The Puppet Master's Playbook

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👋 Hello fellow Ladderers!

This week I’m properly back in the saddle with a brand new behavioural science model for you to apply to your marketing and product development. You’re welcome 🙂

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I hope you enjoy.

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The Puppet Masters Playbook: BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model

⏱️ ~ 8 minutes 15 seconds read

Monday morning.

The day it all starts. Universally known as the ‘first day of the new you’ 🙄 

It’s when all the new habits start: working out, eating healthily, meditating, writing daily, reading daily etc. etc.

You know where this is going: nowhere.

Well at least for the vast majority of us who find ourselves jamming down a donut with our 10am coffee, and putting off that trip to the gym until our new trainers arrive in the post.

So what’s the issue here? Are we mostly just mentally weak?

Do we not want it bad enough? Are the consequences of inaction simply not enough of a threat?

Tired Amy Schumer GIF

TBH it’s probably a little bit of all the above.

Creating new habits starts with changing behaviours, and that can be incredibly hard.

Yet as marketers, that’s what we pride ourselves on being able to elicit in people. We change, nay drive behaviours don’t we?

We often approach this idea through the lenses of persuasion (advertising/ comms/ brand/ price) and experience (product) - usually starting with the good old fashioned ‘Holy Trinity’ of strategy: Segment, Target, Position and then look at the 4P’s of marketing tactics to execute against.

Nothing at all wrong about that.

In fact, today what I thought we might take a look at is a different lens through which you can look at how your marketing and experiences are working (or not). Specifically when it comes to effectively changing people's behaviours.

That lens is called BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. And it’s a scientifilicious doozy.


“BJ who?” you might ask. BJ Fogg is a behavioural scientist at Stanford University, who introduced a compelling way to unpack the mysteries of behaviour change and also happens to have a dreamy “All-American” headshot, see for yourself.

I would buy a car from this man.

His model simplifies behaviour into three essential components: Motivation, Ability, and Prompt. The model is what you call an “interdependent system”, where each element relies on the others in order for it to work and for any change to occur.

Motivation is the desire to do the behaviour. It can stem from personal aspirations like health or social pressures such as fitting into a community.

Ability is about how easy or hard it is to perform the behaviour. If it’s too complex or time-consuming, chances are it won’t stick.

Finally, a Prompt is the cue that triggers the behaviour. Without a prompt, even the most motivated and capable individuals can fail to act.

For us as marketers, this model offers a focused lens to scrutinise and design marketing campaigns and product experiences. It's not just about creating desire; it's about facilitating ease and providing a nudge at the right moment.

But how do we translate this into action? Let’s dive deeper into each component and explore how they might look in real-world scenarios.


Truly understanding and harnessing human motivation is kind of akin to using “the force” in marketing 🛰️. The really tricky part is that motivation is more than just a simple desire; it's complex and multifaceted, influenced by emotional triggers, social comparisons, rational calculations, and our memory.

Motivation can be looked at through three key dimensions:

  1. Pleasure and Pain: People are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This might look like highlighting the immediate gratification and pleasurable benefits of using a product (mmmm 🍦), or reminding people of the discomfort they are seeking to avoid or end by using your product.

  2. Hope and Fear: These are powerful motivators that play on future outcomes. As humans, we are hard-wired to worry about the future, but ironically we’re also terrible at actually doing much about it. This is epitomised by the classic before and after shots seen in every fitness and health product ever sold on late-night TV 📺.

  3. Social Acceptance and Rejection: As social creatures, we are motivated to gain acceptance and avoid rejection at almost all costs. Just a dozen or so generations back, social rejection could have cost you your life. Brands frequently leverage this by portraying their products as a means to acquire or improve your social status (I’m looking awkwardly at my Apple Watch Ultra right now).

To effectively harness these motivators, you must first deeply understand your audience. What drives them? What are their deepest fears and desires? With this understanding, you can craft messages that resonate more deeply with them along these dimensions.

Try to hold in that evil cackle.

Austin Powers Lol GIF

Another method of working with motivations is crafting a compelling narrative that speaks to these motivations in your campaigns or promotions. Storytelling is a strategic tool that, when deployed with Fogg’s model, can win not only people’s attention but literally have them seeing themselves in your promotions.

Take, for instance, pretty much every luxury car ad you’ve ever seen. It’s almost never about the car, its performance, or price - but rather about the lifestyle and status it confers. It’s about the aspiration and status it embodies. It’s about motivating yourself to be the person you want to be.

Balling Andy Samberg GIF by The Lonely Island

Like this guy…

If only you had that $450,000 two-seater.

Finally, motivation is not static; it’s in constant fluctuation and requires nurturing. This is where brands need to be consistently showing up in feeds, on screens, in ears, on pages, and in the real world, topping up that motivation over and over again. This ongoing interaction helps maintain and amplify the initial motivational triggers, keeping the brand top-of-mind and the consumer consistently reminded - until that magical moment when they are ready to buy.


Having the right motivation may spark desire, but without the ability to act, intentions fizzle out as quickly as they flare up. This is where the 'Ability' component of BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model plays a critical role. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for people to perform the desired behaviour.

For us, this is all about removing obstacles and simplifying processes to enhance our buying and user experience. Remove friction, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Let’s un-FUD this thing!

Whether it’s a physical product, a digital service, or an everyday task, the easier it is to do, the more likely it will be done.

The entire Buy Now Pay Later industry is built on giving people, who otherwise wouldn’t have the funds, the ability to buy that $1000 YETI cooler, and really impress their mates on the next camping trip.

Bear Camping GIF by Oakland Zoo

Well, at least the beer is safe

E-commerce giants like Amazon have mastered this by offering one-click purchasing, which dramatically simplifies the checkout process all the way down to the tightening of a few tiny muscles on one finger.

This not only makes it easier for customers to complete a purchase, but importantly reduces the time for potential reconsideration, thus introducing impulsive buying to the online world.

Now it’s not just a sneaky $2 KitKat when you fill up your car anymore, but rather a $700 multi-room home security system, for a home you don’t own.

To optimise for ability, start by mapping out the customer journey to identify and eliminate pain points. This can involve a few obvious things like:

  1. Minimising Steps: Analyse the steps required to make a purchase or sign up for your service. Each step is a potential drop-off point, so streamline the process and make each one logically flow into the next.

  2. Enhancing Usability: It kinda goes without saying that the website, app, or product needs to be intuitive and user-friendly - and this isn’t just your opinion either - conduct user testing on a regular basis. Be critical of your user interface and overall design aesthetics – these should facilitate, not hinder; they don’t have to delight the user (that would be ideal), but at least they cannot frustrate or confuse.

  3. Accessibility: Make your offerings accessible to a broader audience. This includes optimising for disabilities, accommodating multiple languages, being really thoughtful about how you distribute or make your product available to buy, or testing your experience across multiple devices with differing internet connectivity, etc.

Ability isn’t just a one-time setup. It requires ongoing gathering of feedback and then tests, adjustments, and improvements based on that feedback. Regularly reviewing your distribution strategy or updating your platforms to fix bugs, improve speed, and introduce new, easier-to-use and in-demand features can make all the difference in how your audience derives value from your product or service.

And that, dear readers, is what they are there for 🤓

When you focus your efforts on Ability, you empower your customers to not just want your product, but to easily obtain it, use it, and benefit from it.

This integration of desire and ease enables interest to transform into action and then keeps customers coming back.

But how do you get them to perhaps take that first step? That’s your Prompt.


You can have all the motivation and ability in the world, but without the right trigger to take action—there’s usually a whole lot of nothing.

This is where the science of the Prompt comes into play, functioning as the catalyst that converts potential energy into kinetic action [dropping science 💣’s].

In the context of Fogg's model, a Prompt is that final nudge that pushes someone over the threshold from 'planning to do' to 'actually doing.' It is crucial for the prompt to appear at the right moment when motivation is high and the ability to act is unimpeded.

Think about how your fitness tracker doesn’t just passively record your steps; it actively prompts you to get up and move after periods of inactivity. These prompts are timely, tapping directly into your existing motivation (I need to be more healthy) and ability (yes, I could get off this couch).

OK, so if timing is everything with Prompts—how do we make sure we’ve got it right?

Designing effective prompts involves understanding the user's environment and tailoring the triggers to fit naturally within it. Here are key strategies to ensure your prompts are as effective as possible:

  1. Visibility: Ensure that the prompt is noticeable and cannot be easily overlooked. This could be a vibrant display on a device, a push notification on your phone, or a well-placed sign in a physical environment.

  2. Relevance: The prompt must be relevant to the user’s interests and current situation. An irrelevant prompt can be seen as annoying rather than motivating.

  3. Actionability: The prompt should lead to an action that can be performed immediately. This immediacy reduces the risk of procrastination or forgetfulness.

As you may have already concluded, the above reads a lot like a recipe for good advertising too. Trust your instincts.

You may have also guessed that Prompt is often synonymous with ‘Call To Action’.

Hello there my old friend 🤗

go do it GIF

When that copy is juuuuuust right 👌 

E-commerce businesses are absolute ninjas when it comes to effectively deploying Prompts. If a customer abandons a shopping cart, a well-timed email reminder with a link back to the cart can serve as the prompt. Clicking away after seeing the high shipping costs? How about this pop-up offer for a Free Shipping discount code on your next purchase?!?

ChaChing! 🤑

As with Ability, continuously testing and refining how and where you deploy your Prompts is the best way to improve their impact. But don’t just randomly A/B test anything; test Prompts that are informed by other forms of user feedback or customer listening—they can reveal what resonates best with your audience and often will lead to the best testing outcome 🤓

When it comes to turning intention into action, Prompts are the little remote control in your pocket.

Whether through subtle reminders, bold calls to action, or strategically placed nudges, effective prompts can make the difference between a potential customer and a loyal one.

With your customers' motivation primed, ability enabled, and prompts effectively placed, you have a powerful model where behaviour change is now far more likely.

And far more likely is about the best you can ever hope for when it comes to marketing, or indeed any kind of behaviour change.


Armed with all this information it’s time to create a bit of a to-do list to take back into the office on Monday morning.

Start here:

  • Get Underneath Your Customers Motivations:

    Begin by reviewing current marketing materials and strategies to evaluate how well they tap into the three key motivators: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, social acceptance/rejection. Gather a cross-functional team to brainstorm how these elemental motivations can be more effectively integrated into your campaigns to increase consumer engagement and drive behaviour change.

  • Smooth Out That Journey:

    Map out the customer journey for one of your key products or services. Using real user feedback, identify any points of friction or steps that may require too much effort from the customer. Look for opportunities to simplify these steps, such as reducing the number of clicks, lowering the information required or allay concerns or uncertainty.

  • Build Out Your Prompts Library:

    Using observations from qualitative research or customer support data, design new prompts that can be tested across different marketing channels. For example, if email conversions are lagging, test different subject lines or call to action copy and placements. Use A/B testing to measure effectiveness and refine these prompts based on real data.

  • Enhance Accessibility and Usability:

    Review your current website and mobile app for usability and accessibility. Ensure that all elements are easy to navigate and accessible to people with disabilities. Consider tools like screen-readers, and features like text-to-speech, high-contrast visuals, and language options to broaden your audience and make your platforms more inclusive.

  • Kick-start Your Feedback Loops:

    Set up mechanisms to regularly gather and analyse feedback from both customers and internal teams. Use this feedback to understand how well your motivations and prompts are resonating with the audience and where abilities might be falling short. This ongoing feedback is the fuel for continuous improvement and ensures that your strategies remain aligned with customer needs and behaviours.

Taking just a couple of these actions back into the office with you on Monday will put you in good stead when it comes to driving behaviours for your customers and ultimately growing your business.

I hope you enjoyed our exploration of BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model and how you can deploy the lenses of Motivation, Ability and Prompts to dramatically improve the likelihood of behaviour change.

  • How well do you think you understand the base motivations of your customers?

  • Do you have any research data to support your thesis?

  • What steps could you take within the next week to improve your customers' ability to take action?

  • Could your prompts be working harder for you across your touch-points and channels?

Hit reply, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend who’s looking to level-up their behavioural psychology game - they’ll love you for it (and I will too) ⏭️ 💌

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