Doing is believing

Doing is believing

Perhaps the biggest irony of Daniel Kahneman’s work on intuitive, System 1 decision-making is that it isn’t very 'System 1' itself – it works against our natural sense of what is right. So, although we are presented with plenty of evidence showing that most behaviour is the result of intuitive, habit-driven System 1 processes, our instinct is still to persuade people with messages, facts and figures. If behavioural economics is such a big thing in marketing, then, how can we make the learnings become more embedded in what we do?

Simply put, the best way to learn from the behavioural sciences is to get your hands dirty and do some tests yourself.  When this happens you will feel more emotionally involved and take ownership of the findings.  

Responsible drinking
Drinkaware are an organisation undergoing this journey whilst tackling a particularly difficult behaviour change challenge – to promote responsible drinking behaviours through giving people ‘the facts’.  It is becoming increasingly important for them to demonstrate their effectiveness with hard, behavioural data.  So they asked us to help them measure the effectiveness of a POS campaign they ran last year encouraging shoppers to lower the strength of the beer and wine they bought.

Unchanged behaviours
The findings were surprising. Exit interviews showed that the attitudes of people leaving the shops were positively influenced by the POS.  But, and it’s a big but… their behaviours were unchanged. The average abv (alcohol by volume) of beer and wine remained consistent before, during and after the campaign. Despite customers reading the POS and understanding the message, this had not translated into behaviour change.

This gets at the root of the surprisingly simple yet counterintuitive truth at the heart of the behavioural sciences – what we think and what we do are influenced more by our context and habits than by information and evidence.

Doing this experiment opens Drinkaware up to think more broadly about how to tackle the challenge of irresponsible drinking.  It’s an important step towards realising that the problem doesn’t just have its roots in what people ‘know’ about drinking but more broadly the role it plays in their social context, how choices are presented to them and how drinking habits are formed.  

Drink more water
In another project with Drinkaware, we worked with them to design a different approach. This time, their behaviour change goal was to increase the number of people drinking water during nights out.  Instead of opting for the obvious approach of using posters to extoll the benefits of water drinking, we designed posters with a close-up image of someone drinking water from a glass and deployed free water-bottle buckets / water-coolers - with encouraging results. The problem here wasn’t a knowledge one - like 'people don’t see the need to drink water'. Rather it was an access and social identity problem – having to ask bar staff for water and then explaining to your friends why you had done so were undoubtedly barriers.

Drinkaware’s willingness to test the effectiveness of their initiatives is commendable and puts them in a strong position to learn about how to influence drinking behaviours. Testing lots of different ideas in this way, and building up a repertoire of what works and what doesn’t, will help them in the longer-term to become a more effective behaviour change organisation. This is an approach that many commercial companies could learn from – to take on board the lessons of behavioural economics you need to try them out for yourself.

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