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Solving the 'intention action' gap

30 Oct 2019  |  William Hanmer-Lloyd 
Solving the 'intention action' gap

Governments, NGOs and companies often fail to shift behaviour because they believe changing what people think is enough to change what they do, writes William Hanmer-Lloyd

In marketing we too often think our job is to convince people they should do something and then the job is done. But research suggests that only 53% of our decisions reflect our intentions.

For example, a lot of people know they should exercise but don’t. Research[1] suggests between 36% to 55% of people fail to turn an intention to exercise into exercise (so you’re not the only one). A lot of people think they should be more environmental in their behaviour, but aren’t. A lot of people want to save but fail to.

Often people think they should buy something, but never get round to doing it. Or they think they should buy a certain brand, but then pick up the one by the till. Just convincing people of something is often not enough to actually get them to do it.

Brands can miss out on a significant amount of customers and sales because they are failing to understand how to convert intention into action. Governments, NGOs and companies can fail to shift behaviour because they think changing what people think is enough to change what they do.

There are ways to close this intention action gap and ensure that your campaign drives not just a shift in intention, but also a shift in action.

One way to ensure that people carry out a desired behaviour is to piggyback an existing behaviour they have. For example, the ministry of housing, communities and local government ran a campaign to get people to check their fire alarm when they change their clocks for British summer time. They piggy backed a behaviour that people already had.

And it worked. 40% of people who’d seen the campaign checked their fire alarm, versus 13% of people who hadn’t.

Another way is to make the desired behaviour easy. Rory Sutherland sums this up with his work with BT at Ogilvy. When running direct response activity, the most important factor in whether people responded was the options they were given for responding. The response rate when both phone and postal response was offered was about 7% - almost the sum of the rates for either phone (2%) or post (5%) alone.

The factor that drove people actually responding was not their level of interest in responding, but if they could respond by their preferred method.

Making it easy holds true even when the issue will have a significant impact on people. For example, in one study students were given information about the need for getting tetanus inoculations. 3% of those that were given this info and told to get the inoculations did get them.

However, when provided with a map and specific instructions on where to get inoculations, 28% of the students actually went to get inoculations. Even in case of personal health, it is not just enough to change what people think, you need to make it is easy to do as well.

Finally, communications can be understood and developed within frameworks that are focused on behaviour change. Examples of these models include B-MAP and com-b. Additionally, it can be understood within the framework of human biases, or theories around habit formation.

This is often an area where digital targeted around key moments comes in to support brand activity. Whilst brand activity has an important role to play in growing (latent) demand overall, digital works to ensure potential demand is converted into actual sales by finding targeting at the right moment at the right time.

William Hanmer-Lloyd is Total Media's head of behavioural planning

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