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Goal-Gradient effect

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The goal-gradient effect is a cognitive bias that many of us experience. It is all about our tendency to be encouraged to complete certain goals. As to define, the goal-gradient effect is we being motivated to reach targets as we get more and more close to them. Doesn’t it sound familiar? Well, let’s assume that you are two weeks away from that most awaited vacation. As the days go by, don’t you get the urge to shop for many essentials that didn’t seem important a few weeks ago? Or can you explain the fact that why many of us often tend to watch the last two episodes of a TV series together? Well, that’s the goal-gradient effect in action!

However, not only in regular cases, the goal-gradient effect plays a major role in digital marketing too. Here are some key findings of the field experiments in marketing to show how the goal-gradient effect influences consumer behavior towards Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

  • Participants of reward programs do more and more purchases when they are getting closer to the rewards.
  • People who rate websites in return for rewards rate more and more websites as they are approaching the rewards closer.
  • Customer purchases can be accelerated through the illusion of progress.
  • Customer retention and re-engagement are increased on par with their stronger acceleration towards the goals.
Table of contents:
  1. How to use the goal-gradient effect for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?
    1. Embed a progress bar to show the progress of visitor activities
    2. Have the steps of your web form numbered
    3. Set targets in your loyalty program
    4. Use language wisely
  2. Final thought

How to use the goal-gradient effect for Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)?

Embed a progress bar to show the progress of visitor activities

This is a great initiative to reap the benefits of the goal-gradient effect towards boosted conversions. Having a clear understanding on how far to go to complete an action acts as the motivating towards completing it. You can embed a progress bar for comprehensive forms. This technique can be altered accordingly as to match the nature of your website or the app.

Learn from Uber!

The greatest demotivating factor of Uber customers back then was to wait for the ride. Passing time as they wait seemed somewhat unimaginable according to many customer feedbacks. To weaken the undesired effect of time passing, the Uber Company introduced the car animation concept on the map to indicate its progress towards the pickup location. As the waiting process became more transparent, the customers were more motivated to wait as a result of the goal gradient effect.

Have the steps of your web form numbered

Making your customers realize their commitment towards completing a web form is another top use of goal-gradient effect towards the Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). If your target audience fails to realize their progress towards the completion; especially in longer, comprehensive forms, it's highly likely for them to be anxious, demotivated and to finally abandon the form. In order to prevent this obvious disadvantage, you can have the steps of web form numbered and the completion displayed. So your visitors exactly know how far they have come and how far to go. Knowing how far to go is indeed a motivational factor towards completion as per the goal-gradient effect.

Set targets in your loyalty program

First of all, implementing a loyalty program itself is a great move towards Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). Second of all, its effect can be intensified with the help of the goal-gradient effect.

Here's how Starbucks drew more sales using this cognitive bias.

As we all know, there's this rewards mechanism embedded in the Starbucks mobile app. Each time you see 'x starts until next reward' what do you feel? For many of us, it will be the urge to obtain the stars quickly to reach the reward. So we keep buying! Also, the visual appeal and the persuasive language strengthen the motivation of the customers to buy more.

Use language wisely

Right tone and the persuasive language is just as important as the visual representation. What do you think is more compelling towards completion; 'one step to go' or 'Only one step and you're done!'?

Final thought

Goal-gradient effect is our tendency of being motivated towards reaching targets when we are close to complete them. Digital marketers around the world use this cognitive bias to their favor by performing harmless tricks on their customers towards Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). As to make sure that you are making the maximum use of the goal-gradient effect, ask yourself, whether the progress is depicted through the right visual representation, if the right language is used and finally whether the rewards are worth your customers' commitment!

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The references contain experiments and studies that prove this bias is there.

1. The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention
2. Power reduces the goal gradient effect
3. Goal gradient in helping behavior

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