The wheel of habits

| July 7, 2015
Credit Danish Cyclists' Federation, Mikkel Østergaard

It takes more than cycle tracks to make a cyclist. Behaviour change campaigns are key too. Photo: Danish Cyclists’ Federation

The growing Danish bicycle culture is based on more than cycle tracks. It is also a result of a line of successful behavior change campaigns that help change the habits of more and more Danes so they leave the car at home and take the bike instead.

Aros Kommunikation, member of CED, has had a hand in several Danish bicycle campaigns. Here is their recipe.

By Line Berg-Stærk, Aros Kommunikation

My job is about converting good intentions into new habits. Right now, I am e.g. working with intentions on eating healthy, sharing a car with others, and going out listening to live music more often. Lovely campaign goals which make sense to target groups, customers, society – and oh yeah, our agency.

Do you decide?
Most target groups are willing to listen, and in pretests they say, yeah sure, they want to do what we suggest. But after 10 years of campaign work, I can conclude that there is as far from a good intention to real action as there is from the earth to the moon.

Research shows that as little as 5 % of our behavior is consciously controlled. We are largely controlled by intuition and automatics, and the way to change habits is unfortunately neither paved with good intentions nor goodwill. Therefore, we often work with structural solutions like the physical arrangement of surroundings or nudging, the friendly push.

When our customers brief us on a behavior change campaign, we normally start out by saying: ”Get to know your target group”. Our insisting on an insight phase is notorious. Thereafter, we say: “Meet the target group where they are” and these meetings are about more than contact points…

Introducing the wheel of habits
One of the tools we use when planning communication to find the place to meet the target group is the wheel of habits. Let’s take a round…

Vanehjulet-UK (3)_AROS NY

From driver to cyclist 

Do you feel dazed? Okay then, let me give you an example …

At the moment, we have quite a lot of assignments at our agency concerning converting drivers into cyclists. Research shows that actually quite a few drivers dream about a healthier and greener life outside their car. So, we offer them the bicycle!

Here are six steps toward a change of habit:

Step 1: Show the target group that it is attractive to change behavior
We need to present the bicycle as a real and attractive alternative to drivers that do not initially have any interest in switching the car for the bicycle. Here, we can use a branding campaign to work with the image of the bicycle or the many personal and societal gains.

Step 2: Make it easy for the target group to prepare the new behavior
When the driver considers a change he/she must prepare for it. Barriers, whether physical or psychological, need to be overcome. I have heard a wonderful comparison between being a new cyclist and being a new line dancer. The discomfort can be removed with e.g. a cycling course or even a cycling route map.

Step 3: Let the target group test the new behavior
Now, the target group has to try out the new behavior. We can use the trade marketing tool, sampling, just like when you sample at the cheese counter in the supermarket. We could also offer the cyclists a good deal on a new bike, or give them the possibility of borrowing one at a bicycle library.

Step 4: Help maintain the new behavior
Okay, now we are underway, and the new cyclist is experiencing all the advantages of cycling firsthand. But we must help the new cyclists stick with the new transport form. We can e.g. send an SMS in the morning: “Check out the lovely cycling-weather,” or use gamification as a tool so the trip becomes part of a game or competition.

Step 5: Reward the good behavior
After three weeks, we can talk about a new habit, and this should most definitely be rewarded! Considering the good intention, the new behavior is a reward in itself, but we could also hand out morning coffee to cycling commuters riding to work, or make it easy for the new cyclist to brag about the good result and bathe in their own success.

Step 6: Rectify relapses into unwanted behavior
We must never rule out that rainy days can cause a relapse into unwanted behavior. The task is then to make it attractive to cycle again. We can spare another tour around the wheel of habits by focusing on retention of the new cyclists, e.g. with free bike service or rain covers.

No thank you’s needed, we prefer a good habit
When we succeed with our behavior change campaigns and have converted good intentions into new habits, we cannot expect a steady flow of appreciation from the target group. Because the thing with habits is that once we got them, we forget that it has ever been different.

So, bon courage with your behavior change campaign!

Further information

Read more articles on campaigns by CED members.

Read more about campaigns in our “Cycle Concepts Catalogue

Download our publication “Cycle Campaigns in Denmark

Category: Campaigns, Commuting