Implementing the reward mechanism to encourage behaviour change

As grown-ups in the 21stcentury, we are all patently aware of what we should do to live a healthier life. So why is there still a large proportion of the population that seems unable to do the right thing and make the correct decisions for their health?

A couple of things in this statement bear further scrutiny.

First is the vaguely judgemental tone employed by those of us involved in the healthcare industry to express our frustration. We tend to do this when large swathes of the population don’t take their medication, won’t increase activity, won’t eat the right food and won’t quit smoking. However, our judgment is often based on what we would do. This assumption makes us victims of what’s known as the false consensus effect. This is an attributional cognitive bias where we believe that our own personal beliefs, opinions, behaviours, likes and dislikes are also normal for most other people. Unfortunately, that bias is often reinforced by reflection from our friends and colleagues in our industry. The reality is very different.

The truth is that only a small proportion of the population actually spends its waking and working hours thinking about its health. Now let’s look at it from another, incredibly obvious, point of view. A lot of positive health behaviours, especially those that many people REALLY need to adopt, aren’t particularly attractive. Why? Simply because they often involve doing less of stuff that people like and more of stuff that they really don’t want to do.

Which brings us to the second thing.

Rewards are only rewards if they feel good to people. Again, from a healthcare industry perspective, what could feel better than a new personal best on a Strava segment, or smashing my 25,000-step record on Fitbit? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Non-health obsessed people (i.e. most of the population) are constantly expected and encouraged to replace things that have a built-in reward with something for which the reward is completely and utterly intangible. Reducing the odds of something bad happening at some unspecified time in the future does not get those dopamine juices flowing in quite the same way as a nice carb and fat laden meal, a drink, a cigarette or a Victory Royale in Fortnite. Tragically however, none of these aforementioned delights will do much to improve anyone’s type 2 diabetes, for example…

The key to making differences here is to make rewards for healthy behaviour relevant to the audience in whom we are interested, rather than to us. Harnessing the reward mechanisms in our brains is very helpful here. The interesting thing is that the way we process reward doesn’t appear to differ for real or virtual rewards. Creating surrogate, virtual rewards that are immediate for healthy behaviours is a powerful way to reward behaviour change. The most important thing to do here is to define rewards that our audiences find attractive and to keep changing and adding to those rewards over time to maintain interest.

So you’ve set yourself a New Year’s resolution…

So, you’ve set yourself a New Year’s resolution… That’s great, but how do you turn this expressed desire into a real, lasting improvement? The evidence for successful adoption of New Year’s resolutions isn’t encouraging. According to Forbes overall success is about 8%. However, before we abandon any hope of self-improvement let’s look at ways we can change our habits. Erasmus wisely said that “A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit.” This view is supported by our increasing knowledge in neuroscience.

Why we form habits

We form habits, essentially, to save precious energy. The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue. Even at rest it uses around 20% of the total consumed energy of the human body. So, anything that automates processes and reduces that demand is of great evolutionary benefit. Habits are about short cuts. The more often we repeat them the more likely it is that we will do it the next time without even thinking about it. They are automated processes that, with each repetition, are wired further into our neurones. So how do we form good habits?

  • Step 1:  Understand what triggers your current habits. To change a habit, you first need to recognise what triggers that response? Does receiving a deadline for a major project trigger immediate procrastination?
  • Step 2:  Decide which behaviours you would like to become your new habit. For example, would you like to replace the procrastination with an immediate period of outline planning? Be very specific.
  • Step 3:  Decide how you are going to reward yourself for each successful deployment of your new behaviour. Rewards are important. The establishment of habit is closely linked to dopamine reward, which is often how we get into bad habits. Problem gambling is strongly linked to this mechanism. Augmenting the brain’s reward system helps establish the new habit.

So, try this. Imagine you’ve received a deadline. You’ve immediately done some rough planning and role allocation. Try going out and getting a coffee or having a 5-minute walk… or something else simple that you enjoy doing. Repeated often enough, your brain will rewire your neurones to create a new habit to replace the old one, giving you the best chance to be one of the 8% who succeed over time. Good luck!

Is your brand a few bars short of a symphony?

How music and sound can help to capture the hearts of more customers

Is your brand fit for the fight? Of course it is.

I bet your mission, vision and values are all nailed, glued and velcroed down and that your brand promise will never ever be broken. I’m equally sure that key tints of the colour palette are in place, there’s a crystal-clear tone of voice and an x-height demilitarised zone around the logo. (I’m guessing it sits in a corner and is never reversed out of a full-colour image. Right?)

All good so far. But can you describe to yourself, your colleagues and your customers what your brand actually sounds like?

If not, why?

Visual consistency and tonally-compliant writing are your table stakes – critical yet necessary.

However, marketers looking to make meaningful connections know that well-developed sonic attributes can help their brand perform at its brilliant best.

 

Beethoven’s Dopamine Symphony

The last two decades have given us endless sonic brand triggers and a plethora of brand sound designs wide enough to make Phil Spektor’s wig spin.

But research has proven that hearing songs that we like triggers a dopamine release. And, as we all know, dopamine = pleasure. But, interestingly, even the anticipation of hearing likeable songs, or upcoming parts of songs, is enough to release dopamine in some people.

Beethoven, it’s reckoned, used anticipation expertly in many of his scores. He would define the tonic chord (look it up, don’t guess or assume), then never actually play complete versions of the tonic until the very end…finally fulfilling audiences’ expectation and letting loose a commensurate deluge of dopamine in the run-up.

Clever huh?

Now, imagine a pleasurable song happened to be your brand’s sound. All of a sudden, you’re engaging with customers on a very different, multi-sensory level. You’re making them happy. They want to hear from you. They feel positive about your brand. So they’re more likely to tell others. What’s not to like?

 

Bespoke means a better ROI

Music is beautifully abstract, yet very powerful. It’s pure escapism, guiding emotions effortlessly through major and minor tones. And it’s memorable. Why else would we claim to suffer from ‘earworms’ or use phrases like “the soundtrack of my life/year/day”?

In practical terms, music and sound can make a congress experience more memorable; they can help an edetail or other face-to-face sales piece create a more vivid experience by supporting the tone of the piece as the story develops.

So it’s amazing that marketers still randomly dive into the stock sound vault only to emerge with an unstructured cacophony which does nothing to enhance their brand. You’ll get a much better return from commissioning you’re a bespoke, tailored and unique piece of work for your brand.

There’s also the added advantage that pure sonic assets are excused the rigorous scrutiny of our friends in legal and regulatory.

 

Four watch-outs when creating sonic branding

With this in mind, creating the right sonic landscape for your brand could be the best commercial commitment you make this year. But it’s wise to beware the pitfalls. Wary treading is essential, as is the need to follow these recommendations:

  1. Commit to making sound an integral part of your brand’s architecture and devote concerted energy to getting it absolutely right.
  2. Determine the role(s) that sound will play in your brand’s presence – do you need it to support content, help lead the conversation, introduce innovations?
  3. Think carefully about the character of your brand and decide how best to reflect this in a brief.
  4. Diversify the talent you involve in your brand’s sound creation. Don’t be afraid to mix creatives, planners, colleagues and music professionals.

 

If you need any further help, my Bontempi organ is plugged in and ready to go! You hum it, I’ll play it.

 

Applying neuroscience to improve your marketing effectiveness – No.1 Gamification v Gaming

Gamification: are you making this fundamental error?

Confusing gamification with gaming is a classic marketing error. But recognising the differences between the two, and the neuroscience that underpins them, could be your first step to using gamification to your advantage.

It’s funny how often gamification and games are still mixed up. It happened in one of our client meetings recently. It’s particularly interesting as the definition of gamification is “the application of game principles in a non-game environment”.

It comes from the gaming industry’s expertise in the harnessing of principles that use the reward centres in the brain to make what is, in many cases, an extremely repetitive activity interesting enough that people will actually pay to continue doing it. By any measure, this is a high level of engagement.

This has been necessitated by the move away from highly immersive, high development cost games played by expert gamers on dedicated platforms to more or less repetitive games with limited immersive content played by non experts on mobile devices. Tellingly, many of the masters of the former are not the major players in the latter.
It should already be pretty clear why this should be an exciting area for the healthcare industry. What could be better than substituting immediate rewards for, what are often, repetitive activities whose actual rewards lie in some far off future? The principles are applicable in many situations from rewarding positive adherence behaviour to more interesting medical education approaches.

We’ve seen how these principles have already become well harnessed in many fitness apps. They’re starting to emerge in smoking cessation apps too. However, the truth remains that their adoption has been limited in mainstream pharma as they are often seen not to be serious enough. But that’s a classic example of people confusing games with gamification, which is where we started.