5 Levers of Behavior Change

In my talk at UX Brighton 2012, I highlighted Everett Roger’s 5 perceived attributes of innovation. These, I explained, can be seen as heuristics in the innovation adoption process. See my presentation on SlideShare in case you missed it.

To quickly review, the principles Roger’s identified over 50 years that predict whether an innovation gets adopted or not are:

  • Relative advantage. Is the proposed innovation better than existing alternatives?
  • Compatibility. Is the innovation appropriate? Does it fit into the user’s daily life, beliefs and values?
  • Complexity. Is it easy to comprehend and use?
  • Trialability. Can it best tested without penalty?
  • Observability. Can it be observed and understood?

Any time an innovation is introduced to a group of users, it requires them to change their behavior. After all, innovations are by definition “new.” And with this newness comes change. The above factors describe how the adopting population is likely to perceive that change. If an innovation is too complex to use and hard to understand, for instance, it may not get adopted. Or, if an innovation is contrary to one’s beliefs (i.e., not compatible), it may also get rejected.

Of course, there many other factors that may influence the rate of adoption, such as price, communication channels and PR, but the above attributes play a key role.

Building a better mousetrap does not guarantee user’s will accept the new idea. Many would-be breakthrough inventions fail because of not taking these human factors into consideration.

Keith Wood, CMO at Unilever, recently contributed an article to the Harvard Business Blog entitled “Change Consumer Behavior with These Five Levers.” I was struck by the similarity of these 5 levers to Roger’s perceived attributes. Wood focuses on invoking change for sustainability reasons, and he doesn’t talk about “innovation” explicitly. But the message is the same, I believe:  recognizing the drivers of behavior change and designing with them (instead of against them) can greatly increase the likelihood of adoption.

Unilever’s 5 levers of behavior change are:

  1. Make it understood. This lever is about raising general awareness and, more important, the understanding of the innovation. Woods points to the example of video demonstrations using ultra-violet light to show children that washing their hands with water alone doesn’t get rid of invisible germs. In Rogers’ terms, this corresponds roughly to “observability.”
  2. Make it easy. People like things to be simple. But this lever is also about convenience and about confidence. If a new product or service has a long learning curve, for instance, it will lower the likelihood of invoking a behavior change. Rogers calls this “complexity.”
  3. Make it desirable. Changing behavior has emotional aspects to it. This lever is about asking, Does this new behavior fit into my aspirational self-image? This overlaps with Rogers’ “compatibility” and “relative advantage” factors.
  4. Make it rewarding. Do people know when they’re doing the behavior correctly? Do they get some sort of reward? This is about confirming the correct behavior.
  5. Make it a habit. Often a one-time behavior change is not the goal of innovation. We generally want people to continue using the things we introduce to them. This resembles Rogers’ “compatibility” attribute. (Things that become a habit are things that fit into our lives well, generally).

The Unilever levers don’t exactly line up one-to-one with Rogers’, but many of the sentiments are the same. Here’s my somewhat artificial alignment of the two sets of principles:

Unilever’s 5 Levers Rogers’ Perceived Attributes
Make it understood Observability
Make it easy Complexity
Make it desirable Compatibility and/or Relative Advantage
Make it rewarding
Make it a habit Compatibility

“Make it rewarding” doesn’t directly appear in Rogers’ list, and likewise “Trialability” doesn’t appear in Unilever’s list. I’m not sure if that matters in the long run if the labels doesn’t match. It’s the approach that I find interesting: identifying key, human-centered principles that drive behavior change or innovation adoption and consciously designing to support them. As Woods concludes, change agents “will have the most positive influence when they work with these ‘structural’ factors, rather than against them.”

A main point from my presentation at UX Brighton 2012 is that UX design as a disciple fundamentally strives to achieve a positive influence on behavior change. Thus, our inherent user-centered approach plays a key role in the innovation process. In commercial contexts, UX design is ultimately good for businesses and for growth.

See Unilever’s full white paper outlining the 5 levers of behavior change for more details on their approach.


About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

One comment

  1. Pingback: Обзор свежих материалов, октябрь-декабрь 2012 « Юрий Ветров об интерфейсах

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