Does your brand need behavioural science?

Behavioural science has become a buzzword for pharma. Why? Because behaviour is a barrier to meeting brand objectives. This barrier could be in the form of a patient’s adherence, a patient’s reluctance to start a new therapy, or even a healthcare provider’s clinical inertia

So, how do you know if you have a real behaviour problem and, more importantly, how do you know if you need a behavioural science solution? Consider these four questions.

1. Are you trying to get patients or healthcare providers to do something different?

For example, is the patient new to injectable treatments? Does his or her new treatment require a change in lifestyle? Are you asking healthcare providers to prescribe a product that is new to the market or just hasn’t been tried by them?

2. How far is the person’s current behaviour from the desired behaviour?

Unless you have a patient population that is completely adherent all of the time, a behaviour change solution is recommended.

If patients struggle with adherence, behavioural science can help overcome the hurdles that interfere with optimal patient engagement.

3. Are you asking a patient or healthcare provider to do something difficult?

In some cases, the desired behaviour for the patient or provider might involve an easy change and the patient or provider may be receptive to the change. In this case, a simple messaging approach may be effective.

However, changing behaviour requires addressing thoughts, feelings and motivations before addressing the behaviour itself. Furthermore, the behaviour may be complex and learning additional skills may be necessary. In these cases, a behaviour change solution would be much more effective than a traditional messaging approach.

4. Are you not achieving the desired results with traditional marketing or educational approaches?

Is your brand getting results? If not, it’s time to re-examine the strategies you are using to try and change patient or provider behaviour.

Traditional marketing approaches can only take your brand so far. A behavioural science solution includes evidence-based strategies to change behaviour.

This last question is often the key. When behaviour change is necessary, you won’t be able to apply the typical pharma marketing solution to obtain optimal outcomes for your brand.

If you have a solution, or are planning a solution, and education and persuasion are the only strategies that you’re using, then you’re missing something. And what you’re missing can make a big difference for patients, healthcare providers, and your brand.

Even if you know that your brand needs a behavioural science solution, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting the real thing.

What is behavioural science?

Behavioural science is the scientific, systematic and experimental study of behaviour to explain why people behave in certain ways and how their behaviour can be changed. Behavioural science encompasses several distinct fields and includes public health, social psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, health psychology, communication science and behavioural economics.

From a scientific perspective, behavioural science follows the same method and approach as any other science. This includes hypothesis generation, study design, data collection and analysis, peer-review publication, and replication and extension of results.

Beware of buzz words

How can you tell the difference between a strong behavioural science programme and ‘pop psychology’? Here are three questions to consider in your evaluation.

  1. Does the solution sound too good to be true? If it does, it’s not going to work. Frankly, anyone who tells you that the key to changing behaviour is this ‘one thing’ doesn’t understand behaviour at all. Behaviour change takes time and is complex. That’s why you need an expert.
  2. Where are the data? A behavioural science solution should go beyond one resource. The solution should be based on multiple sources that are validated in the specific disease state. 
  3. Is your solution too formulaic? One size fits all doesn’t work when it comes to changing behaviour. Ask yourself whether your programme makes over-generalisations or over-simplifies what you’re asking of the patient or provider.

Behavioural science is rigorous and complex, but there’s also an art to applying it. Behavioural science strategies succeed because they are based on the premise that a single approach doesn’t work for every person. Marketing programmes applying behavioural science optimally address multiple drivers of behaviour using evidence-based strategies. These are all crafted into an experience that your patients and providers will want to engage in.

Behavioural science provides a roadmap to uncover what people are motivated to do, what they are willing to try to build on their strengths, and how they can benefit from learning new techniques within the context of their condition and their life.

It is possible to fully apply behavioural science to get the outcomes that your brand desires.

You just need to know where to look.

• Read more from our Spotlight on behavioural science in pharma

About the author

Meredith Terry is lead behaviourist, innovation and practice at MicroMass

Meredith Terry

Meredith Terry is lead behaviourist, innovation and practice at MicroMass and develops behaviour change strategies for the agency’s pharma clients. She specialises in identifying innovative approaches and developing internal capabilities to produce cutting-edge behavioural change tactics and programmes, including motivational Interviewing training for brand teams, HCPs and patients. Prior to joining MicroMass in 2013, Meredith authored various peer-reviewed articles in academic journals.