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 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, products, and services. 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.
Take a look at how REI has structured their membership. By making most of the perks about creating a community of like-minded people who are passionate about the outdoors and environmental stewardship, they’ve built an immensely popular program.
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.
Take, for example, Nordstrom’s membership program. If you’d like to sign up and begin earning points, they have a simple form asking for your name, email, phone number, and password.
As much as building a revenue-generating membership program 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.
There are a number of companies that have undertaken a tiered membership program to great effect. Sephora, for example, allows any customer to join their program, but then provides extra special rewards and incentives for those who spend the most with their brand.
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.
No surprise here, but Amazon is great at making their signup process for Prime quick and efficient. Just about everyone already has a regular Amazon account, with their credit card information on file. So to sign up for Prime, Amazon provides a call to action button that allows you to sign up with one click and begin accessing benefits right away.
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.
Birchbox does a great job of making it really easy to understand what you’re getting when you sign up for their monthly subscription. Their landing page has a clear call to action and one button underneath asking you to “Sign up today!” From there, you’re presented with three clear, simple membership options, and voila! That’s it.
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 our 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.
Consider a membership subscription service like Barkbox. They offer monthly deliveries of dog treats and toys, but asking consumers to sign up for this service is a major disruption of their typical pet care routine. And since they aren’t a household name like Petco, getting pet owners to discover them and trust their service presented a challenge.
One way they worked around that was by introducing a separate line of toys that could be purchased individually, outside of the subscription. Then they partnered with retail giant Target to sell those toys. That move drew more widespread attention to their brand (and therefore the membership), and they’re now a privately held company worth hundreds of millions.
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.
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. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.