Can a message really influence behaviour?

Yes! Well not quite one message, but a series of them can.


Mobile messaging and the science of nudging

The science of behaviour change has come a long way in the last few years. The principles have been distilled into buzzwords like ‘the architecture of choice’ and ‘nudge not shove’. It’s these principles that can be used to create a mobile phone programme that can change the way people behave.

Mobile phone programmes have been used to help people give up smoking, support people who are suffering depression, improve eating habits, encourage men to return for a check-up after circumcision in Kenya, to improve the care of children with malaria, to help people with diabetes manage their condition among others.

They all use the principle of ‘nudging’ people to remember their medication, keep up good habits and make progress towards better health. Nudges need to be small and frequent, and be tightly targeted to meet the needs of the participants in the programme.


Our partner company

Our partner company Content Consultants, develops mobile phone message programmes for women in ‘low resources settings’ – otherwise known as poor countries. The aim is to help women have a healthy pregnancy, an attended birth and to care for their baby in a way that maximises his or her life chances. Our messages have reached over seven million women over the last five years. The results are impressive. More women go to the antenatal clinic, take their pregnancy vitamins, have an attended birth, make sure their baby has all their vaccinations and feed their baby well. Some of our programmes are created to help HIV positive women remember to take their medication which helps prevent the baby becoming HIV positive. This is life changing and lifesaving stuff!


So 15 message programmes and a few million women later, what have we learned about writing messages that create behaviour change?

Listen to the consumer. Whether you plan a programme on weight loss, or managing diabetes, or giving up smoking or going to the gym, it’s vital to find out what people need to know and what problems they struggle with.

Be on their side. The message programme has to help and support, not nag or belittle.

Frequency matters. Lots of little messages achieve more than occasional long messages.

Break the changes down into the smallest possible steps. Get people to take one step on the path to health and they will find the next step that little bit easier.

So how can mobile phone messaging be used in ‘not so poor’ countries?

The possibilities are endless. Here are some top-of-the-head ideas to start with:

  • Encouraging people to follow their gym programme
  • Daily activity reminders to help people live a healthier lifestyle
  • Supporting patients newly diagnosed with a chronic condition
  • Countdown reminders to prepare for an operation, and help them recover afterwards
  • Reminding patients to clean their teeth and floss

What will you use behaviour change to achieve?