Event Recap: Jawbone UP & Behavior Change

Guest post blogger Jenna Dutcher is the community relations manager for UC Berkeley’s datascience@berkeley degree – the first and only online Master of Information and Data Science.  Follow datascience@berkeley on Twitter and Facebook for news and updates. jenna May’s meeting of Action Design DC was sponsored by Fluencia and Hello Wallet and featured a talk by Kelvin Kwong of Jawbone.  Kwong is a product manager for the UP band, a role that left him well prepared to speak to the group about Jawbone UP: Designing for Exercise and More.  But what is the “more” in this scenario?  Kwong explained that Jawbone UP tracks the rhyming actions of food, mood, sleep, and eat[ing], but their true purpose goes further than just data collection. In fact, the company’s bread and butter is in behavior change, the act of getting people to do the things Jawbone knows they want to do.

The company doesn’t do this by guessing or “intuition”; rather, they employ the latest behavioral science in their quest to turn intention into action.  “No matter where we're starting, we all want to be better,” Kwong said, and Jawbone has taken it upon themselves to make this into a reality.  Human nature often leaves a gap between intention and action; for example, people may want to eat healthier, finish their course of antibiotics, or quit smoking, but those actions are often more difficult than they seem at first glance.  Many don’t follow through.  The goal of lifestyle wearables is to drive behavior change.  They aim to do this with a three-step process, by tracking, understanding, and acting.

  • Track - The first step is to build something wearable, a device that customers will want to sport daily.  Constant monitoring will allow Jawbone to gather your data, which is a necessary first step before any behaviors can be changed.
  • Understand - Once data has been collected, scientists get to work comparing and contrasting, looking for correlations in the data that might hint towards causation. More on this below.
  • Act -  Here, Kwong says, scientists face an interesting dilemma: now that we understand you, how do we compel you to do the things you said you want to do?  Forty-seven percent of daily decisions are made unconsciously. Think about all of the tiny decisions we have in life that we don’t even think about, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking rather than driving your car; this is the area where the UP band wants to have a real impact.  Once scientists understand those ingrained habits, they can make an effort to change them.

What are the principles behind this?  Kwong explained that we’re at an inflection point in behavioral science.  There has been a lot of theory to lay the groundwork of this science, and now companies like Jawbone must figure out the practical applications: how can Jawbone scientists apply these tenets to encourage behavior change for their user base?  In past decades, a lot of the research has been applied to consumer science, helping markets to advertise and upsell.

Jawbone doesn’t want to market, however; instead, they want to make an impactful difference in their customers’ lives.  Put a different way, Jawbone wants to create episodic interventions that lead to longitudinal interventions.  Luckily for them, they have a large pool of research subjects to draw from.  Rather than working with the tens or hundreds of subjects an academic researcher might have access to, Jawbone has data from hundreds of thousands of users at their fingertips.

Using this dataset, they conducted the biggest sleep study ever performed, on an aggregated 80 million nights of sleep, and observed interesting trends like gender and age gaps in amount of time slept.  While academic researchers have noted this in the past, it was never feasible to measure it across age groups, simply due to the difficulties of collecting a large enough sample from each group.  Using the UP band’s aggregate user data, however, Jawbone’s scientists were able to note a wide gap in average time spent sleeping between men and women at a college age, and a narrowing of this gap in retirement.

Let’s look at another real example: Jawbone’s extensive dataset allows their researchers to tie self-reported data (do you sleep with multiple pillows? Do you share a bed with a partner?  Is your mobile phone in the room during slumber?) to actual data (does your tracker show eight hours of sleep? Five times awakened?) and spot patterns in this aggregated dataset (for example, people who share a bed with a partner average 35 minutes more sleep each night).  After they notice these correlations, they can begin to apply a narrative and generate hypotheses. In this scenario, the presence of a partner illuminates a decision point, a sort of physically present bedtime reminder.

Kwong also demonstrated UP’s “Today I Will” feature, which is a very real manifestation of these behavior change efforts.  This feature of the UP band sends intelligent suggestions to users based on their behavior, and holds them accountable for completing the tasks (i.e., a daily increase in steps, sleep, or water intake).  Research has shown that if you say you’re going to do something, the likelihood is much higher that you’ll complete that task.

This is what’s known as the “foot in the door” technique - in Jawbone’s case, if you ask someone to use the Today I Will feature and announce their daily goal, they’re much more likely to hit that target.  In fact, opt-ins to the Today I Will feature go to bed 23 minutes earlier than those who have not pledged to modify this behavior.  In addition, there’s a 72% increased likelihood that these people will go to bed early enough to hit their sleep goal.

These behavioral change results have also been replicated with an activity goal.  Thanksgiving is one of the days where Jawbone users take the fewest daily steps (too busy eating turkey and catching up with family!).  In one experiment, the UP band’s Today I Will feature simply told users that they were less likely to get their steps on this day, and challenged them to get more steps.  The result?  Opt-ins walked 20% more on Thanksgiving than on their average days simply because they had publicly announced this goal.  The “foot in the door” technique is successful for one key reason: reaching your expressed goal allows you to remain congruent with your self image.

Above all else, Jawbone wants to create a product that solves a true human need and can be fully integrated into a user’s life.  Audience members raised questions about the accuracy of a wrist-based step tracker, but Kwong assured them that the product has been subjected to innumerable tests in an effort to increase step count accuracy.  More interestingly, he said, the future of activity tracker success isn't in incremental accuracy gains, but rather in what can be done with the data collected.  As he said, a few hundred steps gained or lost won’t make a difference in the long run; it’s the behavioral influences brought on by challenges like Today I Will that let Jawbone know they’re really on to something special with the UP band.

Want more information? Kelvin can be found on twitter at @kelvinskwong.