OPINION21 October 2011

Chunk it!


Smart marketers can prompt big behavioural shifts by breaking changes down into manageable chunks. Crawford Hollingworth offers some examples. Plus, how behavioural economics is at work in a restaurant.

Think back to your childhood and how your mum might have persuaded you to eat just 10 more peas or two more carrots and then maybe just a few more of each… and suddenly the plate of unpalatable vegetables was gone. We now see this form of mental ‘chunking’ being used to encourage all of us – not just kids – to eat more healthily and to be greener, or to track down a better car insurance quote.

One of the best known examples of chunking in the UK is the ‘Five-a-day’ government campaign to encourage us to eat more fruit and vegetables. This was part of the Change4Life initiative, which published a step-by-step guide to eating five-a-day. It was filled with encouraging statements like “Nobody fails”, emphasising that you don’t have to make a big leap to five-a-day immediately. Just trying two-a-day for a week is a good first step which you can quickly build on. The campaign also cleverly avoids the pitfall of loss aversion: you are neither lectured on your unhealthy eating nor told to give up eating things you enjoy, like cakes.

The five-a-day concept has been embraced by manufacturers and retailers who incorporate references to the campaign on their packaging. One of many examples is The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys brand, which launched a Fruit ‘n’ Oat bar designed with one whole portion of fruit inside. (However, seeing as how ‘context is king’, by the time someone is standing in front of the cake and biscuit shelf, they are probably not really in the mindset for a healthy portion of fruit.)

Many other companies have got the hang of chunking, particularly the price comparison websites who have in interest in easing the switch from one utility of insurance provider to another. They break down what might seem like a daunting process into easy stages, so users can see that they are progressing and, crucially, are made aware that it is not too long a journey., for example, encourages users to investigate switching car insurance by breaking down the steps to getting a quotation like this:

  1. About you
  2. Proposer
  3. The car
  4. Your policy
  5. Get results

This helps users to know how many questions they’re going to have to answer to get the information they need. CompareTheMarket, uSwitch and GoCompare all offer a similar breakdown structure.

So have a think how you might reframe a challenge you’re faced with and how you could break it down into a series of steps or chunks. Or how you might reframe your marketing objective as a set of behavioural questions with a desired behavioural journey.

I only went out for lunch – or, how no decision is a neutral choice

It’s Saturday lunchtime in a restaurant and behavioural economics (BE) is all around me. The waiter greets me and says, “Nice to see you again, sir. How have you been?”. My egocentric bias is immediately engaged and I feel good, despite the fact that I have never been to this restaurant before.

When I look at the wine list I have a tendency to anchor on the cheapest bottle, then check out the most expensive, before ultimately choosing something closer to the cheapest. I look through the menu, searching for a familiar dish and based on the price I’ll decide if the restaurant is good value – this anchor frames the restaurant’s offer as a whole.

The waiter runs through the specials and tells me there are only two portions of scallops left, and my scarcity bias immediately kicks in – I have to have one of those. I then look around to see what others have ordered. I spy a dish that looks good and suddenly my herd instinct is in action: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The waiter comments, “Good choice,” and I am gratified both by my egocentric bias and the endorsement implicit in the waiter’s authority bias.

At the end of my meal, when paying the bill, I face another piece of simple choice architecture. The waiter’s electronic pad gives me three options for service – 10%, 12% or 15%. Although I would normally add a straight 10% to a restaurant bill, its presence as the least generous offer wrong foots me and I opt for 12%.

Crawford Hollingworth is a founder of The Behavioural Architects