It's Easier to Change a Behavior than a Belief

Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

A choice
A choice. Getty Images

Imagine for a second that you have invented a great product. Perhaps a new and amazing brand of light beer, or a pair of underwear that's constantly keeping you cool and comfy. 

Now, you are tasked with getting people to try out your invention. But there's a problem. The beer, well, you are targeting people who already love a specific light beer brand, be it Coors, Bud, or Miller. The underwear, same issue.

You're looking at people who are loyal to Hanes, Jockey, or Calvin Klein. 

They have a belief that is ingrained, almost in their DNA. They identify as Bud Light Drinkers, or Jockey wearers. They have spent a lot of time and experimentation over the years, looking for the drink they love, and the underwear they feel comfortable in. 

Now, you come along and say "forget that, try this...it's better."

This is the wrong approach. You are coming out of the gate looking to change a belief, and that is an almost impossible hill to climb. Beliefs are ingrained. They are deep-seated.  

But changing behavior, that's relatively easy to change in comparison. All you need to do is have a basic understanding of people. 
 

Understanding Human Nature

To understand the issue of changing a belief, you have to understand human nature.

As a race, we don't like change. So when we've spent years, or even decades, forming an opinion or "attitude" about something, it's not going to be something that is changed overnight.

It takes time, or something momentous.

As Al Franken said in his documentary movie "God Spoke:"

"My dad was a Republican until 1964. And he was a Jacob Javits Republican. You know, he grew up in New York, he voted for Herbert Hoover. And he voted for every Republican…and then in 1964…during the civil rights struggle, my dad would say ' that is so wrong. No Jew can be against civil rights.' And my dad was a card-carrying member of the NAACP, and a Republican. And so in 1964 they nominate Goldwater, who was against the civil rights bill, and that was it. My dad was a Democrat for the rest of his life."
 

When Convictions Collide

That change in attitude came from something that had two deep-seated convictions wrestling with each other. One was a moral conviction, the other was political (although some often mix the two together). The moral conviction was stronger, and Al Franken's father changed his political affiliation. And thus, that change in belief created a change in behavior. He was voting Republican, his paradigm was shifted, and after that he voted Democrat. 
 

We Fear Change

It's sad but true. Most of us don't like radical change. We also don't like to make the effort to change our attitudes or beliefs. In fact, we'd rather go out of our way to prove that our belief is right than to change it. Think about some of the beliefs you have about popular brands. You've probably had them for a long time. Maybe you prefer American-made cars to imports. Perhaps you're a Coke person, not Pepsi. Maybe you always buy Apple and refuse to buy anything Microsoft. Can those beliefs be changed? Doubtful. But can your buying behavior be changed?

Yes, it can.
 

As The Subtitle Says...Make Them An Offer They Can't Refuse

Companies spend millions rebranding but don't fix the problem at hand. A fancy TV campaign promoting happy-happy-joy-joy feelings is probably not going to get people to drop Coke and buy Pepsi.

But go into the supermarket and see Pepsi on sale for half the price of Coke, and you may very well take home a Pepsi six-pack instead of your usual Coke purchase. Your belief hasn't changed. You still think Coke's the best. But hey, for half-price, Pepsi tastes almost the same. And Pepsi hopes you'll get a taste for it, and become a Pepsi loyalist.

Similarly, the recent Old Spice campaign may have got a few people to try it, or notice it, but I say the phenomenal results are more attributed to a coupon campaign that was running in parallel. You may have switched to Old Spice from Axe or Dove, but not because it smells better. You did it because it smells ok, but the price was great. These are easy examples of changing behavior without changing beliefs.