How to apply Behavioural Design for Growth Hacking and value creation?

How to apply Behavioural Design for Growth Hacking and value creation?
Rik Groenland

How do you get people to do what you want them to do? In online marketing campaigns, for example? Or in switching to and using your products or services?

Every marketer, every entrepreneur and every product designer or product owner is in the business of influencing behaviour. In this article we give you a crash course in Behavioural Design. So that you can use it to your advantage.

The basis of Behavioural Design

First of all: everyone is a Behavioural designer. So are you.

You use your alarm clock, for example, to make sure you get up on time. You use alerts from your calendar to remind you what you need to do. In this way you manage your time and influence your own behaviour.

Another very recognisable example of Behavioural Design is the smartphone. This device, and particularly the apps we use on it, are a highly psychologically optimised piece of Behavioural Design that aims to keep you as busy as possible with the device in your hands. Don't worry, we will come back to the sense and nonsense and ethics of influencing behaviour at the end of this article.

A good example of successful Behavioral Design

What is Behavioural Design?

Some time ago, I attended the SUE Behavioural Design Fundamentals training, from SUE Amsterdam. SUE Behavioural Design Agency defines Behavioural Design as "A systematic understanding of how people think and make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to change in behaviour." 

The core of that understanding? People are irrational beings.

"Homo economicus", the image of man as a rational, selfish and patient problem solver, is an old and now very much outdated image of man. Psychological research has shown very clearly that people often use mental shortcuts (such as biases and heuristics) to make decisions while avoiding thinking. 

Our system is built to relieve as much mental strain as possible.

Increasing psychological value with Behavioural Design

Understanding that people are not rational beings, but rather highly irrational ones, allows you to better understand and influence behaviour. Behavioural designers create as much psychological value as possible on this basis. So that something that is essentially the same is experienced as being more valuable. This is the next level in marketing innovation.

They do this by using some basic insights into human behaviour.

The two systems of human thought

Daniel Kahneman is the only psychologist ever to have won a Nobel Prize. In the book that won him that prize, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he describes the two modes of thinking that people use. System 1 is fast, intuitive, reflexive, and effortless.

System 2 is slow, rational, and takes a lot of energy:

Image courtesy of

TUI's case
A good example of how to trigger desired behaviour by appealing to system 1 is the case of TUI and the reuse of towels. In an experiment TUI tested three different Call-to-Actions to get people to reuse their towels more often in the hotels, instead of throwing them in the laundry basket immediately after a single use.

The first Call-to-Action focused on the real reason: to protect the environment by using less water. The second Call-to-Action focused on humour. The last Call-to-Action was aimed at reminding the hotel guests and triggering their automatic behaviour. 

Image courtesy of

The habit-based Call-to-Action was by far the most successful in the test. This is because triggering habits is basically the same as triggering system 1; the fast, effortless system for choosing and directing behaviour. 

Biases and heuristics: shortcuts to thinking

As mentioned, people frequently and fully automatically use heuristics when thinking, in order to reduce the mental load. Heuristics are rules of thumb that are often correct in the vast majority of cases, such as: "Someone coming from the right has the right of way." Biases are (often unconscious) prejudices.

Biases that people frequently apply unconsciously are, for example:

  • The Confirmation Bias
    This bias tends to categorise new information as fitting with views or opinions we already hold, rather than challenging existing ones.
  • The IKEA effect
    This states that what you have (partly) made yourself is experienced as more valuable.
  • The Self-Serving Bias
    This is the tendency to take personal responsibility for positive outcomes, and to blame external factors for negative outcomes.
  • Anchor
    Overreliance on existing information and/or on the first information you come across - think of the first text or the first image you see at the top of a web page.
  • The Dunning-Kruger effect
    This states that people with limited knowledge or competence in a certain domain overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain.

Triggers are successful depending on motivation and convenience

Another widely used model in Behavioural Design is the so-called Fogg Behaviour Model by B.J. Fogg. This model shows which triggers, prompts or requests are most likely to succeed.

Image courtesy of

As you can see in the model, there is a so-called "Action Line", the threshold that determines whether a trigger or prompt will be successful. This line is set off against two axes: the motivation that the person you are trying to influence has to achieve a certain goal, and the ease or ability of that person to perform a certain action. If the motivation is high, and the action you are asking someone to perform is relatively easy, you are most likely to succeed.

Atomic Habits

Finally: motivation disappears quickly. So when influencing behaviour, make sure you focus on small steps that can easily become a habit. And at the same time stop focusing on targets. What does this look like in practice? A number of examples:

Examples of how to get from goals to Atomic Habits

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, you will learn much more about creating small, manageable habits that will help you reach your ultimate goals.

Image courtesy of

Key takeaways:

With this article, we wanted to give you a first introduction to Behavioural Design and its application for growth and value creation. If you remember nothing else from this story, remember this:

  • Influencing behaviour is about removing the obstacles and using the right triggers.
  • Always take irrationality as a starting point when influencing behaviour.
  • People use mental shortcuts such as biases and heuristics in decision-making. So always take this into account.

The future: (un)ethical behavioural influence?

A final consideration: how ethical is it to apply Behavioural Design in the design of Growth Hacking experiments or marketing campaigns? Just as with the application of Big Data, Tracking, Neuromarketing and other technological/

psychological tools and methods of influencing behaviour, this is a rather grey area.

Earlier, colleague Erwin Lima wrote on Frankwatching about the application of AI, bots, microtargeting and profiling to influence people in the sphere of online marketing but also for example in elections. 

A comment by ethics professor Jeroen van den Hoven in that article was that marketers, political campaigners and large online platforms and data traders such as Facebook, Google, and others have a "great and unfair advantage": they have a disproportionately greater knowledge and understanding of human behaviour than the average consumer.

On LinkedIn, we recently wrote about the value and ethics of applying Nir Eyal's Hooked model when designing products or campaigns. An important question we asked is: "Should I really want to get people hooked on my product? Where is the line and when is behavioural influencing still ethical?

We are very curious how you see this. We would like to hear from you.

Want to know more? 

At BAMMBOO Growth Hacking Agency, we help you find the fastest, most reliable path to sustainable growth and continuous value creation. 

We do this by using a customer-focused, full-funnel approach, driven by data and creativity. Digital marketing skills such as social media content and strategy, but also for example qualitative research into the needs and behaviour of your target group, form the core of what we do for our clients.

If you want to know more about our approach, our services or how we can help you grow, please contact us directly.

Contact us