Do something for me please – before you get too comfy, get out your iPod or go to your stereo and put on your FAVORITE song and listen to it while you read this post. You’ll find out why later. Cheers.
Done? Awesome. Read on then friends.
I believe that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: curious and teachable. ― Roger Ebert
In 2013 I went on a journey into human motivation. I set out to try and understand not just what a good experience is, but why a good experience is a good experience. It’s changed the way I look at creating services, tools, apps, marketing and stories. More than ever it’s important to make Customer Experience that stands out from the competition and I believe there is a basic recipe for success.
Welcome to the most powerful tool in digital… The Brain
It’s a busy little organ the brain. It’s tireless, it never takes a vacation and has work to do 24/7. A continuously evolving organ made up of lots of little compartments for doing lots of little things & is the most complex organ in the body. A three-pound mass of gray and white matter that sits at the center of all human activity – you need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal, to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities. In brief, the brain regulates your basic body functions; enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience; and shapes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It’s fuelled by a combination of genetic based learnings – called fluid intelligence – and experiential based learnings – known as crystallised intelligence.
What is Neuro CX?
The beginning of wisdom, is the definition of terms – Socrates
It’s to do with NeuroMarketing, right? Nah… Not this one. A totally different thing. It’s got manipulating the brain in common, but Neuro CX is about longevity and teaching consumers to repeat behavior and start associating those repeated behaviors to good feelings, good experiences and the brands that supply them.
It’s about tapping into crystalilised intelligence and making people want to continuously open your app, or visit your website or engage with your product.
The challenge for any provider is creating continuous sustained usage with users. Remember, products used daily create a barrier to entry for competitors in their market. If your users are unable to imagine life without your product, you can safely say you’ve met your goal. So what makes a habit?
When a human encounters an experience (offline, online, good or bad) and it is deemed a ‘sensation‘ – i.e “that was amazing” or “that was terrible” – the brain releases the chemical dopamine which lets an areas of the brain called the ‘Reward Centre‘ know to deliver a sense of pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness and focus the attention of the individual so that he or she learns to repeat the behaviour (or not) again and again. When you think about some of the great technology solutions of the last 20 years, many share a common ground: they create a habit. When technology has created a habit in people, a person’s use of a product is automatic, without thought.
The reward center of the brain is critically involved in mediating the effects of reinforcement. A reward is an appetitive stimulus given to a person to alter behavior. Rewards typically serve as reinforcers. A reinforcer is something that, when presented after a behavior, causes the probability of that behavior’s occurrence to increase. It’s also how positive experiences remain engrained with an individual. We are literally genetically programmed to remember positive and negative things and if we like them, repeat them over and over until it becomes a habit.
The more you can get the user to do something without making a conscious decision, the stronger the habit becomes. Frequency of use leads to the creation of a habit in your users; so if your users are coming back regularly, it’s likely that habits are forming.
You can read a more in-depth overview of the biological bit here.
There are three major mechanisms we can use to manipulate the reward center. Put them together and we have Neuro CX;
- Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification (Joygasms)
- Encouraged altruism (Kudos)
- Repeated, interrupted experiences (Commas)
A lot of tools, websites, social media and apps offer one or some of the above… But it’s the really really sticky (read ‘Addictive’) experiences that give the user a little hint of all three.
Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification – Joygasms
Associating good feelings with desire to repeat an action, task or activity is where things start to get interesting. We call this “associative conditioning” and it’s this response of learning that positive feeling is linked to certain experiences that we can bake into our work.
If we get really contrived with it, we may even be able to encourage addiction to a service or function. Scientists have long known that the release of dopamine is strongly associated with addictive behaviours. Addictions occur when the brain betrays the body, causing feelings of pleasure from activities.
By creating certain ‘ideal conditions’ that stimulate the Reward Centre we can create repeat behaviour. Similarly we can also introduce negative scenarios and teach people to avoid things too.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have observed that emotions persist in individuals even after they forget the cause, an important clue about how the brain stores different kinds of information and worth remembering when we plan our experiences. The act of doing might vanish from conscience thought, but the feeling whist doing could remain.
Even though emotions seem fused together with memories in our stream of consciousness, it turns out that this is not the case.
Here’s another random but interesting one: A recent study published in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that despite the bitter taste, the chemicals in beer also trigger the brain’s reward system. This pleasurable effect might explain why we’re so willing to keep drinking past the first sip — until intoxication takes over, and we’ll drink just about anything after we’re drunk. It may also explain why some people can drink casually while others slip into alcoholism.
It’s the Reward System that these artificial stimulants fire up and why drugs & alcohol can be addictive & what we can recreate the conditions of using digital.
The trick to this is also capturing people in the moment of intent – at that point where they’re deciding to or not do something like going to lunch and looking for a place to eat, or deciding whether to walk or drive to work in the morning… hit them in the moments with a little nudge of generosity and repeat that behavior over and over at the same time until the behavior is changed; “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – NEGATIVE NUMBER, BUT DON’T FEAR, YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, KEEP GOING YOU STUD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD”.
These notifications need to be planned and intended to spur activity in the moment, deployed at just the right time. Built around a very important idea: Adding notifications to a service isn’t just good for letting us see what we’ve done. It’s also crucial for building services that can tell us what we should be doing.
Activity tracking is one thing; activity tweaking is something else entirely. That’s why real-life coaches are so great. They help you set goals that are relevant to your life, and they help push you to achieve them. They’re personal. This is the piece that most services have missed thus far and that we need to get better at to make Neuro CX a real possibility.
You have to create your service with the ability to constantly slurp up data from your world and sort notifications into two broad categories. The first are the notifications you get when things happen and reward you with a pat on the back when you hit a Streak or a Milestones.
There’s a dopamine response that happens when you get a digital pat on the back. Actually being able to connect that dopamine response to the behavior is very powerful to the feedback cycle.
Travis Bogard, VP of Product Management and Strategy at Jawbone
The other preemptive notifications need to come through a more structured goal feature which lets the user opt into day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year goals. Telling you that you’re on track with the bigger things in life. The virtual equivalent of a beckoning spouse – Helping you at decision points born not out of a domestic routine but data, algorithms, and connectivity.
Encouraged Altruism – Kudos
During this kind of highly structured, self-motivated hard work, we regularly achieve the greatest form of happiness available to human beings: intense, optimistic engagement with the world around us. We feel fully alive, full of potential and purpose–in other words, we are completely activated as human beings. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Another major factor that can effect and trigger the Reward Center is altruism. MRI studies have revealed that when we perform an act of kindness, the Reward Center is aroused and we experience feelings of pleasure. The brain is flooded with happiness-inducing dopamine whenever we share something we think other people might find useful or help out someone deemed to be in need, or worse off than ourselves. So getting people to pass things around (once you’ve rewarded them with it in the first place) could be another great way of getting people addicted or immersed in your content;
You earned 100 points, unlocked the best content yet – Why not share that content or how you got to it with your friends & earn an extra 50 points.
Stand back, possible dopamine explosion imminent. The ego has landed.
The oh-so-exciting “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience“, also shed new light on how the brain responds to reward and translates it into extraverted behaviour; “Rewards like food, sex and social interactions as well as more abstract goals such as earning money or getting positive peer recognition also trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, producing positive emotions and feelings of desire that motivate us to work toward obtaining those goals even more. In extroverts, this dopamine response to rewards is more robust so they experience more frequent activation of strong positive emotions,”.
This reinforces my belief that the mavens (a trusted expert in a particular field or someone who seeks to pass knowledge on to others) have to be the crucial first wave of people to be introduced into a new service or product before release to the general populous. Beta should not be a place fir everybody, it absolutely has to be a carefully targeted thing that finds and recruits the extroverts who are going to end up being the dopamine fuelled messengers and recruiters to your new service or product. Rewarding those mavens is also crucial because the Dopamine released facilitates memory of the circumstances that are associated with the reward moment which is a significant role in sustaining extroverted behaviour. Extroverts show a greater association of context with reward than introverts, which means that over time, extroverts will acquire a more extensive network of reward-context memories that activate their brain’s reward system.
If you think about the reward center in the context of an extrovert, it’s possible that something like posting on Facebook & the ‘Likes’ generated over time from the generosity of sharing, can literally become addictive to an extrovert & therefore encourage even more sharing in order to get more likes & so on & so on. It’s why some people share so much of their lives in such a sustained & open fashion. It taps right into the part of their psyche that gets joy & reward for the generosity of telling people they’ve just done something inept or found something kinda useful.
I myself am probably as I type getting high on the idea that the 2 people who read this post might share it. Bonus.
Repeated, interrupted pleasure points – commas
The Zeigarnik Effect
Let me go back to a previous post I’ve made about the ideals of gamification and in particular the Zeigarnik Effect. It covers a simple principle – People remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Sounds a bit mad I know, but it’s true.
The “cliffhanger” just may be the oldest trick in the story-telling book, especially for television and there is a reason why it’s used to great affect… you want to tune back in!
Despite numerous exposures to this method, our brain just can’t “get over” suspenseful moments: it’s a relationship that just won’t die, we will always want to know what happens next!
In fact, suspense works so well that the Zeigarnik Effect would have you believe that it’s the best way to kill procrastination.
Research in that area seems to point to humans being much more inclined to finish something that has already been started (researchers interrupted people doing “brain buster” tasks before they could complete them… nearly 90% of people went on to finish the task anyway, despite being told they could stop).
A University of Maryland study of undergraduates found that after a physics lecture by a well-regarded professor, almost no students could provide a specific answer to the question, “What was the lecture you just heard about?”. Another study by Kansas State University found that after watching a video of a highly rated physics lecture, most students still incorrectly answered questions on the material. When students were quizzed about a fact presented only 15 minutes earlier, only 10 percent showed any sign of remembering it.
Suspense in stories really allows you to create addictive, memorable content, as long as the suspense appears early enough in the activity and is combined with a positive ending or reward – Now we’re getting into Neuro CX.
Consider the idea that lots of positive, but unfinished tasks, start to shape a formula for successful and sticky experiences that people will want to engage with and repeat over and over again.
This is of course nothing new – It’s just the old nudge strategy mapped back to some new thinking and neurological reasoning. But by breaking things down and mapping seemingly dispirit principles together, I’ve done is make us realise just how important it is to plan in a solid set of these functions in every single project I work on.
Nice work fella, you just read a piece of content about Investing… have 5 points. 10 bits of content read… have 100 points. But no more today, tomorrow is a better day to unlock your destiny.
Positive Distractions Help You Remember
The Zeigarnik effect also suggests that people who suspend their primary task and engage in totally unrelated activities such as playing games, will remember the primary material better than those who complete tasks without a break. We should literally be interrupting task flow with totally unrelated, positive experiences.
It’s possible that interrupting people mid-registration or an important application might be something for us to try. Literally going against what we’ve been preaching for over a decade now. Instead of making registration simple and quick, let’s make it longer but bite-sized. Lewin’s Field Theory states that a task or experience that has already been started, establishes a task-specific tension. This tension, once established is relieved upon completion of the task. In the case of task interruption the reduction of tension is being impeded. Through continuous tension the content can be more easily remembered.
It’s also great if the positive secondary experience is not directly linked to your primary, because we can teach consumers something totally random and they’ll begin to associate that with the brand or procedure that served it up + distract them from potentially dull or time consuming primary subject matter.
For alcoholics, research has found that even the sight or smell of beer is rewarding to the brain, pushing them to drink – A secondary experience linked back to the primary drive. In a related study published by neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor at the Montreal Neurological Institute, it was discovered that music can also activate the same reward circuits in the brain as alcohol.
In 2005 Teresa Lesiuk studied “the effect of music listening on work performance” and found that music promotes a “positive mood change and enhanced perception on design while working.” Results showed that quality of work was lowest when no music was played, and that individuals actually spent longer on a task when there was no music. On the other hand, those who who did listen to music finished their assignments more quickly and proposed better ideas.
An article from Psychology Today adds that while listening to music may be productive for some, it can be a distraction to others; therefore, they offered several things to consider when choosing music for productivity:
- Use music with no words to avoid interfering with language tasks.
- Silence is a kind of music and can be just as effective as music. If music is a distraction, try nature sounds.
- Listen to music you like because it helps you feel better.
- Try different speeds, or tempos, of music as it alters the mood and can help with tasks that require a different pace or energy.
- Take musical breaks. A change of environment, even sonically can make a big difference in work productivity.
So here’s a thought for you – why not start to introduce new, totally random elements into traditionally boring tasks. For example, what if the first question in a long, drawn out banking application process was “what’s your favourite song Bob?” which drags the tune out of iTunes & plays an instrumental version of it in the background while you fill in the boring bits. In theory dopamine would flood the reward system and you’d feel positive throughout the experience. The perfect distraction to the dull job at hand. Associate Conditioning also starts to link the happy feeling with the task and / or brand too. It might not be as random as it sounds.
I’ve also put together another post around applied application of NeuroCX here.
In theory if I was practicing what I’m preaching I would have stopped halfway through the article and offered you a game and then released the rest of the article tomorrow. Trust me, you’d have come back – You wouldn’t have been able to ‘not’ too!
Neuro CX is about by-passing the reptilian brain in order to THRIVE instead of SURVIVE. The reptilian brain is based in survival mode which elicits impulsive programmed responses (constant reaction to present triggers). Characteristics of the Reptilian brain include dominance (dominate or be dominated), aggression, sex and seeking a mate, rigidity, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, worship, fear, submission and greed. These are all constricting and limiting frequencies. Looking at the Limbic parts of the brain and tapping into the Reward Center start to open up huge possibilities in the field of UX and Experience Design.
A lot of people reading this might be thinking “gamification”, but NeuroCX is that thinking plus some more. The traditional explanation of ‘gamification’ would be something like; “Taking techniques from games and game design and applying them to non-gaming contexts”. But the biology behind good experience is far more complex and can be manipulated by more than just game thinking. The idea that badges (otherwise known as achievements or trophies, once you have completed a feat, challenge, or task) as a means to show your achievement are what makes something sticky is too simplistic, NeuroCX can be anything just as long as its sustained & continuous throughout a relationship with the product user. It’s the good vibe, not the little token.
I hope that by altering how digital is approached using NeuroCX we can improve motivation & change consciousness.
If consciousness is about awareness or how an individual perceives and interprets his or her environment, including beliefs, intentions, attitudes, emotions, and all aspects of his or her subjective experience, then in theory by creating experiences that make users neurologically addicted (how pompous does that sound!) and providing it to the widest possible audience, then we could change collective consciousness. Collective consciousness is essentially how a group (an institution, a society, a species) perceives and translates the world around them. Change a collective consciousness (Facebook anybody!?) and you create a fundamental shift in perspective or worldview that results in an expanded understanding of self and the nature of reality. The beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions through which we filter our understanding of the world and our place in it also move.
It all sounds very complex and esoteric, but trust me when I say it’s not. In fact most of you are probably already doing bits of it by accident. However I do think it’s crucial that you use these facts of biology and behavior to actively guide clients and products towards better experiences. It should be inherently part of EVERY experience strategy, not just the ones you think need to be a bit gamey or kooky. Your project doesn’t have to be the next Nike Fuel to include Associative Conditioning – In fact it’s even better if it isn’t! Map it into your boring topics even more vigorously. Make them addictive. Make them pleasurable & make the user want to come back again and again.
Special thanks due to the Barclays Behavioural Finance team for inspiring me to explore the wider side of Experience Design outside of my normal box – Greg B Davis, Emily Haisley & Antonia Lim.