Behavioural science principles: stand out

Published by Kelly Wright on

Behavioural science principles: stand out

Table of contents

Three thousand eight hundred and forty five

That’s the number of unread emails I have in my Gmail Inbox. I’m dismayed, as I recently emptied it after it hit ten thousand UNREAD emails. All those messages that never got their moment.

I imagine this is how they felt…

Incoming: “Hi, I’m here, and have I got a great offer for you! Let me tell you about it…”

Inbox: “Woah, it’s busy in here! Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get seen soon, I’m marked as Urgent.”

You are 2985 in the queue: “Ahem, excuse me, did you not read my Subject? I’ve got a 30% discount for you. Come on, let’s talk.”

You are 4462 in the queue: “Too late, the deal is off. Well, don’t come crying to me when you pay full price.”

You are 7826 in the queue: “I can see at least three of my colleagues in this queue. What do we have to do around here to get attention? Where is she? On TikTok again?”

You are 9999 in the queue: “Finally, my big moment… here she comes, she’s seen me… any minute now I’ll get read…”


“It’s my own fault”, I self-berated as I slashed and burned my way through the list, “I need to resist those Subscribe for a discount pop-ups.”

I wondered what tactics had been used in those emails to stand out amongst the competition. The fact is that any attempt to gain my attention was lost in the crowd.

Oh hello. Light bulb moment. Isn’t that often the case for workplace learning? There’s loads of it – all as important or urgent as the next. It’s a common request from clients that we make the learning stand out amongst the hours of digital training that their staff already have to do.

Abstract virtual postal envelopes illustration on digital screen background. Email concept.

So what does standing out look like in the digital world?

To get a broader perspective, I peered over the fence into the advertising and marketing world, where the noise can be deafening.

In this Rolling Stone Culture Council article, marketing professionals share their tips on how to stand out in an ad-heavy world. Even in today’s ultra-saturated media landscape, they believe that it’s possible to rise above the noise, set yourself apart from your competitors and genuinely connect with your audience.

Interesting… set yourself apart and connect with your audience. Two things we definitely aim for when creating a digital learning experience. In fact, “I connect with others” is part of our behavioural insights mantra at BAD.

This is what the contributors said about standing out:

“Authenticity and storytelling are key. You’ll cultivate an authentic perspective by interacting with your customers and understanding the problems they face…” (Zach Wigal, Gamers Outreach)

“If you want someone to take action, you need to provide them with something of value… your efforts will be more impactful when you focus on the value they will get from engaging with your content…” (Salim Holder,

“Clearly communicate your value. If your message is BS, it will be sniffed out in a microsecond and you’ll stand out in ways you wish you hadn’t.” (Matt Blackburn, ORDER)

Their insights are a reminder that standing out is not about shouting (If one more Influencer yells “STOP SCROLLING!” at me I will lose it), overpromising (This WILL change your life) or insisting (see mandatory training). As consumers of digital content, we’ve become too long in the tooth for these gimmicks and shock tactics. To feel motivated to change our behaviour, we need to be seen, heard, recognised and valued.

I gained more insight from the proclaimed ‘Father of Advertising’ David Ogilvy, who said: “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.”

Click. There goes the lightbulb again. When we create digital learning, we draw attention to important concepts, visually, or with powerful language.

Why? Because it’s not just Ogilvy that understood the power of words and pictures. Behavioural science tells us that things which are new or different can stay in people’s memories longer by surprising and delighting them (Hunt, 1995).

That’s why we include Stand Out in our behavioural insights mantra, so that we create a learning experience that people feel good about and that they’ll want to do, because people tend to stick with things that make them feel good (Fogg, 2019).

Explosion of colored paint powder on dark background

What happens if you don’t stand out?

Well, the risk in advertising and marketing is that you are unseen (like my emails). Or you are seen but fail to change the buyer’s behaviour. If you stand out, people will consume your product, tell others about it and become your biggest advocates.

It’s the same in learning. We want our learner to take notice, buy into the expected behavioural change, remember what they need to take forward and commit to doing it, long-term.

How we stand out

When our client said that their salespeople were not motivated to sell more of a particular product because they didn’t value the return on the effort it required, we knew we had to sell it to them.

We looked to the advertising world for inspo. Should we “sex it up” to make the product more desirable (see every designer fragrance ad ever)? No, they would smell a rat. Remember, the only BS in our solution should be Behavioural Science!

Instead, we took a more direct and honest approach, inspired by the Dollar Shave Club and Old Spice, who use humour to enable straight-talking and clear calls to action. We introduced the learning with one or two-word titles, short and sweet subtext and imagery that made you look twice. This campaign-style approach was a notable change for the client and certainly stood out against their existing learning suite.

This is just one example of how we create learning that stands out at BAD. We’d love to show you some more, so why not get in touch?

Four thousand one hundred and ten

Seriously? I’m off to do more Inbox admin.

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