The art of behavioural change

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As the unstoppable growth in digital services enables creativity and technology to flourish, what’s the third secret ingredient required to really gain genuine traction? Rebecca Winch and Kat Robinson at global communications agency Way To Blue show how applying behavioural economics is one way to really speak to the audience every marketer is so eager to engage.

Consumers have an unprecedented amount of choice for just about any service, product or experience. While studies show that too much choice is almost paralysing, marketers seeking the holy grail of ‘recommendation’ need to focus on two things – elegant creativity coupled with a direct and measurable personal benefit.

In the fight for consumer attention, everything is about building an ongoing relationship. Here, the clever use of behavioural economics can be a secret weapon. From scarcity through gamification to nudges, understanding what really motivates people, behavioural economics and the positive outcomes from this – behavioural change – can make your product relevant, desired, shareable and useful, resulting in personal endorsements and recommendations. Behavioural scientist BJ Fogg refers to ‘dot’ changes: things you do once (make your own lunch); ‘span’ changes that create an ongoing habit (buying less food to reduce waste); to ‘path’ changes, where you create a lasting behaviour (meat-free five days a week). Link this to original creativity, not just a derivative or imitative knock-off of a popular concept, and you could go on to change the world! Sounds like a big ask? It needn’t be. Let’s consider the following examples.

How to create climate warriors

Climate change seems like such a huge problem that many of us can’t see how what we do makes a difference, leading to a lack of action. To break through this, we applied the principles of engaging creativity and carefully designed behaviour change to develop an app for 1MillionWomen. Recently launched, the app is designed to get at least one million women globally to reduce their carbon footprint by making small differences in their daily lives. To achieve this, we knew we needed to put you and your actions at the core. Personalising actions for you and recognising the positive daily steps you might already be taking (cycling to work) is incredibly important, but more than this, we needed to make you key.

At an easy level, the app tracks simple changes such as washing in cold water, not using the dryer etc. We encourage more challenging, purpose-driven life changes – buying only second-hand clothes, selecting your bank based on its carbon choices and so on. To deliver more than lip service, it links daily actions to how far users progress on the ‘climate warrior’ scale, gamifying and motivating continual action.

We also incorporated two core elements designed to make this app more than just a pretty ‘how to’. With ‘thinking globally, acting locally’ in mind, we created an interactive map highlighting users all over the world making a change. The map twinkles with activity, you see new members appear and, when you sign up to do an action, you see your own profile zoom into your country on the map to show your role as part of this global change movement.

We developed what we call the ‘ripple effect’. We wanted to make it really clear how your actions and what you do influences others, and can ‘ripple out’ to create more change. Each time you share within the app, you start to see your ripples of influence grow. Your influence ramps up as you share with others – watching them start out on their own climate journey, as they go on to share the app and their commitment to change, you see your own influence spread. Yes, you’re part of a global movement. Yes, you can individually make a difference. Look, you are!

Encouraging confidence playfully

When we built Learn Seek Match (LSM), we used a completely different creative approach and set of behavioural stimulants. Developed for the government’s Youth Employment Innovation Challenge in NSW, LSM is a website and app designed to encourage more young women to get involved in STEM Industries. The aim of the platform is to bring confidence, real life experience and skills that can be applied to STEM. Wrapped in a beautiful, playful, highly responsive design, the creative look and feel matches the audience and encourages them to come along for the ride. Personalisation, sharing, quizzes and assessments help build confidence, while personal stories from mentors aid in resilience.

This issue of ‘soft skills’ is so easily overlooked, so we needed to show how these translate into competencies that are important and valued, while at the same time encouraging greater confidence. Through using the app and setting goals, users learnt how repositioning their experience and themselves in their own minds would benefit them in their career choices. As part of this, we encouraged them to challenge themselves (who better to compete against?) by setting goals, providing hidden video content to unlock, and giving them the tools to help them succeed.

Less ‘level up’, more ‘create the dot’

We’ve applied our behavioural change stimulants to everything from neobanks (think Monzo or Starling), where we want to help make saving easy and learning fun, to helping you sleep better at night through building good sleep ‘hygiene’ habits. We see a lot of badly applied behavioural theory such as pressure to complete profiles, ‘like’ and ‘level up’.

Coarse, ill-considered and badly implemented gamification doesn’t help anybody, especially the nagged users. But a carefully considered, highly creative implementation that supports users’ own actions to build resilience and determination in them is not just a thing of true beauty, but of true longevity, real growth and unsolicited recommendations.

True change happens when a simple, easy to implement action is offered at the right moment. It’s art and science. And that’s the true core of creativity in the digital era.

Rebecca Winch, global head of content, Way to Blue & Kat Robinson, global digital development director, Way to Blue

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