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Behaviour change – a missing ingredient?

‘Successful and impactful behaviour change requires huge commitment and time’

Meg morgan

By Meg Morgan, Strategic Solutions Director, Bedrock Healthcare Communications

There is plenty of evidence to show that some things are bad for us: smoking, too much sugar, alcohol and drugs, for example. So why is it that some of us ignore the evidence and risk our health? What does it really take to change our thinking, the way we make decisions and how we behave?

While we may think that complex interventions are needed to successfully change behaviours, recent concepts such as Nudge Theory are suggesting otherwise. Nudges are particular types of interventions, the results of which can provide direct insight into a person’s behaviour. For example, providing prescription drugs in different colours to encourage adherence, or painting piano keys on stairs to encourage use instead of the escalator are immediate impact interventions which have been shown to have a great effect. The impact of nudges can help shape future interventional strategies and therefore can work as part of longer-lasting and larger initiatives.

This is not to suggest that nudges are all it takes to effect a change in behaviour in every case. Bold programmes and interventions that focus on individual needs are shown to have a massive effect too. In 2012 Public Health England launched Stoptober, a national smoking cessation campaign that resulted in a ~50% increase in quitting during October compared with other months in the same year. This showed that designing a campaign with clear behavioural targets and fundamental psychological theory can result in impressive outcomes in an area of health that is notoriously difficult to influence.

Whether we consider a series of ‘Nudges’ or more fundamental programmes, possessing the necessary insights into those whose behaviour ‘Successful and impactful behaviour change requires huge commitment and time’ we are trying to change is essential. Indeed, it may be the only way we can develop clear behavioural targets and choose the most effective methodologies. Essential insights include your audiences’ needs, emotions and (often competing) motivations, as well as understanding their behaviours. These are the starting blocks to developing effective and long-lasting behaviour change programmes. In a world where the way we analyse and consider ‘big data’ is rapidly evolving, novel qualitative research programmes are emerging that bring real depth to our knowledge. These approaches are already uncovering previously unrecognised behaviour drivers and the resultant knowledge is shaping some interesting and progressive change programmes.

So, if we understand our audience better and as a result are able to create highly effective change programmes, have we cracked the code? Probably not.

If one is to really influence people, trust is another key ingredient. In their book The Trusted Advisor, Maister, Green and Galford describe the principle of the ‘trust equation’ where trustworthiness equals credibility + reliability + intimacy, divided by self-orientation. Arguably the pharma industry is both credible and reliable, based on our extensive knowledge and experience. We are also dependable, delivering safe products that change lives. Intimacy in this setting describes one’s ‘feeling of safety or security when entrusting someone with something’. Patients entrust doctors with their health every day and doctors generally feel secure in the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to furnish them with safe, effective and well-researched treatments to prescribe to their patients.

So what is self-orientation? It refers to whether one’s focus is primarily on oneself, or on one’s audience. While pharma might refer to patient- centricity in this sense, it is not our perspective on how patient-centric we are that is relevant; it is how well our audience believes we are doing. Should we measure our self-orientation through our own eyes, or those of our audience?

In a time of increasing distrust in governments and social media, forward-thinking corporations are seeking the opportunity to reinforce audiences’ trust in them. Research shows that audiences need to really believe that an organisation’s values are in line with their own before they engage with any form of messaging or promotion. The values that resonate well are around social alignment, well-being and the empowerment of others, or, put another way, lack of self-orientation.

The common theme here is that successful and impactful behaviour change takes understanding, the building of real trust and, because of that, requires huge commitment and time. This is where our real challenge lies, particularly as many organisations are measured on their short-term goals. The pharmaceutical industry has all the tools and a great opportunity to address this. It already invests hugely in long-term development programmes to understand drug efficacy and safety; the step required to take the same long-term view on implementing behaviour change programmes is not so big. If behavioural aspects are investigated and implemented soon enough in the drug life cycle, it could be a real win-win for all involved.

In association with

Bedrock

20th November 2018

From: Marketing

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