Nine principles of effective behaviour change


Behaviour-change campaigns are used to effect a wide range of outcomes, from encouraging smokers to quit, to reducing energy consumption in the home, to driving the use of public transport. But how can marketers persuade the public to form new habits? What makes an effective behaviour-change campaign? 

Flamingo’s Head of Client Leadership, Hazel Wilkinson, recently spoke at the PRCA Health Conference, where she shared nine core principles of effective behaviour change. These are: creating clear objectives and KPIs; clearly defining your target audience; pinpointing the target behaviour you wish to encourage; ensuring you have a detailed understanding of your target audience; formulating an evidence-based behaviour-change strategy; producing strong creative; testing campaign contents and formats; devising a clear implementation plan and, finally, ensuring that there is a well-defined approach to measurement and learning.

We have explored five of these principles in more detail below, highlighting key stages they relate to in the campaign planning process and outlining how marketers can optimise their outcomes:

1)    Clear Target Audience

Demographics alone are not enough when defining a target audience. A wealthy American male born in 1946 could be both President George W. Bush and Sylvester Stallone; demonstrating that two members of the same segment may have vastly different life experiences, attitudes and receptiveness to certain forms of marketing. This is where behavioural segmentation comes in. By fusing demographic and behavioural understanding, it is possible to define exactly who your target audience is. The more specific, the better. 

2)    Clear Target Behaviour

Your aims should be specific and measurable. Being clear about the behaviours that you are looking to change and outlining precisely what is needed from the target audience can make long-term aims feel more achievable. For example, asking a group of people to increase their weekly activity levels in order to lose weight is abstract and intangible. Suggesting they do thirty minutes of exercise, three times a week, gives the target audience an understandable benchmark and provides the marketer with a measurable output. 

3)    Detailed Understanding of the Target Audience

Delving into both the active and subconscious thoughts of the consumer can greatly help with campaign optimisation. Usually, this type of deep research will unveil the benefits and motivators of commitment to change, plus any competing behaviours; this means that barriers to adoption can be tackled prior to launch. To get the most value from audience insights, marketers should also observe their cultural and real-life context: knowledge of behaviours is far more valuable when you recognise their implicit meaning and how they play out in daily life.

4)    Strong Creative

A study by the IPA found that major creative award-winning campaigns were twelve times more likely to be notably commercially successful. So, what makes a creative output ‘strong’ from a behaviour change perspective? Firstly, consolidate your understanding of what motivates your target audience to act and use this to inform the creation of a clear campaign message. Behaviour change requires a sustained change to thoughts, feelings and beliefs, so repetition and consistency across campaign material is key; your creative concepts should be flexible for use across a variety of outputs. Finally, remember your aims and provide a clear, behaviour-linked call to action.

5)    Defined Approach to Measurement and Learning

The final stage: measuring the outcomes of the campaign. It’s critical that marketers measure the right thing, at the right time (and that the appropriate budget to do so is in place ahead of time) to uncover meaningful insights. As well as benchmarking success, effective measurement and evaluation can also promote learning; it can drive improvement and boost the effectiveness of future campaign iterations. In the context of healthcare, using a clear framework such as that of the GCS can provide structure to the evaluation process. 

Flamingo has developed a technique to uncover and understand the deep subconscious motivators driving behaviour – as well as the cultural forces that can reinforce these behaviours – using a combination of applied data science and semiotic analysis.

If you’re interested in finding out more, contact Flamingo at