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3 key psychological considerations for successful consumer health messaging

November 2nd, 2020

From working across multiple sectors, I’ve found many consistencies in research insights aimed at helping to create effective consumer communications. However, in research specifically to inform consumer health messaging, three key psychological questions seem to regularly find their way into the final debrief for the client’s consideration.

1. Will consumers have the “headspace” to take on board the message? The long-established psychological theory of Bounded Rationality(1) says that humans do not process all information in a completely optimal manner. This is most commonly caused by not having the necessary mental processing power, and so, when dealing with often complex conditions and / or solutions in consumer health, we should always be seeking to ask "Is our messaging framed in the simplest, clearest way possible"?

2. Can we be sure a negative, or “scary” message will be most effective? Not necessarily, according to the theory of deliberate ignorance(2), which says that – contrary to what we might believe – consumers often go out of their way to avoid negative, or uncertain information about the future. While a negative outcome may occur as a result of consumers ignoring our messaging, this theory suggests that pointing this out may not always be the most effective way to engineer the healthy decision we desire.

3. Who is delivering the health related message? Finally, there is significant evidence that the “messenger” influences behaviour as much as the content of the message itself(3). Given people are more likely to act on information if medical experts deliver it(3), we should resist the temptation to focus exclusively on the content of the message itself, and give due consideration also to the “messenger”.

Of course, in any scenario there will also be further important questions that can be uncovered through primary research - scrutinising what people do (and crucially, don’t) say. 

For further information on the above, please contact Chris Harvey, Behavioural Science in Research Consultant. 

1. Simon, H.A. (1955). A behavioral model of rational choice. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69, 99-118.
2. Gigerenzer, G. & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2017). Cassandra’s Regret: The Psychology Of Not Wanting To Know. Psychological Review, 124, 179-196.
3. Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., Metcalfe, R., Vlaev, I. (2012). Influencing behaviour: the MINDSPACE way. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 264-277.