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Behaviour change needs a quantified approach

How pharmaceutical brands can use behaviour change to communicate their treatments to patients

Change Ahead

The great mysteries of human behaviour and its often irrational quirks are slowly but surely being solved, thanks to a combination of behavioural economics and booming research in neuroscience.

It’s a fascinating development, but one that has been far too slow. When it comes to health, our inability to understand these quirks has been causing serious consequences that need to be addressed.

Non-adherence to treatment currently ranges from 25% to an eye-watering 78%. Without analysing and tackling this human behaviour, the devastating human impact will continue unabated: people who could have been saved - are not.

Behaviour change is at the core of this. If you want to save or improve lives, you must encourage people’s behaviour to change in some way or another, whether you’re getting patients to stick to a course of treatment, or try a new and more effective one.

Alternatively if you’re getting physicians to explore new options for their prescriptions, so their patients have access to the widest choice and the latest innovations, you have to create behaviour change or you won’t have any impact.

So how can we truly understand behaviour change? And how can pharmaceutical brands use it to plan, develop and communicate their treatments to patients, consumers and physicians?

The behaviour change model

The trans-theoretical model is the latest and most authoritative framework for understanding individuals’ readiness to change their behaviour.

Since it was first developed in 1977, the ‘five stages of change’ (as it is also known) has become the dominant structure through which even the latest behavioural economics and psychology research approaches the issue.

It considers five stages of behaviour change:

  • Pre-contemplation - not intending to take action in the foreseeable future
  • Contemplation - starting to weigh up the pros and cons of change
  • Preparation - intending to take action in the immediate future
  • Action - implementing changes to behaviour
  • Maintenance - sustaining the change to behaviour in the long term.

An individual will progress through each of the stages, with the time taken in each varying depending on the behaviour being changed and the unique challenges faced by that individual. And for the most difficult changes, people will sometimes move backwards as well as forwards.

But knowing this is only half the picture. We need to find a way to utilise this insight and implement it in our research and our strategies.

At Future Thinking, we developed our own behaviour change model to address this issue.

We took the trans-theoretical model and overlaid it on qualitative and quantitative research methods, creating a framework where the unique impact that products, services and marketing tactics have at each of the five stages can be analysed independently.

You can start out with broad questions (‘how many people in this group will stick to the treatment plan?’) and focus down into targeted questions (‘how effective will this marcomms campaign be in changing behaviours among this population segment?’). And you can analyse the incentives and barriers to change within each stage and how effective you are in navigating them.

Having a clear, verifiable and quantifiable model for analysing behaviour change has been an important step forward.

Traditionally if you were evaluating how effective a campaign was at changing behaviours, you’d analyse the shift in numbers between the first (Pre-contemplation) and the fifth (Maintenance) stages without considering the people who are in-between.

Bringing in the trans-theoretical model means we can get a more granular view on how behaviours are actually changing.

Putting behaviour change into action

The pharmaceutical sector has taken great strides in adopting health psychology and behavioural economics insights over the past decade. But there’s still more to do to ensure that the needs of patients and consumers are fully understood.

The behaviour change model gives us a chance to analyse people’s motivations and obstacles, while quantifying their progress more broadly.

But it’s not just patients and consumers we can apply this to. Physicians are a key stakeholder in the process, and the decisions they make about which products to prescribe is a major factor in which treatments are used and how successful they are.

We recently used the behaviour change model to focus on this very issue, by measuring how ready physicians were to change the prescriptions they offer through the five stages of change.

The first step was to analyse the levers and barriers that motivate or inhibit behaviour change. In this case, a complex range of factors were in play: from their experiences and feedback on the current prescriptions they use, to their overall attitude towards healthcare and the pharmaceutical sector.

We design the research around these concepts, carefully selecting the approach and wording to capture as much information on these as possible.

And then we quantify the results, using segmentations to identify additional patterns.

Through this, we were able to identify which physicians were reluctant to consider changing their existing treatments, those who needed more information and reassurance about the effectiveness of the new product and those who were ready to implement the change.

For the brand, this allowed them to create an effective communications strategy that provided the right information to those who needed it.

Behaviour change over the next ten years

Our understanding of ourselves and our world will change profoundly over the coming decades, and with it our understanding of behaviour change.

Neuroscience will drive much of this. We’re on the verge of a golden age in this area, unlocking the power to discover how our brains actually work.

The cognitive biases that shift us away from rational, healthy behaviours towards irrational, unhealthy ones will be modelled in greater depth than they have before. And with it, our ability to help people make healthier choices will continue to improve.

While we’ve given the behaviour change process a defined structure, it’s a structure that has limitless depth.

As new research emerges, we can evolve and build on this model so that the results are better and the insights deeper.

Article by
Dan Young

is managing director of strategy and planning at Future Thinking

31st March 2017

From: Marketing



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