Durigan’s Law

by Dan Walsh


I’ll admit it. I’m always a little jealous of researchers who get accolades for “discovering” obvious theories, laws, or rules. Of course, there’s often a lot of work involved in proving the obvious things in life, but still…

So I’m going to lay one down right now. I’m calling it “Durigan’s Law”. It’s a result of my subjective experience and objective studies in marketing and behavioral psychology.

It states:

The likelihood of a desired action is correlated to the cognitive distance between stimulus and response.

Two corollaries:

The likelihood of a desired action increases as cognitive distance becomes shorter.

The likelihood of a desired action decreases as cognitive distance becomes longer.

Durigan’s Law & Marketing

Durigan’s Law readily applies to sales and marketing. Basically, create the shortest possible funnel. If you were advertising an iPhone app via mobile ads and desktop ads, the mobile ads will perform better because the user was prompted on their phone to take action on their phone. Asking someone to switch from their computer to their phone increases cognitive distance so the response (downloading the app) is less likely to occur.

So, here’s a specific rule derived from Durigan’s Law:

Mobile ads prompting users to download an iPhone app will perform better than desktop ads prompting users to download an app.

If I extrapolate Durigan’s Law more generally for marketing, it could look something like this:

A conversion is most likely to occur when the ad and conversion action are on the same platform.

For example, prompting a reader to leave an Amazon review at the back of paper book will have a low conversion rate. Prompting a reader at the end of an ebook should have a higher conversion rate than paper because the reading and reviewing can happen on the same platform (the Kindle). The conversion rate should be even higher if the ebook was finished on the Kindle app, because the phone always has internet so time isn’t a factor as it might be if the reader needed to wait for their Kindle to get back into wifi range.

Upsells are easier because of Durigan’s Law: the customer already had their wallet out.

Successful behavior changes occur because of Durigan’s law: tie the new habit to an existing, related habit.

The list goes on.

Durigan’s Law & Life

Durigan’s law also applies to interpersonal efforts. If you ask someone to do something via email, it will be easiest to get them to perform an email. It will be slightly harder to get them to do something on their browser, harder still to get them to do something on their computer, even harder to do something where they currently are physically, harder to do something somewhere else, and hardest to do something in the future.

QED (wink, Angelica), if you need someone to make a call on your behalf, you’d be best served to ask them via phone, as opposed to an email.

Generalizing Durigan’s Law for everyday life looks something like this:

A desired response is most likely to occur when the stimulus and response occur on the same medium.

Durigan’s Law & Hot Dogs

As a kid it always seemed silly to me that grocery stores had coupons at the front door. Why lose out on profit when the customer didn’t put in the effort to clip the coupon? But that’s not the point. The point is to get customers to incentive customers to try new products and potentially defect to the new brand. So instead of limiting coupons to the newspaper, which is a different medium than the grocery store, just put ‘em at the beginning of the store. Better yet, slap them right on the package! The cognitive distance between the coupon for a new brand of hot dogs (stimulus) and my dropping them into my shopping cart (response) will be shortest when I’m already looking at all the other hot dog choices.

What’s New?

You might be thinking, “What’s new about Durigan’s Law? Hasn’t all this been covered already?” In a way you’d be right. The ideas within Durigan’s Law have already been written about, discussed, and utilized in many capacities. The difference is that they haven’t all been wrapped into a single idea: shorten cognitive distance to improve performance. By simplifying and generalizing these many ideas into a single idea, it becomes easier to think about, diagnose, and fix violations of Durigan’s Law. Such is the nature of words.

Maybe that will be my next pet law: Ideas are easier to talk about when they have a name.