Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Converting browsers to buyers: Lessons from a food charity

What's the cost of your favourite meal?  $10? $25? That is the question posed by WeFeedBack as part of a clever online App that turns charitable intention into donating behaviour and which serves as a great case study for businesses wanting to turn browsers into buyers.

Meet the WeFeedBack Calculator App 
The WeFeedBack App is part of the World Food Programme's global effort to encourage donations to feed hungry and malnourished children, but instead of simply asking you to donate an amount you pluck out of thin air, they take you through a simple but evocative calculation.  Note the cost of your favourite food (say $10 for a focaccia) x the number of serves (eg 3 a week) = $30. The calculator then tells you how many children could be fed by a donation of the same value (in this example, 100).  Suddenly a donation of $30 seems embarrassingly affordable, easing my focaccia addled-conscience by offering great value for my contribution.

So let's look at the behavioural principles at play here.
  • Framing - the App is contextualising one number ($30) with another larger number (100), serving to diminish the scale of the donated amount. In other words, $30 seems trivial because my brain has processed a bigger number as part of the same process.  (You see this all the time in retail where the Recommended Retail Price is left on the tag during a sale to influence your sense that the mark-down offers great value)
  • Loss aversion - the App minimises any sense of loss I feel at donating money by amplifying the value generated. $30 to feed 100 kids? No downside there.  Further, it gets around the sense of sacrifice I might feel otherwise if it was asking me to forgo my focaccia. Instead, it is asking me to match the value of my favourite food, not stop buying it.
  • IKEA effect - just like we value the bookcase we assembled more than one in which we played no role, we are more likely to donate through this calculator App than one in which we had no involvement in 'building' the donated value. The App involves us on a very personal basis by asking for our favourite food, not just presenting a table of commonly consumed foods.  
Lessons for business
Just as the World Food Programme is working to convert intention (give to charity) to behaviour (actually donating), businesses endeavour to convert browsers to buyers.  So what would a business version of this App look like, using similar behavioural principles?

Imagine you are a gym and trying to sell annual memberships. What if you asked people to calculate;
  • The number of visits to the doctor or other health professional they had last year (say 7) by the average value of these visits (say $65).  Suddenly the calculator tells them they have spent $455 on "sickness".  Contrast this with what they would be spending on "wellness" aka gym membership a week (say $500 membership is less than $10 a week). You have framed the $10 in the context of $455 and started to build a convincing case.
How about car insurance?
  • What about asking them to calculate the time spent every day in their car (say 30 minute commute x twice a day x 5 days + 3 hours on weekends = 8 hours a week).  Wow.  You spend the equivalent of 1 full work day in your car - surely it's worth insuring a day of your life?  
You get the idea. Draw a personally relevant example (my favourite food, my doctor's visits, my time in the car) and extrapolate its value to contextualise what you are asking them to spend. Get them to engage in the (must be simple) calculation to heighten their sense of ownership in the process, and make magnify their benefits to close the deal. Happy conversion.

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