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The reality of behaviour change in the marketplace

Are you trying to help your consumers/patients/users/friends have healthier habits? Or does your organisation have a product or service that you feel has massive untapped potential if only they would use it properly? If so, you probably already know that you need behaviour change expertise.

The problem is behaviour change is not straightforward. It needs the right expertise to unlock the right results. For example, there are 93 established scientific health behaviour change techniques, clustered into 16 types... which set do you use?.... why is one approach better than another?... what is the evidence a particular set of behaviours would work for you?

Consistently, research shows that the use of properly defined and replicable behaviour change techniques are associated with better outcomes. The right choice of behaviour change techniques varies by the type of behaviour you are trying to influence, for how long and how much you want it to change, and the current mindset and behaviours of the person you are trying to influence.

Overlaid on all of this is your commercial strategy. If you are a retailer, a product or service provider, you are likely trying to encourage people to buy your product or service. If you are a health care professional or public health commissioner you are likely to be needing to meet your targets. So, in addition to health impact, you also need to your behaviour change programs to have the desired impact on your targets and be within budget.

Here are 5 essential tips that can help in developing an effective 'in market' behaviour change programme:

  1. Start with your commercial strategy. Organisations need to properly integrate their behaviour change initiatives with strategy, sales or data driven marketing objectives at a detailed level. Is the objective about new product trial, increasing penetration, product support or loyalty for instance? Hard work at this stage will really pay off later.

  2. Describe in sharp detail what new behaviours you want to see adopted. Contrast the desired behaviours with where you are today. What are the current barriers you see to that adoption. Are they influenced by the environment, individual perceptions, motivations or engrained habits. Could they be shaped over time? Who is most likely to adopt them and how does this relate to your commercial strategy? Are you niche or broad?

  3. Ask your behaviour change supplier to provide you with a strategy that is grounded in proven science. Given that behaviour change is grounded in a scientific discipline constructing your initiative with someone who has no training or deep expertise is a bit like asking a talk show host to give you health advice. It might be well meaning and have high initial impact, but behaviour change initiatives that have long term impact can only be achieved with experts who use evidence based programme build techniques.

  4. Work hard with your supplier to fit the right behavioural strategy into your commercial objectives. Once you know that you have an expert and scientific approach to the problem then establish how this fits within your commercial objectives. Many times a pure academic approach can lead to commercial objectives being lost. It's important for everyone that this doesn't happen as long term sustainable change is critical to taking the programme into year 2 and beyond. No sustainable business model = no long term behaviour change or health impact.

  5. Pilot fast, measure and refine.  Use a 'lean behaviour change' approach, and start with some simple pilots that can be tested at small scale. If you can describe what techniques work in changing the specific behaviour that you are interested in, then it should work at a small scale as well as a large one. Find ways to test this out quickly, and then make any necessary changes, before throwing a large full scale rollout budget behind it.


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