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Finding The Holy Grail: How public sector marketers can prompt behavioural change

31 July, 2015 - Source: Dog

Changing behaviour is the Holy Grail for brands and public sector organisations alike, but it begins long before campaigns or content marketing. Marketers need to take a step back and explore the shift n strategic focus and the impact of digital, factors which are fundamentally changing the rules of marketing for public sector organisations as they strive to drive behavioural change among target audiences.

As we said, changing behaviour is the Holy Grail: Changing the behaviour of those you seek to connect with leads to increased sales, improved uptake of services, better citizenship, or care for the community or environment, or simply a move toward more meaningful engagement with target audiences.


There are vast amounts of literature and insight into changing behaviour through marketing. And indeed a lot of cases to back up the theory, such as one of our own, the ‘Small changes, Big Differences’ campaign for NHS Borders, recently nominated for a national E Health Insider Award. However, prompting behavioural change begins well before marketing activation. So, before diving into talking tactics, looking at how public sector marketers can deliver campaigns, it’s crucial to take a step back and explore the shift in thinking, strategic focus and the impact of digital, factors which are fundamentally changing the rules of marketing for public sector organisations as they strive to drive behavioural change among target audiences.

Customer needs trump the needs of the organisation.


First of all, there is a marked shift toward strategies being focused on customer needs rather than organisational needs. And rightly so. No longer can public sector organisations take one of their needs and push a message or notion onto the customer and expect them to behave in a certain way. Whether it’s a social media campaign or an online service customer journey, modern public sector marketing is about putting the customer at the core, and taking an outside in approach to developing the communications strategy. 


While obviously doing the necessary exploration into behavioural models and drawing on theoretical insight is key, a genuine effort is being applied to getting to grips with the needs and behaviour of the individual. Marketers have the opportunity to be the customer hero and they should grab that with both hands. By understanding each and every interaction a customer has with the organisation across all channels, on and offline, marketers can strive to make the journey frictionless, more intuitive, and even enjoyable for new customers, and focus on developing meaningful connections with customers at each relevant touch point. 


By focusing on their experience, exploring their decision making processes as they move toward the desired behaviour, and continuing to look at every interaction they have with an organisation thereafter, marketers demonstrate a commitment to the individual which will in turn encourage behavioural change. 


One of our most forward thinking public sector clients, Scottish Enterprise, put together a framework and set of customer centric processes that includes extensive testing, focus group involvement and co creation of online services to ensure it is continually optimising current and developing new services with the customer at the core. Remember that target audiences are people, and people respond to feeling valued. Keep people at the core of everything you do and behaviour change will come.

Drive forward together, digital first.


With so many channels and touch points available to people engaging with public sector organisations, it’s vital that the evolving expectations and needs of key stakeholder audiences online are met.  An effective strategy implemented well is the only way to fully activate behavioural change and begins with taking a digital-first approach. 


Working closely with the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB), who identified a need to devise an online strategy to meet the aims of their “Digital Parliament Programme” – a programme designed to drive business change by adopting a digital first policy to service design and engagement policies, it is clear that technology and digital working practices are changing the perception of best working practice as well as how people connect, transact and consume information. This is true both between individuals and organisations and between colleagues. 


By developing a roadmap designed to improve efficiencies, guides and enables staff to reach their goals, while simultaneously creating a more engaging and relevant user experience, organisations are able to deliver better online services and meet the needs and expectations of their target stakeholders. 


While data is enabling a deeper understanding of the customer and measurement of performance, digital technology is enabling more efficient processes, better customer experiences and greater reach. Digital is essential for growth, changing the way public sector organisations operate and interact with their target audiences forever. Now, that’s a compelling argument to fully understand, and drive strategies that are digital first with the customer at the core. 


However it’s not just about harnessing the technologies available and going full steam ahead. An effective digital roadmap can only be created if marketing, digital and those involved in commercial strategies work together. This is a huge change within public sector culture, which has traditionally existed in silos with separate budgets, working processes and strategies. As marketing, digital and commercial elements of organisations become more intertwined, marketers must not only get to grips with the multiplicity of their responsibilities and the raft of new technologies, but also recognize and act on the need for collaboration across departments. 

Develop rock solid strategies that are agile


It may sound like an oxymoron, but bear with us. By ‘rock solid,’ we don’t mean a concrete, unwavering set of activations with set-in-stone outputs. By ‘rock solid’ we’re talking about focus. There has been a notable positive shift among a number of public sector organisations to better define what the organisation is trying to achieve through marketing, and be outcome driven, rather than output driven. And with that, a shift toward demonstrating commercial relevancy and organisational impact. 


Far from being a paper exercise, or languishing exclusively with the marketing department, the strategy is a necessary plan, aligned to organisation strategy and integrated with business development, holding a clear vision and roadmap of activity that will deliver a number of defined outcomes. 


The most forward thinking public sector organisations are pursuing strategies that will genuinely engineer impact. They approach strategies as living things: adaptable to customer behaviour, responsive to market changes and flexible enough to explore appropriate technical innovation or media. It’s an approach that, if implemented effectively, will change customer behaviour in the desired way. 


Rock solid strategies communicated effectively to leadership and across the organisation with clarity and purpose will gain buy in and participation. Something that is absolutely necessary in fostering a culture of trust and collaboration, making it much easier to work in an agile way, making quick decisions and incremental changes designed to change behaviour toward a set of defined, desired outcomes. 


So before diving into marketing that follow Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, public sector organisations must take a step back and address their thinking, ensure they nail down their core values, take a digital first approach to processes and communications, and collaborate with their colleagues across the organisation. 


And finally, remember EVERYTHING is marketing: Tweets, films, blogs, emails, website content, micro UX and of course, user journey. Once you have the entire experience of the customer lifecycle nailed down, changing behaviour will be easy. Simple!

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