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Drive health behavior change with engaging moments

David Nickelson, Sapient Government Services

David Nickelson, Sapient Government Services

The healthcare marketplace is making a significant transition toward achieving the trifecta, better quality care and improved health outcomes for less cost. This shift puts the consumer in control, driving providers to deliver healthcare experiences that allow consumers to more effectively manage and prevent disease, stay healthy and more effectively manage emergent or existing health conditions. As healthcare providers look to successfully engage with their patients the most effective foundation for any marketing effort must include providing the user with valuable information that fits into their life experiences.

The challenge when driving behavioral change is that consumers are human beings; irrational, imprecise and prone to responding very differently to the same experience based on a range of internal (emotional state, capabilities, intellect, etc.) and external factors (economic, social, digital, geographic, etc.). This uniqueness means the range of responses and behaviors to the same experience can vary considerably from person to person.

One promising approach to driving behavioral change comes from Dr. B.J. Fogg, Stanford University Professor and author of the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). The model finds that three factors must converge simultaneously for a behavior to occur: Motivation + Ability + Triggers. If a behavior does not occur, at least one of these factors is missing.

FoggBehaviorModelGraphicThese moments of convergence are an opportunity for healthcare organizations to engage with consumers to bring about a desired behavior change. The key to changing health behaviors is developing experiences (triggers) that push up to or over the Action Line for a particular behavior, knowing that the action line moves depending on the level of motivation (high vs. low) and the difficulty of the behavior (hard vs. easy).  The challenge then is delivering triggers that match a consumer’s current motivation and ability so that the desired health behavior occurs.

Simply put, engagement provides a deeper level of connection between the organization and the consumer. It goes beyond recognition to understanding, connection and action to engage in a healthy behavior. Here is where FBM Triggers or  “engaging moments” are helpful. Even more direct to the consumer, engaging digital moments are technology-driven communications meant to drive actions that get noticed, strike an intellectual and/or emotional chord and cause consideration for a non-routine action.

For example, it’s widely understood that breaking out of a routine can be challenging because a behavior, such as stopping for a large, calorie-dense coffee each morning has become an unconscious part of the morning script; stop, order, pick up, pay, and go.  Revisiting the FBM, when motivated to meet a weight-loss goal, triggers, such as sending a timed reminder on a smartphone or smartwatch to choose a substitute for the high-calorie drink can inspire a consumer to instead consider the desired healthy action. Without knowing what level of motivation exists, more than one trigger may be helpful, like a text stating, “Get to your weight loss goal!” or “Consider black coffee!” By providing an engaging moment at the right time, the likelihood of engaging in a healthy behavior (“choose a lighter alternative”) increases significantly.

This is a simple example on how health organizations can tap into what motivates their customers to create digital experiences that deliver the right series of engaging moments that add up to a real, lasting behavior change. This approach, however, requires frequent testing, agile design and the ability to measure, collect, analyze and optimize data about motivation, capabilities and context.  With this data, health organizations can then set up more complex, interrelated behavioral series, such as “Consider fruit for a snack”” or “Put on running shoes after work.”

While health organizations are still working to effectively develop marketing efforts that empower behavioral change through the right delivery and measurement, engaging digital moments have the potential to change simple and discrete health outcomes such as food choice behavior. When digital delivery is refined through an iterative approach that incorporates learnings on successes and losses, the approach can be even more powerful to help organizations significantly increase their ability to deliver long-lasting health behavior change.


By David Nickelson (PsyD, JD), Director of Digital Strategy at Sapient Government Services


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