Just before summer started, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work on our conversion skills with a crash course in behavioural design by a Dutch company called Buyerminds. In three months, this Design Academy explains the major principles of how to influence online behaviour and provoke the desired behaviour from customers.

As news media professionals, we wanted to learn how to create a more permanent conversion flow, engage and activate readers on our news platforms, and interact with customers for better retention. The course consisted of a 12-week Webinar and weekly case study to put the principles into practice.

The theory is based on a model from BJ Fogg, a behavioural psychologist at Stanford University. His thesis is behaviour is subject to three variables: motivation, ability, and trigger. The more people are motivated, the more likely they will be attracted to your product or read your newsletter.

If people are motivated to complete an action and know what to do, they are more likely to act.
If people are motivated to complete an action and know what to do, they are more likely to act.

But that’s not enough. Customers must also be able to perform this behaviour. They must know what to do during a visit; they must find right buttons to push.

And finally, behaviour is set off by an external stimulus, called a trigger. This is something that puts customers in motion. They are teased or tempted by a signal to act now, so motivation and ability alone won’t do. But a trigger will only work if customers have a high motivation and are able to perform the behaviour we want.

Here are some takeaways from the Webinar that are immediately applicable that my colleagues and I found really useful.

1. Principle of scarcity: If you really want to touch your customer’s sweet spot, convince him he might not necessarily get what he wants if a doesn’t react swiftly. A temporary or limited offer has a benign effect on the potential buyer’s motivation. Booking.com has excellent examples of promoting accommodation by urging its visitors with scarcity.

Booking.com does an excellent job of indicating scarcity of its product.
Booking.com does an excellent job of indicating scarcity of its product.

2. Zeigarnik Effect: A Russian Gestalltpsychologist found people have stronger memories from uncompleted tasks than completed tasks. So, if you map out what is incomplete, visitors will be more tempted to make it to the finish. 

The checkout process for De Tijd, a financial newspaper, outlines four easy steps to sign up for a subscription.
The checkout process for De Tijd, a financial newspaper, outlines four easy steps to sign up for a subscription.

3. Ability: Let the customer perform the desired behaviour: Once a customer is browsing your Web pages, you want to push him in the right direction of the sales funnel. One dominant button on the page instead of different interfering buttons always makes a task easier. Airbnb does this excellently on the accommodation’s detailed page. Pressing the “Request to Book” button is the only way to proceed; the rest is text and image.

Airbnb makes it clear there is only one way to move forward in its process.
Airbnb makes it clear there is only one way to move forward in its process.

4. Trigger: How to set a customer in motion: A trigger is an external signal pushing the customer to act right away. The classic example is an alarm that triggers getting out of bed. For news media, it can be an exceptional promotion such as “World Cup Promotion: Get a €400 discount on an LED television with your subscription,” or “One extra free month added to your subscription for each goal made by the national football team.” (Luckily for subscribers, Belgians’ national football team made 16 goals.)

It can also be a simple question in an ad, tempting the customer to continue the visit — “Is your television good enough to watch the World Cup?” — before offering a subscription with the LED television. Or something even something like “Do you know the difference between real journalism and your Facebook News Feed?” It pushes the reader to continue reading.

5. Jenga: A valuable lesson I remember for our future Web site development is the absolute care needed for simple and essential copywriting. Don’t use more words than necessary on your subscription pages, and try to be as concise as possible. After the copywriting, trim the text as much as possible without reducing its meaning.

Like a Jenga puzzle, pull out the redundant pieces, but keep the building straight. Why say “Get access to the articles on the Web site and the news app” if you can reduce it to “Get all access?”