What Is Nudging? – How To Influence & Control An Audience


Today you’re going to see a unique approach to influencing & inspiring an audience – whether its your readers or your organization.

What Is Nudging? – How To Influence & Control Peoples Actions

It’s the “Nudging” Technique.

First, I’ll give you some background on what nudging is, and how some companies have used nudging to make millions of dollars.

Then, I’ll give you some quick tips & pointers for how you can use nudging in your day-to-day life

Let’s dive right in.

Nudging: Positively Influencing Audiences 

So What Is A Nudge?

Nudges are interventions that steer people in particular directions but that also allow them to go their own way.

If asked “what can we do to make a mouse run across a table?” The classic gamification approach would be to place some cheese on the other end of the table, so the mouse is motivated to run across.

The nudge approach would be gently lift one end of the table, so it’s easier to run across. It becomes the path of least resistance.

A reminder is a nudge; so is a warning. A GPS is a nudge.

To qualify as a nudge, an intervention must not impose significant material incentives.

A subsidy is not a nudge; a tax is not a nudge; a fine or a jail sentence is not a nudge.

To count as such, a nudge must fully preserve freedom of choice. If an intervention imposes significant material costs on choosers, it is not a nudge.

How companies & organizations use nudging every day.

Organizations use nudging on a day to day basis to inspire positive health habits as well as to increase productivity.

How this tiny change reduced spillage on bathroom floors by 80%


In the 1960’s, Jos Van Bedoff served in the army. As a soldier, he noticed that someone had put small, discrete red dots in the barracks urinals, which dramatically cut back on “misdirected flow”.

Two decades later, he proposed to the airport board of directors that the dots be turned into etched flies.  Van Bedoff decided that guys want to directly aim at an animal they can immobilize.

“The ability to use one’s natural gifts and achieve victory over the foe while standing is the key”, he explained  “Guys, he felt, can always beat flies. That’s why flies are so satisfying.”

This grocery store tricks it’s customers into eating more & healthier


Grocery stores are overflowing with nudges and other attempts to influence our shopping decisions. These next examples are from different experiments conducted by researchers at New Mexico State University.

One of the researchers, Colin Payne puts it best:

The more mindless you are when you shop, the more you are going to be poked and prodded to buy the manufacturer’s products. We’re trying to give consumers the same power the companies have.

The first nudge came in the form of a piece of duct tape stretched across shoppers’ grocery carts.

After sectioning the grocery cart, shoppers were also shown a flyer that instructed them to put fruits & vegetables in front of the tape, and everything else behind the line. The result? A 102% increase in purchases of fruits & veggies.

The second nudge implemented a series of large green arrows on the floor, making a trail to the produce section.

According to produce director of grocery chain Pay and Save, Tim Taylor, when arriving at the decision point to go left or right, shoppers followed the green arrows 9 out of 10 times.

This city decreased litter by 46% through nudging


In Copenhagen for example, it is estimated that 1 in 3 individuals will occasionally litter.

To resolve this problem, a research team from Roskilde University tested a nudge to help pedestrians avoid littering. The team placed green footprints that led to various garbage bins in the city and handed out caramels to nearby pedestrians.

After handing out the caramels, they observed how many pedestrians would follow the footprints to the garbage bin and dispose of the caramel wrapper.

The results showed that there was a 46% decrease in caramel wrappers littering the streets when the green footprints were in use.

This ecommerce store influenced shoppers to buy healthy & buy more.

A recent study reports that an online grocery store reported higher (& healthier) sales just from mentioning that other customers purchased eco-friendly products.

Message posted on header of Ecommerce Grocery Website % that bought an eco friendly product Avg number of eco friendly products purchased % spent on eco friendly products
This shop sells several daily usage products (control) 56.1 1.56 18.67
For your information, some of the products on sale are ecological 68.4 1.58 20.24
For your information, 1% of previous participants purchased some ecological products 80 1.77 22.10
For your information, 70% of previous participants purchased at least one ecological product 86.8 2.29 29.36
For your information, on average, previous participants purchased at least two ecological products 92.5 2.22 27.94
For your information, 90% of previous participants purchased some ecological products 81.1 2.57 31.83

How You Can Nudge An Audience

Here’s how you can you use this new-found knowledge to simplify your day-to-day life.

Simplify your audiences decision-making process.

People put off decisions they don’t fully understand. Making a decision-making process easy to understand is a surefire way to influence a decision – and hopefully the one you want!

Instead of having 5 very complicated choices to choose from, make it 3 and make them very easy to understand.

Make their default (lazy) choice – the one you want.

Best for situations when not choosing is common or has a big impact. Smartly setting the default for people who neglect to choose a health care plan or who forget to decide if they want to give their organs, will have far-reaching impact.

You can use this in your day-to-day life by creating “defaults” when planning where to hang out.

“If we can’t think of somewhere to go, lets just grab coffee at Starbucks”.

Hang up to-do’s, checklists & posters to encourage productivity

These can be anything that reminds people of what’s important.

These will serve as subtle reminders & motivators to people passive by.  This is best for routine decisions.

Link a friend a picture of a cup of coffee & ask them where they want to hangout.

Offer alternatives as soon as the audience needs to make a choice.

Designed decisions place alternatives in front of people at the moment in which they need to make a choice.

This flavor of nudging is best for decisions between two or more alternatives.

“Lets go to the park… or Starbucks”

Create a process that will remind people about their commitments

Best for decisions where it’s challenging to continuously keep on track, like eating right, exercising or quitting smoking.

Gyms & fitness gurus create engaging workout routines that keep people on track & motivated.

 The Do’s & The Don’ts of Nudging


  1. Specifically define the behavior that you are trying to influence.
  2. Make a nudge that respects people’s right to choose . . . even to make what could be considered to be poor choices.
  3. Take the perspective of the decider—which choice is best according to them?
  4. Simplify the number of alternatives and reduce the complexity of the choices.
  5. Make it easier to make a choice.
  6. Make the nudge public.
  7. Take advantage of existing social norms and community practices to make your nudge stick. Get everyone in the decision environment involved.
  8. When possible, set the default for the best decision.
  9. Remember that when you create a decision point, you cannot escape influencing the outcome—so think about how your influence will enter the decision and design for it.


  1. Don’t take away all the choices but one—Leave the freedom to choose.
  2. Don’t force people to make choices without creating room for them to reflect on the decision—good nudging makes people think more, not less.
  3. Don’t expect that everyone will understand all the aspects of the decision— understand that people take shortcuts and make mistakes when deciding, and design for it.
  4. Don’t give people too many choices— health help decision making by keeping it simple.
  5. Don’t confuse an incentive and a nudge—think of ways to encourage good decision-making without having to pay dearly for it. If you want to use financial incentives, think carefully about how people will (or won’t) respond to them. Nudges sometimes work better . . . and cost less.
  6. Don’t underestimate the power of the small details—understand that people pick up on environmental and social cues (like which choice comes first or which is the shortest to read) when they make decisions.
  7. Don’t expect people will make error-free decisions in the environment you create. Design nudges that can help people learn and adjust for different types of needs, preferences or circumstances.
  8. Don’t set the default position without a good deal of careful research and consideration.
  9. Don’t feel constrained by technological limits. If a technology does not yet exist, part of your nudge can be the creation of it.

 Further Reading:

A Practitioner’s Guide To Nudging – Kim Ly, Nina Mažar, Min Zhao and Dilip Soman.


Bracha, Anat; Meier, Stephan (2015) : Nudging credit scores in the field: The effect of text reminders on creditworthiness in the United States, Working Papers, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, No. 15-2

Bhargava, Saurabh, and George Loewenstein. “Behavioral Economics and Public Policy 102: Beyond Nudging.” American Economic Review 105.5 (2015): 396-401.

Christophe Demarque, Laetitia Charalambides, Denis J. Hilton, Laurent Waroquier, Nudging sustainable consumption: The use of descriptive norms to promote a minority behavior in a realistic online shopping environment, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 43, September 2015, Pages 166-174, ISSN 0272-4944, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2015.06.008. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494415300219) Keywords: Descriptive norms; Sustainable consumption; Minority behavior

Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, 258−290. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator–mediator distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1173−1182. Breugelmans, E., Campo, K., & Gijsbrechts, E. (2007). Shelf sequence and proximity effects on online grocery choices. Marketing Letters, 18(1–2), 117−133.

About the author

Dimitry Apollonsky

I'm a growth marketing pro that works with early stage companies to help them gain traction and reach their milestones through user acquisition, user retention and revenue growth.

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Hi! I’m Dimitry

I'm a growth marketing pro that works with early stage companies to help them gain traction and reach their milestones through user acquisition, user retention and revenue growth.

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