person Guy Potter access_time May 22, 2019

Behavourial Insights: Don’t Forget to Ask ‘Why?’

We are surrounded by data and analytics. Information is at our fingertips and we can find out almost anything that we want quickly and easily.

However, the real value-add in the world of stats and research are insights. Data tells us what’s happening but doesn’t tell us the reason why it is happening.

For businesses, charities or consumer-focused organisations, not knowing the why could make or break a business, so it is crucial to look at behavioural insights too. Not just by looking at patterns of behaviour, but also discovering where you can nudge prospective customers or donors into making a purchase or donation.

What are Behavioural Insights?

Behavioural Insights look at making change or interventions to alter behaviour or purchase patterns. This approach is widely used by national and local Government to educate and inform in order to achieve positive outcomes.

From a brand perspective, behavioural insights help understand consumer attitudes and perceptions of a specific product or trend, as well as gauge brand sentiment.

This isn’t about telling people what to do, it’s about guiding people to make informed and educated decisions. By making it clear what the issue or reason is, consumers or the general public can change perceptions and, if all goes well, behaviours.

The Government’s Change for Life campaign is a good example of behavioural insights in action. With an increase in diabetes and obesity in the UK, Change for Life informs us that too much fat and sugar causes health issues. In response to this it outlines simple and realistic measures or ‘swaps’ people can make in order to reduce these risks.

The campaign was so successful that at one point it had a brand awareness level of 90% and 44% of UK primary schools signed up to it.


The Change for Life campaign is also an example of the ‘why’ factor. Statistics were showing a rapid increase in diabetes and obesity, and when analysed in more depth one of the main reasons why was due to a significant increase in sugar consumption, especially sugary drinks.

The Government could have put out a ‘scare-the-public’ ad campaign (remember those Public Information Films from the 1970s?). Instead it took a behavioural approach to educate, inform and point people in the right direction.

Getting to the heart of the issue or challenge and then redirecting is one of the most effective ways of bringing about change, but this can’t be achieved without a reason why.

Research can be a barometer or signifier of what’s happening, whether that’s across society as a whole or through a brand’s customer base, so it’s important to run regular surveys to keep abreast of changes or shifts in perception.

The nudge factor

Once the why has been established, the educating or re-educating can begin. Pointing or guiding people in a certain direction is called the ‘nudge’. These are small changes that steer or change behaviour.

Nudge theory was popularised in the bestselling 2009 book “Nudge” by Richard H Thaler, a book so influential it is said to have influenced David Cameron’s governmental strategies.

Using the Change for Life example, it doesn’t tell people what to do, it informs them of small changes, or nudges, to help reduce sugar intake. It makes people think but does not judge.

Teenagers are very influenced by their own peer group, but recent research has highlighted one of the reasons why is because they are driven by social reward. They feel strongly about acceptance and results, but this is mixed with their individual need to be accepted by other teenagers, which can be detrimental as they can lose sight of risk. To highlight this point, adolescents are far more likely to have a car accident when driving with a passenger.

Finding out why teenagers behave this way is crucial to understanding how to communicate with them and to get key messages, such as safety and accountability, across more effectively.

This helps create that all-important nudge that is socially-driven and rewarded, not authoritative.

Pre and post-campaign insights

For any business, charity or Government organisation, keeping on top of customer, donor or public attitudes and behaviours is crucial. This is why regular, ongoing surveys will help your business or organisation stay ahead.

If your business is working on tight budgets, and let’s face it, we all are these days, then there are cost-effective surveys that produce good results without costing your annual marketing spend.

In a time of social media, algorithms and big data, people expect results fast. By using online surveys, especially companies that use agile research, you can get the results you need in minutes.

Behavioural insights on a budget

So, what happens once the top-level data has been analysed and processed? Well, this is the time when you will have more questions than answers and when behavioural insights comes to the fore.

Focus groups can be costly and may not necessarily give you the right demographic mix, so if you’re a charity or business, you could gather a sample of donors, customers or clients to give you those insights. Incentivising them will make it an attractive proposition and will increase engagement.

Alternatively, and this is particularly pertinent to online brands or businesses targeting a very broad sample base, do another online survey to get those all-important answers and the reasons why your data is behaving in a certain way.

That ‘nudge’ can be a valuable signifier for any organisation, especially charities, and could be the tipping point between donating or spending their money elsewhere. Ultimately, you need to know why your stats are behaving in a certain way, so don’t be afraid to question that and gain deeper insights.

Guy Potter is maru / usurv's head of research and clients.
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