Can campaigns change behaviour?

We discuss the challenges of creating behaviour change campaigns in the Third Sector.

The challenge of behaviour change

Third Sector communications is often focused on instigating behaviour change. Behaviour change might be around changing diet for nutritional reasons, lobbying politicians on societal issues, or rallying audiences around environmental issues. Whatever the topic, positive, sustainable, and tangible behaviour change provides the hope for society to progress. Achieving change is a complex task however and the process can often take years and repeated attempts. This presents a challenge for Third Sector communications, often seeks quick, measurable wins. Campaigns also need to continually innovate to have best chance of influencing audiences.

Knowing your audience

An effective behaviour change campaign begins in the design phase. There are many elements to designing a successful campaign, but understanding the audience is arguably the most critical one. Successful NGO campaigns know their audience inside out. They know how old they, where they live, what news they consume, their likes and dislikes, and what barriers they face. Behaviour change campaigns should research their audience early and learn as much about them as possible to inform the rest of the design phase.

This can be achieved by speaking directly with the audience through face-to-face or online meetings, in larger focus groups or more anonymously, through online surveys. In our health campaign with UNICEF Laos, Happy Families Grow Together we hosted a series of Focus Group Discussions with families from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. In these sessions, using semi-structured interviews, we were able to gain invaluable first-hand information about the audience’s nutritional habits and current barriers to change. For example, we discovered that grandparents often looked after younger children whilst parents were working in the field – but liked to feed them traditional treats. From here, we incorporated grandparents as an audience into the design of the campaign, which targeted them specifically, alongside other family members.

Crafting tailored communications

Once you know what makes your audience tick, translating this information into the design of communications assets is the next step to a successful behaviour change campaign. Every aspect of the multimedia content you create, whether that is video, photography or animation, should be tailored to the audience. Aim to communicate a story in the content you create and reflect the audience in it. People relate to stories they can empathises with, as it allows them to see themselves in the narrative – evoking an emotional response that helps to build a connection between the audience and the issue. We’ve been putting these techniques into practice with our latest campaign. We are working with UNESCO to develop Generation Ocean (GenO), a global multimedia campaign to restore and protect the ocean. From audience research we learned that a major barrier for engaging in ocean issues was not a lack of care but a lack of knowledge what to about them. Armed with this insight, we’ve built the GenO campaign around communicating tangible actions for the audience to take, helping individuals to better understand ocean issues and what they can do about them.

For more advice and information on designing a behaviour change campaign for the Third Sector, you can reach out to us directly here.

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