How Social and Behavioral Sciences Drive Response

NPR’s recent piece, How Small Changes Can Yield Big Results For The Government, caught my attention yesterday.

Social and behavioral scientists at the White House conducted extensive tests and experiments to drive improved participation in several government programs. What’s fascinating for us marketers is that this really boils down to improving response rates to various email and direct mail campaigns. They were mining behavioral insights that could be applied in their communications. Their challenge may sound familiar to you: how to break down barriers to engagement.

We marketers constantly strive to establish, track and improve the performance of our campaigns and this piece offers several interesting findings that may well apply to other sectors outside of government. Among the findings based upon behavioral insights:

Response rates to direct mail increased 22% with these minor tweaks:

Clearly defined, called-out action steps. Think, “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3,” in large, bold or color type.

Putting important info in the “P.S.” Apparently this is the second spot that our eyes track.

Open rates for email surveys improved significantly when:

Sent around lunchtime on Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Varying the subject lines

More cost-effective operations may be achieved when:

A personal appointment time with a call center is included

A dialog box prompts workers to change their print settings to double-sided

The full Social and Behavioral Sciences Team annual report was just published and can be found here.

Although these findings may smack of best practices that we think we already know, they demonstrate the importance of understanding how people make decisions and act on them. And, if we are in the business of generating results, this should matter a great deal.