An insightful framework for delivering positive behaviour change

I have been using behavioural influences and biases as part of a framework for assessing the change barriers faced by clients for a number of years.  It is something I have used to both identify ways of accelerating the success of FMCG launches and to guide product development in Financial Services.

Convincing clients of the merits of such as framework can be a challenge, so I was delighted to stumble upon the EAST framework used by the Behavioural Insights Team. This team started life working for the UK Government but now operates independently as a social purpose company.  Most importantly they can point to ‘behavioural insight’ based interventions that are “highly cost-effective.”

This framework captures approaches according to the sequence of making a decision/action Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely.  Under each of these areas a ‘menu’ of relevant behavioural influences and related actions can be explored to both assess barriers to change and stimulate solutions.  I have captured my own summary of the Behavioural Insight Team’s EAST framework and added some relevant biases/influences for each action area.

With the aim of encouraging more organisations to apply Behavioural Economics in a structured way I have illustrated how the EAST framework could be applied to increasing Life Insurance take-up with a few limited examples.  This should be embraced as my interpretation and I hope provides a hint of the potential that something like EAST offers.

1. Making it Easy

Making it easy is about allowing people to ‘go with the flow.’ That is minimising the steps, hassle, decisions, etc to make changes simple and effortless.  Life Insurance has relatively low immediate benefits (peace of mind perhaps) which means our threshold for the effort and hassle involved in investigating or applying is relatively low too.

The good news is that iterative improvements can pay off. The Behavioural Insights Team highlight the example of sending taxpayers directly to a form rather than a web page (including it) that increased responses by more than 4%.

Areas to explore under Easy include:

a) Removing or reducing steps to ownership.  Once we own something we value it more   (endowment effect) so the challenge is to make the journey ownership as effort-free as possible.  Aviva’s free parents life insurance for one year is a great example of this.

b) Simplifying decisions.  Faced with complexity consumers employ coping strategies (e.g. refer to others) and will be less inclined to take action. Presenting pre-set options ensures more manageable choices to reduce time and stress. The covering of monthly bills Vs clearing mortgage debts is a key choice that can be lost in other choices.

c) Simplifying language, materials, etc.  Complex or confusing names, terms or forms create effort and prime consumers for a difficult decision.  Smart Insurance’s approach in the UK provides a good example of simplification. They demonstrate a simple phone conversation to cover in their TV advertising.

2. Making it Attractive

This is about structuring and presenting benefits in a way to maximize value.  It also about achieving ‘salience’ ensuring your offer is visible and accessible.

Now, let’s be honest Life Insurance is not a naturally attractive product. Perceived value of a policy is impacted by a lot of biases.  The majority of us, for example, exhibit an optimism bias meaning we underestimate risks (and also overestimate our family’s ability to cope should the worst it happen). How we judge value is also relative and Life Insurance is competing with more tangible and immediate opportunities for gratification. Making it attractive needs to mitigate for such biases, for example:

b) Highlighting the potential losses of not taking action.  Our aversion to losses is greater than gains. Because value is relative (and changes according to context and available choices)  presenting the significant losses involved in not having life insurance alongside the trivial gains from day-to-day items has the potential to enhance perceived value.

c) Using personalised and emotive presentation to increase the impact and attractiveness of Life Insurance. We have a tendency to be more responsive to an individual’s plight and will attach greater relevance to information that is for people like us. The Behavioural Insights Team highlight the great example of including the image of a recipient’s car in letters to people who have not paid their vehicle tax to increase payment rates in their paper.

3. Making it Social

People want to be accepted by other people like them. They are therefore inclined to adopt the behaviours of those in their norm or those endorsed by respected authorities. This means describing what most people do encourages others to do the same. Furthermore, making commitments public or shared increases the likelihood of action.  Two example areas to explore include:

a) Using data to demonstrate that people like them (e.g. teachers, parents working with young families, people in your post-code) have Life Insurance. If they haven’t, then they are outside the norm and perhaps taking a risk that their peers’ would not approve of.

b) Leveraging recommendations from experts to motivate action. This may be well known authorities – but someone like them that has experienced the benefits (and  hesitation when purchasing) could be more persuasive.

c) Encouraging parents to make a verbal commitment to protect the family in the event of the worst happening could  ‘lock’  them into action. How could a Life Insurance company sponsor or reward widespread spoken commitments?

4. Making it timely

The same offer made at different times can have drastically different levels of success. Making it timely is about prompting people when they are likely to be most receptive. The Behavioural Insight Team also observe behaviour is generally easier to change when habits are already disrupted, such as around major life events.

It is no accident that many Life Insurances sales are made as part of a bigger commitment such as purchasing a mortgage. At this moment they will be very aware of their responsibilities so the relevance is  greater and size of decision smaller.

We also have a tendency to put the emphasis on short-term at the expense of the long-term. This ‘present bias’ means the value of future benefits can be heavily discounted. This is certainly true of Life Insurance where the benefits will be (hopefully) a long way off and less tangible.  In making it timely areas to consider include:

a) Connecting prospective customers to personal life events that demonstrate the need for life insurance. Aviva a few years ago depicted family life in a ‘post-death’ situation, rather than the usual ‘what if this happens’ approach.  An unpopular ad probably, but one that was more likely to drive action.

b) Providing tangible benefits at the time of becoming a policy holder. For example holiday travel insurance for the whole family to be activated for this year’s trip.

c) Encouraging older consumers (sadly closer to realising benefits) who will value benefits more highly to initiate a policy for their grown up children. The task for these grown up children is then to continue rather than purchase – an easier one.


Hopefully this provides a hint of the value of applying behavioural knowledge in a structured way to increase action.

The link below will take you to my TOAST framework – the key difference (which I have found useful for my projects) is ‘selectable’ in which I focus thinking on improving your position Vs competing choices:

Many thanks to the Behavioural Insight Team for sharing their framework!

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