The least appreciated part of the marketing mix tool box is price. Social marketers everywhere become easily obsessed with the costs of change - whether it be adopting a new behavior, discontinuing a current one, or using new products or services. Especially in public health the mantra is always how do we reduce the barriers to engaging in healthier behaviors. Rarely do we ask how do we reward people for making healthier choices. The implicit assumption is that some intrinsic reward mechanism will spontaneously kick in to trigger the cascade of endorphins that will bring them back for more health. Nothing could be farther from the truth as learning theorists (and more recently behavioral economists) will tell you. Here are some recent examples of rewards (aka positive pricing strategies) that could easily have been developed by social marketers - but weren't.
- As part of a larger intervention program offer payments to women who repeatedly test negative for curable sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and syphilis, to reduce unsafe sexual contacts and protect the women not only from the curable STIs but also from contracting or spreading HIV.
- In middle schools in Washington, DC (and other locations in the US), eligible students will be able to earn up to $100 a month for attending class regularly, turning in homework, good behavior and receiving good grades.
- Experiments in offering incentives to providers in order to improve the quality of healthcare are being conducted in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US.
- Offering smokers $1,000 to quit smoking for a month.
What I encourage you to think about in your programs when it comes to price is not how to reduce them, or even make things easy and free. That's the equivalent of trying to make the punishment less painful for engaging in healthier behaviors. Rather, consider how you might provide incentives for making the healthier choice and reward people when they do. Not only do people learn more quickly this way, but maintenance of the behavior change is likely to be longer lasting as well.
It was stated once that the challenge of health marketing is in both reducing barriers/costs of participation and creating incentives that will further engage people in health and behavior change.
One would hope after 20 years that it was getting a little easier and a bit more frequent.