Comment: The right way to influence behaviour with technology

With all the technology you can use today as a retailer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that influencing customer behaviour has become easy. You put an iBeacon here, you send a push notification there, and you’re sorted – right? Well, as we all know, it’s not that easy in the real world. Getting customers to do even simple things is incredibly hard. And the hard bit isn’t the technology so much as getting the behaviour right.

Fortunately, BJ Fogg and the behaviour scientists at Stanford University have been thinking about exactly what it takes for a behaviour to happen, and they’ve come up with a very simple model.

At The App Business, we like to call this model MAT.

What is the MAT model?

The MAT model says that for any behaviour to happen, three things need to happen at the exact same time within a given situation:


M: People need to be motivated to do the behaviour.

A: The behaviour needs to be easy to do.

T:  And there needs to be a trigger.

If any of these three things is missing from the situation, the behaviour doesn’t happen. And the hardest bit is to make each component – motivation, ability and trigger – happen together at the exact same time. 

For example, every time I get to the check out at my local supermarket, they remind me that I should get a reward card. This is useful, but there’s no easy way for me to do it right there and then. By the time I get home, it might be easy for me to do, but I can’t be bothered anyone, or I simply don’t remember.

The best way to make motivation, ability and trigger work together at the same time is to put hot triggers on the patch of motivated, able people. 

How to use the MAT Model

Behaviour tip #1: Start from the behaviour, not the technology.

We generally get excited about the latest technology and forget to sweat the behaviour.  Start from the behaviour, make it MAT - then figure out how technology can help.

Behaviour tip #2: Translate high level goals into simple, immediate behaviours.

Focus on simple, immediate behaviours, one at a time. For example, getting customers to buy a product they’ve already ‘liked’, etc.

Motivation tip #1: Find out what your customer is already motivated to do.

Today, there are lots of simple ways to find out what a customer is already motivated to do: what products they’ve added to their wish list; what product categories they always look at, etc.

Motivation tip #2: Predict where and when they’ll be most motivated to do it.

Motivation is contextual. The best way to predict where and when someone will be motivated to do something is to use a simple rules engine and optimise as you go, based on results.

Ability tip #1: Make the behaviour so easy to do, that people will do it on impulse.

We always overestimate how many hurdles customers will go through before their motivation drops. If you make the behaviour so easy to do that customers will do it on impulse, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Ability tip #2: Remember that ‘easy’ means different things in different situations.

It’s not about doing lots of things to make your app or your website easy. It’s about identifying exactly what’s getting in the way of the behaviour, at that precise moment within a situation.

Trigger tip #1: Think broadly about triggers. We’re not talking just about push notifications. A trigger can be anything that reminds a customer of a behaviour they want to do: it could be an email, a button, a part of the user interface, something that the sales assistant says, etc.

Trigger tip #2: Make the trigger hot like a potato. Make the trigger so easy to act on that acting on it is the easiest thing a customer can do with it – easier even than ignoring it.

So, if you want a behaviour to happen, you need to make it MAT by making three things happen simultaneously:

M: People need to be motivated to do the behaviour.

A: The behaviour needs to be easy to do.

T:  And there needs to be a trigger.

Remember that your job is not to motivate people, but to put hot triggers on the path of already motivated, able people. And this is how we should approach anything we design for our customers.

For example, a lot of retailers are trying to figure out how to use location technology like iBeacons in store. But a lot of them use iBeacons to send customers a push notification as they walk past a product. There’s a flaw with this idea: if a customer walks past a product, that’s not a good sign that they’re motivated to do anything with it.

At The App Business, we believe the right way to use technology like iBeacons in store is to make it MAT: 

M: Use iBeacons to figure out what a customer is already motivated to do.

A: Make the mobile interface change contextually to make it incredibly easy to do that behaviour.

T: Deliver the trigger exactly where and when people are most motivated and able to perform the behaviour.

For example, within a DIY superstore, if a customer is looking at power drills for a substantial length of time, it’s quite likely they’d be interested in getting some help. Using iBeacons, we can place the customer contextually and the role of mobile there and then becomes very clear: make it incredibly easy for them to get help. 

At The App Business, we’re finding this approach very useful when we design for a behaviour to happen: it provides a logical, consistent framework around which to build a mobile proposition. 

Got some thoughts or comments on MAT? Get in touch with Jean Francois over at The App Business.