Digital Marketing for Behavior Change: A Basic Plan

Posted: June 21, 2018

Changing the behavior of a population can seem daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. Digital marketing is a powerful and inexpensive way to the reach the audience you need to reach. If you’re not using digital, you’re missing out on important tools that could help you reach your audience, deliver your message, encourage your audience to act, and measure your success.

To help you on your way, we’ve built a basic digital plan. Read on for digital marketing for behavior change tips and example scenarios.

And feel free to download our free Top Digital Marketing Tactics for Behavior Change. This handy checklist will get you where you need to be.

Honing your behavior change message

Behavior change marketing, also known as social marketing, involves adapting the principles of traditional marketing in order to effect a positive behavior change in a group of people. It involves a deep understanding of the target audience to better understand the barriers that exist and what might be helpful in motivating them to change.

Define your objective
Before you can run an effective digital marketing campaign for behavior change, you first need to be crystal clear about the following:

  • What behavior are you trying to change?
  • Which positive behavior do you want to swap in for the negative behavior?
  • Who do you want to target to encourage to make the change? (Who is your audience?)
  • What are possible barriers that will keep you from accomplishing the behavior change?

As you consider the above questions, remember that a successful behavior change campaign is one that makes the behavior change fun, easy, and popular:

Make it Fun. What’s the perceived benefit of making the behavior change? The idea of “What’s in it for me?” is a very basic, human emotion. We all want to do something that benefits us in a very personal way. To change behavior, you need to understand this emotion and speak to it when you communicate with your target audience.

Make it Easy. Is the behavior change possible? Does your target audience feel like this change is something they CAN do? You will have much greater success if your audience feels like the behavior change is doable.

Make it Popular. Who’s enacting the behavior change? The idea of popular is all about social norms. No one wants to be the only one in the group doing something…nor does anyone want to be the only one in the group not doing something. Making a new behavior popular helps in both instances.

How can digital marketing tactics help with your behavior change campaign? Read on.

How do I reach my audience?

Reaching your audience is your first goal in changing behavior. After all, if you can’t reach your audience, how can you expect to change their behavior?

There are two types of audiences: those who are actively searching for help, and those who are not. Each group has different digital marketing tactics that are used to reach them.

My audience is actively searching for help:

Moms and dads that are searching for how to eat healthy on a budget or parents searching for information on how to keep their kids from using drugs are examples of an audience that is actively searching for help.

The best digital marketing tactics to use to prime the pump of visitor flow to your website in an audience that is actively searching for help are paid search and SEO.

Paid search reaches prospects (those searchers who are already looking for topics around your behavior change) by placing your website at the top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), be it on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. SEO works behind the scenes to make your website as visible to search engines as it can be. SEO works on improving your ranking in SERPs in order to garner more “free” or “organic” traffic.

Example Scenario
The Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP) works to improve the nutrition and health of audiences with limited resources in Indiana. As part of VONT’s efforts to help NEP get its message in front of its target audience, VONT created a paid search campaign to reach people actively looking for information on how to eat healthy. The campaign focused on key search phrases (keywords) such as ‘eating healthy on a budget’ that, when entered into Google, would trigger a NEP ad at the top of Google’s search engine results page (SERP).

The ads contain calls-to-action (CTAs) leading to an optimized landing page on the NEP website that explains how to eat healthy on a budget.  Using Google’s targeting capabilities, NEP focuses the reach of the search ads to areas in Indiana with lower average household incomes – more specifically, areas in Indiana with average household income in the bottom 50% of the U.S.

NEP puts its message directly in front of those people “in-market” for healthy meal solutions. As a result, the campaign has been highly successful.

Since the launch of the campaign in December ’16, the paid search ads have driven 58.4% of total PDF downloads on the website.

My audience is NOT actively searching for help:

An example of this type of audience might be young adults you want to educate on binge drinking or people who frequent casinos you’d like to educate on gambling addiction.

The best digital marketing tactics to use include social media (especially Facebook), display advertising on the Google Display Network and programmatic, and video advertising on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and programmatic.

Targeting is key to reaching this audience because it enables you to get the best results with the most efficient ad-spend. Both Facebook and programmatic have potent targeting capabilities. Ads are not targeted based on a keyword being searched, but rather on rich behavioral and contextual data known about web and social media users. Ads can promote content designed to inform and engage the target audience.

Example scenario
Ethos/VONT client Maine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education Division (Maine SNAP-Ed) launched a Facebook campaign in May 2015 to help with its efforts to teach low income parents how to shop, cook, and eat healthy food on a limited budget.

Using Facebook’s targeting tools, the campaign targeted female parents with very low income who have at least some high school experience, or are interested in coupons, freebies, money saving deals, etc.  The ads promote the SNAP-Ed Facebook page and show in users’ News Feeds (both mobile & desktop) and the right column.

In addition, VONT used programmatic advertising to place ads on those distinct websites the Maine SNAP-Ed audience visited.  How? By targeting websites researched through Google searches for terms such as ‘low income health eating’, ‘cheap healthy meals’, and ‘budget family meals’.

Remarketing and CRO for both audiences

Once a member from either audience (actively searching or not actively searching) visits your website, ‘remarketing’ is used to reach back out to your previous website visitors with both display, text, and video ads that include calls-to-action (CTAs) that encourage them to return to and reengage with the educational content on your website, thereby reinforcing your behavior change message.

For example, if you were trying to reduce drinking, you could target high-risk times of the year or even week, such as Friday and Saturday nights for binge drinking, or graduation and prom for teen drinking.

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) also comes into play at this point. By optimizing your web page, you can increase the likelihood that your audience will take your desired action. SNAP-Ed used CRO to encourage visitors to sign-up for nutrition classes. Ethos/VONT client The Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHS) employed CRO to increase the number of downloads of a PDF e-book on parenting tips. You could even use CRO to encourage visitors to sign up for an email list so you could deliver ongoing information over time.

How do I deliver my message?

The way in which you deliver your message can make the difference between it being heard…and being ignored. Because video engages viewers like no other medium, it’s a great way to deliver your behavior change message to your audience. In addition, video holds – and will continue to hold – an ever-increasing majority of internet traffic. By 2019, Cisco projects that online video will dominate other forms of media, making up 85% of U.S. internet traffic. Need more? Digital video is less expensive than TV, improves conversions, has the most effective ROI of any digital element for online marketing, and has the added punch of rich targeting capabilities.

Example Scenario
The Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHS) created a series of YouTube videos targeting parents to encourage better modeling behavior around their own alcohol usage and young adults to discourage binge drinking. The campaign produced over 895,000 impressions, 130,000 views (30 seconds), and 2,000 clicks with a cost per view of $0.17. 

How do I get my audience to act?

You’ve refined your message and know you are reaching the right people, but how can you increase your chances that they will take action by changing their behavior? Use digital marketing tools such as targeted ads leading to landing pages that reinforce the action, plus social media to reinforce that action as a social norm.

Targeted ads with calls-to-action that lead to specific landing pages work in tandem to lead your audience to you – and to the specific action you wish them to take. Once again, optimizing the landing page (CRO) further increases the likelihood that the action will be taken.

Social media can be a key tactic in building ongoing engagement with your audience. But you can’t just create a page and assume it will grow organically. There has to be a strategy and a promotional budget behind it.

Example Scenario
Maine SNAP-Ed used Facebook paid content promotion and advertising campaigns to drive users to external landing pages or the Maine SNAP home page. SNAP-Ed moms who want to feed their family healthy meals, but think it is too expensive, see banner ads on coupon sites and sites related to bargain hunting. When they click on an ad, they are sent to landing pages where they see content demonstrating that healthy food can be budget friendly.

Maine SNAP-Ed’s Facebook Likes campaign started with the creation of their Facebook page, and now has over 2,300 likes. Ads run each month and continue to grow the Facebook audience they are communicating with. The result? After a year, the average conversion rate of those who click on the ad and then like the page is a whopping 59%.

How can I measure my success?

Organizations working on behavior change frequently need to work with independent evaluators who oversee their efforts. Digital marketing’s built-in analytics makes it easy to demonstrate success of campaigns. 

Example Scenario
Take for example Maine SNAP-Ed’s Facebook campaign. Monthly analytics provide hard numbers on clicks, clickthrough rates, cost-per-click, number of likes, cost per like, and conversion rate.  After a year, the campaign enjoys a cost-per-like of $2.02. With digital, evaluators know exactly how effective expenditures have been over the day, week, month, and year.

Bringing it together

Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight; it takes time to effect change. Digital is an affordable way to continue to stay in front of the target audience. In addition, built-in analytics mean it’s easy to evaluate the response to digital programs.


About VONT Performance Digital Marketing

At VONT we believe that change is the only constant in the digital world – and that excites us. When tools and environments are constantly changing, new opportunities to help our clients achieve success are constantly arising. Each new advertising technology, social platform, or design approach allows us to improve on the results we achieve for our clients.

We believe in this idea of continual fine-tuning so much that we named our company VONT, which means to achieve exponential improvement in incremental steps. It is our core belief, and the reason why we are not simply a web design company or simply a digital advertising agency, but rather a long-term, single source partner providing a comprehensive array of web development and digital marketing capabilities.

In short, we’re here so that our clients achieve success in the ever-changing digital world. If you’d like to learn more about VONT and the work we’ve done with our client partners, visit our Work page. Or, if you have a question, or contact us. We’ll get right back to you!