THE INC. LIFE

How Nudge Theory Just Made You Click on This Headline (and Helped a Famous Economist Win the Nobel Prize)

Nudge theory is in full effect with headlines like this.

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BY John Brandon - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It takes effort to move a mouse, point the arrow toward a headline, and click down on a button. As a writer, I know this is true--I search on Google and read headlines all day, and I write headlines like the one above that will hopefully make you interested.

The catch? We're all inundated with many other headlines, so there has to be just enough information to make you slightly curious. And, you're savvy enough to know when a headline is really just a ploy--a trick that's only a level or two above an ant trap. On the web these days, headlines are all about a demonstration of perceived value. You won't click unless it seems like there will be an obvious reward and the click will be worth your time.

It's also a curiously apt example of how nudging works. It's the power of suggestion, a hint of payback, and a promise of reward for your time all rolled into about 10-15 words. Of course, headlines are nothing new, and suggestions as a way to influence marketing and sales are also not new. What is relatively new, and why Richard Thaler just won the 2017 Nobel prize in economics for his work in this area, is that it has become quite a science.

A headline is a nudge in a pure form. It's all about prompting people to action--is the promise of the article you're about to read enough to cause people to act?

For anyone trying to generate content or write a blog, it's incredibly important to understand the art of nudging. Create too much of a nudge (or too small of a nudge) and people won't click. A headline has to find the right balance of suggestion versus giving it all away, and the principle applies to an ever greater degree because every headline can be measured so precisely. If you're writing a headline, it's worth the effort to think about how the nudge will cause a reaction (or not cause a reaction).

Let's examine the headline above as an example.

First, you maybe didn't know about nudge theory. It's a new concept, so you were curious. It might lead you to discover there's a book by that name (written by Thaler and a co-author). You might even decide to buy it on Amazon. That's a big reward right there, because the economic principles of nudging can be invaluable for anyone responsible for product success.

Second, there's a hint of a new angle. Thaler did just win the Nobel prize, and his accomplishments are worth noting in more ways than one. There's an interesting correlation that might develop--it must be worth clicking if it was worth winning a Nobel prize. I have no idea if this will actually garner any attention, but I do know that nudging, the Nobel prize, and Thaler are all worth your attention. They might even change how you do marketing.

But it's the combination of these ideas that I believe is so important, just as it's a combination of several ideas that make an advertisement enticing, or a PR campaign, or a slideshow you plan to give to an investor. The balance of interest and carrot dangling, to the point where no one even knows there is a carrot involved, is incredibly interesting to me. It's worthy of an entire book, actually. I'd buy it and read it to find out more--how do you strike the balance? What is the brain science involved that tips people off just the right amount? When is there just enough sugar and when is there too much?

If you know the answers to those questions, you might find some incredible success...with blogging and writing, sure. Or marketing. But also with any business endeavor.