Behavior Secret to Getting People to Take a Desired Action

behavior - the marketing bit

What is the secret to getting people to do your online bidding?

I’ll explain it in a minute.  First, let’s connect the dots between behavior and marketing.

Behavior and Marketing

The purpose behind absolutely every piece of marketing – online and offline – is to get someone to take some action. You may want your audience to:

  • Form a new or familiar behavior – do a new action (e.g. sign-up, visit, comment, share, order, donate, vote, enter, etc.)
  • Change an existing behavior – increase or decrease their actions (e.g. more exercise, less eating or drinking, less online stalking and more participation, etc.)
  • Eliminate an existing behavior (e.g. stop smoking, stop taking drugs, or stop texting while driving, etc.)

But how do you change people’s natural habits and get them to take the action you want?

You need to understand HOW behaviors are initially formed.

The best person to explain how behaviors are formed is Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg.  As the founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, he focuses on “methods for creating habits, showing what causes behavior, automating behavior change, and persuading people via mobile phones.

According to Fogg, there is a very simple, yet powerful, formula that shows exactly HOW behaviors are formed. This gives us a window into how we can change or create behaviors.

Behavior and Marketing - Fogg Formula

B = the desired behavior

t = Triggers stimulate the desired action

m = Motivation to take the desired action.

a = Ability to take the desired action

The premise behind the Fogg formula is that for a behavior to be created or changed, all three elements (triggers, ability and motivation) must be present.

Asking people to do something that they find challenging spells frustration.

Asking them to do something they aren’t motivated to do is downright annoying.

Asking them to do something when they are motivated and able will create or alter behavior.  Your sweet spot.

As you can see in the chart below, you have to get the sequence of these three elements in the right order and at the right time to generate the desired behavior.


Behavior - Triggers

Low motivation and low ability is NOT going to alter behavior easily.  Neither is high motivation with low ability.

As motivation and ability increases, so does your ability of creating the desired behavior.

While you may think this formula is too simple to work, you’d be wrong.  This formula is or is fast becoming the standard in behavioral design and is demonstrated frequently online – every time you use Google, Facebook, and Instagram or play many of the more popular game apps.

How Can You Work Fogg’s Behavior Formula?

1.  Identify the desired Behavior

First, you need to understand and select what type of behavior you want to create.   This is where BJ’s behavior matrix comes in handy.  These behaviors are then divided into three different time frames:

  • Dot = one time,
  • Span = for a period of time or
  • Path = from now on. 

Here is the Fogg Behavior Matrix:

Fogg's Behavior Matrix

Fogg’s Behavior Matrix

You can find out more the Fogg Behavior Matrix by visiting the Behavior Wizard (link below this post) where you will also find out about how you can achieve the different types of behaviors.

2.  Determine the appropriate Motivation for the desired behavior

Motivators are defined by the Fogg Model into three categories.

Pleasure / Pain – These are immediate motivators.  People are not thinking, they’re just reacting to whatever is happening in the moment.  Think ‘impulse purchases’ in the grocery store checkout line or white knuckles in the dentist’s chair.

Hope / Fear – These motivators are self-explanatory and based on feelings of anticipation.  Hope is the thought of something good happening and fear is the thought of something bad.

People are naturally hopeful when they invest in a stock that it will rise and naturally fearful when they accept software updates.

According to Fogg ‘hope’ can be a very empowering and ethical motivator, but it has to be used in the right context.

Social Acceptance / Rejection – It is human nature to do what is socially acceptable and tapping into this motivation can be very powerful.

Rejection can be a strong motivator as well. Think of the Quakers and their shunning practice when children leave the religion or having your mortgage application rejected.  The tendency is to avoid situations where rejection is a possibility.

Per Fogg, don’t bother to try to ramp up motivation. Rather, tap into the existing motivation of your audience. Motivating people to do something they don’t want to do is tough. It is far better to understand what motivation naturally exists.

3.  Determine Your Audience’s Ability

If your audience can’t afford to buy your product, figure out how to make it easy for them to afford it.

A great example of mastering the ability piece of the behavior formula is OPB.  It  offers its donors many payment plans at a variety of different donation levels.  This way it captures more donations from a wide variety of people at different ability levels.

It is far easier to expand the ability of people to take action than it is to increase motivation.

4.  Decide on the Trigger(s)

You can’t alter or create behavior without a fitting trigger. Triggers are your calls to action, your green light to step on the gas.

Your goal is to make the trigger super, super easy to do.

There are hot and cold triggers.  ‘Hot’ triggers are those that provide immediate pleasure (e.g. immediate download or instant access buttons).  Cold triggers are delayed until sometime in the future.

When it comes to web design, BJ Fogg recommends you:

Your Turn

How can you use BJ Fogg’s formula to make your website convert more?

How can you use his formula to capture more email subscribers?

How can you use it to generate more leads?

Do you know enough about your audience to identify their motivation, their abilities or the appropriate triggers?


BJ Fogg’s website

Persuasive Technology Lab

Behavior Model – what causes behavior

Behavior Wizard – Behavior Matrix and how to change behaviors

Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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