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Persuasive design is all about influencing the behavior of your users or web visitors so they follow the actions you want them to take. 

Signing up for a newsletter, following your brand on social media, making a purchase — these are all decisions your user or web visitor will be contemplating. 

And your persuasive design should lead them in the right direction, which ultimately means a conversion for your brand or project. 

Since 90% of our decisions are unconscious, persuasive design not only takes solid art skills, it also takes an understanding of sociology and psychology too. 

Because you want your users to complete the actions you desire without them even thinking about them, your work should not only be functional but call to an inner motivation.

As Anthony Wing Kosner writes for Forbes:

“Design is emerging as the force that harnesses all of that computational ability in the service of the users of technology.”

If you don’t know the thinking behind your visitors’ motivations, ability, and triggers, you’ll never persuade them to do what you want (i.e., convert) with your user experience (UX). 

Dr. BJ Fogg, Stanford University Professor and founder of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, understands how people decide to change their behavior. It’s time you met him.

Meet Dr. BJ Fogg: The Founder of the Fogg Behavior Model

You may not know BJ Fogg by name, but you probably use the creation of one of his most famous students every day. Mike Krieger, the co-founder of Instagram, was a student of Fogg’s when he learned that people don’t just decide to perform actions randomly.

Fogg teaches his students that a behavior takes a trifecta of factors aligning perfectly at the right moment before it occurs:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

All the big online giants — from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to the massive e-commerce retailers — know how to use technology to influence user behavior. 

But their success has less to do with their actual services and more to do with how they approach their users. Many UX designers forget that emotional connection when they’re aiming for conversions.

The missing link isn’t the technology, it’s psychology,” Fogg says. “The missing piece is our lack of understanding of human behavior.” 

So when you finally key into that behavior, you’ll know how to win over users without forcing them to do something when they’re not ready.

You’ll never break trust or annoy your users; you’ll be able to give them exactly what they want or need to take action — even if they don’t necessarily know what that is yet.

So how does the Fogg Behavior Model give you the tools to do this with your UX?

How Does the Fogg Behavior Model Work?

The Fogg Behavior Model works off a basic equation that incorporates all three factors of action-taking:

Behavior = Motivation x Ability x Trigger, which can be written as B=MAT for short.

In the persuasive design world:

  • Motivation is the reason your user performs the action (i.e., I need new sneakers)
  • Ability gives them the tools to perform that action (a mobile-friendly site, clean UX, etc.)
  • Triggers push them to complete the action (like a bright CTA or “Buy Now” button)

You can see this clearly represented by Fogg’s graph of action as it corresponds to motivation, ability, and correctly-timed triggers:

Fogg Behavior Model

If any of these three factors are off, the action doesn’t happen.

For example, when the action you want your user to take is hard to do (like filing their taxes online) and they have low motivation (It’s only February!), no amount of persuasive design will get your user to file their taxes early. 

Combine all three factors together at the same time and only then will you see some action. 

Let’s say you show your users an easier way to get their taxes done by sharing a few gifs about your improved online process (a trigger). Now the task is simpler to manage (ability), which means your user doesn’t need much motivation before they decide to take action.

See how easy that was to line up all three factors in your favor?

Your first step to persuasive design is identifying the specific action (or behavior) you want your users to take. 

Let’s discuss how motivation, ability, and the right triggers all affect your user’s thinking and behavior specifically now.

Motivation: The Why

Fogg says motivated users visit your site or app due to three core motivators, or fundamental reasons why we as humans perform certain actions. 

These have nothing to do with our individual experiences, per se, but answer more to our basic physical and social needs.

While each motivator is strong, one isn’t stronger than any other:

  1. Sensation: Primal urges like pain, pleasure, and hunger drive immediate action over behavior that’s more researched and planned.
  2. Anticipation: Hope is when your user anticipates something good happening as a result of following your action; fear is when your user anticipates the opposite.
  3. Social Cohesion, or the need to feel accepted and belonging within a group versus feeling alone, rejected, and isolated impacts everything users buy to maintain or fit in with the status quo (or earn likes on Facebook, Instagram, etc.).

Your copy can tell visitors how happy they’ll be (sensation) with the results of your product and they’ll purchase it hoping you’re telling the truth (anticipation), for example.

It’s almost impossible for you to give someone motivation if they lack it. That’s why your goal here isn’t to boost motivation, but rather find out which type your specific user is motivated by most.

Only then will you be able to tap into the reasons they’re looking to make a purchase.

Even if their motivation is high, users won’t get in motion if they lack the ability to do so.

Ability: The How

Ability means someone has to be able to complete the action you want them to take.

If something’s outside of your user’s ability, it’s a long, difficult, and complicated endeavor to try and train them to get up to par.

It’s much easier to just make the action simpler for them to perform. That will then cover a wider range of abilities and give you more opportunities for conversions with other customers.

How do you get to the root of simplifying your processes?

Take a look at what your audience lacks most.

Is it time? Money? Information? Experience?

Find the biggest hurdle and then take it away. Literally, just make it disappear.

Amazon thought potential customers were abandoning their shopping carts because it took too long to complete the transaction. They created their 1-Click Purchase option to simplify the process and now that’s never an issue.

Amazon buy button

Users don’t have to fill out 13 fields, dig for their credit card number, or waste any time. That takes a lot of effort and ability both casual and regular users sometimes don’t have.

As Fogg notes, you can’t assume users have more ability than they actually do:

“If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple…  If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.”

So once you solve a major problem for your user, you make the task so easy they can’t help but perform it. Now you only have to determine when to strike.

Triggers: The When

Call to action, cue, alarm, notification — call them whatever you want, but triggers are what you’ll use to inspire your motivated and able users to action.

Triggers are all about timing. They don’t work unless you have motivation and ability on board first.

There are three types of triggers, according to Fogg:

  1. FacilitatorWhen you have high motivation / low ability
  2. SignalWhen you have high ability / high motivation
  3. SparkWhen you have high ability / low motivation

Small yet effective triggers lead to harder or more ongoing behaviors in the future.

We see this all the time with e-commerce sites.

Your user receives an email about new sweaters on sale. That user heads to your website, adds a sweater to their shopping cart, and then they’re shown popular shoes, accessories, and other clothing to go along with it. 

Your user may not have planned to purchase a new scarf (especially since it’s not part of the sale), but because the trigger was so perfectly timed, your user not only followed through on your initial desired action (purchasing a sweater), they also followed through on a persuasive offer as well (the new accessory purchase). 

All these little actions contribute to your ultimate, overall goal (more sales, higher conversions, profitability, etc.). 

Instead of asking users to follow through on a complicated task, such as paying full price for the scarf, asking them to complete something easier (like buying a sweater on sale) naturally led to them completing the harder action on their own.

It’s magic.

That’s why you need to build triggers accordingly. You have to imagine your user physically walking through the process as if they didn’t know what to do on their own.

Where should they start? What should they do? Where do they go?

Map out every action and step you want your user to take. Then build these chains of actions into an ideal flow for each type of user or buyer persona your brand has.

You’re not annoying your user by giving them this roadmap; you’re guiding them because you understand what they need and want to give them what they’re searching for.

So map out the first step. Then the next. Then continue the chain.

If you don’t know how to tell your users or customers what to do (i.e., read this, buy now, click here, etc.), they won’t perform that action and your business will be in serious trouble.

If users don’t know how to get to the next step, that’s where you need to simplify the process.

The first trigger should be something easy for a new user to accomplish with zero ability, such as signing up for your email list or following you on social media.

Any time this happens you have the opportunity to follow up with another trigger, this time pushing your user even further down your sales funnel.

A follow-up trigger would be like sending an email with content related to what your new user was browsing before they signed up for your newsletter. Or giving users a beta version of your software as a free trial if they watch a short video about it.

Both these triggers foster growth, motivation, and continued interest in your brand.

You’ll have the highest chance of converting when you:

  • Highlight your user’s motivations for completing the action
  • Make the action easier to do
  • Add more well-timed triggers

So how do you align motivation, ability, and the right triggers to get your users to convert?

The Fogg Behavior Grid: How to Inspire User Behavior

When motivation to work out is high, but you have zero idea how to get started (low ability), you probably need an inspiring trigger to get you off the couch (like a free workout plan for beginners).

But does your user only need this one time? Do you want them to keep visiting your site for new workouts everyday?

Websites and apps with high conversion rates know how to create habitual behavior that keeps visitors coming back. The more familiar your visitors become, the more friendly they are in the conversions department.

Fogg says there are 15 different types of behaviors you can get your users to take. They’re divided in a chart known as the Fogg Behavior Grid.

Columns in the grid represent the behaviors users could take:

  • GreenDo a new behavior
  • BlueDo a familiar behavior
  • Purple: Increase behavior intensity
  • GrayDecrease behavior intensity
  • Black: Stop existing behavior

Behavior Wizard Table

The rows in the chart represent how long or how often you want your users to follow that action:

  • Dot: Do it one time
  • Span: Do it over a period of time
  • Path: Do it from now on/establishing a new habit

Define the specific action you want your users to take and decide how often you want them to complete it.

Let’s use an example to see Fogg’s Behavior Model in the real world. 

You want users to sign up for a 3-month lettering course. This is a new behavior, so you’ll be following the “Green Path”, and since we’re talking about a set length of time (3 months), you’ll follow the Green Span. 

To achieve Green Span Behavior, according to Fogg, you have to specifically boost motivation while downplaying factors that de-motivate. 

Fear of the unknown, negative expectations, buyer’s remorse — these are all de-motivators. So you have to combat them with an abundance of benefits and positives for your user to see. 

Then you need an appropriate trigger. 

Since the first challenge is trying something new and the second hurdle is committing to the fixed period of time, try to frame your CTAs and desired actions around making the new act seem familiar, easy to accomplish, and worthwhile to continue. 

By addressing those specific reasons holding your user back from completing your wanted action, you clear the path for the behavior to happen on its own. 

Here’s another example: 

The goal of Instagram is to have as many users online sharing and commenting about photos and videos as possible. 

The act of sharing photos online is familiar to everyone, so it’s a “Blue Path” behavior. 

Instagram makes it easy for snapshots to look cool with their filters. Users share more as a result (high motivation/low ability). When users post their photos to Twitter and Facebook, other users are triggered to comment on their posts and then post their own photos to Instagram later. 

So the ultimate goal is accomplished on the whole: Get more users to engage on Instagram. 

But Instagram then has to move into “Purple Path” behaviors for habitual users. This means they’ll need to work on engaging users so they post (and trigger others to post) even more often. 

As you can assume, each of the 15 behavior types uses different psychological strategies and persuasive design techniques to accomplish the goal of conversions, so we can’t discuss them all here.

Once you chart the path you want your users to take, the Fogg Behavior Grid will help you determine how to play around with motivation, ability, and the ideal triggers to make it happen.

Find Your User Paths and Start Designing with the Fogg Behavior Model in Mind

Persuasive design should be everywhere in your long-term marketing and design strategy. Once you understand the psychology of how motivation, ability, and triggers influence your user’s behavior, you’ll know how to communicate with them and alleviate their fears. 

This psychological and emotional connection with your users will usher in loads of conversions for your brand. 

Simplify the process for completing the actions you want your users to take and they won’t have any other roadblocks standing in the way of converting. So get to know your users and put them on the path to conversions for your brand today.

Bio: Tony is the Marketing Manager at Sales & Orders which provides management software for Google Shopping. 


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