June 24, 2023

How to increase your proposal wins with behavioural and design science - part 1

Beverley Griffiths

In 2003, four Dutch academics led a study into the potential of financial gain from imitating someone else’s behaviour. They hypothesised that if a waitress relayed their customers order back to them, that their tip size would increase. Their theory was based on the connection between Mimicry and ‘Prosocial Behaviour’; i.e. if we mimic someone else’s behaviour, then the recipient of the mimicry is more likely to follow up with an act of kindness such as sharing or donating. In the words of van Baaren, the Academic behind the research, “Mimicry creates bonds between people – it induces a sense of ‘we-ness…..You know that what you’re doing is ok, and you become more generous.'”  

During the experiment, ‘Waitress A’ mimicked half her customers by literally repeating their order and avoided mimicking the other half. The results were pretty astounding; when copycatting, the average tip of the waitress almost doubled. What’s even more interesting is that the study took part in Holland, a country where tipping is rare because customers already receive a service charge tied in with their bill.

The study was an early empirical demonstration of the potential for financial gain from slight nuances in the way we speak, act or communicate. Whilst the experiment was pretty groundbreaking, the theory behind it was not. We may not have been consciously aware of it, but marketing and business development teams at video production agencies, creative content agencies, marketing agencies and start-ups have been using behavioural science techniques for years. When linking the theory to the commercial world van Barren notes that “A good salesperson knows from experience that people like to hear and see themselves.”

Over the course of this blog post, we delve deeper into how behavioural science can directly help start-ups and creative agencies to generate new business and bring in new clients by applying the logic to the proposal stage.

What is Behavioural Science and how does it impact our decision-making process?

Behavioural Science gained traction as a research field in the 1950s. Matteo M Galizzi, Assistant Professor of Behavioural Science at London School of Economics notes that Behavioural Science is underpinned by a vast number of academic disciplines, from social and cognitive psychology to anthropology, neuroscience and wellbeing research, amongst others. In its simplest form, Behavioural Science is the multi-disciplinary, experiential exploration into how humans behave. Just like many of the disciplines found within a creative content agency, Behavioural Science doesn’t present you with a set of rules, but a hypothesis to methodically test.

See also  3 ways to optimise your digital video strategy to connect with the right customers

The psychological factors that influence the purchase and decision-making behaviour of your target client is a vast and complex topic. When compiling your proposal, you need to look closely at the individual needs of your prospective client, and match these to the science. This is something often overlooked by agencies and start-ups, so we’re confident that the application of behavioural science techniques will give you a commercial advantage. As Alistair Rennie from Google’s Consumer Insights team states “We know that what happens between trigger and purchase decision-making is not linear.”

You’ll frequently hear behavioural scientists refer to the term ‘Cognitive Bias’. We touched on these recently whilst looking at ways in which creative content agencies, and video production agencies can optimise their digital video strategy to connect with the right customers. Cognitive biases are often described as patterns of deviation or preconceived notions that are encoded deep in our psyche. They help us to make rapid decisions through a series of shortcuts. From ‘Costly Signalling’, to ‘Social Proof’, ‘Choice Architecture’ and ‘Extremeness Aversion’, cognitive biases have been defined to help us gain a greater understanding of the purchase and decision-making process of consumers.

Richard Shotton’s book ‘The Choice Factory is often seen as the leading title in the commercial application of social psychology. Having previously driven successful media campaigns for the likes of Lexus and Halifax, Shotton outlines his learnings across 25 chapters, each covering a cognitive bias key to influencing our decision-making process.

As Shotton notes, “Before you can influence decisions, you need to understand what drives them”. Citing Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group: “This subject provides a robust, intellectual link between understanding human nature and knowing how to make money”. We can be easily unconsciously influenced.

We look at 6 key cognitive biases from the book which, when applied to your new business proposals should significantly increase the likelihood of sign off and help you to generate new clients.

Bias number 1: Cocktail Party Effect

If content holds personal relevance to us then we are far more likely to deem it as worthy of our attention.

During WW1 there was an urgent need for soldiers to fight the German army. Posters didn’t display rows of soldiers with the text “THE BRITISH ARMY IS SHORT OF TWO MILLION NEW RECRUITS”, they said “YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU” with a stern-looking Lord Kitchener pointing directly at you. The result? A mass surge in recruitment.

See also  Growing trends across Creative Content: Startups take note

The content within your proposal needs not only to be tailored but to target and address your prospective new client directly. Creative content agencies and video production agencies are often guilty of repeating the bulk of their proposal content, and modifying small elements to meet the brief. Have a think about whether you can make your proposal more personalised, and relevant to your clients needs.

Bias Number 2: Veblen Goods

Price often signals quality. In 2008, a study recruited 82 individuals to test this theory using pain relief medication. The group received 2 electric shocks, one before and one after taking a painkiller. The control group were told that the painkiller cost $2.50, the other only 10 cents. In reality, they all received the same product. 61% reported reduced pain with the cheaper drug. The group taking the more expensive pill reported an 85% reduction in pain. It was assumed that the increased price improved the efficacy of the product.

We often think that by reducing our price, we’re more likely to win new business. A lower price could act as a repellent to a prospective client, but this does depend greatly on context, but it’s good to be mindful of this.

Bias Number 3: The Curse of Knowledge

We often assume that people know what we know. Shotton describes two types of individuals; Maximisers, and Satisficers. Maximisers want to know that the product or service that they are investing in is perfect; Satisficers are just looking for reassurance that it won’t be terrible.

Herbert Simon, a Carnegie Mellon Psychologist, advises that the majority of people are ‘Satisficers’. They take more of an ‘it’ll do’ approach. In contrast, the majority of business development teams within a video production agency, or creative content agency fit the ‘Maximiser’ mould; they are highly focused on their product or offering and zone in on micro differences between them and their competitors.

When preparing a proposal we tend to be Maximisers; we will pore over every detail, ensuring its perfection. In contrast, the recipient of your proposal – your prospective client – is far more likely to take the attitude of a Satisficer. They won’t review it with the degree of detail that we put into it. When we strive to convey perfection in our offering, this can result in a focus on minute details that many will bypass, or deem irrelevant.

See also  How to utilise earned and owned media for your startup in 2021

Shotton advises forcing yourself to view things from the eyes of your client – if giving your proposal less attention or a more rapid review, what elements stand out?

Bias Number 4: Primacy Effect

The order in which we are presented with information impacts how we digest and interpret it. The very first experience your prospective, or existing client has with your new business proposal is likely to be far more influential than any additional reviews.

Firstly, you need to be single-minded with your messaging. If your proposal contains too much messaging, you risk the attentional capacity of your prospective client being taken up.

Secondly, (and this is tricky), Shotton advises being first to be seen. If your client is receiving proposals from other agencies or businesses then the first will always leave the greatest impact. Try to get in there ahead of the agreed delivery date.

Bias Number 5: Mood

Whilst constructing a proposal is always our primary concern, timing in delivery mustn’t be overlooked. The statistics behind how we interpret communications when relaxed versus stressed is significant.

“Those who were relaxed noticed 56% of ads, far more than the 36% noticed by those who were stressed. Similarly, those who strongly agreed with the statement that their day “had gone super” noticed 46% of ads. In contrast, those who strongly disagreed with the statement only remembered 26% of the ads.”

If you can time the delivery of your proposal so as your prospective client is most likely to be relaxed or feeling positive, then it’s likely you’ll attain a more positive reaction. Unless unavoidable, don’t agree to a delivery date if you know it sits in the middle of a stressful new product launch, or a large event for your client. They’ll view your proposal a lot more favourably if relaxed.


We hope these suggestions help to shape successful proposals. In part two we look at how UI/UX techniques can be applied to influence purchase behaviour. If you’re interested more in the topic of Behavioural Science, we recommend the work of Koen Smets, Rory Sutherland, Lucy Jameson and Mark Earls who are all leading authors in the field.

If you’d like to hear more about Sidekick Studios and what we do drop us a message.

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