In this blog, we hope to provide you with a basic knowledge of nudge theory, as well as examples to help you use nudges in your marketing.

Defined as a “micro-targeted design aimed at a specific group of people with the purpose of influencing behaviour”, you might assume nudge theory is a niche or new-fangled marketing practise. However, it would likely be more accurate to say that it’s the marketing technique you didn’t know you were using.

Popularised in the 2008 book “Nudge, Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness” by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein, Nudge is a concept inspired by the work of Experimental Psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

Nudges alter the environment in which they’re deployed and trigger automatic cognitive processes intended to lead us to a desired outcome. Imagine a business who have trouble convincing their employees to wash their dishes after lunch, for example. They could implement nudge techniques into the design of a poster, placed in the kitchen, intended to guide the employees towards this action.

Nudges are used to encourage change in individuals, and to explore and understand how our behaviour is influenced.

An effective way of generating change in people; nudge theory operates by designing choices that lead the subject to make positive, helpful decisions.

The indirect and tactical nature of nudge methods and their design choices, mean the audience are far more likely to take the desired option of the nudge, due to how reasonable it seems to them.

Simply put, nudging is the design of choices intended to directly influence the decisions we make, designed and implemented strategically using simple yet effective human psychology.

nudge theory and marketing

Select your nudge

There are three main nudge techniques.

Defaults – Making the decision you’d like the audience to take the default option – the one they receive if they take no action.

Social Proof – Using the behaviour of others to guide the audience to the decision the nudge was designed to encourage.

Salience of Preferred Option – Making an option more prominent, drawing the audience towards that option.

Seeing how nudges could be, and likely already are used in your marketing? Here are a few examples of the three techniques.

How nudging can be applied to marketing


Let’s imagine a B2B business offering professional services wants to increase their customer base. Like many businesses, they’re likely to put on events and webinars, or write a regular newsletter. With every ticket purchased to an event, place secured on a webinar, or newsletter sent, the businesses could include a free consultation.

People tend to act upon free opportunities, especially when they provide value.

In this scenario, the defaults nudge technique leads the audience to the desired outcome (communicating with the business about their needs and how they can help), whilst providing the business with the opportunity to convert and on-board.

We implement this exact model at The Marketing Optimist, including a free consultation with every ticket purchased for our Social Media Marketing Masterclasses.

nudge theory

Social Proof

A great example of Social Proof Heuristics can be seen on most e-commerce websites as a great way to tactfully guide you to the buy button, the contact button, or whatever action the nudge has been designed to encourage.

One utility of this technique used by business across the world, is testimonials. Collected in various forms, both written and video, customer/client testimonials are key to generating conversions and leads.

Here at The Marketing Optimist, we’ve used Social Proof Heuristics for clients to help build the confidence of prospective customers.

For another client hosting regular professional events, we’ve utilised Peer Social Proof in the form of video testimonials from industry specialists, providing the prospective customer with a sense of authenticity and credibility.

Of course, we can use nudges in a more covert manner.

When creating showreel videos for example, we select from large volumes of content captured from training sessions, such as clips where delegates display positive body language, those that visibly grasp the training, those where people take part in physical exercises, and those where people interact with our client. This kind of content, packed full of Social Proof Heuristics nudges (whether we know it or not), presents images conveying positive human behaviour and an experience that others seem to enjoy, leading the prospective customer to want to be part of it.

Salience of Preferred Option

This is one of the more self-explanatory nudge techniques, but it’s applying this one tactfully that’s the trick.

Think of a business currently developing a shopping section for their website. In order to display their menu of options, they need a fair few buttons and icons. Making the “buy now” button more prominent, either in size or by the colour used to fill it, is a hugely common use of the Salience of Preferred Option technique, intuitively guiding the customer to the desired option.

Email Marketing is a craft in itself, and one where the consideration of this nudge technique is key. Having monitored the analytics relating to the Email Marketing we deploy for our clients, the number of ‘button clicks’ decrease as the email progresses. Implementing the Salience of Preferred Option technique, you would place the most pressing messaging/content that has been designed to encourage customer action/buttons at the top of the page, which helps to ensure the action is taken.

“The Amazon Prime model” is  a great example of this. Imagine a B2C business with a website supporting customer accounts. They have a new membership tariff offering new options to their customers, all of whom they’d like to move over to it – good luck fictional business! Using this nudge technique as the Amazon website has, the business could place the option the user is expecting to see (for example the checkout button), in an less logical place, putting in its place a “try out our new plan” button.

You see nudges are everywhere, and you’re likely already using them in your marketing and general digital offering. However, giving some thought to ways in which you could harness the power of the three main techniques could not only spark some new ideas, but help improve your current approach to certain tasks amongst your marketing mix.

If we can help you with any area of your marketing, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us via the form below, or call 0113 477 1210. We’re happy to help.