How Can You Make the Impossible Possible? (Changing Ingrained Perceptions and Behaviors)?

How did Uber persuade its customer base to switch from hailing cabs?

How did AirBnB persuade its customer base to switch from booking hotels?

How did Beyond Meat persuade meat eaters to switch to plant-based alternatives?

How did Peleton persuade gym goers to switch to an at home exercise bike?

How did White Claw persuade consumers to switch to their product from their preferred alcoholic beverage?

This list could go on and on…

There are many more examples of brands which have overturned their target consumer’s routine behavior to achieve growth in their market share, or even develop a new market itself! But it is certainly not easy.

For many companies today, whether launching a new product or trying to expand their market share, changing ingrained perceptions and behaviors of their target customer, causing them to switch or to generate a new preference for their brand, is both one of the largest challenges they face and critical to their success.

So, what is the secret to successfully changing behavior?

The key to achieving consumer behavioral change is understanding how people make decisions. Perceptions and behaviors are entrenched within subconscious decision-making loops which makes transforming these perceptions and behaviors exceptionally difficult, but not impossible.

Behavioral science experiments repeatedly showcase how consumers make emotional decisions first, followed by rational justifications.

So, if rational thinking only justifies emotional choice, how do you change the emotional connection with your brand?

The secret to changing consumer behavior and perception is rooted in a deep understanding of your target customer’s instinctive and automatic decision-making processes. For example, a consumer might rationalize their purchase of White Claw due to taste preference, lower calories or value for money, but ultimately the emotional human mind first drives their decision. For White Claw, this emotional decision is driven by a developing a unique emotional connection with their customer through a clever gender-neutral marketing campaign which contrasted heavily with its competitors. Similarly, Beyond Meat’s success is not rooted in the rational superior taste of their product that consumers might claim, since the consumer’s purchasing decision has to come first. Rather, Beyond Meat’s success is a result of appealing to their target customer’s emotional concerns around the connection of animal protein with health issues and reducing the environmental impact of their choices.

So, what can pharma learn from the consumer examples?

In both industries, every emotion is a marketing tool, but emotions are multidimensional. In the consumer world, brands are generally focused on disrupting engrained behavior based on emotional decision making. In pharma, the objective is to resolve the disruption that illnesses bring to the patient’s life without bringing additional burden. A successful drug resolves this disruption and balances it with the inconvenience medication might bring (such as side effects or administration).

Ultimately patients and doctors care about illness because of the disruption it creates. Medications can help to resolve this disruption. The extent of disruption to the patient’s life is what creates the emotional motivation to engage and to treat illness, but it also defines the boundaries of the limits of acceptance of the inconvenience of medication. This balance is firmly rooted within “disease consciousness”. By understanding disruption from the patient’s point of view, brands can tap into areas that patients care about most.

Just as consumers find it difficult to articulate and are unaware of their emotional decision-making, patients also may not be able to articulate or be aware of the emotions that have blossomed from their experience living with illness.

Therefore, the importance of gaining insights into the lived experience of the condition of your target patient, i.e. their disease consciousness cannot be understated. This is unique to every patient and to every disease. There are variabilities in the intensity of disease consciousness and where it “sits” in your patient’s mind. It can be front of mind, where the disease dominates every aspect of life, such as MS. It can be “top of mind”, where the disease is prominent but does not define every moment of life, such as diabetes. And finally, it can be “back of mind”, where there is an awareness of disease but receded in consciousness, such as mild arthritis.
To change behavior in pharma, a deep understanding into the disease consciousness provides foundational insights into how patients experience, connect to and manage their disease, their health and their lives. Finding common insights and connecting these to emotive territories allow a brand to position themselves competitively and drive behavior change in pharma.

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