Tag Archives: Behaviour Change

Applying the Science of Human Behaviour to the Art of Communications – H+K Smarter csuitepodcast interview

Interview starts at 20:34

In the final interview of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit, I spoke with Matt Battersby, Managing Director for H+K Smarter at H+K Strategies about Behavioural Science and its relevance to communications.

with Matt Battersby (left)

with Matt Battersby (left)

Matt describes H+K Smarter as a specialist team of behavioural scientists and researchers who use behavioural science to solve problems and to create communications that are smarter and more effective.  He went on to explain that behavioural science is the intersection of economics, phycology, neuroscience and sociology – it’s about really understanding what we do, why we do it and how we influence it.

Matt had presented at the conference on the two systems of how people think, which he describes as both operating in your brain at any one time.

  • System 1 – your quick, more emotive, unconscious way of thinking, he called it your ‘Homer Simpson’ type of brain.
  • System 2 – your slower, more thoughtful, more reflective (classically more rational) way of thinking, your ‘Sherlock Holmes’ brain.

The vast majority of your decisions are through System 1, which you use far more than you think you do.  Using System 2 takes effort and energy, so you avoid it where you can and save it for something you really need it for.

To give an example of how this thinking can be brought into a campaign, Matt explained that one of his colleagues set up and ran a behavioural insights team within the NHS, specifically using it to get people to sign the organ donor register. This is a classic example of ‘intention action gap’, as 90% of people say they support donating organs but less than a third of people actually sign the register.

The team therefore looked at the message of an organ donor campaigns and whilst the typical message is very emotional, they looked at many different psychological triggers and found the most powerful to be ‘Reciprocity’ – when someone does something good for you, you want to do something good back.  Therefore, the message of ‘If you wanted an organ transplant, would you have one? If so, give to others’ was much more powerful than any other standard message. Other messages that they compared this to include:

  • Social Norms – ‘Thousands of people every day sign the register’
  • Positive Framing – ‘You could save up to 9 lives’
  • Negative Framing- ‘Every day, 3 people die because of lack of organ donors’

Each message had a different psychological trigger behind it and they looked to see which one was the most effective.  This shows that if you apply scientific thinking to your communication messages, you may get a different result to what you thought.

I recorded this interview ahead of the recent UK General Election, and so it was timely in that one huge challenge in the UK has been how to get younger voters to the polling booths.

Matt said that there is some great research on how you actually get people out to vote.  He explained that if you have a group of people who have said they probably will vote for a specific party, the standard approach would be to call them the night before and remind them why they love your party, why they dislike the others, and that their vote is important.  However, the science suggests a different approach is needed – to use the social norm, i.e., tell them lots of other people are voting, to be part of a movement – part of something.

Secondly, Matt said that you should not ask people if they are voting, but instead ask if they are going to be a voter, using the noun rather than the verb helps people see voting as part of their identity, particularly with young people, as it appeals to a sense of who they are, as it is much harder not to be something than not to do something.

[Writing these notes up post-election, I think it can be argued that the Labour party did indeed get the younger voters behind a movement.]

So in applying this to PR in general, Matt said that this can be achieved using two routes:

  1. How can we apply behavioural insight better, with more scientific thinking, to the questions we are already being asked by clients? Providing better communications solutions to their problems.
  2. How do we answer different problems? For this, Matt used the example of a project currently being worked on where they are using behavioural science to improve the communications in job adverts to attract more talent by changing the wording to get more recruits in.

Matt believes that any challenge can be tackled by applying behavioural insight to it and therefore by looking for the better and different is how he sees behavioural science growing in PR.

Finally Matt feels that many different skills and a wider range of skills are now needed within the PR industry and believes that there will be more behavioural scientists in the industry.  His recommended reading if you want to find out more about the topic are:


He also said universities such as LSE, UCL and Warwick University run short courses as well as Masters’ courses.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!


The Seven Sins of Change and how to avoid them – csuitepodcast show 41

In the final interview of Show 41 (skip to 36:35) of the csuitepodcast, recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with FleishmanHillard Fishburn’s Deputy CEO and Senior Partner, Ali Gee about her presentation, ‘The Seven Sins of Change and how to avoid them’.

To begin with, Ali explained that in her presentation, as well as behaviour change, change can encompass anything from making people love a brand they haven’t loved before, to driving up share price, engaging employees, or delivering brand and corporate reputation – anything that makes a measurable difference to a business’ or a brand’s objectives.  However, her biggest concerns for the PR industry in general is that it can’t always prove what it is doing actually works and that, as an industry, whilst it’s increasingly focussing around creativity, great strategy and content, if the focus is on output and not outcomes, Ali believes PR has its eye off the ball.

In her talk in the conference she said that winning at Cannes [Lions], being in the [PR Week] Power book and pitching and winning is cool, but she asked the audience to truthfully answer what proportion of their work makes a real difference, arguing that in many cases, they won’t know, and in lots of cases, it makes no difference at all.

So below are Ali’s seven sins and how she explained them:

  1. Timidity
    In a new business situation, when a client brief lands in an agency, 9 times out of 10 you are trying to ingratiate yourself to the new prospect, rather than pointing out that often the brief isn’t totally clear in terms of what the client wants.  So the sin is that people don’t ask the client “Can I ask you to be clear?  What is the change that you want to see?”
  2. Assumption
    In situations where you’ve been made aware of what the change is that the client wants, often, PR people just go straight for it.  Ali used the example of helping people lose weight, where PR will think it needs to do is campaign towards that goal, when in actual fact, asking people for a much simpler behaviour change can still deliver that same outcome.  In her presentation, Ali used the example of two scientists at the University of West Virginia who, when faced with the task of reducing obesity in the US State, established that the one thing most Virginians had in common was that they drank milk most days.  They therefore concluded that if they could secure a switch from full fat to skimmed milk in these people, then the average Virginian’s diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.  She explained that asking people to change from drinking full fat milk to skimmed-milk is totally different to asking them to reduce calorie intake, or eat their five a day or do more exercise.
  3. Greed
    Often a client side sin, where they ask for too much.  For example, if a client asks for a 25% in consumer behaviour or shift in attitude to a particular issue, that result is unlikely to be realistic.  Ali said that big scale behaviour change doesn’t happen in months and double digit behaviour change takes time and large budgets, usually requiring a multi-layered campaign
  4. Blindness
    Too many campaigns say they are based on research, when in fact they are based on what Ali calls, ‘sight’ research’, i.e., observations of what we see people do.  However, Ali believes what’s missing here is the ‘In’ research, i.e., what’s actually inside their heads, or hearts, and why it drives the behaviour you observe.  It’s her way of explain why the two elements make up ‘Insight’, and so without both, you won’t be able to deliver a strong strategy that will deliver change.
  5. Laziness
    Ali said that people don’t want to be forced to be different and are happy being in the status quo and that therefore, it’s important to make the ask of people small.
  6. Hubris
    Arrogance or overt pride.  In Ali’s opinion, as an industry, PR goes around slapping each other on the back for some great creativity, but sometimes that glamour and excitement of the work is allowed to get in the way of whether the work actually delivered real change.
  7. Finger-licking
    No, nothing to do with fried chicken!  Ali was referring here to people waving their finger in the air in lieu of doing real measurement.

After talking through the list, I asked Ali for one thing, and one thing only, that she would ask the industry to do to help her in her cause, ensuring she follows her own rules by not being too greedy and asking for a small change to start with!  Her response was to ask the judges and owners of awards in the industry to literally throw out any entry that doesn’t have proper outcome measurements or where the outcomes that are measured don’t relate directly and clearly to the stated objectives.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

c-suite podcast 19 – World PR Forum Special III

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Last week, I recorded show 19 of the csuite podcast, the third in the series of specials that I’m producing on behalf of the World Public Relations Forum, which takes place in Toronto at the end of May.

It was a real international affair as Christie Smith, Founder of the Elite Communicators Group, was on the line from Vancouver, Canada, with Daniel Munslow, Principal Consultant at VMA Group joining from Johannesburg, South Africa, whilst with me in the studios of markettiers for her second appearance on the show was Janet Morgan, former Director for Global Content Strategy and Planning at GlaxoSmithKline.

The two main topics we covered were Behavioural Change and Communications Trends in South Africa.

We began the show talking to Christie about the Green Bin Programme that she was involved in with Edelman and Russell Strategies when she was employed with the City of Vancouver.  The aim of the campaign was to recycle food scraps, reduce garbage and cut down on pollution, but had the added challenge of delivering this message to a number of different target ethnic backgrounds within the city.

Christie explained that Vancouver is very culturally diverse, with close to half the population having an Asian heritage.  In fact, 70% of recent immigrants to the city are Chinese.  The campaign communications therefore had to take into account specific value systems and ways of life and so they had to tailor their messages to connect with the different cultural groups.  For example, from their pilot campaign and research, they found that Asian residents explained that the message ‘you will create a legacy for future generations if you recycle your food scraps’ encouraged them to do so more than a message about recycling food scraps is good for the environment.  They also found that a letter from the Mayor, coming from a position of power, also resonated more with them.

As it turned out, the Green Bin Programme delivered excellent results and Christie said that residents continue to recycle food scraps meaning the campaign had a lasting sustainable impact.

Janet added to this discussion topic with information about what the Behavioural Insights Team do for the UK Government.  She gave an example of how they are trying to reduce the number of people who miss their hospital appointments by using the EAST method – Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely – achieved by simple changes to the content within the txt messages sent to the patients about how to cancel, like actually including the number to call in the message, rather than referring them to their appointment letter – that’s the easy bit!  The key was for them to add a note in the message about how much money it costs the NHS if you miss your appointment, which Janet explained is the ‘Social’ element of the EAST tactic.  Adding that latter note helped cut the number of people who missed their appointments by 13%.

In the second part of the show, Daniel talked through the key findings of the research his company had just carried out together with the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa and the Africa region of the International Association of Business Communicators, which looked into the key trends shaping business communications in South Africa and more broadly on the African continent.

Daniel talked through the top five challenges that were highlighted in the research findings, but said they have to been taken into consideration with the broader macro-economic and socio-political context that South Africa is facing, including GDP growth of 0.8% compared to a forecast of 5%.  Those challenges were, in order:

  1. Downward Pressure on Budget
  2. Number and complexity of key audiences
  3. Leadership ability
  4. Skills shortage
  5. Silos within organisations

One of the aspects of the research we picked up on though, was the need to have cross cultural skills, particularly in a county with so diversity as South Africa where, just as an example, there are eleven languages spoken.

Please visit the VMA site for more information on their report.

If you are interested in getting involved in this series, whether as a guest or as a sponsor, please do get in touch using the contact form on the show website.

You can also keep the conversation going on twitter around these podcasts using #csuitepodcast and around the World PR Forum using #WPRF2016.