The EAST model: building your comms on behavioural insights
In 2010, a new body was set up within the British government, dealing specifically with behavioral science-related questions – this is the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) or the “Nudge Unit” as people often call it. Actually, it’s a very clever nickname as “nudging” is exactly what this team does – showing people the right direction and right examples through the toolset & vast researches of behavioral science.
For example, take an official letter about tax returns, change just one single sentence in it, and check the results – the number of people who hand in their tax returns in time can vary 5-10-15% just because of this “small” change. Or take a charity campaign as another example: the success or the failure of the campaign can depend on one single choice, the photo that you use for raising funds and getting people in a donating mood. BIT has launched a whole series of such social experiments, resulting in very significant early results with literally no expenses. The British Government has soon discovered that BIT might be more than just a group of whimsical social science-experts…
In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to share a model of BIT with you – something that’s not only useful in the public sector, but in business environments and workplaces as well in terms of internal communications efficiency. The four letters you’ll need to memorize – also serving as a great comms-planning checklist – are E-A-S-T!
🎫 “E” stands for Easy
Whether you like it or not, we, humans are simple beings, looking for the most simple solution in almost every case. When you join a new workplace, and have to choose between two insurance options, the default “A” or the other one, “B” with better conditions, but more administration, I’m sure you’d choose “A” – even though now, in front of the computer, you are telling yourself “B” definitely. What’s the point in the many phone calls and documents to be printed? “A” is not that bad, and the others have that too…
Every complication – or as the book calls them, “friction” – decreases the chance that our message will actually go through and people will react as we’d expect them. Frictions can be very little things: even a single click, or a plus step can make a huge difference in terms of drop-out. That’s why you should always aim for clear, short, simple texts in your internal materials – if needed, separate it into smaller units or even different e-mails to make them easily readable.
✨ “A” is for Attractive
If you feel that your communication is “easy” enough, it’s time to take a look at the attractiveness of it. This means external attributes such as colors, pictures and design, but some more complex factors – such as personalization – can be taken into account as well. What would you rather read: a letter with a general “Dear Sir / Madam” greeting, or a letter that addresses you directly, on your name?
The sender also plays a huge role in the attractiveness of your communications; it’s more likely that people will open an e-mail coming from a relevant, well-known person of the topic than an e-mail with a general sender (e.g. “Leadership” or “Communications Team”).
In many cases, the expected behaviour is either rewarded or punished in a certain way – and this also plays a key role in terms of attractiveness. For example, there was a campaign in England where people driving through a certain point of the highway at a normal speed were automatically entered into a prize draw; the twist here is that the prize was actually coming from the penalty fees paid by speedsters. The outcome: less speedsters, less penalty fees to be chased, less work for the government (and a smaller amount of money to be paid for the winner).
🐧 “S” makes you Social
Humans are social beings, and as such, rely heavily on their direct environment and what’s happening around them. If you see a long queue waiting outside the restaurant, you might automatically think that “Wow, that’s such a popular place”, or if you read many good reviews about a hotel on the Internet, it’s 99% sure that you’ll book that one instead of the cheaper, but lesser known alternative. This many people can’t be wrong… or can they?
This kind of crowd psychology also works in internal communications: if you state that “80% of your colleagues have already completed their annual reports” in an e-mail, you can be sure that the remaining 20% will feel a sudden urge to align with the norm. Of course, it’s highly recommended to give a different context or phrasing to this kind of message every time to avoid self-repetition, but it can increase effectiveness by a lot if used correctly.
Another thing that’s very interesting in terms of effectiveness is making commitments.
Another quick example: you send an e-mail with an important task to a colleague, something that you’d expect to be solved ASAP. In version “A”, you just close your e-mail with a simple “Regards, XY”, while in version “B”, you add another line: “Please reply whether you can finish this by today.” What do you think, which one will be more successful?
The correct answer is the latter – if your colleague reads this sentence and replies to the e-mail, he / she makes a commitment, and that means that the expected action is more likely to happen.
⌛ T for “Timely” communications
We often forget a very important aspect of communication: the timing. A message shouldn’t be sent out / uploaded / delivered when it’s ready – it should be delivered when it makes sense. There’s no universal, good-for-all solution for this as it always depends on the given situation. For example, if you’d like to support a bigger kind of organizational change, it’s wise to communicate about it when the target audience is already diverged from their daily routines – e.g. giving new computers to all employees could serve as a great opportunity to introduce a new e-mail client as well.
Another aspect of human behaviour is that immediate results and consequences are always given a bigger significance than future results. If you had to order your dinner for next week right now, it’d be easy to say “I’ll go with the healthy menu” – but if you had to decide about what to eat in 15 minutes, you’d think differently and probably go with a totally different option. If something only happens in the future, there’s always time to make changes to it, we don’t feel the actual effects or benefits or it, it has less significance… Or at least that’s what we say to ourselves – this should be taken into account when planning your comms.
Where next, EAST model?
As mentioned in the first paragraphs, the EAST model can also serve as a kind of checklist that helps you finalize your communications. Think about the following:
• If people have to make any kind of choices, it’s highly probable that they’ll stick with the default option.
• Less complication (“friction”) = more probability that your message will reach its goals
• Make your message as simple as possible, especially if you’re trying to cover a heavy, complex topic.
• Your material should be eye-catchy in terms of design and personalized in terms of content
• Think about the rewards / punishments you’d apply as a result of the expected behaviour. Is there any way to make it more effective?
• Highlight the social norms of your message: if people see other’s behaviour, they’ll try to adjust their actions to that.
• Use the power of communities: people’s actions are hugely defined by what they see, hear and experience in their direct environment
• Making a commitment – either written or verbally – makes it highly probable that the action will really happenü
• Contact your target audience when they are most likely to be engaged with your communications
• Identify the immediate results of your comms, and the longer term expectations in terms of colleagues’ behaviour
• Often there’s a big gap between intentions and actual intentions – try to help people bridge these (e.g. with an action plan)
You can read more about the topic in David Halpern’s book: Inside the Nudge Unit which helped me a lot in writing this article. There’s also a shorter summary that can be found on this link – I can really recommend continuing your read here if you found my writing interesting!