The Power of Behaviour Change Marketing

Changing the leopard's spots.

The phrase ‘a leopard can’t change its spots’ dates back to the Bible and suggests that people can’t (or won’t) change. Market research however demonstrates the opposite, to the extent that there is an entire marketing discipline dedicated to it, known as behaviour change marketing. It is not a new phenomenon, as it was first defined by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman in the early 1970s, however, there are examples that date back well before this. 


Behaviour change marketing (also known as social marketing but nothing to do with social media) combines psychology, sociology and communications to not only change the mind of your target audience – but also change their behaviour. Imagine a friend evaluating your choices and constantly reminding you of the better choice, the healthier choice, the safer choice – a sort of conscience nudging you in a certain direction.


Proposing with a diamond ring is actually the result of a marketing campaign launched by De Beers in the 1900s.  The campaign was born out of a time of austerity, where big spending was seen as irresponsible. Rather than conform to societal norms, through extensive research to gain a deep understanding of customer attitudes, De Beers determined that they needed to link the process of buying a diamond ring to an emotional experience. Their campaign slogan ‘a diamond is forever’ popularised the now-standard practice of purchasing an engagement ring with a diamond.


Every school can benefit from behaviour change marketing; whether it be to alter certain perceptions, influence purchasing behaviour, change the relationship your brand (in this case school) has with certain audiences or appeal to new audiences with which you would not traditionally connect. Don’t just think prospective parents here, think about teachers, students, current parents, grandparents, and any other audience with which your school communicates.


  • It begins with a vast amount of research to properly identify and understand your different audiences, using both qualitative and quantitative data. The most effective campaigns have very segmented audiences – as each audience behaves differently, we need to discover what’s in it for them – or to rephrase, what matters to them enough to alter their behaviour. For example, younger people tend to respond better to social consequences, so if the goal was to appeal more to the student, then a campaign around what the school might bring to their social life would resonate better than one about future university destinations.  The reverse might be applicable to certain groups of parents.
  • The next step is to create the perception; this step blends the strategic with the creative and needs to be delivered across multiple channels. As a rule, most audiences tend to respond best to behaviour changes that seem fun, easy and popular. However most crucial of all, you cannot expect your audience to work out for themselves why they should change their behaviour or thinking – it is up to you to design the messaging that gives them 'the why?' Once this is established, you can then identify any barriers that might prevent the perception you want to communicate from becoming the audiences’ reality.  For example, why does your audience not already behave the way you want them to?
  • Behavioural change is not achieved in an instant; it is achieved incrementally.  This means it requires an integrated approach that includes digital, traditional and interactive tools. Social media, video, direct mail and experiential marketing all have their role to play in giving your audience the knowledge, skill and will to change. Lastly, measure your results. Measure where you are today, so you have a baseline from which to gauge your efforts, and to later identify the tactics and messaging that are proving effective as well as those that are not. It’s ok to get it wrong, that’s part of the process sometimes; however, it’s of the utmost importance that you know when you are wrong and why you are wrong in order to correct things.

What is particularly fascinating about behaviour change marketing in the context of a school, is that to execute it effectively you must first have a deep understanding of your different audiences. In undertaking that process, or having a company like Ubiq do that for you, previously unknown points of difference are identified and a true understanding of your audiences’ behaviour is established. This provides the foundation for creating more engaging, immersive, personalised and impactful customer journeys for your audiences that not only drive improved results but give you the understanding to improve and refine your customer journeys throughout the lifetime of your school website (provided you have the AMAIS software to help of course!).

If you are looking to learn more about behaviour change marketing or are reviewing your school website and looking for a company that does things differently, then please get in touch.

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