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Interview with Guy Champniss

Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Guy Champniss! Guy does it all. He is a consultant and academic, as well as behavioural science lead to Enervee. He is also a visiting professor of consumer behaviour at IE University’s School of Human Sciences and Technology in Madrid. His work focuses on the application of social psychology and behavioral science in consumer contexts, with a specific focus on creating prosocial consumer behaviour. Guy works across a number of sectors, including banking, healthcare, education, market research, FMCG and technology. He also found the time to co-author ‘Brand Valued: How socially valued brands hold the key to a sustainable future and business success’ which is a damn great read! Given that he writes books well, let's dive into his answers:


Who or what got you into Behavioural Science?

Well, it’s a bit of a convoluted route, but then I guess it probably is for most in this field. I had ended-up in an insights and consumer behaviour role with the global marketing services group, Havas, and had become utterly frustrated with the quality of the insights being generated for clients. I was also becoming more and more interested in sustainability, and what that meant for brands and marketers, and felt the disconnect was even greater there. We spent all day asking consumers for their attitudes towards climate change, the environment, etc. etc., which I felt had no real bearing on how they would behave should these big firms then offer them a product of a service. The result was a huge risk for clients piling money into initiatives that looked good in a questionnaire or focus group but would potentially fall flat on their faces in the real world.

I was then lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks at Stanford, right around the time that a seminal behavioural science study was run looking at energy saving behaviour. The combination of Stanford and the exposure to applied social psychology was a lightbulb moment for me. I was utterly enthralled. So I came back and, wanting to deal in fact and evidence rather than opinion (which marketing services is very good at…), I committed to do my PhD in looking at how behavioural science could help us in terms of prosocial consumer behaviour. So still a focus on sustainability, but a different – and I think more effective – route in! I should also say that my supervisor – Professor Hugh Wilson – was a fantastic support, and is now at Warwick (and is also banging the sustainability drum, I believe).

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?

Although I have a PhD in it, and have published a few papers, I don’t for one second rate myself as a behavioural science academic. However, I am proud of my ability to apply behavioural science concepts in the real world. In 2015 I moved to work for a US-based energy and behaviour start-up called Enervee (I had been an advisor for a few years before).

We put behavioural science at the heart of the proposition and as a result created a platform that is hugely influential in delivering energy savings from residential customers. I’m immensely proud that we’ve won awards for the application of the science and have been recognised as a proposition that can transform the market. We’ve run over 50 experiments along the way, all of which are very simple, but together they’ve created a body of evidence that has constantly improved the product and convinced highly conservative regulators that we’re the real deal. We’ve also saved a colossal amount of energy at a fraction of the cost of the next best alternative. We’re in the process now of convincing the entire North American market that rebates no longer need to be used to persuade consumers to shop energy efficient. Again, field studies and shopping data show this to be the case. That’s all down to the effective application – and communication - of behavioural science.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

Throughout my working life I’ve fought the urge to do something far more creative and practical. So I’d either be a photographer or a watchmaker. Or possibly both, of course.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

How do I apply behavioural science in my personal life? Incredibly badly, is the answer! Seriously, I am hopeless. My wife is constantly pointing out how bad I am at making choices, which she finds highly entertaining considering I should know better. I do know better, of course, but that doesn’t stop the poor decisions. I can give you two epic examples which span almost as long the entire Star Wars franchise (or so it feels).

First, I made a poor decision to buy a dining room table when my wife and I first met, which has resulted in the most bizarre and prolonged demonstration of the endowment effect in history. We have literally moved houses so as to not have me cash-in the pain of the endowment effect. Second, when I bought my first flat, I made what I believed would be a single visit to Homebase (a UK chain of hardware stores) to get some supplies. On that visit I was offered a loyalty card, which I turned down thinking it was a one-off trip. Since then I must have been to the same store over 1000 times. 1000 times! And even though the staff have changed (the original ones have probably retired, it’s been so long), every time I get offered the option of a loyalty card, and every time I have to say no. As I say it, I can see and hear the words ‘sunk cost fallacy’ all around me. In fact, I think I’ve even heard them announce over the PA system on one trip. Honestly, I’d have so many points now, the store would be named after me…

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

Well, I’d like to answer this one by modifying your question a little. I think there are plenty of highly talented behavioural scientists working in academia. But these expert research skills don’t necessarily translate into being effective in the context of applied behavioural science. And I do think we need to get better at being applied behavioural scientists. I’m back to banging my sustainability drum again, but I feel very strongly that we’re facing crises on numerous fronts at the moment. And I feel even more strongly that applied behavioural science is incredibly important right now. Many of the challenges we face have complex behavioural components (climate, health, education, equality to name a few) so it has to be the case that applied behavioural science – applied behavioural scientists – can be a significant part of the solution.

What skills are needed in this context? Essentially, we need to be more creative, better at translating and more attuned to design. More creative in that we need to be able to look left and right at a particular problem and think how behavioural science could provide a unique view on the issue, which reveals a potential solution. Better at translating, in that with any new discipline one has to be superb at making it feel instantly comfortable and useful for others. And more attuned to design, because I believe applied behavioural science has so much to give at a foundational level as we (re) design products, services, industries, sectors and cities for the better. Dan Ariely said it well (of course) at the Behavioural Exchange this year – ‘[behavioural science] can do a lot with small tweaks. But it can do much better by developing technologies that are built from scratch on the principles of [behavioural science].’ The opportunity is there, but we have to better at earning our right to be involved at the beginning, and that requires a host of skills around a good understanding of the discipline.

How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

Well I hope it’ll become seen as a critical and strategic commercial function, enabling businesses to play an influential part in solving environmental and social problems. Today it’s seen as a potent but maverick option in business and policy design; almost a ‘silver bullet of last resort’, which may work, or may ricochet off and hurt someone (I’m mixing my metaphors horrendously, but hopefully you see what I mean). In 10 years’ time I hope it’s seen as a versatile yet stable first step in designing everything and anything for good. At in 10 years’ time, I very much hope we’re celebrating at least its fifth birthday at being seen like this!

Which other academic would you love to read an interview by?

Well, let’s aim for the stars. The initial experiment that hooked me back at Stanford had the great Robert Cialdini as one of its authors, so I’d love to read an interview with him.

Equally influential (for me at least) but possibly not quite as well-known would be Adam Alter (NY Stern) and Deborah Small (Wharton). Katherine White (UBC-Sauder) also, for her work in applied social psychology and sustainability.

From a quasi-practitioner perspective, I’d also like to hear from David Halpern (BIT).


Thank you so much for these amazing answers Guy! I'll make sure to reach out to all the people you have mentioned, and hope at least one of them replies, haha.

As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews! Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!


Behavioural Science

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