The nation is being asked to comply with fundamental changes to our everyday lives, and yet there will be no changes to the profile of COVID-19 infections and deaths for weeks or months. Nothing but more loss. The government has to find a way to achieve population level behavioural compliance with ‘lockdown’ – in some cases in misery, danger or chaos. To do that, providing information, statistics and abstract threats will not be enough.
The national conversation about behaviour change and compliance has been led by the medical and epidemiological professionals – and rightly so. But swathes of people are not complying despite the evidence. Groups of teenagers are sharing joints and families are gathering. Some of the non-compliance can be put down to a lack of understanding, but also not everyone is on board.
How can social marketing help with behaviour change compliance?
Social marketing is the well established use of marketing techniques to achieve voluntary behaviour change for social good. A social marketing solution would include at the lease these parts:
- Citizen insight
Different groups respond differently to calls to action. Teenagers feel invincible and won’t be budge an inch if you warn them about the health implications of smoking, but they will rise up against Big Tobacco[i] with the right persuasion. To communicate effectively, we must understand how our audience relates to the behaviours we are asking them to stop or start. We must put aside our assumptions and be ready to listen and learn. There is more going on than COVID-19; love, fulfilment, boredom, money, friendships, family, sex and Netflix.
Social marketers target each ‘segment’ differently. The COVID-19 virus casts a shadow over us all, but that shadow takes different shapes. People with large gardens and full cupboards will experience the shadow in an entirely different way to those in cramped accommodation with limited resources. For each group, communicating and supporting the behaviours we want (and those we don’t) should be done in different ways through different channels; based on deep insight.
- Value and reward
Identifying how to find the right messages for each segment is where the marketing magic happens. We are asking people to give up dozens of everyday behaviours they value and anticipate, and to engage in a set of behaviours they don’t. The task is to identify what the value of the lockdown might be to each group, and to package that up and offer it in exchange for compliance. And just to emphasise again, these ‘value offerings’ will vary between groups.
Some stay-at-homers have already found value in compliance by finding value in supporting the NHS by staying at home ‘to save lives’, a campaign which reached an emotional crescendo with the collective ‘clap’ at 8pm last Thursday. But the government needs to communicate something of value to each and every segment so they can understand, engage and comply with lockdown. Using social marketing to help people make sense of our new social isolation might also be a way of helping them steer a path through the inevitable mental health avalanche that is surely also coming.
[i] Sly DF, Hopkins RS, Trapido E, Ray S. (2001), Influence of a counteradvertising media campaign on initiation of smoking: the Florida “truth” campaign. Am J Public Health, 91(2): 233–238.