Behavioral Science Consulting

Behavioral Science Consulting

Why you should work with a Behavioral Strategist—Not a Behavioral Scientist or Behavioral Economist

I have a unique approach to behavior change and consumer psychology problems based on over a decade of applied behavioral science experience.

My approach is called Behavioral Strategy, and is focused on integrating behavioral insights into the strategic planning portion of new products and initiatives. The goal of a Behavioral Strategy project is achieving Behavior Market Fit, which is when you’ve chosen a behavior that is useful, doable, compelling, and rewarding for your target audience that also achieves your business objectives. 

To do this, we undergo a Behavioral Research and Behavior Matching process that allows us to understand our target audience and select the right behavior for them. This behavior then becomes the focus of any products or services that we go on to create.

Most behavioral science interventions have no impact

If you’re interested in working with someone who will come in and make small tweaks to your product or project, I’m not your person. Small tweaks (sometimes called “nudges”) do not work, no matter what other behavioral scientists or consultants may tell you. Save your money. 

The often impressive case studies they present are usually the result of poor experimental design, cherry picking, and small sample sizes. The best evidence we have shows that small-change interventions (“nudges”) will move your outcome variable by 1.4% on average

You don’t need a behavioral scientist to achieve these sorts of effect sizes. Any team member can get the same results for far less money. The research predicts that these nudge interventions should have an 8.7% impact. This means the research overstates the effect size by 6x. Remember that whenever you read a behavioral economics paper or are told what to expect by a behavioral science consultant or behavioral science firm.

Here are a few articles I’ve written on this topic (in case you’re interested in reading further):

If you are interested in baking behavioral insights and a focus on behavior into the very fabric of new product or services, let me know. This is the only approach that has a reliable and significant impact on business objectives and long term behavior.

A little about me:

  • I founded the first behavioral science firm in Silicon Valley, which focused on helping startups build better, more engaging products.

  • I studied neuroscience at Stanford University, and was lead researcher in BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. While in the lab, I was involved in the creation of the field now commonly known as Behavior Design (also called Behavioral Design). My work in the lab was featured at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

  • I’ve collaborated extensively with behavioral economist Dan Ariely. We wrote a series of workbooks on how to apply behavioral economics research to marketing and product problems. I also helped Dan design the first version of Kavaanu (later renamed Timeful), which was eventually acquired by Google.

  • I co-founded Walmart’s behavioral science team, and was Global Head of Behavioral Science for the company—applying research to dozens of marketing, product, and store initiatives at the company. Our team was responsible for the new member experience at Sam’s Club, and was integral in the creation of new store concepts (Sam’s Now), in-store order pickup, the in-store return experience, and checkout design.

  • A serial entrepreneur, I’ve had one exit (Kite.io) and am running a fast-growing recruiting and staffing firm (Persona) that uses behavioral science research to recruit more effectively. 

What is the current role of the behavioral sciences in business and product design?

In recent years, companies have become interested in applying the behavioral sciences to customer experience, product design, marketing, change management, and employee engagement problems. Some companies have even applied behavioral science research (from specialized subfields like Behavioral Finance) to financial decisions. 

The belief is that a scientific understanding of human behavior can solve a wide variety of issues. While some behavioral science research is filled with actionable insights, most behavioral science research isn’t easily applicable. In addition, some of the most obviously actionable research has a dubious replication record. 

As covered above, the behavioral economics nudge literature is filled with overstatements, and the impact of these interventions on important outcomes is disappointing at best.

After working in this field for well over a decade, it’s my belief that the behavioral sciences are being misapplied by most consultants and internal behavioral science teams.

The biggest issue is that behavioral science teams and consultants rely on discredited research, or on research that is of dubious quality. For example: behavioral economics nudging, behavioral priming, mindset, ego depletion, etc.

The second biggest issue is that organizations tend to apply behavioral insights to products and company initiatives after the plans have been created—when they have the least potential for impact.

At most companies, behavioral scientists (sometimes called Behavioral Designers) are brought in to review a product after the initial design or first prototype has been created. At this point, it’s usually quite hard to make any substantial changes.

For example, it’s usually hard to get senior executives or a product team to change the feature set of an already roadmapped product. Thus, behavioral science recommendations are usually relegated to small things like copy changes and notification or email changes.

Sometimes behavioral scientists are able to convince the product team to change the onboarding flow or tweak the visual presentation of information inside of the product, but most of these changes are not big enough to have a substantial impact on the success of the product. 

This is one of the many reasons behavioral science teams and consultants are unsuccessful, and why behavioral science teams are quick to be laid off once budget cuts are needed.

Most people with a behavioral science background work for companies in a user research capacity (also known as the user experience (UX) research group). These individuals often collaborate with data and analytics teams in order to build to a detailed picture of customers. With this understanding, they identify issues and opportunities and make recommendations to the product and marketing teams—helping them create an even better customer experience.

Sometimes these recommendations are given before a product is created, in which case they can impact the strategy and core feature set. However, a lot of the time user researchers are brought in to test and troubleshoot a product that has already been planned and built. At this point it’s usually too late to have any meaningful impact.

The right way to apply behavioral science and psychology to business: Behavioral Strategy

Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far:

  • Behavioral science consultants frequently present case studies based on poor experimental design, cherry picked data, and small sample sizes.

  • The largest real-world data sets show that behavioral economics interventions have a 1.4% impact on average (1/6th of what the research claims).

  • A large portion of the most popular and lauded behavioral science research is false.

  • Most companies bring in behavioral scientists to work on projects when their potential to make an impact is lowest (i.e. after product/project planning and v1).

  • Most companies employ behavioral scientists in a research capacity; however, this reduces their ability to impact strategy and key outcomes.

So what are we to make of all this?

A few things:

  1. Don’t hire behavioral economists. The research has a poor track record. Trust what the academic studies say, not what a consultant (with a clear incentive to knowingly or unknowingly misrepresent their findings) says.

  2. Make sure that the behavioral scientists you work with are up to date on the latest research findings and know which studies have failed to replicate. Ask them about mindset research, ego depletion, stereotype threat, terror management theory, nudging, the loss aversion controversy, the rising doubt in the endowment effect, Brian Wansink’s small plate work, the mere exposure effect, and behavioral priming. If they aren’t aware that these findings have either been overturned or are in serious doubt, do not work with them.

  3. When you find a behavioral scientist with an accurate and up-to-date understanding of the research, make sure to bring them into your project as early as possible. Have them help you create a Behavioral Strategy.

  4. If possible, hire a Behavioral Strategist who has worked with a diverse variety of clients and has an extensive knowledge of behavioral science research in addition to practical skills relevant to your project (UX/UI design, market research, data analysis, etc.)

If you are looking to work with me, please click on the above button to send me a message. Include a short paragraph about your project, a link to your website (if possible), and your budget.