Written by Jean-Francois Hector

Hector distills research conducted from Standford’s Persuasive Technology Lab and applies the MAT model to influence the way humans interact with technology. MAT stands for: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger.  Motivation is needed to inspire a user to do the given behavior, ability is how easy the behaviour is to do, and trigger is something that activates the idea of doing the behaviour.  If the three fundamentals of MAT are not present, then the behaviour will not happen. Read on to learn more about the powerful insight of the MAT model and how it applies to real world examples in human interactions with technology.

With all the technologies available to us today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that influencing customer behaviour has become easy. You put a Beacon here, you send a push notification there, and you’re sorted – right?

In practice, we all know that getting people to do stuff is really hard – and the hardest part is the behaviour part, not the technology part.

Fortunately, behaviour scientists at Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab have been thinking about what it takes for a behaviour to happen.

At The App Business we have found these insights very useful, so we’ve distilled them into a simple model with clear design principles.

We call it the MAT model.

For a behaviour to happen, three things need to come together at the same time:

Motivation: people need to be motivated to do the behaviour, right in that moment.

Ability: the behaviour needs to be easy to do, right in that moment.

Trigger: something needs to make you think of the behaviour, right in that moment.

If any of these are missing, right in that moment, the behaviour won’t happen.


For example, imagine that your mum rings your phone, but for some reason you don’t pick up the phone. Why?

If you’re like me, there could be a number of reasons:

• My mum is nice, so I’m generally quite motivated to talk to her. But in some situations, when I’m with my girlfriend for example, I’m less motivated to talk to mum.

Diagnosis: I am not Motivated enough in this situation.

• Sometimes she calls me when I’m in a meeting at work.

Diagnosis: not Able enough in this situation.

• Sometimes I just don’t hear my phone ring.

Diagnosis: the Trigger is missing.

When a behaviour isn’t happening, it’s because Motivation, Ability or the Trigger are missing from the situation. You can use MAT to troubleshoot why a behaviour isn’t happening.

The hard bit is to bring Motivation, Ability and Trigger together at the same time.

For example, this is me using self-checkout at my local Tesco.


Let’s look at this situation:

– Tesco wants me to get a Clubcard. That’s the target Behaviour.

– The check-out machine reminds me that I should get a Clubcard. That’s the Trigger.

– Right in that moment I’m quite motivated to save money. So, there’s enough Motivation.

– But there’s no easy way for me to register for a Clubcard there and then – and therefore, there’s not enough Ability.

By the time I get home, the situation is quite different:

– It would be much easier for me to get a Clubcard as I’ll probably be in front of my computer. There’s enough Ability.

– But I can’t be bothered any more – there’s not enough Motivation.

– Or, I’m not thinking about it any more – so now there’s no Trigger to do it.

So how do you make Motivation, Ability and Trigger happen at the same time?

When people want to influence behaviour, the default approach is to try to increase motivation.

BJ Fogg says that the best way to make a behaviour happen is to put hot triggers on the path of motivated, able people.

For example, I flew to Dublin a few weeks ago, and as soon as I landed, Uber proactively told me this:


In this situation, I was motivated to find a way to get to my hotel. This notification triggered me to think about Uber, and made it easy for me to get an Uber in one tap.

Amazon Dash is a cheap bluetooth-enabled sticker that you can put on your washing machine, your fridge or anywhere. Simply pressing that button will order an attached product, automatically.


Imagine that you’re running out of laundry powder. As soon as you realise that, and are motivated to get some more, this button is a visual reminder that you can get some in one tap from Amazon.

So instead of trying to motivate people, put hot triggers on the path of people where and when they’re already motivated and able to do the behaviour.

Now here’s a few tips on how to make the most of MAT.

Tip #1: Think about behaviour first, technology second.

Most businesses start from technology ideas and launch “innovative” products that their customers don’t use. So think about behaviour first, technology second.


Tip #2: Start from a simple, concrete target behaviour.

For example, if you’re Homebase, one of your high-level objectives will be to increase average revenue per customer.

But in order to use MAT, you first need to break high-level objectives down into simple, concrete behaviours.

One broken-down version of this high-level objective might be to get someone to buy a barbecue they’ve already favourited.

Tip #3: Find out what customers are already motivated to do.

Today people interact with everything using personal, mobile devices. This means that for the first time, businesses can interact personally with each customer, at scale.

To do this well, you first need to find out what your customers are already motivated to do. Going back to our Homebase example, if a customer has added a Weber barbecue to their wishlist, it’s likely that they’ll be motivated to buy it in the future.

Tip #4: Predict where and when they’ll be most motivated.

Motivation is contextual. So it’s not enough to understand what customers are motivated to do; you also need to predict whereand when they’ll be most motivated to do it.

You don’t need complex algorithms to start making useful predictions. You can start with some simple rules, and then test and learn what works best.

For example, if the Weber barbecue your customer likes goes on offer, and a sunny weekend is a few days away, it would be a good time to tell them about the offer.


Tip #5: Make the behaviour so easy that people will do it on impulse.

We tend to grossly overestimate how many hurdles someone will go through before they stop being motivated.

If you can make a behaviour so easy to do that people will do it on impulse, you’ll be amazed at the results.


Tip #6: Remember that ‘easy’ is different things in different situations.

Behaviour-driven design isn’t about doing lots of things to make your website or your app easy to use. It’s about identifying what’s getting in the way of the behaviour you want to see, right in that situation, and solving that problem.

There are six limiting factors that can get in the way:

– Time

– Money

– Physical effort

– Mental effort

– Social norms

– Habit

Identify which of these six factors is most getting in the way of the behaviour, and you’ll come up with better solutions.

Tip #7: Think broadly about triggers.

A behaviour trigger is anything that makes you think of that behaviour. It doesn’t matter whether that trigger is in your app or out of it, physical or digital.

Using the MAT model forces you to think ‘outside your app’. You’re not designing an app as a destination; you’re designing a system of interactions to make behaviours happen.

Tip #8: Make the trigger hot like a potato.

Do you remember the hot potato game? The aim is to pass the ball as fast as you can. When you receive the ball, the easiest thing to do with it is to pass it along – or complete the behaviour. That’s much easier than ignoring it – it’s hot!

Effective triggers work in the same way: the effort of completing the behaviour needs to be less than the pain of not doing it.

Waitrose got this right with their green charity tokens. The Cashier gives you a token. It would be quite rude to give it back to them, and you can’t just drop it on the floor. So, the easiest thing to do is to complete the behaviour, and put the token in one of the charity urns – as Waitrose would like you to do.

So, let’s recap.

To influence behaviour, you need to make Motivation, Ability and a Trigger happen at the same time.

The best way to do this is to put hot triggers on the way of motivated, able people.