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How healthy is our behaviour?

Jeanette Hodgson
(Former) Partner
Hall & Partners Health

Jeanette Hodgson talks about Hall & Partners’ Frame, a new behavioural economics strategic framework

We’re in the business of change, whether that’s influencing shopper behaviour, identifying changing patterns in the way we interact, or convincing a patient to adhere to medication. But change is hard. As a species, we’re resistant to change, even if we recognise it’s for our own good – as the ever-rising obesity epidemic demonstrates. However, within marketing and communications we can influence change through our interactions and reporting. But, are we doing enough?

First, whilst it might seem obvious, how frequently do we actually start with a distinct end in mind? Too often we’re not sufficiently clear about our own behavioural ambition. What is it we’re trying to achieve? Whose behaviour do we want to change? And which of our customers’ specific behaviours are most likely to impact on our overarching behavioural goal?

Second, we need to understand what drives behaviour. This is a complex issue; it’s not all about conscious, rational decision-making. Decisions are influenced by societal, contextual, emotional and unconscious influences. By drawing on learnings from psychology and social sciences, we’re better equipped than ever to unpack the influences on behaviour.

Last but not least, we have to translate this knowledge into action! We need to develop interventions and communications that inspire behavioural change. How often are behavioural insights left on the cutting-room floor in favour of a reliance on familiar clinically-based communication strategies, albeit with emotional undertones?

At Hall & Partners, our Frame model helps us understand why people behave the way they do. We look at everything consumers see, feel, think and do to identify how target behaviours can be framed in a way that makes them more likely to be adopted. This then leaves us better placed to exert influence by framing behaviours differently.


Frame: brand evaluation and customer experience

The following examples show how Jane DeVille-Almond, an independent nurse consultant, uses the model to effectively bring about behaviour change within the healthcare industry (you can also read our interview with Jane in the previous article).



In our framework See relates to social and cultural context, a primary influence on people’s behaviour. Although we all like to think of ourselves as independently minded, what we do is highly influenced by what we see others around us doing and the social meaning we attach to those behaviours. By framing behaviours as more prevalent, they’re deemed more desirable (the so-called ‘herd mentality’).

This phenomenon may pose cultural challenges too. For example, Jane worked in Bermuda for three years where big is believed to be beautiful. Consequently the island has a large obese and diabetic population.

It’s part of their culture and has been for thousands of years. You’re not going to change that by saying to people, “If you don’t stop, you’re going to end up with diabetes”, because if you’re 20 you’d rather have a partner, someone who cherishes you, than not have diabetes when you’re 50”.

This example also perfectly illustrates the ‘power of now’: an immediate benefit holds more value than a greater benefit in the future, which significantly gets in the way of changing behaviours.



Feel relates to how a behaviour reflects on us personally. Does it connect with my own personal beliefs and values, my sense of ‘self’ and who I want to be? Can we frame this behaviour in a way that makes our customers feel good about themselves, that relates to their own map of the world? It can be pretty tough, for example, to convince a truck driver of the importance of healthy living when he’s sitting behind a wheel for many hours of the day, frequently away from home, and eating in roadside cafes. However, by stepping into his shoes and drawing parallels between the smooth running of his truck engine and the smooth running of his heart, it’s possible to create a connection that’s meaningful to the driver, and opens the door to a constructive dialogue.


Mike noticed he was putting on weight; he felt tired and sluggish and had difficulty sleeping. He hadn’t realised his regular cappuccino and Red Bull stops at the motorway services were partly the cause. He believed these drinks were giving him energy, but once he realised it would have a better effect, he replaced these drinks with water. He saved money, his weight improved and so did his general health. I asked if he would ever consider using rubbish oil in his truck and, of course, the answer was, “No way!” Once Mike felt better, the changes made sense and this behaviour change became easier to implement.



In order to challenge behaviour we need to Think about it, recognise what’s in it for us and understand how the benefits outweigh the costs. In many ways this appears straightforward; however, there are often subtleties at play. When Jane sets goals in her practice, for example, not only does she ensure that the goals are the patient’s own, she also finds out if there’s something that has to be sacrificed, or a behaviour to give up. It’s always important to identify the positive by-product of that behaviour so that she can help the patient find ways of satisfying that need from a different behaviour.



Finally Do. If we’re honest, we’re all fundamentally lazy! Even if a behaviour ticks the three previous boxes, we often still don’t change because we don’t believe we can actually do it; it seems like too much effort or we simply can’t be bothered. In order to inspire change, we need to frame the behaviour in a more positive light by making it seem more doable. When Jane circulated a local flyer advertising that her men’s health clinic would be held in a pub on a Saturday morning rather than in the surgery, 102 men presented to see her. This compared with the 9/100 men on her practice’s register who’d previously been personally invited to visit her at her surgery. 74% of the 100 men who presented at the pub were diagnosed with one or more previously undiagnosed chronic conditions in need of treatment.

Pam had a weight problem but loved her food so was reluctant to give up some of her pleasures. However, when her husband of 25 years suggested they renew their wedding vows and have the white wedding she’d missed first time around, the pleasure of losing weight became greater than the pleasure of eating high calorie foods. Pam lost over five stone, had the wedding of her dreams and decided to become a line dancing teacher to encourage others to lose weight.

So what could we do differently? Honing a clear and holistic understanding of your target customer (be it a patient, a healthcare practitioner or someone else) is a good starting point. We need to stop looking solely for conscious, rational and logical explanations for behaviour. Behaviours aren’t necessarily rational; in fact many are seemingly irrational, but that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to understand them. We need to look more broadly at what makes people tick, unpack the different influences at play and filter the results through behavioural, economic, linguistic, cultural and humanistic lenses.

We then need to be brave in translating these insights into interventions and communication strategies which more fully leverage this deeper understanding. We should aim to go beyond influencing knowledge and attitudes; we need to frame behaviours as more desirable, thereby inspiring change. After all, in the words of Mike Hall, founder of Hall & Partners, “Ultimately our aim is for someone to do something”.


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