Advertising for Behavior Change is Different.
We became friendly with a chief marketer who had found some success selling consumer packaged goods, sweet and salty snacks.
One of our creative leaders had worked with him on a candy brand.
The marketer had just left the giant packaged goods company to follow his CMO to a different kind of organization – a behavior change marketing company.
Except, this company didn’t understand that they were in the behavior change marketing business.
All the senior leaders came from either private equity or packaged goods.
Yet this company had a mission to help people improve their wellness. It did so through memberships and subscriptions with a heavy component of education and community.
This was not the mere awareness and preference building of the packaged goods world. This was the long road. This was behavior change. This was building new habits that would require commitment, resilience, and ongoing effort.
We told our friend exactly this.
“You’re playing a whole new game now. And this game is different. It’s behavior change marketing. That means recruiting members, selling subscriptions, building relationships, smoothing out gaps, drags, and blocks in the membership experience, building a rich and compelling experience, designing for encouragement and persuasion at each stage, building an encouraging, safe and secure community. You’re playing the long game now.”
He listened politely and then said, “I think you’re right, but I’m new here. My boss has a plan. Let’s see how it goes.”
A year later, after a failed campaign and selling season, his boss was fired.
We got the call.
“The game plan you were telling me about… I need that now. And I don’t have much time to show some success.”
We got to work together and put in twelve quarters of record revenue growth before he left to take the CMO job at another company where his now proven behavior change marketing chops would be highly valued.
We can help great marketers become successful behavior change marketers. CEOs and Investors often bring us in or recommend us for exactly this purpose. When marketers are new to behavior change, their agency contacts aren’t truly knowledgeable about the full range of behavior change marketing skills.
Most agency experience is still packaged goods experience. Other agencies are specialized in other areas and, frankly, insufficient thought is typically given to differences in business models. Shallow strategic thinking about awareness and preference may be appropriate for driving decisions between adjacent cans of soup on a grocery store shelf. Still, this level of thinking is wildly inappropriate when misapplied to behavior change.
Behavior change must be taken in steps. It is a series of actions. Actions are the result of motivation and ease coming together at the same time. The brand can help drive motivation, while design informed by behavioral science can reduce friction and complexity.
Solving the wrong behavior problem at the wrong time is too common. In the true story I told at the top of this post, the failed campaign aimed to recruit new members but focused on a promise to help them through the challenging times down the road.
After that decision, nothing else really mattered. The wonderful creativity of the agency people who worked on the campaign didn’t matter. The amazing production values and gorgeous editing of the spots didn’t matter.
The brilliant integration across platforms, digital and traditional advertising didn’t. The excellent media planning and buying only served to spread the fatal message virus. The wonderful public relations program only ensured that failure would be a famous one.
Because the advertising wasn’t working as intended. It was actually undermining recruitment. The result of the campaign was that recruitment declined significantly. The campaign ran for less than two months. They killed it on the same day they ended the CMO’s employment.
It never had to be that way.
If you are in the business of helping people make better decisions or form more empowering habits, you are in the business of behavior change. Whether healthier, wealthier, wiser, kinder, saner, calmer, less anxious, better for the planet, happier, fitter, more resilient, a better citizen, better educated, or even just better entertained, if you are helping people to become better versions of themselves, you are in the business of behavior change.
If you are disrupting a category, you ask people to make a different decision and build a different habit. You are in the business of behavior change.
If you are working at a non-profit trying to scale positive impact, you are in the business of behavior change.
And behavior change is different. Marketing, branding, advertising, design, content, and community building for behavior change are different.
Assembling a team to tackle these challenges is different too. But when you work with the right team, you can achieve amazing and important things.
Behavior change is different. Advertising for behavior change is different. This difference matters because the quality of people’s lives hangs in the balance.