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Why Small Tweaks Don’t Always Equal Big Changes: A Tale of Two Selves

The measure of a good nudge is often true and lasting behavioral change. While it may be relatively easy to nudge people towards desired behaviors in the short-term, a more multi-disciplinary research design framework helps achieve sustained change and customer loyalty.

Editor’s Note: “Nudging” is a term that entered the lexicon some years ago, and is one of the most popular terms associated with the behavioral science movement.  As Rimma Teper presents, though, the job doesn’t end with the “nudge”, that is just a step in the journey towards a long-lasting relationship with a consumer.  Great point to keep in mind, and a post well worth contemplating.


Over the past decade or so, applying insights from behavioral science has helped us achieve remarkable things. It has helped US citizens save billions of dollars in retirement funds, increased organ donation rates and has even increased apple consumption among children!

Some of these real-world applications are so impressive that they make behavioral science sound less like science and more like wizardry.

As a behavioral scientist, I am usually the first to brag about our field’s achievements.

However, framing true and lasting behavioral change as “simple” misrepresents the science. While it may be relatively easy to nudge people towards desired behaviors in the short-term, small tweaks or nudges don’t always cut it if the goal is sustained change.

The difference between a nudge and lasting change is best explained by understanding that we constantly navigate between two versions of ourselves:

  • the experiencing self – the self that is making decisions in the moment – often using System 1 or mental shortcuts
  • the remembering self – the self that is reflecting on past experiences, and planning for the future.

Most nudges are aimed at targeting the experiencing self by minimizing pain points, barriers and “friction costs” – essentially making the desired behavior easy or feel like default.

While this is a great strategy to get a foot in the door with consumers or drive initial uptake, these nudges will cease to be effective if the actual experience does not resonate positively with the remembering self.

In other words, you can nudge consumers to buy your product/service once. But if your product does not satisfy their needs, that is where the customer journey comes to a halt.

To create lasting behavioral change and customer loyalty, we need to ensure that the products and services we design and market meet the fundamental, psychological needs of our customers in ways that stick.

Implementing nudges without understanding the individual on a deep, human level may get your foot in the door, but it will also likely mean that your foot will eventually be pushed out.

This is why good research design unpacks the cognitive biases that serve as barriers throughout the customer journey, but also uncovers the deeper, psychological and often unconscious needs of customers.

To do this, pairing behavioral science with other research methods such as needs-based segmentation and ethnography can work miracles in achieving the desired results. A multidisciplinary approach to designing behavioral change ensures that the strategic implications of important work includes nudges for the initial uptake, but also allows clients to meet their customers’ deeper needs, translating to lasting change and brand loyalty.

This blog was originally posted by the research strategy group inc. 

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One response to “Why Small Tweaks Don’t Always Equal Big Changes: A Tale of Two Selves

  1. Continue bragging! Market researchers are applied practitioners of psychology, sociology, and marketing all in one. When we use every research tool at our disposal, not just questionnaires and not just focus groups, we can move beyond ‘making consumers buy stuff’ and really help to improve lives.

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Rimma Teper, PhD

Rimma Teper, PhD

Vice President of Behavioral Science , research strategy group inc.