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Bupa to harness behavioural science to shape omnichannel experience

Bupa is plotting a flurry of digital initiatives designed to harness behavioural change theories which help tackle health and wellbeing issues as it looks to shift perceptions that it is an insurance firm.

The organisation wants people to see it for what it truly is; a health provider. It has mapped out a 2020 vision to guide its transition and the latest step moves it into the unnatural marketing domain of behavioural science.

It is working with the Centre of Behaviour Change at University College London for the shift, formalising a two year relationship with the experts in the process. The tie-up launched this week (24 February) and is tasked with developing digital behaviour change initiatives under the Global Institute for Digital Health Excellence (GLIDHE) banner.

Projects employing a myriad of marketing tools from gamification to "edutainment", personalisation to artificial intelligence are being primed, although Bupa declined to give details.

An example of this approach is last year's “Healthie Selfie” app. Curious users wondering what smoke or weight could do to their faces once they got older, can take a selfie from the app before seeing their aged faces bare the weight of an unhealthy lifestyle. The shock tactic plays on people’s vanity, a behaviour Bupa plans to mine in the future.

Alan Payne, digital director at Bupa, said upcoming initiatives aim to move it from the push marketing mechanics of a “clinician” to those pull mechanics exuded by a “coach”. He means that whereas Bupa’s previous communications in the digital space were very traditional, it is gradually becoming more customer orientated. GLIDHE will also bring anther scientific layer to the health provider’s marketing that will see more rigour and scale applied to its A/B testing.

“One of the concerns that we’ve always had is that Bupa can be perceived as being an insurance firm when in fact we’re not,” said Payne. “We’ve taken that consumer centric approach of 'everything must revolve around the customer' and we’ve then embedded some really power behaviour change evidence. We’re also not just trying this out from a marketing perspective. It’s also being done from a scientific perspective so that when we do test things they’re done in a prescribed way.”

Bupa’s UCL tie-up marks its latest efforts to widen the digital health market. Major changes were made to the business internally in 2011 to support its desire for a more digitally focused business in response to shifting customer attitudes toward healthcare.

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