Motivating Behaviors for Health Care

Ask anyone involved with attempting to motivate health-related behaviors and the subject of incentives comes up. Some will say they work—and some do. Some will say they don’t work—and some don’t. Our company, Augeo Marketing, has been in the business of motivating a wide variety of behaviors for almost two decades. During that time, we have implemented thousands of incentive-based engagement programs (including HealthSparq Rewards) and have come to similar conclusions.

Part of my role as CMO is to try to determine the common threads that seem to lead to success in our diverse portfolio of programs. In fact, as the vast majority of our programs do work, the pool of examples to pull from is quite deep.

Of course there are the obvious characteristics: simplicity of interaction design, clarity of communication, and striking the proper balance of risk (desired behavior) and reward (the promise of value).

Other considerations that influence an incentive program’s success involve context. If the promise of value comes from a known and trusted source, engagement is higher than when the source of the reward is not familiar. The freshness of the appeal also influences success. If the request for a behavioral shift is too familiar, it is more easily ignored. If the behavior desired is something new and the incentive novel, the adoption rate is usually higher.

During our review of success factors, three stood out as elements leading to higher levels of engagement. In fact, most programs we introduce today rely heavily on these three essential elements to motivate engagement.

Incentives or rewards. If we want to motivate someone to do something they are not currently doing, offer them a reward they value. Health-related incentives often adopt this strategy by offering economic discounts, gift cards, merchandise or other instruments conveying economic value. All of these can help to motivate health behaviors, but alone, they may fall short. Unless they are refreshed periodically, economic rewards tend to become expected and therefore less motivational for long-term behavioral change. In fact, when the reward stops, often times so to will the desired behavior. Without highly strategic implementation, the equation with economic incentives can easily devolve into a “pay to play” situation.

In addition to economic incentives, we have found that providing an emotional reward can be even more powerful. As people feel better about themselves, feel smarter, feel honored or empowered, they are motivated to continue the desired behavior. “Pat on the back” rewards, in some cases, can be even more effective than economic rewards.

Group Effect. The second factor we believe to be highly motivational has to do with group validation. Even in the absence of an economic or emotional reward, the fact that many people are “engaging” can compel others to engage in the same behavior. Some call it the “bandwagon effect.” All my friends are running or biking or dieting, so I somehow am motivated to do the same.

Often times it is not the size of the group that causes the motivational effect but the quality of the group. My family does it, my best friends all started doing it or a group of experts do it, so it must be good. As incentive programs are promoted, it is very important to use a variety of communication tools that showcase utilization by others. Social media is obvious but using leader boards, highlighting this week’s champions, showing poll or survey results all can tell a story of group participation and in turn leverages the power of group validation.

Shared Values. The third factor and perhaps the most elusive of the three key elements involves blending in a sense of shared values. The more your company can demonstrate to participants that you align on a values orientation, the more likely you will be trusted and in turn able to successfully prompt the desired behavior.

For the past several years, our company Augeo has run a rewards program for a community-wide utility service company. We feature a blend of rewards – both economic and emotional. We leverage techniques to optimize the power of group validation but the most compelling feature of the program has to do with a community project that is funded with the participating member’s points. Rather than redeeming for economic value, the vast majority engages in the desired behavior because they share values around a specific community project like a new bike trail, city park or homeless shelter. If your program can connect on the basis of shared values, engagement levels are likely to improve and sustain.

This engagement philosophy, rewards, group validation and shared values are the foundation for hundreds of successful programs Augeo has in market today. Admittedly it’s fairly easy to explain and simple to understand but implementation requires strategic insight, operational excellence and constant diligence to access data analytics and optimize programmatic outcomes.

Health incentives are a worthy journey. We wish you great success.

Augeo Marketing is one of the nation’s leading loyalty engagement companies and a fulfillment partner for HealthSparq Rewards.