The human brain is wired to conserve energy and avoid difficulty.
This translates to consumer behavior in what psychologists call the "easy option bias".
When faced with choices, people rely on mental shortcuts that favor convenience over making commitments that require more effort.
Marketers and designers alike can leverage these shortcuts ethically to shape customer decisions.
1. We avoid making commitments
Committing to plans, appointments, contracts or major purchases involves cognitive effort that our brains instinctively resist. The preference for pleasure and avoiding pain means that unless pressed, many consumers will procrastinate finalizing details or signing agreements that require firm commitments. The limbic system triggers feelings of risk aversion when faced with committing now for a future reward. This is why sales professionals are trained to nudge customers towards commitment once interest is expressed.
Strategies should make the path to commitment as frictionless as possible. Reducing the steps and simplifying complex decisions that require customer commitment allows the convenience impulse to override the avoidance impulse. Tools that allow virtual signing of contracts or frictionless payment ease the commitment process.
2. We gravitate toward convenient options
All else being equal, the human brain will guide people to choose the more convenient option that requires the least effort. Our brains are constantly evaluating cost/benefit tradeoffs, and convenience has special power to override other costs. Amazon's 1-click purchasing dramatically boosted sales by allowing the convenience impulse to bypass normal evaluation.
Research shows that making the desired action the simplest and most frictionless path manipulates the brain's preference for least effort. Technology and design simplifications that remove barriers to convenience are powerful ways to nudge customer behavior.
3. We rationalize choosing the easy option
Once the human brain registers a commitment to an easy option or convenience-based choice, it goes to work justifying the decision to avoid cognitive dissonance. This self-delusion allows us to feel consistent with our perceptions of our motivations.
Messaging should connect convenience to emotional outcomes customers already desire, such as freedom, status or relaxation. Framing convenience as a benefit rather than a lazy shortcut activates reward centers and minimizes need for post-purchase rationalization.
4. We become attached to default options
Defaults require no additional work on the consumer's part, so the brain latches onto them. Sometimes called the "default effect", this mental process leads people to passively accept default settings or choices rather than evaluating alternatives. Companies use this effect when defaulting customers into email lists or continuity plans to streamline sales.
Where appropriate, leverage defaults and pre-selected options to subtly guide customers along the easiest choice architecture. Keep in mind that there are ethical implications to removing too much decision responsibility from consumers. Default options work best when they align with desired customer outcomes.
While convention states consumers make rational evaluations, science shows we often select the easiest option without realizing it.
Savvy marketers and designers shape decisions by understanding and utilizing mental shortcuts like the easy option bias rather than fighting them.
Ethically leveraging the path of least resistance can benefit consumers and businesses alike.