It’s all a Frame of Mind – The Importance of Framing Effects in Customer Messaging

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There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a right old pain for most businesses over the last 18 months or so, but what if I told you that there was another kind of ‘Asian disease’ that might instead have a positive impact on your company?  

Curious? Then read on… 

First things first, I think you’ll all be relieved to hear that this particular Asian disease isn’t actually real. In fact, it was part of a hugely influential study by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (1981), investigating how people’s responses to certain choice options might actually alter depending on how those options were presented to them. 

The so-called “Asian Disease Problem” went (roughly) as follows: 

“A new Asian disease has entered the US and is expected to kill 600 people. Scientists have come up with two possible treatments to try and combat it: Treatment A and Treatment B.” 

At this point, participants in the study were given information about both treatments, framed in two different ways. 

Half the participants were given negatively framed information and were told that Treatment A would guarantee that 400 people would die, whereas Treatment B meant a 33% chance that nobody would die and a 66% chance that all 600 would die. 

The other half were given positively framed information, instead being told that Treatment A would guarantee that 200 people would be saved, whereas Treatment B meant a 33% chance that everyone would be saved and a 66% chance that nobody would be saved. 

Now it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the core information given to both groups of participants was exactly the same. Despite this though, 72% of the participants given the positively framed information chose Treatment A, compared to only 22% of those given the negatively framed information. 

The brilliance of the  is that it showed just how important the way you present information is to how people will respond to it. Fascinating, yes, but what does this mean for your customer communication strategy? How should you frame the messages you give to your stakeholders to have the biggest impact on their behaviour? 

Unfortunately, as is often the case for behavioural interventions, there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer to this question. As we at Caja found when working on ways to promote health services amongst different marginalised groups in South Yorkshire, some people respond best to positively framed messaging and others to negatively framed messaging. 

Truthfully, the secret to using framing effects well is much more about fully understanding your target audience. To do this you need to listen, and we like to use a neat little method called COM-B to capture as much useful information as possible.  

Using the COM-B framework, in focus group sessions especially, helps us to identify the physical and psychological barriers that limit people’s CapabilityOpportunity and Motivation to engage in a certain Behaviour. From this, we can better understand what kind of message framing will work in any given scenario, and have the best chance of facilitating a positive behavioural change. This technique can be used in most contexts, including both public and private sectors, and the results can be quite amazing. We have managed to support a shift in behaviour by as much as 25% (!) through simple messaging framed in the right way. 

The willingness to change behaviour is all a frame of mind. We just need to find help you it. 

If you are interested in how we can help you to understand your customers and stakeholders more clearly, and frame your communications effectively, contact us directly at admin@cajagroup.com or Tel: 01782 443020.