-offs, a development strategy focused on the number one choice driver: taste and finally, a behaviourally informed marketing strategy.

1. A bold behavioural mission that defines the target in behavioural terms:

CEO Patrick Brown chose an incredibly difficult yet promising mission: changing the behaviour of eating meat by having meat-eaters switch to a plant-based alternative that delivers a like-for-like meat experience, without compromise. To achieve this, he defined the target market in behavioural terms (what people do), not attitudinal (what people say), knowing that there were a broad range of behaviours related to meat reduction.

He did not design “just another veggie burger” selling products for vegetarians/vegans, who are already happy with their current protein substitutes. They do not really seek a product mimicking meat, as they do not eat meat at all. Besides, vegans/vegetarians account for only 6% of the American market – far too niche.[2]

Nor did he simply target the “flexitarian” consumers, who choose to reduce the frequency of meat consumption. Flexitarians occasionally replace meat with plant-based substitutes, but often prefer adding sophisticated veggie recipes in their diet, including some with animal proteins (cheese, eggs). In this way, they compensate for the loss of meat in their diets by some kind of pleasurable, yet different, alternatives.

Instead, Patrick Brown has chosen to crack the biggest challenge: have the 94% of Americans that eat meat switch their meat consumption to a new generation of plant-based substitutes. By seeking an alternative that meat lovers would consider as good as the best meats, he addressed the biggest market—both in terms of penetration and repeat purchase. By making it fruitless for flexitarians to deprive themselves, he captured most of the existing meat-eating moments before they are reduced or removed from practice.

And so far, Impossible Foods’ mission of changing eating behaviour has been successful: 72% of their sales replace would-be meat purchases. This means that when people buy Impossible products, they don’t buy it in addition to buying meat—they buy it instead of meat, thus reducing meat consumption.

2. Understanding consumer trade-offs to guide switch strategy:

Barriers towards veggie substitutes, as well as craving factors for meat

Before Impossible Foods’ launch, research suggested that there were several barriers that prevented meat-eaters from consuming existing plant-based products. Explicit barriers were predominantly: a fear of a tasteless or bland product, a premium price compared to meat, some inconvenience of preparing the food, doubts about unknown ingredients, and believing there was not enough protein in the veggie substitute.

Observation reveals other barriers, such as the fear of social judgement when asking for a “veggie” version (and being assimilated into a marginal group disrupting social conventions [3]). Or simply the lack of visual and sensorial appeal of the food-form in store, or when cooking it, compared to animal meat.

However, in order to create a competitive alternative that would delight meat users, you also need to understand the deep motivators that make meat lovers crave their “meat moments”. What are the intrinsic cues of the product (aspect, smell, preparation etc.) that help judge or anticipate the quality of the product? What are the occasions, the contextual cues sublimating the tasting experience (recipes, places, names)? Because if you want to compete with meat, you need to understand what drives its appeal in the various contexts, from the store to the plate.

Acknowledging that taste is both the primary barrier to eating existing meat substitutes and the primary reason why people crave meat was pivotal beyond what people claim about their interest in sustainability or more balanced diets. Starting with a minced beef patty was also a way to attack the mainstream market in the US, with an iconic tasty recipe: the burger is a staple of American cuisine.

3. A product development strategy focused on cracking the primary choice driver:

A product that tastes like meat

Once Impossible Foods chose taste as its core mission, they dedicated all their product development towards this goal. Not an easy choice, as we have seen various plant-based players following different paths in alternative categories, making choices such as developing more nutritionally balanced products or valorising some healthy or protein-rich ingredients.

Improving veggie-burgers is not a difficult task, but by concentrating on improving an already undesired category by meat eaters would have been to choose the wrong benchmark. Impossible Foods chose to beat meat. They did not try to develop a nutritionally advanced product at the same time, as these two objectives would have clashed.

Impossible Foods’ teams are at ease with having a long ingredient list, simply because that is what it takes to make plant-based ingredients taste as good as meat. The nutritional elements do however meet the minimum standards that consumers expect from a meat substitute: the same amount of protein, but no cholesterol and fewer calories.

To recreate the taste of meat, Impossible’s teams spent their research and development time on perfecting heme, an ingredient from plants that mimics the savoury nature of animal blood. They added natural ingredients to give a bright red colour that resembles raw meat and which turns naturally brown when cooked.

They packaged their product in transparent wrapping, exactly like meat and designed the product to look, bleed, smell, and cook like meat. All aspects of the product delivered on the promise of taste at first sight: the packaging, the product and the name itself—“Impossible”—dramatizing the promise of an incredible taste experience.

© Impossible Foods – https://impossiblefoods.com/media/images

4. Their launch strategy leveraged 4 behavioural drivers to accelerate adoption:

Trigger people’s sense of challenge to change their beliefs

For their launch strategy, Impossible teams knew they needed to convince people about their product quality first. For this they chose a very exclusive route to market that proved to be highly strategic, in order to encourage trial and build reputation without spending advertising money: restaurants.

Because it is easy for consumers to experiment in a restaurant (they simply need to order it in a burger), it was tempting to take the challenge of tasting the “Impossible Burger”—they did not need to purchase and cook it themselves. And it was a social experience too: consumers could immediately share their surprise, and have other guests taste it to believe it.

By having the brand “Impossible” printed in the menu, all guests would have had to read it when making their choice. This menu strategy was a clever way to build awareness and create the immediate association with the uniqueness of the experience. “Impossible” flags pinned into the burger itself helped increase brand salience of the product itself.

Nudge desirability of the product by making it exclusive

Impossible did not pick just any restaurant to serve Impossible Burgers: it got chefs like Traci Des Jardins and Chris Cosentino to endorse it. Even Chef David Chang, a renowned meat-loving chef, advertised the product; he signals to consumers that this product can, in fact satisfy hardcore meat-lovers.

These endorsements helped erase any lingering doubts about taste, and reversed the “vegan” stigma, turning eating “Impossible” into a fashionable experience. Now Impossible is associated with gastronomy as well as famous influencers who have endorsed the brand (Rap entrepreneur JAY Z, tennis player Serena Williams, even pop musician Katy Perry) without being paid for it.

In summer 2019, the demand for the burger exceeded its supply, so the company reached a shortage and was unable to provide its product to every location. Intended or not, this activated scarcity bias increased both the demand and the value of the product. In relating the shortage, the media amplified the image of an exclusive and tasty meat-free patty, and subsequently increased the awareness of the Impossible brand, now part of many food conversations.

Change social norms by surfacing them and increasing reach

After inducing desire through social proof, Impossible moved to the next level: releasing the product in fast food chains and retail stores, making it an everyday product that could be adopted by anyone in any location. Their campaign of the Impossible Whopper at Burger King signalled to potential users that anyone could try an Impossible Burger now. The presence in supermarkets also helped move usage from restaurant to home.

Simultaneously, the company dropped the price to close the gap with meat. With more people gaining access to Impossible Foods’ “meat”, the company has continued to expand to all sectors of the population. And they slowly built on their initial success to send out the message that being an Impossible Foods customer meant becoming part of a social movement to change the world: consumption empowers people by being part of a project bigger than themselves.

Create habits by expanding and anchoring their products in local food-culture

Impossible has built occasions around its product through cultural reinvention and creating new meat substitutes more adapted to certain regions or food traditions. Their products will be easy to use in dishes like pasta bolognaise or tacos, integrating the brand into consumption habits and repurchasing.

The company has already launched the Impossible sausage and other foods like Impossible fish. Step by step, they are making it easy for people to forgo traditional animal products for plant-based ones. Its products have now expanded to new geographies outside the US, and can be purchased in 5 countries around the world.[4]

Conclusion: Future Growth for Impossible Foods

Beyond having developed an “impossible” product, what is remarkable in the Impossible Foods story is their sense of managing priorities, and focusing on changing their target audience’s (“the meat lovers”) beliefs and behaviours without using traditional mass marketing.

By dealing with people’s behavioural triggers and barriers one step at a time, combined with a smart use of partnerships, places and collective movements, they have created an adoption curve at incredible speed. In designing the relevant mental associations, they have started to change social norms among the most influential groups of meat-lovers (including millennials).

They are claiming to now move into more personalized marketing. Beyond taste, Impossible will be targeting messages addressing the various subsegment’s concerns: stressing either versatility or convenience and to a lesser extent, sustainability or nutritional reinsurance. But without a one size fits all approach.

Impossible is bound to see some reaction from “real” meat fanatics and from opponents’ campaigns trying to denigrate their product ingredients. The meat industry has already started trying to protect the term “meat” for what is real meat. But by shaping the narrative on what is important to people and to the planet, Impossible has managed to turn their product weaknesses into the lesser of two evils, while keeping a strong competitive advantage: a crave-able taste.

So what about your plant-based innovation?  Are you sure you have chosen the right behavioural mission? Did you crack the deep-seated reasons why people would switch? How would you plan a launch without classical advertising? To find inspiration, apply Behavioural Science to your launch ideas: reach out to see how deep behavioural insights can supercharge your R&D and marketing.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tXErqhPHfw

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/267074/percentage-americans-vegetarian.aspx

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666318313874



How Behavioral Science can Supercharge (your) Brand Positioning

Positioning: a science of perception?

The art of positioning was created by Al Ries & Jack Trout in the early 80’s with their book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”  (Ries & Trout, 1985), during the golden age of television and mass-retail. Their method would suggest that positioning is about “manipulating what’s already in the mind”, “retying connections that already exist” and “finding an open hole in the mind and become the first brand to fill it”. In some sense, their approach was an anticipation of the Brain System 1 metaphor: the intuitive system that behavioural scientists explore in order to show how most of our decisions are rapidly made: by activating simple associations and heuristics.

Here is an example of a typical brand positioning statement:

Figure 1: Brand Positioning Statement © Beloved Brands

In terms of advertising strategy, Ries and Trout would insist on having a brand associated with only one key word in the prospect’s mind, acknowledging that simplicity always beats complexity in the way people sort brands in their head. They would also recommend  “hammering” the message with multiple repetition to make sure it gets in (when TV was the dominant medium). This way, people would make instant associations that build differentiation and preferences such as: “Avis, we try harder”, “Nike just do it”, or “M&M melts in your mouth, not in your hands”.

Ries and Trout’s influence on marketing practices has been tremendous, and positioning statements are now classic frameworks that can be found in brand bibles – next to brand missions, purpose, values and other equity assets. Derived frameworks are still in use today, and they have been recycled to help start-ups formulate their “elevator” pitch (Moore, 2014).

However, this approach of betting only on influencing preference by manipulating perceptions, has led brand managers to focus on talking about themselves (“my product, my benefit, my difference”) and less about how they help their consumers. We have therefore seen big organizations slowly allowing brand stories to develop further away from product reality or retail experience – consequently leaving room for new competitors to fill this gap.

Positioning is all about behavior

With digital transformation and new ways of reaching consumers in a media landscape dramatically changing, new models have emerged. New players have started to disrupt traditional markets where product differentiation had become minimal, and pricing overly expensive. Many legacy brands didn’t see the threat as they were still competing on brand stories to defend their competitive advantage while relying too much on premiumisation strategies (e.g. the 6th blade on the razor) to drive value…

Figure 2: Game Storming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Gamechangers © Gray, Brown & Macanufo (2012)

The Journey from Shopper Insights to Behavioral Science


A roadmap for transforming insights using a combination of ethnography and experimentation

This article was originally published on the Behavioural Design Hub.

I spent the first 20 years of my career in Shopper Insights, leading Perception Research Services (PRS) and later PRS IN VIVO. And if I’m to generalize across many clients and studies, the most consistent theme that I observed was the gap between what people said — and what they actually did. Time and again, we’d ask people about new products– and perhaps 30%-40% would claim high levels of Purchase Interest (i.e. “Definitely Would Buy”). Yet shoppers would later visit our physical or virtual, simulated stores — and consistently walk right past the product and purchase their familiar brand.

My efforts to understand this disconnect are what led me to Behavioral Science. And now, I’ve come to realize that this journey represents both a roadmap and an opportunity for revitalizing and repositioning the Insights function.

“…the most consistent theme that I observed was the gap between what people said — and what they actually did.”

Transforming Insights

Behavioral Science has so many implications for consumer research and human understanding that it’s truly difficult to know where to begin. Many Insights professionals focus on the idea of “System 1” decision making, which leads them to abandon traditional tools – and search for new methods to measure visceral, emotional response to marketing communications. The concepts of human irrationality, heuristics and the “intent to action gap” resonate for others, who may question the value of asking people questions – and increasingly rely on behavioral data, which is more prevalent and available than ever before.

There’s clearly some validity to these interpretations: Behavioral Science does teach us that people are unreliable witnesses to their own preferences and behavior. Thus, we can’t simply ask them questions and take their responses at face-value. And there’s definite wisdom in focusing on what people actually do, as opposed to what they say, claim or predict.

However, we should also keep in mind that Big Data has its limitations as well: Sales figures and clickstreams can tell us what happened, but they rarely tell us why. For example, did people see and consciously reject a new product or offer? Or did they never even consider it, as they quickly defaulted to their familiar brand or choice? As importantly, sales data doesn’t tell us what would have happened, if the environment and situation were slightly different. These limitations point to two major opportunities to transform the insights function, through Ethnography and Experimentation.

“Sales figures and clickstreams can tell us what happened, but they rarely tell us why.”

Placing Ethnography at the Forefront

Behavioral Science tells us that people’s choices are often driven by their need to reduce their cognitive load. In other words, we all take “shortcuts” to save energy and simplify our lives. It then follows that so many of our choices – particularly for more frequent and low-risk purchases – are driven by what’s easiest. This is exactly what stacks the odds against new ideas: It’s simply much easier for a person to buy his or her familiar “good-enough” brand, rather than invest time and energy comparing dozens of options – or deciding whether or not a making a change is worth the risk.

Even when people would truly like to make a change – to eat healthier, for example – they find that “micro-barriers” (in the form of existing habits and heuristics) often stand in the way. Therefore, creating awareness, developing new features and even “convincing” people (through compelling advertising) is often not enough to change their behavior. Instead, it requires uncovering and removing the “micro-barriers” that stand in the way. This requires understanding the patterns – at home, online or in-store– that lead them to their current choices and behaviors. And the good news (for Insights professionals) is that there’s a multitude of new ways (via social networks, apps and more) to quickly and inexpensively observe and better understand people’s behavior patterns.

This is what leads us to ethnography: Because these patterns are often so automatic and sub-conscious (“System 1”), people are unlikely to verbalize them. We can’t simply ask questions. Instead, we need to deeply observe, through the lens of habits and micro-barriers. And while ethnography might not be an entirely new concept or discipline, Behavioral Science suggests that it deserves a refresh – and a far more central role within the Insights function.

“[Changing behavior]… requires uncovering and removing the “micro-barriers” that stand in the way”

Accelerating Experimentation

A second enormous takeaway from Behavioral Science is that relatively small changes in context (“choice architecture”) can have a disproportionately large impact on people’s decisions. Thus, the best path to driving sales is not always a new feature or benefit, nor even a discount. Simply “framing” options differently – or making a specific offer more salient – can potentially have just as powerful an effect. This speaks directly to the importance (and necessity) of continually trying new approaches (new messages, new offers, new presentations, etc.) to gauge how they impact consumer behavior. Or to borrow from Harvard Professors Mike Luca and Max Bazerman, it speaks to The Power of Experiments.

In the words of my own colleague Richard Chataway, organizations need to adopt “test tube behaviors” and an experimentation mentality, just as Amazon, Google, Netflix and other tech giants continually A/B test new screens. Of course, testing can be more expensive and time-consuming in the physical world, which presents a challenge for Insights teams. On one hand, they clearly need to lower these barriers and reduce the cost of experimentation. On the other, they have a responsibility to avoid simply automating weak methods that are not predictive (i.e. to get the wrong answers faster!).

To navigate this dilemma, the most important principles are to retain context and measure choice. So rather than exposing people to products, concepts or ideas in isolation, ensure that they are always being asked to make decisions, in the context of a shelf, a web site or perhaps an app. In other words, the challenge is to make contextual, behavioral approaches more agile and affordable, as opposed to making the wrong decisions, more quickly.

“…organizations need to adopt “test tube behaviors” and an experimentation mentality”

Leading the Organization

Ethnography and experimentation are more internally focused, in that they represent opportunities to evolve and enhance the Insights function. Yet Behavioral Science also presents a larger opportunity, to change the role of Insights within the organization – and ultimately help counter the current dynamic (of reduced budgets and increased demands) facing many research teams.

That’s because Behavioral Science has clear, proven applications throughout the organization, from Marketing and Sales to Human Resources and Operations. In fact, behavioral science interventions (“Nudges”) have been applied successfully to change both:

  • Consumer, customer or guest behavior (“Nudge Marketing”)
  • Organizational processes and employee behavior (“Nudge Management”)

It’s also quite clear that Insights is the natural “home” of Behavioral Science within the organization, given its deep roots in human understanding (i.e. ethnography) and its emphasis on testing-and-learning (i.e. experimentation). This points to a major opportunity for Insights to become the internal “champions” of a transformative new mindset, by helping to educate other teams – and accompanying them as they experiment in developing and testing interventions to change behaviors.

Taking on this leadership role will not simply involve an additional set of tasks and responsibilities: Importantly, it can lead to a change in perception, by linking Insights more directly to behavior change and ROI. Rather than being viewed as a cost center, Insights can become a visible partner in driving growth, by helping other teams develop and test interventions to drive specific behaviors.

In fact, this is exactly the journey on which we’ve recently embarked with the global Insights team of a major consumer goods marketer. After completing successful ad-hoc projects together, we’re now launching in-depth Behavioral Science training for 40+ Insights professionals, serving several different brand teams. The initial focus will be on the Insights function itself: How can we apply Behavioral Science to revisit our tools and revitalize our work? However, our ultimate goal is to prepare and re-position the Insights team within the organization, as Internal consultants who will help marketing, sales and design teams to apply and leverage Behavioral Science.

Coming Full Circle

When I joined the BVA Nudge Consulting, I felt that I was “leaving” the world of Insights for Behavioral Science. Several years later, I’ve come to realize that this is hardly the case. For while I’ve been fortunate to apply Behavioral Science to a wide variety of sectors and challenges, I’ve actually come “full circle” professionally. Increasingly, I find myself working with Insights teams, helping them apply Behavioral Science to their work – and to reposition Insights within their organizations. I find it satisfying that so many leaders have recognized and embraced this vision, as Behavioral Science represents an inspiring path forward for Insights within a rapidly changing world.

This article was written by Scott Young, author and speaker on behavioral science and consumer insights. Applying BeSci for good in the private sector at the BVA Nudge Consulting.

The Behavioural Economics of Time

In the final paragraph of Misbehaving, Nobel laureate Richard Thaler foretells the disappearance of behavioural economics, when “all economics will be as behavioural as it needs to be”. This is not surprising.  Economics is concerned with choices around optimum allocation of scarce resources and mutually beneficial trade, two key determinants of people’s behaviour; behavioural science seeks to explain people’s behaviour by understanding how they choose to allocate scarce resources and to trade with each other.


Money is an obvious example of a scarce resource that is used to facilitate trading, but there is another scarce resource that interacts in perhaps an even more profound manner with our behaviour: time. There is little doubt that it is scarce – if I had got a dollar for every time I heard someone (and myself!) wish they had more time, I’d probably be able to afford to pay someone else to write this post.

Time is (like) money

Because of this scarcity, we experience several similarities between time and money. One of those is a phenomenon known as mental accounting. We tend to categorize income and expenditure in our head, and distinguish between a dollar earmarked for eating out and one intended for buying groceries, or a dollar received as a gift (or a tax refund) and one earned as part of our salary. We tend to do the same with time. Sometimes the categorization is imposed by social norms or physical constraints – we can only go to the shops when they’re open, and have Zoom calls with people eight time zones away when they are awake.


But even if that is not the case, we don’t treat all minutes in the same way. Imagine two near-identical car journeys of 200km, which takes us typically between an 1h 45 and 2h 15, depending on what traffic is like. On the first journey, the road is quite busy, but there are no incidents, and we realize an average speed of 100 km/h, arriving after exactly two hours. On the second one, there is very little traffic so we comfortably average 110km/h, on course to arrive after about 1 h 50. Then, less than 1 km from our destination, we get stuck behind broken-down car. The whole episode costs us ten minutes, making the journey exactly as long as the first one: two hours. Yet our perception is very different. Ten minutes spread out over the entire journey is added to the general ‘travel time’ mental account, while ten minutes specifically associated with a blocked street goes to the ‘incident delay’ account. To make matters worse, the intensity of our annoyance with the delay is much greater than that of the pleasure we were anticipating in arriving ten minutes ‘early’. That is a case loss aversion, something that is also generally associated with material goods or money, but which clearly applies just as much to time.


Another phenomenon that we can observe with time as much as with money is anchoring. Say we need to discuss something with a colleague and we want to set up a meeting. “How much time do we need,” she asks, “two hours?” At that point, unless we had a very strong reason to insist on a different duration, we are very likely to stick with her suggestion, or something very close. Along similar lines we find the default effect, facilitated by calendars which for years have helpfully suggested that a meeting should last 1 hour unless otherwise specified. Even though both Outlook and Google Calendar have long been offering 30-minute slots by default, I bet that the vast majority of meetings in your diary are at least one hour long. But why round up to 30 minutes, and not consider 20 minutes, or 45 minutes? How often is a meeting finished early, and how much time do we really waste by filling all the time?


Time is (not like) money



There are also differences between time and money. Maybe one of the reasons why we tend to be less careful with our time than with our money is that time appears to come for free: every day when we wake up, there is another 16 hours awake ahead of us. Just like in a Monopoly game, all we need to do is pass Go, and we don’t even have to worry about going to jail, or having to go back a number of steps. Things that appear free feel less precious. 


But of course, time is valuable, and we can benefit from allocating it better. The challenge is that, unlike its material companion money, it is fleeting: it passes, and we cannot – as the late Jim Croce used to sing – save time in a bottle and use it later. We need to use what we have right now. When it’s gone it’s gone.  


There is a way in which we might improve our use of time, though. When we see a $50 dollar bill in our wallet, we would not normally look for a way to spend it as quickly as possible. But that is precisely what might help us be more efficient with our time. When we have half an hour, or even just five minutes, available – what can we spend it usefully on? Small tasks – reply to an email, check the train times, locate an old a file on our computer – can be efficiency killers if we engage in them at random, but if we slot them in small fragments of time that would otherwise just be wasted, we have done ourselves a favour. 



This idea – doing someone a favour – is perhaps the way in which time is the most valuable. We can offer our time to someone else, because time, like money, can be used to trade, but it is less like a commercial transaction, and more like trading favours. When we need some help – whether at work or in our private lives – what others really give us is their time. Resolving a customer query, telling a colleague about an experience you’ve had that is relevant to what they’re working on, checking over a report, offering to cook dinner even though it’s not your turn, giving someone a lift and making a detour to drop them at their doorstep to save them walking through the pouring rain… you name it – always, the currency in which the favour is made is time.  



And that sacrifice of time, the ultimate scarce resource, people make to serve someone else is a very significant behavioural signal. Giving other people our time – more than any material exchange – is not just a lubricant for social interaction, but can build up social capital and loyalty, enhance our reputation and activate reciprocity, one of the strongest determining factors of human behaviour. We are more likely to remember that someone sacrificed fifteen minutes of their time to help us, than that they took us out for lunch.



The beauty is that, every morning, everyone receives an endowment of time, some of which we can spend on others. It’s up to us to decide how, and for whom, we spend it. 




This article was written by Koen Smets, an Organizational Development Consultant and an accidental Behavioural Economisand trusted Senior Advisor at the BVA Nudge Consulting.




Testing & Learning in the Physical World

In his book The Behaviour Business, our BVA Nudge Consulting colleague Richard Chataway highlights the importance of “test tube behaviors.” By this, he means that companies need to adopt a test-and-learn culture, in which they are continually introducing new ideas and learning from the actual behavior of their customers. To illustrate this point, he shares examples from Google, Amazon and Netflix, illustrating how these leading companies of 21st Century are applying behavioral science – and an ongoing commitment to experimentation, testing and data-driven decisions – to optimize services and encourage/influence specific customer behaviors.