Behaviour Change: The Storytelling Approach
Updated: Aug 11
Blog: Behaviour Change: The Storytelling Approach
The crux of behaviour change is how to get people to get move from our safe, comfortable known world and make a leap into an unknown abyss. The blog post summarises some of the evidence-based tools that we use at House of Kitch.
Behavioural Insights works on the principle that behaviour is influenced by an interaction between System 1 (Automatic/ Intuition) and System 2 (Reflective/ Rational). To effect long term behaviour change you have to impact on System 1 thinking, as this is the home of automatic, entrenched, habitual behaviour patterns.
To do this, you need make an impact on the System 2 mind, as this is where the initial decision to make a change in behaviour is made. Supporting the new behaviour patterns with tools - digital and traditional - is important to drive long term change. Using incentives such as real and virtual rewards, and social support of the change is important for reinforcing the change.
In a campaign, disruption or creativity is a useful way to make an impact on the System 2 mind, as this is where the initial decision to make a change in behaviour is made. The campaign then needs to be reinforced with tools and techniques to recode the System 1 part of our brain to drive long term change.
The Behavioural Insights Unit at UK Cabinet Office developed an excellent framework called MINDSPACE. They have codified nine of the most robust influences on our behaviour impacting on the System 1 mind. Using incentives such as real and virtual rewards, and social support of the change is important for reinforcing the change.
Putting theory into practice
To put the theory into practice, we can use an example like the Quit campaign for smoking. You start with an emotive/ disruptive ad – to create a desire to quit. You then use a series of supports ranging from the Quitline (a support hotline), to nicotine replacement, to apps, to social media pledges to create new behaviour pathways.
Digital is a brilliant support tool for embedding new behaviours. The most effective quit apps have an emotive reminder of why you are quitting – like a video message from your kids, and then ways to identify your moments of weakness in the day – and pre-empting those moments with distractions or cues before those moments hit. You can incentivise the change through badges or real rewards. Social media can also be a very powerful way to reinforce positive behaviour – tapping into commitment or messenger effects.
Storytelling has an important role to play in behaviour change.
Storytelling is the single most powerful way to effect change quickly. It has been used
since the beginning of time to inspire, teach and motivate. In Yuval Noah Harare’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, he says that all large-scale human cooperation is based on shared fictions – if you want to get thousands of people to work together to build a cathedral or mosque or go on a crusade you will tell them a fictional story about god or the heavens, and as long as everyone believes the same story, follows the same norms and values, they can cooperate effectively. He says shared fictions are the basis of large-scale human cooperation. The single most effective way to get a disparate group of people cooperating to achieve a common goal.
I have thought long and hard about why this is the case, and it comes down to the fact that change can be scary. As humans all of our behaviour is wired to keep us safe. We know that what we did before didn’t kill us – as we are still here today. So it is safer to keep doing what we have done before than to try something new.
If you look at the innovation adoption curve, there are only 16% of us who are crazy or curious enough to try something before there is enough social proof to show that it is worth the leap.
Inspiration vs Desperation
In my experience, there are two main driving forces for change – desperation and inspiration. People will change because of desperation (things have become so uncomfortable that that the unknown is better than the known) or inspiration (things are so enticing that the unknown is better than the known).
Creative communications are a very powerful way to paint a vision that people want to be part of. When done well, communications can be the inspiration that can get us to leap across the chasm.
A well-crafted behaviour change campaign paints a compelling picture of the vision, gets people united under a common purpose, showcases people who have made the leap, and provides support to others to make the first step.
Changing the universe spectacularly
I founded House of Kitch Communications with a core insight that major change can be achieved when people are inspired under a unifying vision that is creatively executed. I saw that there are major problems in the world that need creativity to solve them. Some problems are too big to be solved by any one person or organisation – they need a collective of people and organisations that are inspired to make big changes happen.
Our purpose is “Changing the Universe Spectacularly”. We are experts at collaborating and bringing people together to develop creative solutions to complex problems. At our core is an understanding of purpose and evidence-based behaviour change techniques. When you mix this with cutting edge communications, BIG creativity and a 'can-do to the extreme' mindset, you can illuminate the universe.
Listen to this podcast for more stories and case studies:
* Kahneman, D, Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011 & Kahneman, D, Maps of Bounded Rationality, 2002.