What Behaviors will Stick in the Future: the TRACER framework

What behaviors will stick in the future? This is a question our clients haven’t stop asking us in the last few months.

To answer this, you could first look at the historical data, and see adoption speed or drop-out rate as revealing trends. Or look at other countries ahead of the curve to make assumptions. But the fact is that COVID has sometimes accelerated trends that started way before: like e-commerce or online banking. It has also unlocked the value of some services: like telemedicine, or remote learning, encouraging people to test viable alternatives. We can now bet that some of our new behaviors, like working remotely, are bound to stay in a significant proportion, while others, that are so much against our own nature (like social distancing), will return to their previous states as soon as the constraints are lifted. But many remain uncertain: the ones reflecting arbitrages between sustainability & affordability, safety and experience, social enjoyment and risk: the future of travel, culture, leisure… will see a range of new behaviors.

This is the reason why we created our evaluation grid, informed by behavioral science. To offer you another perspective, that is not just about experiencing the trend, but giving you the means to shape it, whenever possible.

TRACER summarizes the key criteria that make a behavior sticky. The more criteria an observed behavior meets from the grid, the more likely it is to stay. You can then make informed predictions, but also use this grid to identify key levers to make them happen in the way that more beneficial to you.  Identify weak points or missing factors will help you focus your actions that can reinforce the stickiness of a behavior you would like to see returning, or on the other hand to help a new one sustain on the longer term.

T is for Triggered, because no behavior starts in a vacuum; there is always either an internal or an external trigger to encourage for a routine. And the more recurring it happens, the more likely it becomes a habitual behavior. Ask yourself, is there an internal itch that incite people to take action (like fear of being infected), or an external one that reminds them to do so (like seeing others wearing a mask). If not, can you create one?

R for Rewarding, because no behavior can be adopted in the long-term if it does not give you some sense of satisfaction. That does not just mean rewarding in the long-term, as human beings are not great at deferring gratification, but rather, it has to offer some sense of immediate benefit. Rewards can be of various natures (social, playful, tradable…) but are you sure there is an immediate one? If not, be creative to create one, starting with giving a “thank you” and recognition to those who have adopted desired behavior.

A for Automated; any sticky behavior has become, at some stage, automated. Either because its naturally intuitive, or because it can easily be learned and automated. Just as we’ve all learned to use Zoom in recent months and became so familiar with it that it became a routine. How can help people to on-board a new behavior, can you chunk it to activate their autopilot. Learning to cycle requires some efforts and little wheels to start with, but when you are practicing enough it soon becomes a second nature.

C for Channeled: This is where the situation becomes critical in channeling that behavior. How do you create or leverage the right environment for the behavior to happen?  This covers the appropriate time, place, and sequence of action. The lock-down was a strong “channel” for many behaviors, externally imposed, and not necessarily in a comfortable way. But channeling can also mean creating the right slope, knocking down barriers that might prevent the ideal behavior to happen.

E is for Easier: “Make it easy” as Richard Thaler would say – or more importantly, Easier. The relativity is important because it has to be easier than the current way of doing things, or the alternative way of doing it, and we do not always understand or appreciate the variety of choices people have. You could decide to take your car, or the transport for various considerations (safety, comfort, price) but you also could decide to work from home, if it’s the easiest option. The only reason why we would accept something more effortful, is if there is a stronger reward, or a lower risk. 

R for Recognized.  We tend to imitate and maintain behaviors that is visibly valued by others I care for: because they do it (descriptive norm) or because they think I should do it (injunctive norm). Social norms can act as a strong reinforcer of individual behaviors, and so does self-image. Can you make the norm visible? Can you promote the benefit of belonging to a group with a desirable identity? Understanding the reference network, and key opinion leaders, and measuring where current norm stands is critical to act on this lever without risking social backlash.

In the absence of laws, regulations, or contractual agreements, there are still solutions to make a behavior sticky: these are called nudges. And when in the past the question was about changing behaviors, the idea of reinforcing stickiness of a behavior has become more important in post-COVID times (when behaviors had to change, but there are some uncertainties how they will evolve naturally in the future). So the same principles can be applied, but in a different framework, TRACER, with a different purpose in mind.

How can you make your clients and/or employees new behaviors stick? Get in touch for more information.

Richard Bordenave

CEO, BVA Nudge Unit Asia

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