Head vs. Heart: Applying the Science of Behavioral Economics to Event PlanningAugust 1, 2016

August 1, 2016

Head vs. Heart: Applying the Science of Behavioral Economics to Event Planning

CIT-2016-08Aug-Column1-Mary_MacGregor-860x418-v2MacGregor,Mary-BIWorldwide-110x140Mary MacGregor is Corporate Vice President – Event Solutions for BI WORLDWIDE (BIW), responsible for all operating areas of the BIW Event Solutions Group including purchasing, design, delivery, group air, individual incentive travel, onsite operations, technology, communications and merchandise. She leads a team of more than 175 industry professionals who deliver memorable experiences and measurable results for their customers. www.BIWORLDWIDE.com, info@BIWORLDWIDE.com

Applied behavioral economics is the practical use of understanding how rational and irrational thoughts combine to drive decisions and behavior. To put it another way, it helps us understand what drives humans to do what we do. Despite what we’d like to think, we’re often irrational and ruled by emotion. We say one thing, “a healthy lifestyle is important to me,” but find ourselves doing something contrary, “I’ve had a long week, I think I’ll skip the gym (again).”

“Getting better results doesn’t always require more spending. The key is to spend in areas that will resonate with your inherently emotional audience.”

Humans consistently defy logic because we are naturally emotional creatures reacting to our environment and current state of mind. Understanding this fact is one thing, but effectively applying it to our work is yet another. In a world where efficiency is so highly valued, it seems odd — or even irresponsible — to accommodate human emotion. No matter how counterintuitive it may seem, leveraging human emotion really is good for business.

Emotional Design of Events

As masters of crafting human experiences, planners have countless opportunities to observe and leverage behavioral economics. If you can truly understand the nuances of human behavior, you’ll hold a significant advantage. As you plan your next incentive trip or meeting, try to incorporate some of the principles listed below.

VIVIDNESS refers to the idea that people tend to remember things more easily when they are highly graphic or dramatic. Something that is particularly stunning or striking makes for an experience that becomes deeply rooted with positive lasting effects.

How to apply: When you think through the aspects of an event, consider all possible senses. Meals shouldn’t just taste good, they should look good. Décor shouldn’t be filler; it should boldly reinforce a message. Consider incorporating scent and other special touches to bring your entire experience to life.

Why it’s important: A vivid event is a memorable event, and a memorable event is an effective event. Participants who can remember the experience well will benefit from greater enthusiasm even as time passes. These detailed memories fuel motivation and excitement for months and years beyond.

IDIOSYNCRATIC FIT refers to the idea that everyone feels a sense of individuality, and we appreciate when others recognize that we are unique. In fact, when we feel that we’ve been recognized as an individual with our own unique set of circumstances, we are more likely to become personally invested and enjoy the experience.

How to apply: Offer the opportunity for choice whenever possible. Instead of putting an identical gift in every room, set up a special gifting station where participants can “shop” for their own gift based on style, size, color, etc. The same goes for activities: Give participants several options so they can spend their free time doing exactly what they want.

Why it’s important: It doesn’t matter how incredible your event is if your participants don’t feel a personal connection. Giving them opportunities to choose encourages them to fully engage in the process. Choice honors the individual, which is a hallmark of a quality event.

On the other end of the spectrum, many participants experience what is called the TYRANNY OF CHOICE, which refers to the idea that people tend to get overwhelmed when they are offered too many options. To combat this pitfall, wise planners leverage CHOICE ARCHITECTURE, which is the idea that choices can be carefully selected and presented in a way that makes it easier and more satisfying for participants to make a decision. People often do better with a more limited and manageable set of choices.

How to apply: When planning for elective activities, focus on putting together a thoughtful list of a few choices with simple and straightforward descriptions. Even if your destination or venue offers dozens of activity options, it is better to pare it down to a few good options that fit your audience really well.

Why it’s important: Elective activities should be inherently fun and easy — not stressful and time consuming! When faced with too many choices and too much detail, your participants will find themselves agonizing over all the options, resulting in a time suck and an increased risk that they will wish they had selected one of the other options instead.

RE-CONSUMPTION refers to the concept that it is possible for someone to relive an experience over and over whenever they are reminded of it. Each time the experience is remembered the same emotions and positive effects come into play and reinforce the person’s original state of mind.

How to apply: Participants can experience re-consumption when they have a good reminder of the experience. Consider gifts (or even small trinkets) that are a direct reminder of the experience. The gifts could relate to the message of the meeting or the destination of a trip.

Why it’s important: The success of any program is built on whether the audience successfully received a message. It’s better yet if the message lives on long after the event is over. When participants are able to mentally revisit the experience, you are maximizing the investment.

The DOPAMINE EFFECT is the result of a chemical reaction that produces a rush in the brain after something good happens. As human beings, once we experience this rewarding feeling we become motivated to experience it again.

How to apply: Broadly speaking, the dopamine effect can come into play nearly any time you provide a positive and exciting experience for your participants. To capitalize on this principle of behavioral economics, provide opportunities for sweeping views and thrilling excursions.

Why it’s important: It’s common knowledge that participants should enjoy their experience, but the dopamine effect actually can impact the psychology of participants. Once a participant experiences a rush in the brain, the positive memory is sealed with powerful motivation to achieve it again. The difference between a “nice” trip and a “wow” experience can have a huge impact on future performance and overall satisfaction with the program.

When armed with an understanding of behavioral economics, planners can maximize the impact of a meeting or event. If your goal is to increase effectiveness without increasing budget, you may want to consider reallocating your dollars. Getting better results doesn’t always require more spending. The key is to spend in areas that will resonate with your inherently emotional audience. C&IT

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