Why Patients Keep Miss-behaving

Let’s start with a multiple-choice question.

Which is the main, high-level communications challenge facing pharma marketers today?

a) Personal versus non-personal promotion

b) Digital/social vs. traditional media

c) Motivational vs. behavioral approaches to messaging

You know it’s going to be “c” because that is the subject of this column. It’s also because the first two challenges are about channels, and the last is about the intent and content of customer interactions.

Let me turn to messaging, specifically intent and content, because herein lies the difference between motivational and behavioral communications. It’s safe to say that no matter how you approach it, the ultimate goal of brand-to-customer communications is to drive customer behaviors. Standard practice says that in order to do that we have to influence thought, which in turn causes people to behave in specific ways. It’s like a prodrug, which has to be metabolized in order to become active.

The intent of most communications today is to create or kick-start motivation—which results in behavior—by appealing to cognitive thought processes. The content is usually some high-minded, allegedly inspirational noise that we hope will be processed into the fuel that sends our customers running to our product. That is all well and good, except for one thing: 95% of the time, people’s behaviors emerge from the instinctive, emotional part of their brains. Five percent of the time, they come from the cognitive, thinking part.

The Magic of “Behavior Design”

Behavior design, on the other hand, is about developing customer communications aimed at that 95% of behavioral machinery. Not to inspire or motivate, but to directly, reflexively trigger actual, measureable behaviors. Marketers like LinkedIn, Amazon, Facebook and Instagram woke up to the magic of behavior design some time ago.

That’s why you get those pesky emails in your inbox from Facebook alerting you of new notifications. Or from LinkedIn advising you that so-and-so has “endorsed” you, or that X number of people have looked at your profile. That is behavior design at work. These are “triggers” that get you to go to Facebook and LinkedIn. They aren’t deep, revelatory motivators—just simple, uncomplicated stimuli that cause you to act, often whether you want to or not.

Stimulating Action

In the world of pharma marketing, the patient adherence program is an example of the disconnect between the cognitive and the behavioral. We have spent countless efforts trying to inspire, motivate, educate, shame, scare or otherwise convince patients to take their medicines as directed. Yet the most effective tools have been the simplest, most behavioral ones: Medication and refill reminders, live agent interactions, savings incentives—essentially transactional triggers that stimulate actions. Digital media make these even more productive.

This is not an “either/or” sort of thing. Wrapping behavior-based customer interactions in inspirational packaging is the best of both worlds. But spending most of our efforts on inspiration and not enough on behavior design just doesn’t add up.

  • Bob Hogan

    Bob Hogan is Executive VP, Communications Strategy, Executive Creative Director at Triple Threat Communications. Bob has held management positions on both creative and account sides in general consumer, business and healthcare agencies. His experience runs the gamut from Ivory Soap and Federal Express to Nexium and Crestor. He recently completed BJ Fogg’s Behavior Design Boot Camp.


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