Friday, February 14, 2014

commitment devices

Some readers will no doubt be familiar with The Rule of Reciprocity, often cited as a way to improve conversions and suchlike.

The formula is usually described as follows:

Give something away — a gift, a service, valuable information, assistance — to create in the other person a feeling of indebtedness.

In theory the recipient of the favour will then be more inclined to comply with a subsequent request from the initial giver.

In most circumstances it's the person or company that gives first that is then in control.

The next task is to maintain that control and then use it to your benefit.

Like most of these kind of rules it's never 100%, but seems to play out a decent amount of times.

When it doesn't work, one typical predictor of failure is when the initial 'gift' on offer is something that has no real value to the recipient or is difficult to redeem in some way.

As in behaviour change 101, the two key factors in moving behaviour are:

1. Understanding the motivating factors in the situation of the subject.
2. Make the new behaviour easy to adopt.

To address the motivator point, it's been shown that often the most effective incentives are the ones that show that the company offering the incentive has gone through some sort of extra effort in order to provide this incentive.

For instance, a software company rewarding survey responses with a supermarket gift card may seem like a decent incentive.

But rewarding the behaviour by offering to send a cleaner round to the prospects office once a month has required significantly more percieved effort on the side of the giver.

I've often used Rory Sutherland's 'flowers and jewellery as commitment device' example in describing this to clients.

In the clip below Rory himself gives an extended riff on the point, just in time for Valentines day.

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