The Four Ps of Behavioral Economics

four_ps

Some of you may have heard of the four Ps of marketing – Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

But what about the four Ps of behavior change – Process, Persuasion, Possibilities, and Person?

I came across these four Ps while while reading a fascinating article about how the Google Food Team and the Yale Center for Customer Insights have been studying the use of behavioral economics to improve employee health choices.

The study was part of a larger objective to see what specific interventions might be an effective part of an employee wellness program. Wellness programs have had mixed success in corporate America, partly because little thought has been given to the best way to engage employees in wellness program activities.

While the link above provides a little more background on each of the four Ps, I thought it would be useful to just include the specific findings the researchers discovered relative to the four Ps:

  • Process – undercover observers were sent to one of Google’s large and busy “microkitchen” break rooms, which are stocked with free drinks and snacks. The observers recorded the number of people who took both a drink and a snack. One beverage station was 6.5 feet from the snack bar; the other was 17.5 feet from the snack bar. Observations of more than 1,000 people found that people who used the beverage station near the snacks were 50% more likely to grab a snack with their drink. For men, the estimated “penalty” in increased annual snack calorie consumption for using the closer beverage station was calculated to yield about one pound of fat per year for each daily cup of coffee.
  • Persuasion – In one high-traffic café where Googlers eat free meals, the researchers promoted an unpopular vegetable (beets, parsnips, squash, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower) as the “Vegetable of the Day!” with displays of colorful photos and trivia facts next to a dish containing that vegetable as its main ingredient. By placing the campaign posters at the Moment of Truth, right next to the dish — rather than, say, emailing an article about the health benefits of vegetables — the researchers were able to increase the number of employees trying the featured dish by 74% and increased the average amount each person served themselves by 64%.
  • Possibilities – In a field experiment in another Google microkitchen, the researchers targeted the most popular snack item: bulk M&Ms. They had been self-serve from bulk bins into four-ounce cups; most employees filled the cup. After taking a baseline measure of consumption, we replaced loose M&Ms with small, individually wrapped packages. This simple intervention reduced the average serving by 58%, from 308 calories to 130.
  • Person -Volunteers set personal diet and body goals and were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first received information on the link between blood glucose and weight gain. The second also received tools for using that information: blood glucose monitoring devices, data sheets, and advice on measuring glucose, weight, BMI, and body composition. The third was the control group, receiving no information or tools. Weekly surveys showed that those who had received tools in addition to information made the greatest progress on their goals. After three months, there was no difference between the information group and the control in achieving personal goals, but for those who had received the tools, 10% more people reported making progress on their body goals, and 27% more reported making progress on their diet goals. By the end of the study, those in the tools group found healthy choices were becoming more habitual. Information was not enough to facilitate change, but tools and measurement made the healthy choice the easy choice.

After reading the results, I tried to come up with my own plan on how I could start eating healthier snacks. I thought of things like keeping all snacks further away from my desk, or prepackaging my snacks in really tiny bags, or taking body measurements throughout the week. That seemed like a lot of work, and after a bit more thinking, I came up with the perfect solution for healthier eating:

Get a Job with Google!

Not only would that make me healthier, but wealthier as well, not a bad combination.

So Google – do you have any need for a 58 year old vegan accounting teacher who knows how to juggle, blogs on a daily basis, and has a huge Twitter following?

I’m pretty sure that’s a fairly unique combination of skills and since I’m such a big fan of Alphabet/Google, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Chat, Chromecast, the Chrome browser, and the Google self-driving car, it seems like there should be a fit somewhere for me at your Googleplex.

I’ll await your call.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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