There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to behaviour change. But that doesn’t mean encouraging people to adopt new behaviours has to be complicated or expensive. In some cases, simply altering the way in which options are presented can encourage people to make better choices.
This approach is called ‘choice architecture’ and is based on a deep understanding of how people think. It can be a simple, cost-effective means of influencing people’s behaviour.
Choice architecture is great for dealing with simple behaviours. For example, Google uses choice architecture in its cafeteria to encourage staff to make healthier food choices.
But when it comes to more complex behaviours, choice architecture isn’t enough. People don’t make choices in a vacuum. In most cases there are other determinants of behaviour that need to be identified and addressed.
One of the better behaviour change frameworks I’ve seen is Susan Michie’s Behaviour Change Wheel.
The Behaviour Change Wheel highlights nine ‘intervention functions’ and seven ‘policy categories’ that can be applied to support the selected interventions. For more information you can read Understanding Society – How Do We Change Behaviour by the Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute. It’s an excellent document and includes interviews with several leading thinkers in the field.
A Few Introductory Behaviour Change Tips
Although every behavioural challenge is different there are some tried and tested techniques that can improve the chances of designing and delivering a successful behavioural intervention.
Incentives are used in the commercial and public sectors to influence behaviour. They can be extrinsic or intrinsic.
Extrinsic incentives come from outside the person and comprise things like cash rewards, bonuses and subsidies. As an example, just a few weeks ago the British Medical Journal published a study that found financial incentives for smoking cessation in pregnancy could be quite effective.
But incentives need not be monetary. Finding opportunities to incorporate non-financial incentives (e.g. peer recognition) can also work.
Intrinsic incentives are psychological. If you can structure a specific behaviour to make a person feel good about themselves they’re far more likely to adopt it. For many people, simply believing that they’re ‘doing the right thing’ can be enough.
So when looking to encourage a new behaviour it’s always worth thinking about how can you incentivise.
Of course the use of incentives should be tailored to your specific audience. It can be easy to assume that people will respond in a certain way, but when it comes to what people value, the only real way to find out is to ask.
Barriers are all those things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour. They take many forms but most are either structural or personal.
Personal barriers are often psychological and include things like habits, fears and beliefs. Because personal barriers are just that – personal, it’s important not to assume you know what they are.
Ask your target group what’s stopping them from changing their behaviour? You can use social research methods like focus groups, surveys or phone interviews or perhaps make use of social media to start a conversation.
Most importantly, listen. Communication is a two-way process. Many campaigns fail because too much time is spent telling people what they should think or do, rather than asking how they can be helped to do it.
Structural barriers can also seem obvious, but even the most simple ones can be missed.
For example – anti-littering campaigns won’t work if you don’t provide enough bins for people to dispose of their rubbish. Nor will it help if the bins that are provided get put in the wrong places. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve walked along the street holding an empty coffee cup, muttering under my breath because I can’t find a bin. Instead, all I see are signs reminding me not to litter or risk a fine.
Most people want to do the right thing so it’s important to remove the barriers that might prevent them from doing so.
What moves and motivates your target audience?
People’s behaviour is influenced by a range of factors that may include:
- Attitudes and beliefs
- Likes and tastes
- Pleasures and gratifications
- Control and choice
- Hopes and aspirations
- Life stage
Building an understanding of what motivates your target group may help you to design a behaviour change approach that’s more likely to succeed.
Prompts are often used at the point of decision-making. That might be a point in time, or a physical location.
Most people know that commercial marketers use prompts (e.g. special offer signage, point-of-sale displays) to encourage consumers to purchase a given product or service. What’s less well known is that prompts are also used by social marketers to encourage positive individual and community outcomes.
The image below is an example of a visual prompt that was used as part of a week-long road safety campaign back in 2010. It was run by advocacy group Preventable, and the British Columbia Automobile Association. You can read more about the project here.
What’s The Competition?
What other things compete for the time and attention of your audience?
Competition can be internal or external. Internal competition might include psychological factors like pleasure, desire and fear. External competition includes wider influences that promote or reinforce alternative behaviours (e.g. social norms).
Remember – your message needs to cut through a lot of other noise. Think about it. How much information are you exposed to every day? Again, it’s very important to work with your target market to get a good understanding of what’s competing against the wanted behaviour.
For example, let’s say you want to encourage a group of young males to start drinking low-strength beer instead of full-strength beer. The competition will include things like the peer pressure felt to drink full-strength; and a perception that more low-strength beer needs to be consumed (and more money spent) to achieve the desired effect.
To succeed in eliciting the wanted behaviour you need to find ways to nullify competing factors.
Changing default choice settings can be an effective means of influencing people’s decision-making. Simply put, the default option is that option which people choose when they do nothing.
The manipulation of default settings to increase organ donation rates is a much heralded example of its effectiveness. In Germany people must opt-in to organ donation program. The donor rate is only 12% of adults. But in Austria where the default option is to opt-out, 99% of adults are organ donors.
It’s been shown that people are more likely to try something new if it’s similar to what they’re already doing. The use of inhalers and nicotine gum as substitutes for cigarettes is an obvious example.
When seeking to discourage a specific behaviour think about what can be offered in its place.
Make it FUN, EASY and POPULAR
If you can make the desired behaviour fun, easy and popular you increase the chances of it being adopted.
Of course, ‘fun’ speaks to motivation, and ‘ease’ speaks to barriers. ‘Popularity’ may also increase the chances of word of mouth promotion, social sharing etc.
Cue this great example from The Fun Theory which I (and many others) have used numerous times over the years to illustrate how effective fun can be at modifying people’s behaviour.
If a person can monitor their performance towards a given goal they’re more likely to succeed.
That’s one reason there’s been an explosion in the design and use of health and fitness apps.
A good example is My Quit Buddy which allows people to personalise and monitor their own milestones and targets.
Of course self-monitoring tools don’t need to be high tech. The very act of writing things down has been shown to reduce the likelihood of people repeating unwanted behaviours.
Effective design can make it difficult for people to deviate from the desired behaviour by making it easier to avoid errors, or by making it impossible to make an error at all.
Error proofing is used just about everywhere, from rumble strips on our roads to safety switches in our fuse boxes. Alcohol ignition switches are another good example. They’re used in several Australian jurisdictions to prevent convicted drunk drivers from re-offending.
Many of the best examples of error proofing are so well integrated into everyday life that their presence goes unnoticed.
Simple, Concrete Actions
Make sure that your target group is provided with relevant and meaningful information.
And rather than talking about the problem in broad terms, provide discrete and simple actions that can be taken to overcome it.
A Few Final Thoughts
Behaviour change is achievable.
Sometimes it can be realised relatively quickly and easily with a little nudge, but in other cases it takes a more holistic approach over time.
Either way, being clear about the specific behaviour you want to change is critical. Set SMART objectives. Measure outcomes.
If you’ve got questions about a particular behavioural issue you’re currently working on feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to talk.
There’s no doubt that there’s been fervent interest in behavioural economics in the last couple of years among social marketing and policy practitioners. Both the UK and NSW Governments have developed insights teams dedicated to finding new ways to ‘nudge’ citizens to be healthier, greener and more civic-minded. So how can behavioural economics help with program design and campaign development?
Social marketing is about changing behaviour – behaviour that is driven by rational and irrational desires. The rational part of our decision-making process can be influenced by increasing knowledge (e.g. presenting the facts about skin cancer), increasing efficacy (e.g. healthy cooking classes or QUIT hotlines) and through legislation and subsidies (e.g. seat-belt laws, tobacco tax).
However, extensive academic research has found that people are often “predictably irrational”. When making decisions we take mental short cuts. We’re influenced by the desires and distractions of the moment. Knowing how people will behave irrationally can provide guidance on how interventions can be structured to influence healthy behaviours.
Below are three common decision errors, which have major implications for healthy behaviours:
Present bias is the tendency to focus on the immediate benefits or costs of a situation and undervalue future consequences. An example is postponing a session at the gym to watch TV; or undervaluing the long-term harms of tanning to look good now.
Researchers are now looking at a range of tools to help manage present bias. These include offering small incentives immediately after a ‘desirable’ behaviour has been done. One example is a pilot scheme in the UK where mothers from disadvantaged neighborhoods are given food vouchers worth around A$340 if they breastfeed for the first six weeks of their child’s life.
Because the use of incentives is very effective at motivating one-time behaviours (e.g. getting a vaccination or attending a screening), it is now being evaluated as an effective motivator for habit formation (e.g. exercising everyday).
The use of ‘contracts’ and commitment devices to pledge to a certain behaviour or goal are also very effective. These devices leverage the desire to be (or to appear) consistent with what we have committed to doing. Once we have made a choice (e.g. pledge to give up drinking for a month or to run a marathon), we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.
This is especially powerful when the pledge or commitment is made in public, such as social media, as people are pressured to be consistent with their earlier commitments.
Status quo bias
Status quo bias is the tendency to choose a ‘path of least resistance’ in our decision-making. An example of this is in western European countries that have an ‘opt in’ policy for organ donation, that is, the default is non-participation, donation rates tend to be close to just 10%. In contrast, in countries with an ‘opt out’ policy, in which citizens are automatically enrolled as organ donors unless they actively choose to opt out, organ donation rates are typically 98%–99%.
It’s important to consider the ways in which choices or options for programs are structured. The choices which social marketers want people to choose, whether it’s to recycle or take the right medication, needs to be the choice which requires the least amount of cognitive energy to choose.
Loss aversion is the tendency to put much greater weight on losses than gains. Studies have shown that a loss has roughly twice the disutility of an equivalent dollar gain. Knowing this decision bias can help frame messages and structure the way incentive programs work.
Be Mindful that . . .
While behavioural economics has the potential to make programs and policies more effective, as with any concept or intervention, there are limitations. The tools presented by behavioural economists are part of a possible solution, and should not substitute for public policies, infrastructural projects, or programs that increase knowledge and efficacy.
We also need to consider the social determinants which affect health and the decisions people make, while looking to policies that will deal with the underlying contributors to poor health, such as poverty, inequity and illiteracy.
As described by Loewenstein and Ubel, behavioural economics should “complement, not substitute for, more substantive economic interventions. If traditional economics suggests that we should have a larger price difference between sugar-free and sugared drinks, behavioural economics could suggest whether consumers would respond better to a subsidy on unsweetened drinks or a tax on sugary drinks.”
Disclaimer: Charissa has written this post as an independent contributor. This post reflects only Charissa’s views and not those of her employer or clients.
Interested in learning more? Dr Kevin Volpp, the Founding Director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioural Economics at the University of Pennsylvania will be the keynote speaker at the Incentivising a Healthier Australia Forum in Sydney on Thursday 6 March 2014. Or, you could always Contact Us
Last week I came across this fundraising box at Subway.
The sign promised that in exchange for helping I would feel good. My inner philanthropist thought why not! So I donated the coin contents of my purse and instantly received a good, warm fuzzy feeling. Given that before making my way to the counter I had no intention of making a donation anytime soon, this campaign demonstrates the power of an appropriate value proposition to encourage voluntary behaviour.
Exchange in social marketing is often non-monetary and typically involves something else the target audience wants for performing the behaviour; where the benefit is most often personal and psychological in nature, such as a good feeling, social recognition or praise. People always want to know what’s in it for them. Therefore appealing to an individual’s self-interest, through a direct and timely exchange, is in every social marketer’s best interest – particularly when encouraging voluntary behaviour change.
So how can you appeal to an individual’s self-interest? One way is by increasing the perceived value of what they receive in return. Social marketing programs should attempt to manage social issues by ensuring the benefits (or perceived benefits) outweigh the costs associated with the advocated change – increasing the likelihood of voluntary adoption.
Whilst the concept that giving to others can make you feel good about yourself is not revolutionary, it is often overlooked or forgotten; replaced with classic campaigns involving images of in-need individuals designed to elicit sadness and guilt. The ACT for Kids’ feel-good campaign is a perfect example of where a direct and timely benefit is offered in exchange for a voluntary behaviour, in this case a donation.
Another great example of an effective self-interest value proposition is from Kotler and Lee’s text ‘Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviours for Good’ (3rd edition). An environmental social marketing campaign, aimed at reducing pollution affecting an estuary famous for harvesting blue crabs, reframed the issue as a culinary, not an environmental, problem. The appeal to the target audiences’ stomachs (self-interest) rather than their environmental consciousness (societal benefit), provided a direct and timely exchange for changing pollutant garden care behaviours to more environmentally friendly behaviours and, consequently, was more effective than previous initiatives to change behaviour.
Whist the underlying objective is distinguishable between social and commercial sector marketing, an understanding of exchange principles is fundamental to both. Recycling may decrease pollution, reducing energy consumption may help the environment and giving up your leisure time to volunteer may help those in need. But ultimately, everyone’s focus is on themselves, so providing a good answer to the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ is extremely important to behaviour change campaign success.
Marketing is characterised by features such as a consumer orientation, segmentation and targeting, competitor analyses, extensive research with customers and potential customers to ensure that offerings are believable, relevant and motivating, and marketing plans for the ‘4Ps’ of the marketing mix: Product; Place (distribution); Promotion; and Price. Research and negotiations are also undertaken with intermediaries such as retailers, and with stakeholders such as unions and government, to ensure that making the product attractive, available and affordable will be facilitated by distributors and not hampered by structural and regulatory restrictions.
In all these areas, the notion of an exchange process between the ‘buyer’ (target) and the ‘seller’ (marketer) forms a platform of operation. A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for a successful exchange is that marketers offer people something they value in exchange for them purchasing, stocking or recommending the product or adopting the desired behaviour, whether they be end consumers, intermediaries or legislators. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is a key driver in determining appropriate incentives for the various target groups in campaigns.
Social marketing is just one ‘branch’ of marketing, where the branches reflect the area of application, for example sports marketing, business to business or industrial marketing, not-for-profit marketing, religious marketing, political marketing, and so on. However, the key point of difference to all other branches of marketing, is that the social marketer’s goal relates to the wellbeing of the community, whereas for all others, the marketer’s goal relates to the wellbeing of the marketer (that is, sales and profits; members and donations; political representation; etcetera). If the wellbeing of the community is not the goal, then it isn’t social marketing.
Marketing draws on a number of disciplines for developing, planning and implementing marketing activities, but primarily psychology (for example, consumer decision making; attitudes, values); communication (especially for persuasion); economics (for example, utilities, price elasticity); and sociology (for example, behaviour of groups and organisations; diffusion).
Social marketing extends marketing’s borrowings from psychology (for example, mental health and happiness), sociology (for example, war and conflict, social movements) and economics (for example, globalisation effects), and further draws on disciplines and concepts that are related to community wellbeing, such as public health and health promotion, criminology, social policy and social welfare, and environmental sustainability.
However, regardless of these elaborations, and regardless of whether we are targeting individual consumers or those in power to make regulatory changes, the primary paradigm is that of marketing.
Just like any marketing campaign, a social marketing campaign works when it’s based on good research, good planning, relevant attitudinal and behavioural models of change, when all elements of the marketing mix are integrated, and when the sociocultural, legislative and structural environments facilitate (or at least don’t inhibit) target audience members from responding to the campaign. A well-planned social marketing campaign stimulates people’s motivations to respond, removes barriers to responding, provides them with the opportunity to respond, and, where relevant, the skills and means to respond.
Where social marketing campaigns have failed, it is not because the marketing paradigm has been inappropriate, but rather, the application has been inadequate or incomplete. Some critics of social marketing campaigns have claimed that marketing’s focus on the individual largely ignores the social, economic and environmental factors that influence individual health behaviours. While some social marketing campaigns deserve this criticism, this is not an inherent characteristic of marketing. One of the fundamental aspects of marketing—and hence social marketing—is an awareness of the total environment in which the organisation operates and how this environment influences or can itself be influenced to enhance the marketing activities of the company or health agency (Andreasen 2006; Buchanan, Reddy & Hossain 1994; Hastings & Haywood 1994).
Social marketing campaigns have been developed and implemented across a broad variety of areas, beginning largely in developing countries and dealing with issues such as rat control and other hygiene/sanitation areas, vaccination, family planning, agricultural methods and attitudes towards women (Manoff 1985). Applications in developed countries include a variety of areas although the majority and most visible have been and continue to be in lifestyle factors related to health and injury prevention (that is, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, nutrition and road safety), with lesser applications in other areas impacting on health and wellbeing such as ‘problem’ gambling, racism, child abuse and intimate partner violence, and growing interest in applications to energy conservation, recycling and climate control issues (Donovan & Henley 2010).
The paper then develops a social marketing framework based on the principles of marketing, the public health approach and the Ottawa Charter for health promotion.
- Andreasen, A.R. 2006, Social Marketing in the 21st Century, Sage, California.
Buchanan, D.R., Reddy, S. & Hossain, Z. 1994, ‘Social marketing: A critical appraisal’, Health Promotion International, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 49–57.
Donovan, R.J. & Henley, N. 2010, Social Marketing: An International Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
- Gordon, R., McDermott, L., Stead, M. & Angus, K. 2006, ‘The effectiveness of social marketing interventions for health improvement: What’s the evidence?’ Public Health, vol. 120, no. 12, pp. 1133–1139.
Hastings G. & Haywood, A. 1994, ‘Social marketing: A critical response’, Health Promotion International , vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 59–63.
- Manoff, R.K. 1985, Social Marketing, Praeger, New York.
This infographic was created by our colleagues at UK based agency Thornely & Hill to outline the differences between social media and social marketing.
Thanks Neil for letting us share it here
Good social marketing takes planning and doing.
Albert Einstein once said “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”.
In other words – ideas inspire, but execution leads to impact. How are you moving from dreaming of social change to achieving it?
Move from Dreamer to Doer
In a recently published essay what most successful people do before breakfast, author Laura Vandekam discusses her research into the early morning habits of leaders and achievers. What she uncovers is how successful people flex their perspiration muscles at dawn’s early light to move from talking about progress to achieving it.
What do your mornings look like? Successful social marketers revel in their morning. At daybreak, Vandekam encourages people to focus on long-term goals versus short-term advances by focusing on one’s career, relationships and oneself during the wee morning hours. For social marketers, this means doing activities that:
Nurture your career
- Engage your mind. Finally pick up that book you ordered that delves into social marketing theories and frameworks and give it a read. Manage your time to include time for reading and time for processing and reflecting.
- Take action. Move from imagining ‘one day’ and work on purpose. Stop talking and start doing – even if that just means writing your thoughts on paper.
- Add to your toolbox. To be the social marketer you need to be, you may need to learn new skills or expand current ones. Consider taking an online class.
Nurture your relationships
- Touch base. Great social marketers surround themselves with a supportive ‘tribe’ – individuals who push, challenge, encourage and mentor them. Organise your contacts and set a goal to connect with a friend or colleagues once a week or even once a day.
- Meet strangers. New revelations come from colliding with different worlds and new experiences. Visit another neighborhood during your morning walk or stop by a different coffee shop than the usual
- Find clarity. You can only be the best for others when you are best for yourself. If you find yourself struggling with indecision or constant headaches, engage in yoga to relieve stress and find clarity.
- Boost your endorphins. Along the same lines, remember that when you feel good – you look good; and when you look good – you feel good. Sometimes an endorphin lift through physical activity can be just what you need.
- Get enough sleep. Many social marketers sacrifice sleep health by juggling competing priorities, relationships and needs. Working off of a full charge makes you more effective in many of life’s demands.
Take Off Your Floaties
Along the same lines, Walter Isaacon, who wrote Steve Jobs’ autobiography, reflected on the role of passion in a recent media panel: “The important point is to not just follow your passion but [to do] something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion”.
It’s time we take off our floaties and dive into the deep end. Let’s go!
Image Top: Courtesy Flickr user MrTopf | Featured Image: Courtesy Flickr user janaviemae