How Mobile Marketing Can Be Used to Elicit Behaviour Change

Every day our lives are sculpted by countless small decisions. These decisions are based on behaviours, some of which are totally new, and some which have been ingrained into our way of thinking and acting since before we can remember. From brushing your teeth, to feeling the urge for a coffee as soon as you walk through the doors of your office, behaviours are often linked to certain cues which are present in our environment.

In the world of marketing and behaviour change, we are always seeking new ways to connect with users and to enact a change or shift in an action or behaviour to improve or enhance lives. Whether you are seeking a new way to connect with users or are looking for greater depth in your existing engagement, this short piece aims to show you just how powerful mobile marketing can be for behavioural change.

Mobile marketing and behaviour change

What kind of behaviour are we modifying?

As Fogg outlines and proposes in his paper “The Behaviour Grid” behaviour change isn’t just about getting people to start doing something new – it can be that we are interested in getting a user to perform a new behaviour, to perform an existing behaviour, to increase a behaviour (in intensity, frequency or duration), to decrease a behaviour or to stop a behaviour altogether. These behaviours might be once-offs, ongoing, on cue, at will, or always performed.

When it comes to changing behaviour in today’s world, it can be something as innocuous as not littering, or something as significant as no longer using single-use plastics or changing a government policy through a petition or vote. The fact that people have mobile devices on them almost 100% of the time is not lost on marketers and businesses, and the power of the mobile for creating all kinds of behaviour change is growing.

The power of mobile messaging

In recent years, we have seen how mobile messaging has evolved to play a large role in behavioural change – whether it’s helping users to stay on track with exercise or helping them to quit smoking. BJ Fogg was the first scientist to coin the term ‘captology’ which was a description of how persuasion and computers overlap. In 2005, he moved away from this term and began to use the phrase Behaviour Design which refers to understanding how behaviour works, and how innovators can create products to alter the behaviour of users.

Fogg’s three simple maxims for using mobile for behaviour change succinctly capture how this science works:

  1. Help people do what they already want to do
  2. Help people feel successful
  3. Simplicity changes behaviour

Put simply, by rewarding people and keeping things ‘simple’ (but not simplistic) we can impart powerful change into people’s lives through mobile marketing.

Which way?

How to change behaviour

When looking to change behaviour, Stanford University has some compelling information about the power of triggers and the importance of keeping the message simple.

  • Simplicity is key – because essentially, we humans are lazy. We’ll take the shortest track possible, just to save a few minutes. And we all know the importance of a quick load time for a website – because we’re also impatient. When your mobile messages are simple, easy to execute and clear, it’s easier for your users to follow them and they will be more likely to adopt the behaviour. Not 100% likely, but it’ll be far more likely than with a complicated or convoluted message.
  • Triggers are also vital – as in, ‘do it now’ because the moment is quickly lost. You need to consider the motivation and ability of your user and sculpt your trigger appropriately. How easy is it to perform the desired behaviour? How much commitment is required of the user?
  • Nudges are also a key part of behaviour change – and apps are using the principles of ‘nudging’ people to help them to remember to act and to keep up good habits. These nudges need to be frequent, targeted and small.

Fogg outlines three elements for behaviour change: motivation, ability, and triggers. When using a combination of these elements you’ll find that behavioural change is far more accessible.

What to consider in shaping your messaging

When seeking to change a behaviour, make sure you listen to the user – whether it’s weight loss or giving up smoking, you need to know what people want, and what they’re struggling with. Is it self control? Finding the time? Simply remembering to do something? Whatever it is when choosing your ‘nudges’ make sure you’re supporting the efforts of your users. Use gentle language, or else language that adheres to your brand’s tone of voice or style.

Also, be sure to break the challenge of whatever you are trying to change into the smallest steps you can. When people take one small step in the right direction they’ll find the next step isn’t that hard. When you’re looking to think about how to get people motivated, play on the factors of pleasure/pain in motivators: time, money, physical effort and simplicity. Think about the number of clicks – people switch off and think ‘too hard’ when they have to click too many times, or when something is difficult to use. An example of this is charitable giving. Charitable donations need to be as simple as possible – using paypass or a mobile app (or even a monthly commitment where the funds are deposited automatically) where it’s very simple – makes the act of giving less ‘painful’ (or annoying) and thus easier.

Above all, be useful, connect with people, and entertain wherever possible.

Young person using smartphone

What kind of behaviour we can change?

Not all behaviours are equal – clicking once on a banner ad is a vastly different behaviour from logging in and uploading content every day to a service like Facebook. With things like Facebook – developers are looking to create a lifelong habit with users. When looking for a one-time act, the strategies used can vary – and deception is often used with banner ads, for example, the compelling ad copy which is a hallmark of the banner ads we all see – is very ‘clickbait’ styled. This kind of approach simply won’t work with a service where a lifelong habit is the aim.

While it is totally possible to change behaviour long term, it takes time and careful implementation of triggers, pain points, nudges and segmented steps.

Take your first steps towards behaviour change today

The best designs today quite simply change behaviour. Think of the Instagrams and the Facebooks of the world, and also the incredible charities who are becoming more and more inventive with their donation appeals and drives for funds. When we leverage the power of human behaviour change, it’s possible to do amazing things. Simplicity is so important when it comes to influencing people and changing behaviour, and daily habits are the most powerful of all behaviours.

Mobile behavioural change is possible, and when done right can be significant. When a change is significant, simple and rewarding, it’s more likely to stick, and this is an exciting prospect for any business.