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Positive Spin on Change – Social Marketing

This post is a verbatim-transcript of an article written by Maureen Eppen and published in The West Australian newspaper on 18th November, 2017.


Social marketing is emerging as a way for marketing professionals to use their skills and experience for the greater good.

Marketing for Change Managing Director Luke van der Beeke said work in this field provided opportunities to apply traditional marketing concepts and other approaches to deliver positive outcomes for society as a whole.  Social marketing was not to be confused with social media marketing.

“Commercial marketing is used to influence people’s purchasing decisions to make a profit – it exists to make money for a select few and build shareholder value,” Mr van der Beeke said.

Social marketing is different. It also seeks to build value – but social value, not shareholder value.

“Its main purpose is to deliver positive outcomes for individuals and society. We use the same tools and techniques, but the end-game is completely different.

“For social marketers, there’s nothing wrong with making a profit, but not when it comes at the cost of an individual’s or community’s health or wellbeing.”

Mr van der Beeke said this form of marketing was still relatively new in Australia, but there was a growing network of people “marketing for good”.

Social marketers used “behaviour change programs” to help achieve positive change.

“Behaviour change programs are used to address all sorts of issues, including public health, environment and social challenges,” he said.

“At their core, most problems facing the world today are predicated on people’s attitudes and behaviours.

“For example, violence against women is a behaviour carried out by men, and an area I’m doing quite a bit of work in at the moment.”

Driving, physical inactivity, recycling, human trafficking, crime, substance abuse, retirement savings, handwashing and climate change were all examples of areas in which social marketing and behaviour change programs could benefit society.

“Social marketing isn’t a silver bullet, but it can be a highly effective means of tackling the many social, health, economic and cultural challenges we currently face,” he said.

“Over the past 10 years there’s been a marked shift towards small government and the need for people to take more personal responsibility.

“In my view, if we want people to take more responsibility for their health, financial security and so on, we need to equip and empower them to do so – telling them they need to do something isn’t enough.

“We’ve also seen disciplines like behavioural economics come to the fore, as governments seek to nudge people towards better choices.

“While it’s making a significant contribution to the social good, it needs to be counterbalanced by policy and programs that are informed by the needs and wants of citizens.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that policies and programs that fail to do so can be ineffective and may even result in unintended consequences.”

Here in Perth, Marketing for Change had advised local government on how to use behaviour insights to increase timely payment of rates, increase bush fire preparedness, pet registration and micro-chipping.

“I’m also currently working with Koolkuna, a women’s shelter in Midland, on a Department of Social Services funded family violence prevention project,” he said.


Luke’s advice for people considering a career in social marketing
  • Join the Australian Association of Social Marketing and plug in to its Australian and international networks of social marketing academics, practitioners, resources and webinars.
  • Find a social marketer and meet with them over coffee. AASM is a good place to start and social marketers are generally very open to support those new to the field.
  • Read widely. Social marketing draws on many disciplines.
  • Marketing would be the most relevant degree, but communications, behavioural science or economics, or psychology would also be good options.
  • Don’t consider social marketing if your intent is to make lots of money. Social marketers are a bit like non-profit marketers – we do the job because we’re passionate about it.
His top tips for embracing the principles of social marketing
  • Listen to what others are saying and seek to understand what sits behind their words.
  • Have empathy. We’re too quick to blame and label others for what we perceive to be poor choices.
  • Seek out people doing things more innovatively or better than you, and learn from them.
  • Avoid labels, stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Don’t assume you know why people think and behave as they do. Everyone’s lived experience is different.
Social Marketing

The article as it appeared in the Weekend West.

Behaviour Change Tips For Beginners

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

The 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

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.

Motivation Cartoon

Reduce Barriers

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.

 

Ineffectiveness of Info Only Campaigns

Not enough bins?

 

Personal Motivations

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

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.

 

Traffic Safety Council Vancouver

3D image of girl painted on road

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.

Defaults

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.

Substitution

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.

 

Self-Monitoring

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.

Error Proofing

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.

 

Error Proofing - Rumble Strip

Rumble strips are an example of ‘error proofing.’

 

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.

An Introduction to Behavioural Economics for Health

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

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).

People who commit to making a change are more likely to do so.

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

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