If you want people to do something, make it easy.
Sound advice from behavioral economist Richard Thaler, who won a Nobel Prize for “humanizing economics.” Thaler’s main thesis is that people don’t fit into classic economic models and often respond with emotion, not reason. One of the many human quirks Thaler identifies is an unwillingness to deal with complexity – or busy work.
In a 2009 column for The New York Times, Thaler wrote most people are willing to be organ donors, but don’t bother to fill out the forms. Donation rates would increase, he said, by simply forcing a choice or making the choice easy with a smartphone app.
Thaler said retirement savings rates would improve by making it easier for workers to save. To overcome the barrier of procrastination, he recommended creating retirement plans with automatic enrollment for workers, with an ability to opt-out. The Oregon legislature took Thaler’s advice and established OregonSaves, which is in its second year and already has 18,000 participating workers who save on average $103 per month.
Marketers and issue managers who want people to do something would be well advised to take Thaler’s observations to heart. The easier you make a customer journey or requested action, the more likely people will oblige.
The four Ps of marketing – product, price, place and promotion – form the basis for sound marketing strategies. However, customers may shy away from the product they want at a price they are willing to pay if the purchase is too messy or difficult. Long lines, indifferent service and clunky websites can discourage an otherwise eager consumer.
The same is true in the world of issues. You can explain until you are blue in the face that a construction project will ultimately be good for a neighborhood, but the short-term inconvenience may turn rational people into a community of discontent.
Buying a car has a well-earned reputation for being a disagreeable experience that takes too long and often feels manipulative and murky. Car dealers have responded by making it easier to find the car you want and buy it without wasting an entire weekend.
Politicians are constantly asking for campaign contributions, but many potential donors find it a hassle to drag out their checkbooks to write a $15 check. Campaigns now make it easier for donors to contribute online.
Retailers can simplify their customer journeys with self-checkout, free home delivery and easy-to-navigate online checkout. The issue manager on that contentious construction project can talk to neighbors, identify specific concerns and agree, for example, to limit construction hours and avoid truck traffic when children are going to and coming back from school.
Basing marketing strategy on price and value is smart. But it is smarter to recognize customers dislike a shopping hassle.
Developing solid content and persuasive arguments is essential to an effective issues campaign. But it is prudent to understand that people get confused or distracted with too much detail.
“Easy” should be a routine element of any strategy. Making something easy sells and convinces. Making something easy removes complications and excuses. Making something easy is a value many people can’t and won’t resist.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.