We need to effect behaviour change
A view from Sue Unerman

We need to effect behaviour change

Many briefs have an ambition to effect behaviour change, whether explicitly or implicitly. A brief that seeks to drive loyalty, frequency or penetration wants to alter some kind of behaviour habit.

Yet behaviour change is a tough nut to crack. Latest theories about how advertising works fashionably claim that it reinforces existing habits rather than makes a change. Books such as Herd by the inimitable Mark Earls show how the behaviour of your tribe affects you and ways to effect it.

In my book Tell The Truth, I write about the opportunity to get behavioural routines to work in your favour. Don't try to change behaviour if, instead, you can leverage an existing routine – this is easier and cheaper.

There are times when there is a massive change in someone's behaviour. We can absolutely predict when it is going to happen and, by understanding what's going on in the target audience's lives, we gain an opportunity to offer a behaviour substitution that can help answer a brief.

Back to school is one of those seasonal changes – much exploited by supermarkets seeking to sell school uniforms and pencil cases, but less so by brands that could perhaps exploit the extra time available to non-working mums in the autumn months, especially ones with kids just starting full-time education.

This weekend is another one. For millions of football fans, there is a massive change in behaviour for the next few weeks. Not just for the fans, but for their families. Many brands are gearing up to advertise around the World Cup. Will anyone target fans in the odd few weeks of non-action preceding the big competition?

This is yet another argument for the need for real-time research about people's habits and routines. Anyone still basing the totality of their advice on one-moment-in-time traditional research without understanding what the consumer is up to now in real time isn't doing their job.

Behaviour change number one, therefore, needs to occur (if it hasn’t already) within the planning discipline – it is to make sure that any recommendation for a media schedule is topical, real-time and in tune with the real lives of the target market.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom