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Belief mapping for behaviour change by Chris Bartley, Havas Life Medicom


The fundamental objective of marketing is to affect the behaviour of your audience in a way that’s good for your brand. However, how often is audience behaviour and our need to effect it, the cornerstone of marketing and brand plans?

Typically, good marketing plans include insights about the audience, and as audience segmentation is a marketing staple the majority of brand plans have lots of data about demographics, job roles, and other audience background. A small percentage of marketing plans also include market research on audience perceptions of the brand and its competition.

What’s rarely included, or at least rarely communicated concisely at the centre of the strategy section, are the underlying beliefs that drive current audience behaviour, and the key shift in belief that will result in a desired behaviour that supports the commercial objectives of the brand.

To understand why mapping beliefs is so powerful let’s explore a simple example. The audience is doctors who prescribing one of two brands for migraine relief. Product X is a pill and our product, Product Y, is an injectable. Both brands cost the same but at the moment sales data and market research shows 90% of doctors prescribe Product X despite knowing it relieves 50% less migraines than Product Y.

Imagine you are the brand manager; given the information at hand, what can be done to do to increase prescriptions of Product Y? If you do have an immediate answer, hold that thought and test it against the insight we get from the tool. If the answers not immediately clear, and I don’t think it is, then the belief map tool helps us ask and answer the question – why is Product Y not being chosen and how do we change that?

The first step is to start with what we know – the current and desired behaviours of the audience.

The above example is as simple as it gets but that’s the beauty of the tool. It strips away any complexity and leaves you with only what really matters. Einstein’s mantra of “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” is a great one to follow. Great marketing plans are not complex, long or highly technical and simplifying everything as much as possible reduces the chance of making a strategic error.

Step two is identifying the beliefs that are driving the current behaviour. This is all about uncovering the answer to why our brand is not performing. We know that doctors are not choosing Product X because they believe it is better at reliving migraines, they already believe Product Y is 50% more effective. We also know there is no difference in cost. Based on the information we have we can conclude that Doctor’s believe injections are a real burden for patients and that patients prefer pills. There may be lots of reasons underpinning this belief – perhaps patient’s say they don’t like needles or are not confident self-injecting. However, at this stage we just need to capture the fundamental current belief of the doctor.





The final, critical step, is identifying the belief that will result in the desired behaviour – choosing Product Y. In this case it’s critical that we convince doctors that the vast majority of people suffering from migraines like the migraines a lot less than they like needles.

There are two critical points to make here:

  • Firstly, the core objective of the marketing campaign is very simply explained using this tool – nobody can be in any doubt what we are trying to achieve and it only needs one simple slide to do it.
  • Secondly, the strategy it informs is probably both different, and much more effective, than the strategy we would have had without considering behaviours and beliefs.

The belief mapping approach helps identify and solve real unmet needs and as well as the brand challenge, adding credibility to our brand’s value in the eyes of the audience. Without belief mapping most marketing plans would likely focus on communicating the product benefit – ‘50% more relief from migraines’ – ‘differentiating’ the brand using the efficacy advantage and saying as little as possible about it being an injection. This is a powerful claim but leading with this message, based on the situation, is not going to result in more sales.

The belief mapping tool helped identify that the choice of brand is currently not made based on brand effectiveness – it’s being made based on a perception about the strength of people’s preference for pills over needles. Achieving the desired belief, by contextualising the strength of people’s preference for pills, will soon see sales heading in the right direction.

The key thing to remember is that before you can change behaviours you have to address the beliefs that underpin them. In the words of Plato ‘Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.’