Motivation, ability and trigger. And a dash of colour…

[Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass at Flickr Creative Commons]

I’ve been reading a lot lately about smartphone addiction. 

Not because I’m in any danger of being addicted to mine. I realised quite some time ago that I was in an ‘at risk’ category (easily distracted, that is) and uninstalled Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a few other apps that pinged and beeped, and constantly cried out for my attention.

But still, I’m still fascinated to know what makes them so attractive.

And partly, I know the answer – triggers, actions, variable rewards and investments – having read Nir Eyal’s compelling book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products a couple of years ago.

Eyal was part of the so-called ‘Facebook class’ at Stanford back in 2007, taught by BJ Fogg, founder of the university’s Persuasive Tech Lab. In just 10 weeks Eyal and his classmates collectively attracted 16 million users and $1m in advertising revenue by developing irresistible apps. They later went on to work for Uber, Google and and Facebook.

Their teacher invented a formula (B=mat) to capture that irresistibility, which he modestly called BJ Fogg’s Behavioral Model. It analyses the reasons why people take action and why they don’t. Why some triggers work, and others fail. 

And it’s become the formula of reference for a generation of app developers in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Make it easy and make that sale

In plain English, B=mat translates as behaviour = motivation, ability and trigger.

Motivation can be high or low, and the task can be easy or difficult, and Fogg draws a curve that shows just where the sweet spot is.  If people are really motivated, the trigger will work, even if the task is difficult to do. If they’re not motivated, they’ll do it only if it’s easy.

This behavioural model isn’t just an app thing – it applies to everything.

If you really need to learn a language, because without that you can’t get a job in your adopted country, you’ll learn pretty fast, however hard the language is. And conversely, if learning a language is simply so you can chat with the locals on your holiday and order a meal, you’ll probably never get fluent, however easy the language is.

And if you want your customers or prospects to do something, then you’ve got to make them feel there’s a good reason to take action, such as: 

  • a time-limited offer
  • scarcity
  • getting in before anybody else does
  • preferential treatment

You’ve also got to ensure that barrier to action is low:

  • multiple ways to take advantage of the offer – email/online form/call/visit
  • prompt service and quick turnaround
  • complete support and after-sales service
  • no-quibble returns or cancellation

So here’s an exercise for you. Take another look at your website copy, or that sales brochure, or product sheet, or case study.

Does it create a need that inspires people to take action? Or even better, does it tap into an existing need that your audience has? The only way to know that is to find out what their needs are, so you’re writing for them, not you.

Because once they see that you understand them, they’ll keep reading. 

Bite-sized copy

Another barrier to getting people to take action is how easy you make the process sound, and your copy plays a big part in that.

Just a few weeks ago, I gave a client (who’s also a friend, so I was perhaps a little more frank than I would normally be) some feedback on copy. Way too much, difficult to wade through, not an easy read, written from the writer’s perspective.

That actually describes a lot of copy out there: visually indigestible in a world that’s become hooked on the simplicity of apps. So cut it down and chunk it so it’s bite-sized. Add headings, summary boxes, bullets and anything else that will help the reader through the copy. 

Place the barrier low, and they’ll easily get over it. 

And one last thing: add some colour to your copy, either literally – like the green headings on this post – or metaphorically, by using colourful language that appeals to the senses. (And if you’re in any doubt about the attractiveness of colour, here’s an experiment for you: switch your smartphone to grayscale. You’ll be amazed how instantly unattractive it becomes, and how much less time you spend on  it.)

So a little less colour on your device, and a little more colour in your writing. And always make it easy for your readers. Because easy means lots more clients.

Or e=mc2

What a shame that’s already taken – I could have named it after myself.