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 Tim Ash! Tim is an acknowledged authority on evolutionary psychology and digital marketing. He is a sought-after international keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of Unleash Your Primal Brain and Landing Page Optimization. Tim also selectively works as an online marketing advisor with senior executives. For nineteen years he was the co-founder and CEO of SiteTuners – a strategic digital optimization agency. Tim has developed deep expertise in user-centered design, persuasion, understanding consumer behavior, neuromarketing, and landing page testing. Let’s see how he does in this interview!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I attended University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and double-majored in Cognitive Science (which was still inside of the Psychology department at the time) and Computer Engineering. I stayed at UCSD for my Masters and PhD work in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence ( I never finished and started my first company instead). So I guess you can say I have been interested in human decision making and the brain from the very start.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I founded my digital optimization agency SiteTuners in 2000 and ran it for 19 years. By applying behavioral economics principles to marketing we were able to create over $1,200,000,000 in documented value for clients like Google, Nestle, Facebook, Nespresso, Canon, Expedia, and hundreds of others! So in some sense I have achieved a lot. But I want to leave a lasting influence by reaching a much larger audience - instead of working with individual companies.
If you weren't a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I am a teacher and evangelist by nature. I love keynote speaking, teaching, writing books, and explaining how our brains work to others. I had already written two bestselling online marketing books on Landing Page Optimization and they were very well received and translated into six languages. I have keynoted at over 200+ conferences across four continents and love seeing people get excited when they are presented with compelling ideas. For ten years I also founded and chaired the Digital Growth Unleashed conference series to promote neuromarketing and digital optimization. And I just finished my latest book on evolutionary psychology. You can find out more about me on my website https://TimAsh.com
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
If I want to accomplish an important goal or change a bad habit, I externalize the accountability. By declaring my intention publically to others, I harness the power of peer-pressure and external judgements to keep me on the right path and to hit my commitments.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Always look for problems - always be skeptical, dissatisfied, and negative (internally - not in terms of your outward behavior). By focusing on the pain and the friction, we can create the most compelling motivation to get people off of their comfortable spot. Too many people and organizations try to be "nice" and accommodating when motivating others. I say that you should actively rub salt into the wound to make people see how bad their situation is if they stay on their current path. Only then will they want to change...
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years?)
Right now there is not a lot of cross-collaboration. People are working in disparate fields such as public policy, individual habit change, social sciences, and marketing. And each of them are kind of reinventing the wheel within their narrow disciplines. So we have a lot of checklists, and tactics to try, but not a lot of understanding of how it all fits together. I believe that the most-useful unifying framework behind our behaviors is evolution. Without understanding how life on earth evolved, we can not understand the shortcuts and subconscious reasons behind our own behaviors. I have spent the last three years of my life writing a concise and non-technical overview of evolutionary psychology called Unleash Your Primal Brain: Demystifying how we think and why we act. It is available as an ebook, audiobook, and soon in paperback - https://PrimalBrain.com
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Dr. Robert Cialdini has been a professional crush of mine for a long time! His books Influence and Pre-Suasion are must-read classics in the sales and marketing fields.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Tim!
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!