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The Connection Between Behavioral Insights and CAT PAWs

Roy Bendor Cohen
March 9, 2021

Do you ever question why the people around you do the things they do? Chances are, you're not even always aware of why you do the things you do.

Behavioral insights provide such answers.

A lot has been written about these insights in the past decade: what they are, how to discover them, how to apply them, and so on. However, if you try to look up the definition of “Behavioral Insight,” you’ll be met with theories and frameworks rather than a clear-cut one-liner.  

To be able to reap the benefits of applying behavioral insights in practice, you’ll want to understand what makes something an insight in the first place. Going even further, how do you know if an insight gleaned is actually “good,” or valuable, of quality and considered to be deep?

Here, I aim to outline what defines a behavioral insight, as well as how you’d know that the insights you uncover are of use to answer your organization’s most pressing questions.

The DNA of a Behavioral Insight

To create a whole picture of a behavioral insight, we can begin by defining “insight” alone. Merriam-Webster defines insight as, “The power or act of seeing into a situation.” In business, the ability to approach problems by way of insight can be a powerful and pivotal tool that leads to success over failure.

When it comes to behavior, each person’s individual agency and choices contribute to predictable patterns and trendsGiven the sheer amount of customers interacting with a business at any given time, behavioral insights can help to answer hard-hitting questions and resolve situations that may otherwise be daunting.  

As such, I’ve broken down behavioral insights into six key components, or characteristics. Let’s consider the following to be the genetic makeup of a behavioral insight, so to speak:

Context-dependent - A behavioral insight doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It describes how people interact with their immediate environment. This means that an insight can’t be generic because it’s grounded inherently within its very context. There are some behavioral theories or principles that tend to universalize and become an explanation for different behaviors. But, when it comes to behavioral insights, they are defined by their specificity and the environment in which they are produced.

Actionable - Insights have a purpose; they are means to an end. We often embark on a journey to discover insights because we want to solve a problem, whether it is in the context of customer retention, new product/service development, public policy, etc. Valuable insights are the basis for potential solutions. They inspire us with new possible courses of action to tackle the issue at hand. For example, you may find that customers are adding items to an online shopping cart, but not checking out to complete the transaction. By going deeper, we can discover the behavior or reason why the conversion stalls. With this information, only then is it possible to take the right action to resolve the stalemate. (Check out the case of the ‘$300 Million Button’).

Tangible - Insights retain a quality of simplicity. When described, a 5-year old should be able to grasp and articulate what is happening. Simplicity is what contributes to the ‘aha’ moments that we feel, when faced with an inspiring insight - clarity. For example, we worked with a client in Africa who was suffering from customer churn. Through our approach, we were able to realize that whenever their clients faced a technical problem, they were relying on friends, family and neighbors rather than the company’s customer support. This was contributing to churn, and our ‘aha’ moment of cultural understanding led to a retention program that increased ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) by 13%.

Prevalent - An insight describes a pattern that is common and representative of the audience in focus. Extremes or outliers are interesting, but since insights serve a purpose of creating impact, they often. This, of course, does not mean we shouldn’t look at specific sub-groups that might have different behaviors, but rather it means that we understand that an insight describing a fraction of the population serves as an anecdote.

Audience’s POV - This might seem trivial to some, but our experience shows us that awareness and practice are separate. A behavioral insight is described from the point of view of the audience, whether it is a user, a customer, or an employee within an organization. It’s true that we discover these insights to create interventions, features, services and other solutions to meet the goals of the organization that is choosing to explore them. Yet, the insight is not to be focused on the product or service, but rather it comes from the point of view of the user interacting with the environment (product or service).

Why - A statement that describes ‘what’ happens is not an insight, but rather a fact. In order to be considered an insight, the underlying reason(s) behind that fact must be uncovered. Hence, an insight answers both “What?” and “Why?” (or cause-and-effect). A behavioral insight is one that provides a psychological explanation to the phenomenon. For example, this would be framed as, “X% of people do this,” and “They do so because of Y.”  

Introducing CAT PAW

As a tribute to the mnemonics in the field of Behavioral Insights (see: EAST, NUDGES, BASIC, MINDSPACE, FORGOOD, SUCCESS, ORGANISER, WEIRD), I would like to suggest a new one for characteristics of valuable behavioral insights, namely:






Audience’s POV


Final Thoughts

Since all businesses are made of, affected by and intended to serve people, behavioral insights reveal an entire world of solution sets for both challenges and opportunities that businesses face. While the science behind behavioral insights can be complex, the definition to understanding and applying them can be neatly summarized by CAT PAW.

Looking to apply solutions within your business? Get in touch with our team to uncover your own CAT PAWs.

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