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Can we do more?

Using behavioural framing to market desirable behaviours

ChangeWe are in the business of change ... whether that's convincing a patient to adhere to our medication or persuading a customer to prescribe it in the first place! But change is hard. As a species, we are resistant to change even if we recognise it's for our own good, as the ever rising obesity epidemic demonstrates. However as an industry we can influence change through our interactions and communications ... but are we doing enough?

While it might be obvious, how often do we start with a clear end in mind? Too often we're not sufficiently clear about our own behavioural ambition. What is it we're trying to achieve ... and which of our customers' specific behaviours are most likely to impact on our over-arching behavioural goal?

Secondly we need to understand what drives behaviour. This is a complex issue. It's not all about conscious, rational decision-making. Decisions are influenced by societal, contextual, emotional and unconscious influences - and drawing on learnings from psychology and social sciences we are better equipped than ever to unpack the influences on behaviour.

Thirdly we need to translate this knowledge into action! We need to develop interventions and communications that inspire behavioural change. How often are behavioural insights left on the cutting room floor in favour of a reliance on familiar clinically-based communication strategies, albeit with emotional undertones? 
Our own Engager framework based on See, Feel, Think, Do helps us understand why people behave the way they do - leaving us better placed to exert influence by framing behaviours differently.

See in our framework relates to social influence. Cultural and social context are primary influences on people's behaviour. Although we all like to think of ourselves as independently minded, what we do is highly influenced by what we sense others doing around us and the social meaning we attach to those behaviours. By framing behaviours as more prevalent they are deemed more desirable (the so called 'herd mentality'). We can see this tactic being deployed in GP surgeries in the UK: “90% of patients attend their appointments” - leveraging the influence of socially acceptable behaviour.

Feel relates to how a behaviour reflects on us personally. Does it connect with my own personal beliefs and values, my sense of 'self' and who I want to be? Can we frame this behaviour in a way which makes our customers feel good about themselves - so it is something they aspire to? This can be used to good effect as a patient support tactic, for example via promise contracts. Encouraging people to openly 'pledge commitment' to a diet/exercise/ drug regime leverages a key behavioural economic bias. The power of this contract is further enhanced if supported and witnessed by a loved one. An example of this is provided in the patient intervention poster (see left) and implemented in our own study* to demonstrate the ability of such tactics to improve compliance in a population of patients with type 2 diabetes.

In order to challenge behaviour we need to recognise what's in it for us and understand how the benefits outweigh the costs. In many ways this appears straightforward, however there are often subtleties at play. For example take how you frame or contextualise your communication messages. Should you present data which demonstrates an increased probability of survival or a reduced probability of death? The same data presented differently can provoke extremely different responses.

If we're honest, we are all fundamentally lazy! Even if a behaviour ticks the three boxes above we often don't change because we feel we can't do it, it seems too effortful or we simply can't be bothered! In order to inspire change we need to frame the behaviour in a more positive light by making it seem more 'doable'. This could be by making the behaviour seem easier to perform, enhancing skills (through education or support) or challenging perceptions of people's abilities to act. One way of accomplishing this is by chunking a task down to more manageable, bite-size steps which reduces the size of the 'ask'. An example of this is also incorporated in the intervention poster.

So what could we do differently? Honing a clear and holistic understanding of your target customer (be it patient, HCP or other) is a good starting point. We need to stop looking solely for conscious, rational and logical explanations for behaviour. Behaviours aren't necessarily rational - in fact many are seemingly irrational - but that doesn't mean we can't seek to understand them. We need to look more broadly at what makes people tick; unpack the different influences at play and filter the results through behavioural economic, linguistic, cultural and humanistic lenses.

We then need to be brave in translating these insights into interventions and communication strategies which more fully leverage this deeper understanding. We should aim to go beyond influencing knowledge and attitudes to frame behaviours as more desirable thereby inspiring change.

After all, in the words of our founder Mike Hall “Ultimately our aim is for someone to do something”.

* Research conducted in partnership with The Behavioural Architects 

Jeanette Hodgson (left) is a Partner, and Aurora Albert is a Behavioural Insight Director, at Hall & Partners. Contact them via email or call +44 (0)74004480

23rd April 2015

From: Marketing



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