The Reference on top of instilling a behavioral change in your audience

An old wrestling expression says that you can’t get pinned when you’re on top. Being consultants we constantly read interesting books, try out promising techniques and follow new courses to stay on top of things so you, our customers, stay on top and don’t get pinned down. This week we look at the excellent Dutch book by Harrie Van Rooij with the loosely translated title “Stop communicating! Why communication often fails and what you can do to change that”. I truly recommend reading it, here’s what we’ve learned from it.


To instill a behavioral change in your audience, you need 3 things

If you want to accomplish your strategic goals as a company or government institution, you need your target audience to behave differently: you want them:

  • to buy your products or services more often
  • to take the stairs instead of the elevator in the office
  • to no longer drink and drive
  • to  ... 

In order for your communication to succeed and instill the desired behavior in your target audience you need 3 things as explained by ‘the circle of change’. 


  1. The right trigger at the right time
    The trigger has to go off the moment the audience is in perceptive state for the desired action. When you want them to consider your offering you need to find when they will be most receptive to consider your offering? 

  2. An easy process/routine to accomplish your goal/ get a reward
    Actions that are easy to understand and easy to perform with a minor time investment have a great chance of being performed without much consideration. If you can turn these actions into routines you have a real winner.

  3. A reward worth taking the required action for
    Think of immaterial rewards like a sense that everything is organized well, a feeling of belonging, of accomplishment,…

Four caricatures to test your communication with

Harrie Van Rooij describes four caricatures that personify characteristics we all have.

We all think we’re rational beings but most often we do not take the most rational action. That’s why it’s a good idea to test your communication whether it’s a campaign, website, process, etc… from the point of view of the following four caricatures. They are:

The Oblomovs

As it is too exhausting to constantly take rational decisions, the exhausted mind - instead of relying on rational reflection - falls back on automatisms that don’t cost a lot of energy. We guess, draw conclusions from too little facts and look at what others are doing. 

The Oblomov delays, is a bit negligent and doesn’t read the whole text of your communication or interface. 

While testing your communication for the Oblomovs, as Harrie Van Rooij explains, make sure that

  • It’s very clear and easy to understand as easiness instills action
  • Make behavior you want to discourage a bit more complicated
  • Start from the premise that information won’t be read or misunderstood and that your audience will be negligent   
Change haters

The Oblomov doesn’t like change as learning new things costs precious mental energy but there is another problem with change: the fear of it entailing a social threat like the loss of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness,…

This fear is instilled by the oversensitive amygdala –a part of our brain that sounds the alarm the moment it detects the slightest possibility of a social threat.

While testing your communication for the change hater in all of us, check that

  • your communication has a positive vibe
  • the proposed change is so small that it is not perceived as a threat
  • you have eliminated all possible social threats that you did not intend but your audience could read between the linesyou have set up processes of cooperation so that the stakeholders feel included in the decision process

We don’t admit it easily but we do what others do. Why tire yourself if others have already paved the way? Why take the risk of being the outsider?

While testing your communication from the point of view of the we-people, ensure that

  • you only show desired behavior of the majority as undesired behavior will be copied as well
  • you know how groups look at a particular subject and how they routinely react to it
  • no unproductive we-versus-they-patterns can pop up

On one hand, the storyteller in us uses fragments of information and fills in the gaps to create a consistent story but, on the other hand, he likes to reduce a complex reality to a set of clear storylines. 

Stories reduce a complex reality to a set of thoughts that are easily remembered. Stories provide consistency on both a cognitive as an emotional level.  That’s why they are so appealing.

Stories differ from opinions. Opinions are a bi-dimensional view on reality: you are for or against something. Emotions and values are three-dimensional as they are more nuanced.  You need to link those values and emotions that matter to your audience to get your point across.

E.g.: Some politicians use feelings of  powerlessness, insecurity and uncertainty -evoked by the term Europe- in their story why leaving the EU is the best solution.  Countering such a story cannot be done by arguing with facts and figures but by telling an even more compelling story that addresses those feelings but shows that the EU will create more wealth and security.

While testing your communication from the point of view of the storytellers in all of us ensure that

  • you understand what the values and emotions are of your target audience and you use associations correlating with the values and emotions of your target audience.
  • you link the facts to the emotions of your target audience
  • your communication talks about what you believe in (instead of solely relying on statistics, facts etc…)
  • you wrap your communication in a compelling story with heroes, adversaries, objects and problems.  When the stage is set you can start talking about solutions.


This is one of the most practical books on communication we’ve ever read and a must read for all copywriters and marketers. Pick it up and check out 

  • the excellent examples in the book
  • the three basic psychological rules for communicators
  • how to write with the power of instilling a behavioral change

Need some help in instilling the desired behavioral change in your online audience?  The Reference is expert in instilling the desired actions that drive your strategic goals by creating

  • the right trigger at the right moment by ensuring that people with an intention related to your offering actually find your website. 
  • the right value proposition of your offering from your customers’ point of view. 
  • an easy process with zero friction with which your customers reach their goals (and your company its strategic goals)


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