The Education/Motivation Equation

A new study from Ekant Veer at the University of Auckland highlights the importance of distinguishing between educational approaches and motivational ones in developing messages for a particular target audience. While social marketing does not equal public education, sometimes you need to raise awareness and educate people about an issue before they can move to the next stage of behavior change.

The study, designed to identify the most effective approaches to prompt overweight children to want to lose weight, tested two types of messages — educational and motivational. The research first identified four distinct groups within the high school population, as described by Veer:

“Firstly we have those who are ‘Unaware and Don’t Care’,” he says. “This group know that they are not their ideal size, but don’t think about weight loss enough. However, subconsciously they want to lose weight.

“Then there are the ‘Blissfully Unaware’ who don’t think about their size and, when prompted, say they are happy with the way they look. This group subconsciously doesn’t want to lose weight.

“Our third group is students who are ‘Ready to Go’. They don’t like their current size and are consciously looking to lose weight.

“Finally we have the ‘Beautifully Big’ who love the size they are and consciously do not want to lose weight.”

Not surprisingly, each group responded uniquely to the different approaches, when shown advertisements designed with the two types of messages. Here are the results:

“Students in the ‘Blissfully Unaware’ group were 30 percent more likely to lose weight when they were shown both types of advertisements rather than just an educational one. ‘Beautifully Big’ students were 15 percent more likely to respond to the educational advert than the motivational one.

“The differences weren’t so marked for the ‘Unaware and Don’t Care’ students who showed a slight preference for the motivational advertisements.

“As expected, the students in the ‘Ready to Go’ category were 22 percent more likely to lose weight than the other groups, and had no preference for either type of advertisement. This is probably because they had already made the conscious decision to lose weight and advertising was unlikely to increase their desire. Most important for this group is that they have access to feasible and effective weight loss programmes.”

Overweight high school students are not a monolithic market segment. Beyond their demographics and medical stats, good social marketing research identifies the key attitudinal and behavioral characteristics that determine how the audience will respond to a given approach. What do they think about their weight? Do they want to lose weight? Have they tried losing weight on their own? What do they need in order to help them move to the next step on the path toward behavior change?

Craig Lefebvre recently posted on what to consider as you segment your target audience for a social marketing program. He says that your segmentation scheme needs work if (among other things):

  • It reads like a page from a census document.
  • It is overly concerned with the consumers’ identities to the neglect of which behavioral features matter to current and potential audiences (for physical activity – what types of activities, under what circumstances, for how long, when and with whom are some of the features that can be considered).
  • There is too little emphasis on the actual behaviors of the audience (these are the audience profiles where you feel all ‘warm and fuzzy’ about the audience but don’t have a clue about what they do when it comes to engaging in the target behaviors or any of the possible competitive ones).
  • There are no obvious implications for how to position the desired behavior versus competing ones, what incentives to offer, what barriers to address, where and when to provide opportunities to try and/or engage in the behavior, and what promotional strategies and messages may be most relevant for the audience.

So, before everything else must come an understanding of who your target audience is and what makes them tick. Only after you know this can you determine whether an educational or motivational approach (or a combination) will work. And even then, you will still need to test the messages with the different segments of your audience to make sure you’re right.

Don’t make assumptions about who your audience is and how they will respond — they may surprise you.

2 Comments

  1. I totally agree with both Nedra and Craig – we can’t assume demographics have an impact on a person’s desire to change their behaviour. Infact, the study just completed showed that a students’ actual weight had no real effect on their intentions to lose weight. However, their perceptions about their weight did. It’s what the person believes, or thinks was seen to matter most. It’s their perceptions of past dieting successes and failures that mattered most; their perceptions about what types of diets work; their perceptions about obesity in general, rather than cold hard facts collected in a census like manner. Understanding the psychology of the individual and the behaviour (both past and present) that seemed to count most. Obviously your groups may be different, but I urge you to focus on the audience’s beliefs about themselves rather than an objective measurement about what they should be feeling given their BMI or fat percentage.

    Ekant

  2. I totally agree with both Nedra and Craig – we can’t assume demographics have an impact on a person’s desire to change his or her behaviour. Infact, the study just completed showed that a students’ actual weight had no real effect on their intentions to lose weight. However, their perceptions about their weight did. It’s what the person believes, or thinks that was seen to matter most. It’s their perceptions of past dieting successes and failures that mattered, not actual successes or failures; or their perceptions about what types of diets work, rather than cold hard facts; or their perceptions about obesity in general, rather than medical statistics collected in a census like manner.

    Understanding the psychology of the individual and the behaviour (both past and present) that seemed to count most. Obviously your groups may be different, but I urge you to focus on the audience’s beliefs about themselves rather than an objective measurement about what they should be feeling given their BMI or fat percentage.

    All the best

    Ekant

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