How are your influencing tactics?

If you’re watching the World Cup at the moment you’ll hear lots about tactics.


Every team thinks hard and prepares for their next match by understanding their opposition, and deciding what tactics are most likely to help them achieve their objective – to win!


A key part of those tactics involves psychology. But how is that relevant to Insight?


Well, in a way, any Insight team is engaged in an ongoing influencing game. Insight teams have little or no direct control of what a business does. It can only make change happen by influencing stakeholders. And just like winning in sport, driving change is an Insight team’s objective.


So do you actually think about what tactics you will use to maximise your chances of success? Of course you’ll do good work, and present your case well. But that’s just like in sport relying solely on playing well. In fact, in the world of influencing, it is psychology that needs to come to the fore, best done through the use of Behavioural Economics.


Every Insight team is aware of Behavioural Economics as a discipline, but most likely in the context of how to influence consumers. Most of marketing has been based on psychological influencing ever since it started. Behavioural Economics (BE) is now just the name given to making those processes more scientific.


So how can an Insight team apply Behavioural Economics to actively improve the way they influence stakeholders? Does it need a detailed analysis of behaviour from a trained BE specialist? Is it really only justified in cases where major projects need to be landed?


Actually, you’ll be pleased to know that BE is something you can apply day in, day out, in everything you do.


How to use Behavioural Economics every day


Everyone can learn to apply BE every day. You don’t need to be an expert. All you need to do is follow one simple mnemonic – EAST.


For those who have read a bit about BE, you’ll know that it is all about exploiting cognitive biases. But if you look up a list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia you get a list of over 170! So how do you work your way through that? Well, the Government’s Behavioural Insight Team (now an independent organisation), led by David Halpern, developed the EAST approach to hugely simplify everything.


EAST stands for Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely.


Whether you’re simply writing an email, or you’re delivering a lengthy presentation, if your objective is to get someone to do something, then all you have to do is ask:

  • Am I making it easy?
  • Is the behaviour I’m asking for going to be attractive?
  • Can I somehow bring social pressure to bear?
  • Am I asking at the right time and making the benefits as immediate as possible?


Make it Easy

People are always less likely to take action if there is any element of hassle or difficulty. So with something as simple as an email, is it easy to read, and are the messages clear?


If you need to drive change that involves quite a lot of work, can you break it down into a few easy steps so that it looks much easier? Can you give someone a ‘default’ option so they just have to say “Yes” – rather like installing software.


Simply putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes and asking yourself if the thing you are asking for is simple to do, and the way you’re asking is simple to absorb, will typically reveal several basic changes that will make you more effective. Many of us have a tendency to overcomplicate!


Make it Attractive

It goes without saying that people are more likely to take action if there is a personal benefit. Equally, it can be just as persuasive if the results of not taking action are unattractive.


For stakeholders in a business context, perhaps the most persuasive thing is if the results of the action you want them to take can be shown to help them meet their own KPIs or personal objective. Likewise, pointing out the potential negative consequences of inaction can have a strong impact. Clearly these things cannot be too blatant, often a hint is enough.


But there are other subtle techniques available, such as the ‘IKEA effect’. As the name suggests it is about getting a stakeholder to decide for themselves what action is needed as they are always more committed to something they have ‘built’ themselves.


Make it Social

Humans are social animals, strongly influenced by the actions and opinions of those around them. So letting a stakeholder know that others in their peer group have taken action will encourage them to fulfil their own obligations. Sometimes it is good to let them know that what you’re asking has been done by another organisation to good effect can also be persuasive.


But a key way of driving action is to get people to make a commitment to others. So actions agreed, in front of peers, are more likely to be acted on than those made separately.


Make it Timely

Clearly, simply asking for action at the right time will be more effective than asking either after it is too late, or so long in advance that there is no sense of immediacy. But it goes beyond that.


Simple prompts and reminders are very effective – in just the same way that post-it notes stuck to the fridge can have an impact.


But also breaking down tasks into elements and setting out a plan with timescales and deadlines will also help to drive action (as well as helping to Make it Easy).



Further information and reading

Clearly, the more you learn about BE, the more ideas and techniques you’ll spot. But the beauty of EAST is that you don’t need to be an expert. It is simple common sense, and it gives you a framework on which to build.


We would recommend to all that they read as widely as possible around the subject of BE, with books such as Thinking Fast and Slow, Misbehaving, Predictably Irrational, Nudge – all being good reads.


But specifically on EAST we would recommend you read this paper published by the Behavioural Insight Team. It is well written and very informative.


Finally, if you would like to find out more about how to improve your team's capability to influence stakeholders, our best practice report Insight Management to Influence Decision Makers provides detailed guidance.