I just got done reading an Ebook titled "Communications and Behavior Change" written by Mark Lund, CEO of Government Communications Network. It covers the factors associated with changes of behavior and outlines ways in which these factors can be manipulated. It got me thinking about a recent quote I read from marketing guru Jack Trout that states, "If your assignment is to change people’s minds, don’t take it.”
Let's take a deeper look.
At the most basic level, we can look at behavior in the form of the AIDA model. This model states that providing information will spark interest that will in turn lead to an action or a change in behavior. This does make sense, however, rarely is information enough to change a behavior (smoking, tanning, drinking).
Attitudes, or personal feelings towards a person, place, or thing have always been linked to behaviors, but the link is not as strong now. For example, just cause you don’t like a certain bar doesn’t mean you won’t go if your friends are all going. Just because you don't like Apple doesn't mean you won't get an iPod. However, just like with providing information, changing an attitude is often not enough to change a behavior.
Cognitive dissonance comes when a person holds two inconsistent views. For example, a smoker knows that they could get cancer and live a shorter life, but more often than not they say “I know someone who lived till they were 100” or “smoking keeps me skinny” as factors that justify their behaviors. People often do this when making consumer decisions as well. "I don't really like going to that bar but it's close" or "I don't want to see that movie but it is getting good reviews." The key for communications specialists is to find a way to take out the dissonance, and motivate behavior towards what they really want to do, despite the relative information.
Habit and routine are also leading factors in behavior. If you’re used to doing something, most likely you’ll continue doing it. Something new might not be so easy. For example, if you often leave the TV on all night, it would be hard for me to convince you to turn it off every night. If you love eating Red Meat, it would be hard for me to convince you to become a vegetarian.
Breaking these habits often requires an emotional stir-up at the point of use. For example, to get you stop eating meat I would need to hang a picture of a bloody pig in front of your refrigerator. To get you to quit smoking I would need to put a picture of your Grandpa who died of cancer on your car’s dashboard.
Emotions play a huge part in behavior changes. I suppose this is one of my personal favorites. A lot of the times, communication tries to play on emotions a little too much. For example, I just saw a Christmas campaign for Kay Jewelers that focuses on a deaf woman and her boyfriend signing to one another - too emotional. The dog commercials with the sad music – way too emotional. The thing is, they work.
Mental shortcuts are also a common factor of behavior. These refer to instances where you make decisions based on events you can immediately recall. For example, most people are more scared of flying than driving because you can immediately recall a horrible plane crash. You’re more likely to buy a lottery ticket when the prize is the highest because it is easier to visualize what you could do with the largest amount of money. Communications needs to allow people to visualize everything on an equal playing field.
Social norms play a huge role in the decision making process. For example, imagine you’re at a party. Typically you’re not the first one to eat whatever food is laying out, but once someone else gives it a try, it’s fair game for everyone to join in. Basic idea, but how can communications agencies send a message of “acceptable behavior” to encourage action? It requires a call to action to companies to be an opinion leader. Drive a message home and send it through respective mediums to gain followers. If you can make a destination the “place to be,” people will come.
Environmental factors are another player in the communications game. For example, someone may want to use public transportation but if there aren’t any bus stations around, they’ll have to use a car. Same goes with any business. People might want to go hear live music at your bar, but if they don’t know it exists, where it’s located, or who’s playing, they’re going to choose another option.
What it all comes down to is communications 2.0. It's no longer about just throwing a message out, it's about understanding the message, its audience, and their underlying reasons for behavior. Truthfully, I'm still trying understanding all this myself, but i'm excited about the possibilities.
In the world of communications, being an early adopter is key. What's even better than an early adopter? An innovator. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.