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NHS Communicate

02 Sep 2022

Avoid the top mistakes when delivering behaviour change marketing and public health campaigns

Ruth Dale

Have you heard the saying a rising tide lifts all boats? I love the positivity but what happens when some people are in a leaky dinghy and some are in a yacht?  The tide rises but nothing changes. When running behaviour change marketing or public health campaigns you need to know – is my audience in a dinghy or a yacht?

In other words understanding your audience is the key to success.

It is the job of a good behaviour change marketing campaign to show the steps to change, in other words to support the audience plug the holes in their dinghy. I’m sure you’ll agree there is simply no point shouting over to your lovely audience in the dinghy – ‘you should have looked after that boat better, if you don’t plug your holes you will sink, row faster, do this, do that...” and so it goes on.


Change communications need to focus on the change not the problem

Yet this is where so much of change communication planning starts. It starts with sharing knowledge about the problem.

Sometimes – just sometimes, we don’t need more information about our problems. We need solutions. A sat nav to take us forward. This is why the top mistake when delivering behaviour change marketing and public health campaigns is not starting with a measurable change goal or set of steps. And that is why we love behaviour change marketing because to do it well – we must have a clarity around our behaviour change problem and the solution. We must be able to shout from the roof tops in 10 seconds the actions we are seeking and they must be measurable.


Ask questions until you have a goal

If the top mistake is having no goal then surely the key to success is having a measurable goal. Sounds obvious.

But the reality is that work pressures including pressure of time and budgets often means the goal stays – a bit lofty - and communications stay - a bit shouty.

The process of getting a clear goal means asking the questions that workplaces may resist. Questions such as:

  • Who is the target audience (everyone doesn’t count)?
  • Is it a short-term behaviour?
  • How hard is it for my audience. Do they know how to do it?
  • Is it a habit change? How many steps will it take for them and over what period of time?
  • What are the barriers – environmental and social that prevent the change? Reducing those barriers could be your first goal.
  • Have they done it before? Is this a behaviour that needs sustaining like quitting smoking? Or staying active? Where does fatigue set in?


Avoid the biggest mistake – no measurable goal

If you do not have a clear measurable goal then think twice. If you can’t measure what you are doing you cannot know if you are inadvertently widening health inequalities or pushing toward the wrong behaviour. It means pausing, reflecting and often pushing back but it is the key to making a difference.

That is why Behaviour Change Marketing Bootcamp is delighted to sponsor the NHS Communicate Awards again this year. Because it is the learning and sharing of best practice that will help us all develop these skills. Using behavioural science in our communications and marketing is so important if we are to combat the increase in noise and pressures to do more with less. The way we communicate is becoming more important than ever.