How Brands Can Leverage Behavioral Science to Enhance Engagement, Motivation, and Positive Outcomes

How Brands Can Leverage Behavioral Science to Enhance Engagement, Motivation, and Positive Outcomes

Christina Famy, Director of Client Partnerships | March 08 2024

Have you ever wondered why you get a thrill when you see the Amazon delivery truck approaching, or why swiping through dating profiles feels oddly exciting? You may not realize it, but it’s thanks to science and how our brains are wired.

Understanding what drives our engagement and motivates us to act is important. Not only to better understand how we work, but for marketers and business owners to stand out from the competition. 

In this article, we dive into the practical applications of behavioral science for brands, specifically exploring two powerful principles: the thrilling anticipation that keeps us hooked and the motivational power of immediate rewards and progress tracking.

Let's look at how behavioral science can become your brand's secret weapon for driving positive outcomes.

Anticipation as a Reward: Building Excitement Before the Finish Line

Have you ever ordered something online and couldn’t wait for the package to arrive? Do you ever feel like the build-up to the holiday season is more exciting than actual Christmas morning?

Anticipation is everywhere. Even clicking on this link to read this article was anticipation – you read the LinkedIn post or link description on Google, decided it may be helpful, so you clicked it to read more.

Anticipation is something our brain does automatically, and constantly. You’re anticipating a conversation with your boss, a presentation at work, a weekend trip, a big party, receiving that package in the mail, or just relaxing on the couch after a long day. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all anticipating something. 

When we bring something expected from the future into the present it can bring up different emotions. For a weekend trip, it can give us a little shot of dopamine, resulting in positive anticipation. On the other hand, a big presentation can make us feel anxious, resulting in negative anticipation. 

For many of us, anticipation is in the positive form and involves drawing on a future good to inspire joy and motivate you in the present. Maybe you're preparing for your beach vacation by living a healthier lifestyle or maybe you’re looking-forward to enjoying your weekend, so you work extra hard to check things off your to-do list on Thursday and Friday.

Anticipation can have a powerful impact on perception, which is incredibly important for brands and businesses to understand. Building a positive anticipation for a product or service means: 

  • Customers feel a great sense of excitement while waiting
  • When customers get it, they’re more likely to enjoy it
  • Once customers have it, they’re more likely to remember it positively

Creating a sense of anticipation for the consumer can make products, services, and experiences better.

For example, in one study, researchers gave participants a drink of Coke with no identifying features, then the same drink of Coke was preceded by an image of a can of Coke. 

When subjects saw the can of Coke before drinking, brain activity increased significantly in regions associated with positive affect and memory. The anticipation of Coke made the Coke taste better. 

When they tasted the anonymous drink, they took the flavors as they were and tried to figure them out. But when they tasted the Coke that they knew to be Coke, it felt familiar, and they enjoyed it even more.

It may be counter-intuitive, because it seems like everything is available at our fingertips, so consumers are expecting everything to be fast and seamless. However, it may be more advantageous for brands to leverage anticipation to heighten engagement and create positive associations with their products or services.

Consider, a matchmaking service. Instead of solely focusing on the outcome of finding a date, their campaign emphasizes the excitement of the chase and the anticipation of connection. Think back to a time when you were getting ready for a date – how did you feel? Were you excited? A little nervous? Was it fun getting ready? In this case, the anticipation of getting ready for a date gives us a little shot of dopamine. Therefore, by showcasing the thrill of possibility, taps into the inherent human desire for novelty and social interaction, making its platform more engaging and interesting.  

Amazon masters the art of anticipation, too, but in a slightly different way. Their online e-commerce business is built on the joy customers feel when they receive a package. From order confirmation emails to detailed delivery tracking, they build excitement throughout every step of the journey. This has created a positive association with the brand, making the arrival of the actual product much more satisfying. 

By leveraging the power of anticipation, brands can create a compelling narrative that goes beyond the mere transaction. It can help keep audiences engaged and create a loyal customer base.

How to Leverage Anticipation in Marketing

Brands and businesses can leverage the power of anticipation to help promote its products and services. These strategies can help brands create more hype and visibility around brand activities like product launches, live events, and big limited-time sales. 

Here are some considerations for creating an effective campaign around anticipation:

  1. Curiosity: Pique the customer’s interest by dropping hints and teasing details of the new product launch or upcoming limited-time sale. It keeps people interested, engaged, but wanting more. 
  2. Cadence: Play the long game. Slowly release information over an extended period. For example, if you have a new product launching in April, start teasing it out 2-3 weeks ahead of time in March. Release clues on different platforms like social media and email. 
  3. Content: Give audiences something to engage with and that will hook their attention. 
  4. Community: Encourage your customers or prospects to share the news with their network to create conversation and interaction about your flash sale, promotion, or new product launch.

You can use the strategies above and apply them to specific anticipation tactics, like:

  • Regular product drops and product editions 
  • Social media announcements 
  • Live events to promote the launch of a new product
  • Teaser images and videos
  • E-mail sign-ups for anticipated new product drops 
  • Influencer marketing and collaborations
  • Early access product reviews
  • Countdown timers 
  • Pre-sales and pre-orders

These are common marketing tactics that leverage anticipation – see how each one can build hype and visibility? These tactics are extremely helpful in boosting sales, building awareness, and boosting brand affinity. 

Apple is notorious for its big anticipatory product launches. In fact, devoted Apple customers will spend months speculating about these events, during which new products, services, and software updates are announced. Reddit forums are filled with discussions from Apple fans, and tech bloggers spend months discussing the new products. 

What’s interesting about Apple’s strategy is that there is a lot of hype just leading up to the launch announcement. After the announcement, Apple usually waits 3-4 more weeks before the products hit the market. All the anticipation and build-up lead to a huge demand for the new product or service. We’re all aware of the lines wrapped around the Apple store as customers vie for the latest iPhone.

Immediate Rewards and Progress Monitoring

Imagine you’ve just started a new exercise and healthy eating routine. You’re waking up every morning, working out, and eating three square meals a day. While the long-term benefits are undeniable, staying motivated in the initial stages, before you visibly see results, can be challenging. This is where the powerful duo of immediate rewards and progress monitoring come in. 

Consumer Behavior Lab’s recent podcast guest, Dr. Tali Sharot, a leading expert in behavioral science, emphasizes the importance of immediate rewards and tracking progress in driving lasting behavior change. Focusing on reaching small goals offers a sense of accomplishment and can keep the momentum going, motivating individuals to stay on course to reach their goals. 

But how does this apply to brands and marketing?

Let’s take Tui, a major tourism company based out of the UK, for example. Tui aimed to understand what makes people happiest on vacation. Their study revealed an interesting insight: peak vacation happiness occurs 43 hours (about 2 days) into the trip. This information empowered Tui to design strategies that enhance this specific timeframe. 

For instance, they focus on making "first-time experiences" particularly exciting, offering unique and new activities for travelers to discover. Additionally, they extend the joy of the trip by sending memorabilia to customers' homes, reminding them of the positive emotions associated with their vacation.

Vitality, a health insurance provider, understands the importance of progress monitoring, too. They utilize a point system and progress tracking, where customers earn points for engaging in healthy activities like exercising, eating nutritious food, or attending checkups. These points can be redeemed for various rewards, creating a system of immediate gratification. Plus, the visible progress tracking motivates individuals to stay active and maintain healthy habits.

Peloton, a health and fitness brand with equipment and online classes, incorporates rewards and progress monitoring into its strategy, too. While they don’t offer a points system like Vitality, they do track and display riders' personal best performances for various metrics like distance, output, and cadence. This allows riders to see their own progress, creating a sense of accomplishment and encouraging them to push their limits. Additionally, Peloton awards digital badges for accomplishing specific milestones, like reaching a certain number of classes or riding a certain number of miles in a month. These badges are tangible rewards that motivate riders to keep exercising to reach their goals.

Milestones from the Peloton App

Benefits of Immediate Rewards and Progress Tracking

These brands have effectively woven immediate rewards and progress tracking strategies into the customer experience. The human brain thrives on positive reinforcement, so these tiny examples from Tui, Vitality, and Peloton, unlock various benefits, like:

  1. Enhanced Motivation: Whether it's a discount, points towards a reward, or a virtual badge, these tangible or intangible benefits provide a motivational boost, especially in the initial stages of forming new habits.
  2. Increased Engagement: Progress monitoring allows customers to visualize their achievements through metrics, leaderboards, or personalized dashboards. Seeing tangible proof of their progress creates a sense of accomplishment, keeping customers engaged and invested in the process.
  3. Motivation for Behavior Change: Combining immediate rewards with progress monitoring creates a powerful positive reinforcement loop. The initial reward motivates individuals to act, while tracking progress creates a sense of accomplishment, encouraging them to stay the course. 

Building Brand Loyalty: By creating and nurturing positive associations with your products and services, it can build brand loyalty.

Leveraging Rewards & Progress Tracking: How Brands Can Do It

Clearly, there are lots of benefits for brands to implement immediate rewards and progress tracking strategies into the customer experience. So, how can they do it? Here are several strategies and takeaways for you to consider for your brand.

Develop a Rewards Program:

This may seem like a no-brainer, but brands can develop robust reward programs to encourage customers to stay engaged. 

Starbucks has a highly successful rewards program, which is a prime example of how brands can leverage immediate rewards and progress tracking to drive engagement and brand loyalty. Customers earn Stars with every purchase, with different tiers offering varying rewards. Earning Stars unlocks different tiers within the platform, providing customers with increasingly valuable rewards and encouraging them to stay consistent with their purchases. Plus, you can track all your Stars in the Starbucks app, which gives customers a visualization and keeps them motivated.

Progress Tracking Features:

Give users real-time feedback in a clear, visually appealing way to keep users engaged and motivated. This could be as easy as including progress tracking indicators during a long form, like this one from Ocean Finance:

Duolingo, a language learning app, has a great gamified progress tracking system. They encourage users to maintain a consistent practice with a daily streak system. Progress is displayed through a user-friendly interface with progress bars and unit completion marks. You can unlock milestones and celebrate small, personal wins, which keeps users engaged.


Provide Immediate Feedback:

Acknowledge and reward positive actions in real-time time, such as offering bonus points for completing a survey or providing positive feedback after the purchase. 

For e-commerce brands, this could be providing the customer with a confirmation message and estimated delivery timeframes. Or it could even be utilizing a chatbot to provide responses and solutions to customer questions. 

When done effectively, immediate feedback can increase customer satisfaction and boost brand loyalty.

The Science of Consumer Engagement and Loyalty

The human brain is incredibly complex, but understanding the nuances and psychology behind behavior can help brands tap into the intrinsic motivations and desires of their audience, creating deeper engagement, stronger motivation, and ultimately, positive outcomes. 

Want to learn more about the thrill of anticipation or immediate rewards and progress tracking? Remember to check out Consumer Behavior Lab’s latest podcast with Tali Sharot, a neuroscience professor at University College London and M.I.T., where we discuss the practical application of cognitive neuroscience.

Looking to grow your business and build brand loyalty? Get in touch with the behavioral science experts at Function Growth.