5 Behavioral Design Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Dance

Did you know the behavioral psychology of dance can make you a better marketer? I recently enjoyed a day of learning at the 2014 Design for Dance conference. Hosted by Stanford’s BJ Fogg, we explored the beautiful world of behavioral design with an impressive array of speakers. I’m still digesting everything I learned, but here are some of the key takeaways I plan to apply in my professional life.

1. Transition periods are ripe for behavioral change

photodune-4444830-splitting-paths-by-the-ocean-xs Change begets change. Rachel Kalmar (one of our speakers) discovered this when she took a couple month vacation to Spain during her college years. Because the town she vacationed in didn’t have opportunities for her rock climbing or mountain biking, she decided to take up Salsa dancing. Normally, she wouldn’t have even considered dancing, but during this time of change (new town without opportunity for her normal sports), she was open to trying it. Today, she runs data science at Misfit Wearables… and actively shares her continued love for dancing. Once a person has developed a routine, getting them to develop a new habit will be almost impossible. The current path is worn too deeply to change. Instead, look for the transition points where your target customers are creating new paths. Starting college, changing jobs, and moving cities all present powerful opportunities for behavior change. Seek to become part of a new path – don’t try to change the old. (tweet this)

2. Shorten the journey to action

hourglass Robin Campbell teaches dance at the Dance Dojo. In his experience teaching beginners, he has found the first five minutes are decisive. By that point, people are either hooked on learning more, or they’re drifting toward the door. So what makes the difference? Action. Rather than starting slowly with teaching or demonstration, skip quickly to the actual dancing. If you can teach a beginner a simple move (like their signature), they will suddenly discover the joy of dancing and wish to continue learning. Particularly when we’re already filled with self-doubt, the importance of that first small victory cannot be overstated. How long does it take new users of your product to achieve their first success?

3. Make it easier… than expected

Uber What makes the user experiences of companies like Uber and Sprig so much fun? Through group discussion, we came up with a number of factors, and one really stood out to me: The user flow is easier than expected. The key isn’t just making the process easy – the key is making it easier than expected. This is actually just an extension of the widely understood principle of under-promising and over-delivering. Even before Uber tells a customer how ridesharing works, the customer has a mental model of how taxi cabs work. Essentially, Uber has made an implicit promise to meet the standard of a taxi experience. Then, when the Uber experience is exponentially easier than a taxi experience, the customer is overjoyed. The customer’s taxi mental model under-promised, and Uber over-delivered. Don’t just make your product easy. Make it easier than expected. (tweet this)

4. Know your client’s stories and use their language

Ben Weston teaches men how to dance. Particularly in the United States, that means first overcoming fears and trepidations about their own inability to learn. Now Ben could talk ‘til he was blue in the face about how everyone starts at the bottom and anyone can learn, but that’s not actually going to help anyone overcome their fears. Instead, Ben listens. He listens to his clients’ stories, their fears, and their dreams. Then, he uses their language to help them overcome and push forward. In persuasion, one size never fits all. Enter your client’s mind, understand how they think, and meet them where they are.

5. Anticipate failure – the ugly side of learning

When we see Michael Jordan make an incredible shot or the skilled dancer across the room perform a beautiful move we can’t even name, the temptation to compare ourselves is overwhelming. As we see the tremendous gaping distance between us and the superstar, we become discouraged and frequently give up. After all, from down here it doesn’t look like I’ll ever get up there. But we forget, even Michael Jordan once took his first shot. Everyone started at the bottom. Having overcome this mental challenge learning dance herself, Karen Cheng wanted to help others see the behind-the-scenes – the ugly side of learning. In a YouTube video that has gone viral, Karen shared her first year of learning, from her earliest attempts to a skilled performance on day 365. If you’re teaching a new skill, look for real-life heroes that people can model themselves after rather than pointing to the seemingly achievable superheroes. Heroes inspire; superheroes intimidate. (tweet this)


Behavioral psychology forms the backbone of much of our work in marketing and product design, yet we often treat psychology as a purely academic exercise. If you’re interested in more insights from the world of behavioral psychology, I highly recommend learning more at BJ Fogg’s Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab. Big shout out to everyone else who attended D4D! I learned a lot from you all and left energized and excited.