Behavioural Sciences have a huge amount to offer to the marketing and communication world. Whether that is increasing the potency of external sales campaigns, creating behaviour change within the health and social care sector or just to bring more alignment and positive output within your own team.
The psychology of human behaviour, regardless of your sector or target audience is at the very centre of how we communicate and the results we then see. There are no neutral forms of communication. In the words of Richard H. Thaler (co-author of the brilliant behaviour change book 'Nudge') .
“The first misconception is that it is possible to avoid influencing people’s choices.”
Every piece of communication we put out into the world has some influence on people's choices - either positively in the way we had planned - or negatively, because we haven't understood our audience and what actions were needed to prompt a nudge towards the right behaviour. We all have a certain amount of agency over our audience's choices, the chances they have to access our product/solution and they changes they can make following our prompts...
Whether you are communicating with friends, family, your target customers, patients or colleagues. The more we understand the scientifically proven theories behind behaviour change, the more we can be successful in creating interventions that lead to the desired behaviour.
This could be persuading a potential client to try your product or service (that may require them changing an established pattern of behaviour) or perhaps you have tried to bring a team member along with an idea, but they have shown resistance to the behaviours required for achieving success. Or, it could be that you are involved in a health-centred initiative and you are finding it hard to engage your target audience and bring about the behaviour change that would be most beneficial for your patients.
Understanding behaviour change theories can unlock the way you approach your marketing and communication in exciting new ways!
Behaviour Change Theories
There are many behavioural change theories (read about them all here) — the social cognitive theory, the transtheoretical model (stages of change), the theory of reasoned action, and so on. The two I want to introduce in this short article are the COM:B model
And BJ Foggs B=MAP
However, for both theories to work we first need to identify, in detail, what the chosen goal is. What is the output we are looking for and what behaviour would lead to this. These stages take time, research and input from your target audience. For example:
OUTPUT: Reduce Obesity in inner-city children between the age of 11 - 16
BEHAVIOUR CHANGE: Help them eat less sugar
– Stop sugary snacks + drinks being sold at school
– Promote 'sugar swaps' - fruit based snacks instead of processed sugar treats.
– Educate children in school on the dangers of eating too much sugar.
– Engage local newsagents and ask then to consider restructuring their shelves to promote healthy eating and less high sugar items by the till
– Engage and educate parents through fun promotional activities at existing school events. These are just a few quick examples.
Choosing the correct behaviour to change is another article in itself. But the leading theories on behaviour change theory can be seen below
COM:B is a simple model of Behaviour that outlines the necessary conditions for certain Behaviour to occur. In order for a chosen Behaviour to occur, three conditions must be present.
People must have the CAPABILITY, which is defined as the set of physical and psychological abilities of a person in relation to a given Behaviour. Consider how physically and psychologically able your target audience is to complete the behaviour.
They must also have the OPPORTUNITY, which is defined as the properties of a person’s environment that make it possible or easier for them to enact a Behaviour. Does the environment they are in make it easy or hard to complete the desired behaviour?
And finally, they must be more MOTIVATED to perform that Behaviour than any other Behaviour they could be doing at that moment in time. They must have the motivation, which is defined as a psychological process that energises and directs Behaviour, including conscious decision-making, habitual and instinctive responding, and responding to emotions and drives. This is perhaps the most illusive of the three elements.
This COM-B Model gets its name by taking the initial letters of each of the three components and combining it with the B of Behaviour. Capability, opportunity, motivation leads to Behaviour.
So to briefly summarise this approach you just first identify and specify the behaviour you want to change (one that will have most impact), secondly you must diagnose the influences of the behaviour (Capability, Opportunity, Motivation) - which area requires most change? And finally, link an appropriate intervention with your diagnosis. This is perhaps the most challenging and requires most creativity.
Made popular by BJ Fogg, the founder of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University, a behaviour happens when motivation, ability, and a prompt converge simultaneously. This is known as the Fogg Behaviour Model or B=MAP.
According to Fogg, Behaviour is the result of motivation, ability, and prompts taken at the same time. In other words, a behaviour is the result of:
– Motivation, or your desire to execute the behaviour.
– Ability, i.e. your capacity to execute the behaviour.
– Prompt, or your cue to execute the behaviour.
Understanding where our audience is in relation to these simple 3 factors is another way to help inform our marketing and communications to make sure we speak to the audience where they're at in a way they can respond to.
Fogg proposes this simple graph to help us understand how to build a new habit or behaviour. Along the vertical axis is Motivation (M) which varies between High and Low. Along the horizontal axis is Ability (A) which varies between Hard to do and Easy to do. Then, the Prompt (P) lands either above or below a curved line on the graph, known as the “Action Line.”
The position of your Prompt in relation to the Action Line determines whether you’ll do a Behaviour (B) or not.
In short, if you can make something easy enough to do, your audience needs little motivation to complete the task. Think Amazon 'one-click' order or ordering an Über. Start the behaviour change in as simple and easy a way as possible and then build the momentum towards the bigger goal you may have.
You can read more about the Fogg Behavioural model here or read his excellent book ' Tiny habits here
These 2 theories on behaviour change can provide highly useful insights into how behaviour change can be promoted and the barriers and processes we need to go through when marketing and communicating new ideas, products and systems to our chosen audience.
These theories raise common questions we can ask ourselves such as:
• Do customers understand my product enough that they feel they can trust it and engage with what we are offering?
• Do they understand the problem enough to be motivated to try our new solution?
• Is there enough 'social proof' to bring psychological assurance that 'people like me or using products like this'
• Is the product, website, app easy to use? Do people have the ability to engage with your produce or it it too hard?
• Are you asking your audience to make too big a leap without allowing them to 'sample the behaviour' first?
For more information about how behaviour change techniques could inform your marketing or communications campaign content feel free to get in touch here. We'd love to chat through some ideas with you!