The Fogg Behavior Model was created by Dr. BJ Fogg, a behavior scientist and Computer Science professor from Stanford University. It explains how three distinct elements must interact in order for any specific behavior to occur. When a behavior isn’t initiated, you can bet that it’s because one or more of the three elements—Motivation, Ability, and Trigger—is missing!
The model is a powerful tool to help designers identify and understand, from a psychological perspective, why users aren’t engaging in the desired behaviors. Say you’re aiming to increase digital memberships but your conversion rate is lacking. It’s likely because you’re missing the mark on understanding your target user’s motivations, abilities, or effective triggers.
Each of the three vital elements are made up of smaller components. Let’s break them down.
Motivation: The Three Core Drives
The element of motivation is composed of three core drives: sensation, anticipation, and belonging. Each one fits into a clear category of physical, emotional, or social.
Sensation is the very real, very tangible level of motivation. We naturally want to engage in things that bring us pleasure, while avoiding things that bring us pain. Gamification works for this reason. If you offer incentives when users perform a certain behavior, that physical motivation skyrockets.
Anticipation is the more emotional level of motivation, which is defined by feelings like hope and fear. Hope is an amazingly powerful motivator. You can harness it by giving users a sense of Epic Meaning (the draw to be a part of something bigger than yourself, something that truly means something). In addition, creating anticipation for your content makes it all the more attractive to potential users.
Consider how you can leverage anticipation through results-driven content. If your audience has a problem they simply cannot solve but you give them hope for a resolution, they’ll be motivated to subscribe to a membership that provides those results.
Belonging is the social level of motivation. We all want to feel like we belong. Since no one wants to feel rejected or left out, creating a community motivates users to plug in and really engage. When users are part of an active community, not only do they more eagerly digest content, but furthermore they lean on their shared connections to support personal growth.
Your most loyal members will be willing to pay for a sense of belonging. These are people you can motivate to attend events, join a professional network, or open access to an exclusive online community.
Ability: The Six Simplicity Factors
Six factors drive the element of ability. These factors determine if a user is truly able to perform the desired behavior. So now we’ll analyze ability blockers—things that stand in the way of a user being able to achieve the behavior.
Ideally, you want to design and format your content and landing pages with these stumbling blocks in mind. But if your conversion rate is floundering, they can also be re-examined to understand why your users are unable to take the steps you want them to take.
It’s easier to perform a behavior that can be done quickly, versus one that takes an extended amount of time. Consider how time-intensive the desired behavior is. For example, how many fields do you require a visitor to complete to join your email list? If you’re asking too many questions, you’re asking for too much time. Consider asking a smaller set of questions. Then you can follow up later, after you got the conversion.
As much as monetizing your content is the end goal, be careful not to make things cost-prohibitive. A behavior that costs little or no money is easier to undertake than one that requires substantial investment. Consider having multiple tiers of members. Get the commitment at the lower level, then add so much value that the customer will want to upgrade over time.
3. Physical Effort
Users are less likely to complete a behavior that takes significant physical effort, rather than one that requires little strain. In the online world, the fewer clicks the better.
4. Mental Cycles
Maybe you’re exhausting your users. If a behavior is mentally complex, many users won’t even attempt it. Write instructions as simply and clearly as possible. Give customers a roadmap of what they can expect so you aren’t making them guess at what they need to click on or complete.
5. Social Deviance
Are you asking users to engage in behavior that is socially unacceptable? That’s a one-way ticket to low engagement. (I doubt this applies to any of my readers.)
Users are more apt to engage in behaviors that are routine and familiar. If you’re asking them to do something they’ve never done before, expect more resistance. There is comfort in familiarity.
Make sure your user experience is in line with how people tend to engage with websites and apps. For example, most people expect search to be in the upper right hand corner of a page. So don’t put it in an unexpected location.
Effective Triggers: Three Types of Calls to Action
Also commonly known as a “call to action,” a trigger is something that prompts the target behavior to take place. The FBM identifies three distinct categories of triggers. They are each different combinations of motivation and ability. When driving your audience towards your CTA, implement the trigger type that best fits your target user’s context. Look at their most natural and convenient entry point and go from there.
Use when there is High Motivation + Low Ability. Act like a kindergarten teacher. Clearly explain how to take the desired action. For example, overlay arrows and instructional text to trigger your visitors to take action. Most of all, make everything look easy.
Use when there is High Motivation + High Ability. This trigger is the easiest. Therefore, it could be as simple as putting a CTA button in the right place.
Use when there is Low Motivation + High Ability. You’ll need to tap into the emotions of your users and demonstrate your value. Keep it brief, keep it simple, and keep your ask to a minimum.
The key to making your trigger effective is to set up a functional and smooth chain. This applies regardless of which type is best suited to your ideal user. A trigger that works well engages users in an easily accessible first step. It can then consequently lead to them then converting for higher margin products later. Think low threshold for entry and scale your expectations from there.
Triggering the chain properly will also result in a fluid and seamless form of persuasion. It takes a user from a simple task to a more involved level of engagement without feeling forced. It’s the same membership principle behind a product pyramid.
In conclusion, don’t ask people to perform complex behaviors right off the bat. Simplicity is key. Design with this ultimate chain of desired behaviors in mind. Then you can dictate user flow and, as a result, make each behavior feel like a natural progression from the last.
How Sterling Woods Can Help
The Sterling Woods Group teaches clients our five forces to methodically make more money online. The goal: make sure you lock in double-digit growth year after year using the power of digital media. Many companies have experienced over 50% growth using our system. Beyond the financial benefits, clients tell us that – for the first time in years – they feel truly focused.
We offer workshops, coaching, and keynote speeches. Sterling Woods is also an agency that launches new digital initiatives, so clients don’t have to add overhead. Our agency business model is unique in that most of our fees are based on performance.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online, set to be published in 2018. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.