Apr 23, 2014

BJ Fogg model and its relevance in product planning


When I was working on a product that expects a behavior change from its users, I started digging into research work that has happened in this field. That's when I came across this new term named "captology" and related work happening in Stanford's persuasive technology lab.

Captology is the study of computers as persuasive technologies. This includes the design, research, and analysis of interactive computing products created for the purpose of changing people’s attitudes or behaviors.
Dr.BJ Fogg directs this lab and his model on behavior change is extremely useful to understand the elements required for a behavior to occur.

The three elements that need to converge at the same time for behavior (B) change to happen are
- Motivation (M)
- Perceived Ability (A)
- Appropriate trigger (T)


The equation of this model => B = MAT

When the motivation is sufficient and the user has the ability to perform the desired task, that specific moment is called the "activation threshold". A trigger that happens during this threshold will push users to undertake the task associated with behavior change.

You can check out this site to get more details on this model.

Gym membership patterns provide a good understanding of these elements in BJ Fogg model.

High on motivation => beginning of a new year
High on ability => you only need to make the payment to get started, there are no physical tests / acceptance criteria
Appropriate timed trigger => discounts and promotion campaigns across different media, focusing on a new "you"

If your product requires behavior change or into habit formation, I highly recommend this model.

A simple way to incorporate this model into product planning exercise is the table below:


Map out every product feature into this grid, based on what the feature is intended to achieve :-
features already rolled out in "Past" column
features currently in progress in "Present" column
features in consideration set in "Future" column"

Identify where the maximum focus area is, in terms of your effort. Are you focusing more on the "triggers" in the form of automated emails and notifications? Are you making the effort needed by the user simpler?

What I have learnt is that increasing motivation is harder as compared to simplifying the effort required. So I would rather focus on making the target behavior very simple - by focusing on onboarding, time commitment and reducing the effort required.  

I came across a couple of quotes in this research paper that are also quite helpful in the product planning stages.

"People with low motivation may perform a behavior if the behavior is simple enough"

In order to simplify the behavior required, there are multiple ways by which you can go about it in your product plan:
- Understand the barriers from the user point of view - is it time commitment, physical presence, access to mental resources or money?
- Break down the desired task into smaller micro-tasks so it is easier for the user to complete them. For an app that encourages fitness, instead of suggesting "exercise for 30 minutes", it could change to  "walk for 5 minutes today" and gradually increase the requirement. The users wouldn't feel that it is such a difficult task to do
- Focus on your content / message to convey that the task is extremely simple to do. Share relevant support material to drive home the point

In a calorie tracking application, instead of manually typing out the foods, the user might find voice tracking to be simpler. Though his motivation to track his meals everyday might be low, the ability to track them through voice makes it quick and simple.

"If motivation is high enough, people might do extraordinary things–even difficult things– to perform the behavior"

To leverage this trait, the product manager has to identify the specific dimension that's behind user's motivation. Is it pleasure/pain, hope/fear, acceptance/rejection?

In the context of a personal finance product that tracks your expenses and investments,
- User segment A might have a lot of hope for their future and have many financial dreams to achieve
- User segment B might fear that their expenses are shooting up and they may not be able to reach their retirement goal.

The motivating factors are different for each of these two segments. The product direction is dependent on which user segment is dominant in their market.

For users with a positive force like "hope", the product could help in setting intermediate financial goals and motivating through a gamified experience.  For users with a negative force like "fear", the product could enable parking a specific amount in a separate locked account in the beginning of every month, which will indirectly reduce the expenses.

It's interesting to learn more about research work happening in persuasive design and how technology can play a vital role in changing our reinforced behaviors. Do connect if you would like to explore more on these topics.

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