Why Small Tweaks Don’t Always Equal Big Changes: A Tale of Two Selves

Over the past decade or so, applying insights from behavioural science has helped us achieve remarkable things. It has helped US citizens save billions of dollars in retirement funds, increased organ donation rates and has even increased apple consumption among children!

Some of these real-world applications are so impressive that they make behavioural science sounds less like science and more like wizardry.

As a behavioural scientist, I am usually the first to brag about our field’s achievements.

However, framing true and lasting behavioural change as “simple” misrepresents the science. While it may be relatively easy to nudge people towards desired behaviours in the short-term, small tweaks or nudges don’t always cut it if the goal is sustained change.

The difference between a nudge and lasting change is best explained by understanding that we constantly navigate between two versions of ourselves:

  • the experiencing self – the self that is making decisions in the moment – often using System 1 or mental shortcuts
  • the remembering self – the self that is reflecting on past experiences, and planning for the future.

Most nudges are aimed at targeting the experiencing self by minimizing pain points, barriers and “friction costs” – essentially making the desired behaviour easy or feel like default.

While this is a great strategy to get a foot in the door with consumers or drive initial uptake, these nudges will cease to be effective if the actual experience does not resonate positively with the remembering self.

In other words, you can nudge consumers to buy your product/service once. But if your product does not satisfy their needs, that is where the customer journey comes to a halt.

To create lasting behavioural change and customer loyalty, we need to ensure that the products and services we design and market meet the fundamental, psychological needs of our customers in ways that stick.

Implementing nudges without understanding the individual on a deep, human level may get your foot in the door, but it will also likely mean that your foot will eventually be pushed out.

This is why at Research Strategy Group, our research always unpacks the cognitive biases that serve as barriers throughout the customer journey, but also uncovers the deeper, psychological and often unconscious needs of customers.

To do this, we pair behavioural science with other research methods, such as needs-based segmentation and ethnography. Our multidisciplinary approach ensures that the strategic implications of our work include nudges for initial uptake, but also guarantees that they help our clients meet customers’ deeper needs, translating to lasting change and brand loyalty.

To find out more about how Research Strategy Group can help you in this exciting new area of research, please contact Rimma Teper at rimmateper@rsginc.net