Can a Leopard change its spots?

Can a Leopard change its spots?

How using Halpern’s EAST framework principle in digital marketing apps can change millions of daily habits and improve peoples’ lives.

Habits and patterns – we learn them easily and tend to stick to them. Whether they are good for us, such as exercising 20 mins every day; things we don’t even recognise, like the order we dress each day; or behaviours we wish we could change, such as smoking. It is incredibly hard to change our patterns once they become ingrained in our daily lives.

These habits can get in the way of our best intentions – we mean to use a keep-cup/take our own bags/go to the gym/reduce our electricity, but all too often, shortcuts or repeating common actions can get in the way. In 2008, behavioural economist Richard Thayler released his seminal book Nudge, the central concept of which is that people don’t respond to being penalised for bad behaviours, but must instead be subtly guided, or nudged, in the right direction. Thayler’s insights can be applied to many situations across society from reducing waste to taking medication to paying fines. Thayler’s ideas were so influential they sparked the United Kingdom government to put together a special team to look into the application of this across a range of areas.

The United Kingdom’s Behavioural Insights Team, led by David Halpern, has done extensive research into determining how to apply these insights to direct human behaviour since 2010. Recently, the team came up with a simple framework around four key insights called EAST. EAST stands for make it Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely. We have, unknowingly, been applying much of this framework across our behaviour change services for the past few years.

When we are looking to create change through the projects we build, we actively apply relevant element of the EAST framework to make this more effective. For example, considering timely: a prompt given at the right moment is much more likely to generate the desired response. Whether not to smoke a cigarette or to go for a run, a reminder, well-timed, can generate real results.

The Project Factory (Way To Blue’s global digital development arm) partnered with the Australian Federal Government to build a carefully designed behaviour change app with Quit Now: My QuitBuddy, targeting smoking cessation. The app encourages users to identify their ‘danger times’ when they are most likely to want a cigarette. The app then sends a carefully worded nudge to them at the right time to strengthen their resolve.

To encourage people to stick to changing their habits through technology, it has to be easy to use, accessible and enjoyable. Based on the EAST frameworks principle make it easy, we know that people are more likely to use a product if it is easy for them to do. If there are barriers, even small ones, people will be put off. The apps that are the most successful in this space are usually straightforward and intuitive.

When we partnered with HCF, they wanted to create an array of apps to change lifestyle behaviours including healthy eating, stress reduction (mindfulness) and exercise. The apps built were simple to use, with few barriers to entry. Designed with a straightforward, integrated visual style, the easy to use nature encouraged even the most apprehensive consumers. The apps found widespread success and were short-listed for a Shorty Award. This type of approach is imperative for products to attain public appeal and encourage the desired change.

Personally tailored digital experiences are more natural and more appealing. By cleverly capturing information about a user, apps can gain a better understanding of the user, which can then be reflected back to them in meaningful ways as personalised solutions. Responses to this, in turn, will add to the understanding of the user and can lead to the systems becoming smarter! (See our article on machine learning for more info). Products are often most effective when they are attractive to the user.

We used this tactic with S-Check, an app developed in conjunction with the Stimulant Abuse Unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital (currently about to undergo a clinical trial). S-Check allows methamphetamine users to track the effects their drug use might be having on their lives. We carefully (and quickly), collect data from participants as to how they feel, their general health, their drug use (optional) and any changes they observe in their behaviour or actions. The app reflects this back to them in a highly personal way, showing how their drug use might be impacting their lives in ways they might not recognise. They then have the option to adjust their current behaviour through light touch cognitive behavioural change and self-moderation exercises included in the app. The high degree of personalisation allows these apps to have a stronger effect on people and cause more striking change.

By utilising these scientifically validated techniques, behaviour change technologies can have a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people; with consequences both big and small. The research work across behavioural insights has allowed products to be ‘active’ and change the lives of their users, a service that will hopefully only expand into the future.


Originally published on LinkedIn