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How behavioural science can help you create better content

We know that content has the power to move people to act, which is often the biggest priority when producing content, but it’s crucial to understand what motivates an audience for it to be truly effective.

We specialise in content designed to ‘change perceptions’ – in other words, content that encourages people to think differently about a cause or brand. To achieve this, our methodology starts with these key questions; What perception are we trying to change? What do we know about the audience we want to influence?

This got us thinking about how we can support our work with a better understanding of behavioural science. Until recently, the discipline was confined to academia, but is becoming increasingly accessible – particularly in its application to economic behaviours and outcomes – thanks to the popularity and influence of books like Freakonomics, by economic journalists Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, and Nudge, by economists Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.

 

Sunstein and Thaler’s ‘Nudge Theory’ applies knowledge of behavioural science to influence a population’s behaviour using small changes to their surrounding environment. The approach has shown such impressive results in testing that both the U.K. and U.S. governments have set up so-called ‘Nudge Units’ – teams of psychologists and scientists – to help them better understand and affect society’s needs and behaviours. For example, when sending tax payment reminders, HM Revenue and Customs found that simply adding a ‘nudge’ stating that “most people pay their taxes on time” led to a significant increase in payments.

We tend to think of decision making as a process in which two separate mechanisms are engaged in a struggle between the emotional-impulsive side of our brain and the rational-intellectual side. However, today many behavioural economists argue that the brain’s emotional and intellectual mechanisms work together, and often rely on each other.

So what does this mean for content producers and marketers like us?

According to psychologist Dr Rosie Webster of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change, marketing experts can learn a lot from behavioural science by making campaigns “rigorous, evidence based and measurable”, and thus ensuring that they can effectively deliver on their aims. Applying behavioural science to content campaigns ensures that we can:

  • Utilise knowledge from decades of research into behaviour change.
  • Understand our audience fully, and therefore create something that targets actual issues for people, not just something we want to target or feel might be ‘interesting’.
  • Evaluate not only the impact of campaigns, but also the mechanisms with which it has worked.

Behavioural science teaches us that there are many ways to reach an audience, and it is important to consider both their emotional and rational reactions. It encourages us to think of each new piece of content as having a unique audience, and to do as much research as possible – be it through focus testing, vox pop interviews, or classic desk research – to identify what behavioural ‘nudges’ might encourage action or a fundamental change in perception.

This is part 1 in a 3-part series on behavioural science and content. 

Next month, we’ll delve deeper into the role of emotions in affecting audience behaviour, and we’ll analyse several campaigns to illustrate the relationship – stay tuned!

By Fiona Koch, Account Planner / Director at Raw London

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