Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change

Being Behaviour Led

In 1998 a psychologist called Fritz Strack ran an experiment. It involved the strange combination of pens, mouths and cartoons. This is how it went…

Participants were divided into two groups. The first group were told to hold a pen between their teeth without it touching their lips. When you do this, it engages the facial muscles typically associated with smiling.

Get a pen and try it. Look in the mirror (or use your camera) and you will see someone with a slightly weird grin looking back at you.

The second group were told to hold a pen in their lips without allowing it to touch their teeth. When you do this, it inhibits the smile muscles. Try it. Look in the mirror and you will see someone with a slightly downturned mouth and a vague frown looking back at you.

Both groups were then given cartoons to look at. They were then asked how funny they thought the cartoons were.

They found that the group who were in the smile condition (holding the pen between their teeth) thought that the cartoons were much funnier than the group in the non-smile condition (holding the pen between their lips).

The study (and more recent replications) reinforced something that William James – known as the Father of American psychology – highlighted in the 19th century.

Actions often precede emotions.

“I don’t smile because I’m happy. I’m happy because I smile”.

Why are we talking about this? Well, the conventional wisdom is that attitudes precede behaviours. The advertising industry is pretty much based on this view. Tell people how good your product is. Then enough people will think your product is good. Then enough of them will buy it.

But is this really the way things work? Take the big increase in video conferencing since lockdown. Did people suddenly think “wow Zoom is great…let’s use it a lot more”? Or did they think “I need to use Zoom more…wow Zoom is great”. Most likely the latter. Behaviour led. Attitudes followed.

The growth of Discounters over the last few years is another example. Shoppers didn’t think “Aldi is great, I must give it a try”. Shoppers gave it a try (often prompted by a friend) and then thought it was great. Behaviour led. Attitudes followed.

To change attitudes you often need to change behaviours first.

So, how might you do this? Let’s take two examples…

Be market development led. Think market development first, brand development second. Market development is about growing the size of the pie – getting more people to use a category, subcategory or product segment. It is about behaviour change. Brand development is about market share. Taking a bigger share of the same sized pie. It is about changing attitudes to a brand not behaviours in the category.

For instance, think about mouthwash. Maybe 25% of people use mouthwash. Most communication by mouthwash brands is targeted at that 25%. Buy our brand instead of the competitor brand. Buy our premium mouthwash that freshens your breath and whitens your teeth. Very little of the communication is targeting the 75% of people who don’t use mouthwash. Communication that tells them why they should use mouthwash in the first place.

If you change behaviours first (start using) then you have more people that you can then persuade to use your brand. Win for the category. Win for your brand.

Be usage led. Think more about changes you could make in how the product is used. A change in usage behaviour. That can then drive a change in attitude. That can then drive a greater change in behaviour. If you are the brand that does this you grow the category and you will win disproportionately.

A classic example of this came a few years ago in Cider. Magners could have spent a fortune trying to convince people that cider was a really refreshing drink. Probably to little effect. Instead they changed the serve. Pour it into a pint glass with a load of ice. Pubs and bars started serving it that way. So, people started drinking it that way. Then other people saw people drinking it that way. Which made them want to drink cider. Then other people saw them drinking cider that way…ok, you get the point.

No big regression analysis on the drivers of choice for a category. No big product reformulation to make cider 1% more refreshing. No award winning advertising creative. Just someone saying “err…what if we got them to drink it with ice?”

A lot of money is spent in a narrow way. Trying to change attitudes to a brand. It is often a zero sum game. Shopper spend just moves between brands. Between retailers.

Maybe this money should be spent in a broader way. Trying to change behaviours. Knowing that if you can do this, attitudes will follow.

Smile. It will make you happy.

Feel free to forward. Have a good weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.