Rebecca Maher Ma VetMB PGCert MRCVS - Managing Director, InsideMinds Consulting Ltd·26 July 2023
Have you ever felt the frustration of someone choosing the option you hoped they wouldn’t, even though you shared a tonne of evidence to prove why it wasn’t the best idea? Were they just not listening?!
The truth is, that humans don’t tend to make decisions based on rational argument, instead tending to be guided by subconscious factors. Behavioural science helps unravel these subconscious drivers of behaviours and can help us present information so that we gently guide clients towards (rather than inadvertently guiding them away from) the best decisions for the patient.
Without behavioural science principles imbedded through client touch-points and communications a clinic team’s clinical knowledge may not be making the biggest difference to animal health. And that’s likely to mean missed opportunities and suboptimal business growth. Can you afford not to embrace behavioural science?
Behavioural science is the study of how we think, make decisions and how we behave. It’s a broad field which draws on areas such as psychology, sociology and evolutionary biology.
The first step in understanding behavioural science is to see the power of our subconscious. A useful framework for this is the simple concept of System 1 and System 2 thinking.
System 1 is fast, automatic, effortless, and happens without any conscious thought. It’s driven by things like emotions, habits, biases, and heuristics (mental shortcuts). Examples of System 1 activities include tying shoelaces or driving a very familiar route – anything that you do without conscious thought.
System 2 is slow, deliberate, within our conscious awareness and very effortful. As a result, we tend to avoid System 2 thinking as much as we possibly can. Example of System 2 activities would be learning a new musical instrument or reverse parking a car into a narrow space. We tend to over-estimate the role that System 2 plays in our behaviour and decision-making. The reality is that even with big decisions, System 1 plays a very prominent role, and System 2 is often used only to post-hoc rationalise the decisions that we make.
So, when clients are making decisions about their pet’s healthcare, we must understand that they will not just be taking on board the rational evidence which we share, their system 1 gut instinct, and therefore their subconscious mind, will be leading the march on their decisions.
When we’re communicating with clients, whether it’s in-person, through the practice website, social channels, or in app, we need to think about how we can help their subconscious shortcut through to “this is a good idea”. This means understanding the subconscious drivers in a given situation, and making sure that we present information in such a way that it speaks directly to their System 1.
Here are three practical examples:
Social proof We’re social creatures and we look to each other to understand the most appropriate behaviour. If you know that the choice you’d like to guide your client to is the most popular one, then make sure that you tell them. Giving them ‘social proof’ helps to reduce the sense of risk associated with the decision (all those people can’t be wrong!) and is a strong motivator.
Loss aversion We all hate to lose anything, and we’ll act to minimise losses much more readily than we will to optimise gains. Simply framing your communication around what they stand to lose, rather than only communicating what they stand to gain, will guide a client towards the decision much more powerfully.
Emotion In our clinical world it’s natural to focus on evidence and rational argument. Emotional appeals tend to be more persuasive though, since they talk directly to System 1. Simply saying: “we’d expect Freddie’s leg to have a 90% chance of returning to normal use” may be factual, but it won’t be hugely persuasive to the subconscious. By simply adding “…which means that Freddie would feel much better and be able to enjoy family life with you fully again”. By describing the emotional impact of the rational evidence we speak directly to the subconscious, and are therefore more likely to guide their decision.
A vet, marketer, qualified consumer psychologist and with over 18 years of commercial experience, Rebecca is the founder and Managing Director of InsideMinds, a specialist marketing consultancy applying behavioural science to veterinary businesses. She’s passionate about helping veterinary businesses make the biggest difference to animal health by ensuring that evidence, clinical knowledge and technical skills are packaged up to speak most effectively to clients’ subconscious minds, helping guide them to better decisions for patients.
If you enjoyed this article, why not also listen to the PetsApp Podcast episode Becki recorded with Olivia Oginska.
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