Frame Your Products to Encourage Customers to Complete the Set

BY Courtney Huckabay

"It’s no secret that people like to finish things; there’s something deeply and inexplicably satisfying about crossing the last item off a to-​do list or acquiring the final piece of a collectible set. But just how far are people willing to go to achieve “completeness”? Recent research conducted by Harvard Business School investigated whether it’s possible to harness this desire to motivate people in specific ways."

"In a series of studies, researchers used visual cues and verbal descriptions to artificially reframe individual items, from donations to tasks to gambles, as cohesive but otherwise arbitrary groups. They then measured the effect of this pseudo-​set framing on people’s effort levels and completion rates, and found that behavior changed in significant and meaningful ways," Kate Barasz writes.

"The first test was in the field; we teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross to conduct an experiment during their 2016 Holiday Campaign. The CRC randomly directed more than 7,000 donors to one of three nearly-​identical websites. One version displayed the business-​as-​usual website, a platform offering donors the option to give money and/​or up to six aid items (e.g., hot meals, blankets). A second version encouraged donors to give the six aid items—the more, the better – and “rewarded” them with a badge for each one added to the cart. A third version also encouraged donors to give the six aid items, but this time described them as component parts of a “Global Survival Kit,” presented a graphic that filled in as items were added, and showed text marking progress toward “100%” completion, indicating all six goods were in the cart."

Patio furniture retailers should consider this kind of framing for ad campaigns. It just might lead to consumers purchasing entire sets all at once, instead of a chair here and a footstool there. The new AudienceSCAN study revealed 10% of Americans plan to purchase patio furniture during the next 12 months.

"Once the final donations were tallied, they found that the Global Survival Kit framing led four to seven times as many people to donate all six items (as compared to the business-​as-​usual site and the badge prompts.) By merely tweaking the framing—and without changing anything about the choices themselves—they were able to systematically shift what donors chose to give."

"Next, they wondered: Just how arbitrary could these sets be and still elicit the same behavior? They tested this in several follow-​up laboratory studies, which depicted pseudo-​sets in different ways: a five-​slice pie chart that “filled in” as tasks were completed, an image of a subdivided coin that “filled in” as gambles were won, and the description of a “batch” of greeting cards that could be written. In all of these cases, the framing made people significantly more likely to reach completion—spending more time, or in the case of the gambles, incurring more risk—relative to control conditions, even though there were no rewards for doing so, and even when the total arbitrariness of the grouping was made explicit."

Patio Furniture Shoppers will want to see complete sets advertised on TV. The new AudienceSCAN survey found 44% of shoppers took action after watching commercials in the past month.

"So what exactly makes pseudo-​set framing work? To explore the “why,” researchers turned to a common real-​world scenario: beer purchases. In an online experiment, they showed one group of study subjects images of one, two, or three loose beers with no product packaging, and then asked how many additional bottles they’d want to buy. Most said they’d purchase either nothing more or the number needed to add up to six, representing a traditional six-​pack. However, when presented with a four-​pack container—pre-filled with one, two, or three bottles—they overwhelmingly said they would purchase only the extras needed to fill all four slots, no more and no less. They did so because they were uncomfortable leaving the case incomplete. The conclusion is that organizations can fairly easily shift consumers’ go-​to quantity for purchases with a simple tweak in product packaging."

Framing patio furniture in the same way could prove effective when advertised on social media. The new AudienceSCAN research reported 40% of Patio Furniture Shoppers took action after seeing ads on social networks in the past 30 days.

"And there are many other possibilities for implementing pseudo-​set framing in the real world. People frequently encounter tasks with no obvious stopping point, prompting the question: “How much is enough?” How many items should we buy? How many friends should we refer? How many times should we donate? Although firms and fundraisers would always prefer more engagement, they might instead consider finding a sweet spot for engagement and setting that as a point of “completion”—via text, graphics or other nudges. Many people won’t be able to resist their inherent desire to finish."

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.