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10 Things Behavioural Economics teach us about Sports Fans!

The one advantage of a pandemic lock-down (probably only advantage) has been it has given me some time to read up on topics that interest me.


One such, is the field of Behavioural Economics - the study of human behaviour to explain how/why consumers are motivated to buy products and/or engage with a company.


As a marketeer I have always been fascinated by the "why" people purchase specific products, or do certain actions that in some cases are counter intuitive.


In particular, in our Sports work what does behavioural economics have to say about the Sports Fan, and how can its teachings help us build better membership, engagement and loyalty programs.


It’s a big topic – so I have distilled my learnings down into 10 key principles. These principles are designed to help us better serve fans and design loyalty and reward activities that align with the core values of your fan base:


1. The Say-Do Principle

What someone says motivates them -vs- what actually does motive them is very different.

Users will often say cash is the most motivational reward but research into this shows that experiences and merchandise are the best rewards for producing long lasting brand association. Unless a cash sum is life changing the joy of receiving it is short lived whereas the memories from an experience last forever.


Using the principle in your program:

Put experiences at the top of the reward list and tie in emotional reasoning. Use lifestyle hero imagery to show how the experience can make someone feel. Use video or testimonials to show how it made others feel.


2. Goal Gradient Theory

As users get closer to the end target, their behaviour changes. The closer they get, the quicker they act.

Think about how often in a race you see runners pushing themselves, sprinting the last mile to achieve their goal. However long the race is, once you get closer to the finish line the drive and desire to achieve overtakes other feelings.


Using the principle in your program:

Look at how you can award your fans with points for signing up or registering an interest or completing their profile. Progress trackers give clear visuals of how close they are to their reward goal. Making sure your messaging highlights their nearness to the goal will also help speed up their achievement and activity – “attend tomorrow’s game and you will complete a challenge and open up a reward experience”


3. The Loss Principle

People are motivated by the fear of potentially missing out.

Think about how well this can be used in retail environments where you can see the number of people who have an item in their shopping baskets or the messaging saying that tickets are selling out fast. Scarcity breeds desire.


Using the principle in your program:

Think about how you could bring scarcity into your rewards strategy. Could you have higher value rewards but only a few of them to encourage people to try and aim for them quicker?


4. The Fairness Principle

People are influenced by a sense of fairness.

If something is perceived as unfair or unequal in regards to reward, people won’t want to take part in earning it. This is most important in staff or team programmes. Your team are much more likely to feel they are being treated unfairly in comparison to other members of the business so you need to ensure the messaging is clear and that the metrics work for everyone in the business.


Using the principle in your program:

Make sure you have calculated your metrics correctly. It is good practice to segment members (season ticket holders, general members, international members, kids) so that they are being awarded loyalty fairly and it is ok to encourage people to strive for more. Ensure you are clear about the campaigns your member segments are in and why, how they earn and how they redeem.


5. Idiosyncratic Fit

When people perceive that a programme is tailored to them, they are more engaged, more motivated and more satisfied. Personalisation is more than just a buzz word, think about the brands or programmes that you feel an affinity to. The likelihood is that they have similar values to you, they present a lifestyle you feel is similar to your own or you aspire to. You feel a personal connection to the brand.


Using the principle in your program:

Have a look at all your touchpoints and think about how you can personalise the fans experience. It isn’t as simple as putting their first name on the email comms, try to think about how you can personalise the game day services, on-site content, the campaigns, the rewards and the channels of communication.


6. Time Principle

Immediacy and the value of time play an important part in how engaged a person is going to be. There are two aspects to this principle. The first is that an immediate reward is more desirable than a reward that is attainable in the future. The second is that the user needs to perceive the reward and the activity required to be worthwhile of their time.


Using the principle in your loyalty program:

Kick start your program with a "Big Win" - something with emotional pull that provides instant justification for their time. Try running some instant win campaigns to assess the appeal to your audience. You could also have a look at the data you have on your customers and see if you can assess the value your users might assign to their time. Make sure that if you are asking customers to do something for you, that you make it clear what the benefit is to them.


7. Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias occurs when people subconsciously take in information and use this as a way to determine the value of something. Think about two items of clothing made out of exactly the same material. The item with a designer label and the higher price tag will be perceived by the majority of users to be of better quality because that is how we are conditioned to think.


Using the principle in your program:

Have a look at associations and partnerships and how can you build extra value in your programme through the use of well-known brands. The easiest way is often through the branded rewards you make available to your members.



8. Choice Architecture

People make decisions based on the layout, sequence and way that choices are presented to them. Your environment shapes your choice. Good user experience is as important as the content. If the signposting, messaging and layout isn’t right then the user may never understand the value of your programme.


Using the principle in your program:

The environment in which your users are going to interact with your programme is vital to understand. They may interact in store, online via mobile, desktop, table, via an app or in person. Make sure that the choices that are presented to them are accurate and that the journey they take is simple, clear and engaging.


9. Decoy Principle

When you present a list of options with a(n) asymmetrical decoy(s) to drive the person to select the option you would prefer. This moves away from the personalised experience as this is driving your preferences over that of the user however in some instances that may be the best option for the users and the programme.


Using the principle in your program:

Think back to the Say-Do principle and how experiences are the most memorable and best for retaining loyalty but most users would initially choose cash. Put the cash and gift card choices at the bottom of the reward list so that users are presented with the experiences first.


10. Illusionary Goal Process

Building upon goal gradient theory, illusionary goal progress gives people an illusionary head start which motivates them to act quicker as they are already on their way to the goal. A coffee store that gave users a bonus 2 stamps on a 12-stamp card for their first coffee versus a coffee store that didn’t but only had a 10-stamp card was significantly more successful. The number of coffees required was the same for both stores, but users felt they were closer to the goal for the first store because they already had stamps.


Using the principle in your program:

Think about how you can get customers to perceive their route to the end goal differently. This could be done visually with your progress trackers, or challenge cards (stamp cards) or by awarding users with an initial boost before they have even had to complete an activity.

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