Can governments influence in times of need? 

Are governments using behavioural science to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic? “It hasn’t been applied to policy much,” Dr. Michael Barbera, Chief Behavioral Officer at Clicksuasion Labs tells us. “In the US, it’s used more in speech writing than in policy. If you hear a politician speak, you will hear something like: “Last week I spoke to Austin. Austin is struggling with finding sustainable employment. Austin really wants to make a change.” Have they spoken to Austin? Probably not. But what makes the statements persuasive is that Austin is a common name amongst 19-25-year-olds. Many people in that age group are struggling with college debt or employment. So you may not be Austin but you think, “I know Austin,” and so you are more likely to vote for that candidate because now you can relate to them.” 

Dr. Barbera continues: “Is it ethical?? Depends on who you ask! This is a grey area. You might want to change behaviour for good but if you change behaviour too much are you changing who the person is?!”

So how can governments and marketers nudge people, in the right way?

Be real

“My best advice is, just be human. Be authentic. Be transparent. If someone has trust, they are more likely to do what you ask.”

Use social proof

“Probably the most persuasive thing we can do is show that other people are doing something. If I was to say, “There are 100 people jumping off the bridge,” you’re probably not going to jump but you are likely to look over the edge and be curious about it. We are herd people. We are easily convinced if a peer-based message is placed in front of us.”

Make it real

“You’re significantly more likely to get COVID-19 than be attacked by a terrorist, but with 9/11 you could see the planes and buildings collapsing. It’s more salient. With coronavirus, the people next door might have it but you can’t see it, taste it, smell it so it feels like no big deal.”

Think of the community

“There are a number of videos at the moment of a person wearing a face mask and the image changes every few seconds and it says something like: “Michael protects Duncan, Duncan protects Austin,” and so on. That is applying persuasion by showing the name of someone you might know that you can imagine getting COVID, but you don’t want to be the cause of it.”

Be family-first

“At 35,000 feet, you can say a human is likely to do X. What influences the decisions to get to X will likely be different but the overall concepts of behavioural science don’t change much. In the US, people are typically family first, country and then neighbourhood. In, say, the Middle East, it would be family, tribe, neighbourhood, country. In East Asia, it might be family, neighbourhood and then country.”

Focus on effort

“How much effort does it take to follow the advice, or find or buy your product or service? Make it the easiest thing to Google, to order, or understand.”

Dr. Michael Barbera is an award-winning consumer neuroscientist and business strategist and Chief Behavioral Officer at Clicksuasion Labs


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